It is the _power of choice_ which raises man to the dignity of an
intellectual and moral being. Without this principle, he would be a
creature of mere impulses and instincts. He would possess
susceptibilities of happiness to be excited, and intellect to devise and
discover the modes of securing enjoyment; but without governing
principle, the soul would be led captive with each successive desire, or
be the sport of chances whenever conflicting desires were awakened.

He who formed man in his own perfect image left not his work without
this balance-power to regulate the complicated springs of so wonderful
an existence. Man is now not only the image of his Creator as lord of
this lower world, but is, like him, the lord and master of his own

It has been shown that the constitution, both of mind and of the world,
is such that it is impossible in the nature of things to gain every
object which is the cause of enjoyment. There is a constant succession
of selections to be made between different modes of securing happiness.
A lesser good is given up for a greater, or some good relinquished
altogether to avoid some consequent pain. Often, also, some painful
state of mind is sought as the means of securing some future good, or of
avoiding some greater evil. Thus men endure want, fatigue, and famine to
purchase wealth. Thus the nauseous draught will be swallowed to avoid
the pains of sickness; and thus the pleasures of domestic affection will
be sacrificed to obtain honor and fame. The whole course of life is a
constant succession of such decisions between different modes of
securing happiness and of avoiding pain.

_Specific and Generic Volitions._

In noticing the operation of mind, it will be seen that there is a
foundation for two classes of volitions or acts of choice, which may be
denominated _specific_ and _generic_.

A _specific volition_ is one that secures some particular act, such as
the moving of the arm or turning of the head. Such volitions are
ordinarily consequent on some more general purpose of the mind, which
they aid in accomplishing, and which is, therefore, denominated a
_generic volition_. For example, a man chooses to make a certain
journey: this is the generic volition, and, in order to carry it out, he
performs a great variety of acts, each one of which aids in carrying out
the generic decision. These specific acts of will, which tend to
accomplish a more general purpose, may also be called _subordinate_,
because they are controlled by a generic volition.

It can be seen that the generic volitions may themselves become
subordinate to a still more comprehensive purpose. Thus the man may
decide to make a journey, which is a generic volition in reference to
all acts subordinate to this end. But this journey may be a subordinate
part of a more general purpose to make a fortune or to secure some other
important end.

It is frequently the case that a generic purpose, which relates to
objects that require a long time and many complicated operations, exists
when the mind seems almost unconscious of its power. For example, a man
may form a generic purpose to enter a profession for which years will be
required to prepare. And while his whole course of action is regulated
by this decision, he engages in pursuits entirely foreign to it and
which seem to engross his whole attention. These pursuits may sometimes
be such as are antagonistic to his grand purpose, so as at least to
imperil or retard its accomplishment. And yet this strong and quiet
purpose remains, and is eventually carried out.

It is the case, also, that a generic volition may be formed to be
performed at some particular time and place, and then the mind becomes
entirely unconscious of it till the appointed period and circumstances
occur. Then the decision becomes dominant, and controls all other

Thus a man may decide that, at a specified hour, he will stop his
studies and perform certain gymnastic exercises. This volition is
forgotten until the hour arrives, and then it recurs and is carried out.

This phenomenon sometimes occurs in sleep. Some persons, in watching
with the sick, will determine to wake at given hours to administer
medicines; then they will sleep soundly till the appointed time comes,
when they will waken and perform the predetermined actions.

In regard to the _commencement_ of a generic purpose, we find that
sometimes it is so distinct and definite as to be the subject of
consciousness and memory. For example, a spendthrift, in some moment of
suffering and despondency, may form a determination to commence a
systematic course of thrift and economy, and may actually carry it out
through all his future life. Such cases are often to be found on record
or in everyday life.

In other cases, this quiet, hidden, but controlling purpose seems to be
formed by unconscious and imperceptible influences, so that the mind can
not revert to the specific time or manner when it originated. For
example, a child who is trained from early life to speak the truth, can
never revert to any particular moment when this generic purpose

It is sometimes the case, also, that a person will contemplate some
generic volition before it occurs, while the process of its final
formation seems almost beyond the power of scrutiny. For example, a man
may be urged to relinquish one employment and engage in another. He
reflects, consults, and is entirely uncertain how he shall decide. As
time passes, he gradually inclines toward the proposed change, until,
finally, he finds his determination fixed, he scarcely knows when or

Thus it appears that generic volitions commence sometimes so
instantaneously and obviously that the time and influences connected
with them can be recognized. In other cases, the decision seems to be a
gradual one, while in some instances the process can be traced, and in
others it is entirely unnoticed or forgotten.

It is in reference to such generic purposes that the _moral character_
of men is estimated. An honest man is one who has a fixed purpose to act
honestly in all circumstances. A truthful man is one who has such a
purpose to speak the truth at all times.

In such cases, the degree in which such a purpose controls all others is
the measure of a man’s moral character in the estimate of society.

The history of mankind shows a great diversity of moral character
dependent on such generic volitions. Some men possess firm and reliable
moral principles in certain directions, while they are very destitute of
them in others.

Thus it will be seen that some have formed a very decided purpose in
regard to honesty in business affairs, who yet are miserable victims to
intemperance. Others have cultivated a principle called _honor_, that
restrains them from certain actions regarded as mean, and yet they may
be frequenters of gambling saloons and other haunts of vice.

In the religious world, too, it is the case that some who are very firm
and decided on all points of religious observances and in the
cultivation of devotional emotions, are guilty of very mean actions,
such as some worldly men of honor would not practice at the sacrifice of
a right hand.

_On Causes of Volition._

It becomes, then, a most interesting subject of inquiry as to the
_causes_ which decide these diversities of moral purposes, and also the
causes which operate to give them more or less control over other

But, preliminary to this, it is necessary to secure some discriminating
accuracy in regard to the signification of the word _cause_ in its
various uses.

This term, in its widest sense, signifies “_that without which a change
will not take place, and with which it will take place_.” This is the
leading idea which is included in every use of the word.

But there is a foundation for three classes of causes which may be
denominated _producing causes, occasional causes_, and _deciding

A _producing cause_ is that which produces a change by the constitution
of nature, so that in the given circumstances there is no power to do

_Occasional causes_ are those circumstances which are indispensable to
the action of producing causes.

Thus, when fire is applied to your powder, the fire is the producing
cause of the explosion, while the act of contact between the fire and
powder is the occasional cause.

In regard to the action of mind in volition, the mind itself is the
producing cause, while excited desires and objects to excite those
desires are the occasional causes. Or, in other words, mind is the
producing cause of its own volitions, and motives are the occasional

_On Deciding Causes of Volition._

But inasmuch as mind always has the power to choose in _either_ of two
or more directions, the question arises as to _the causes which decide
the direction of volitions_, and which may be called _deciding causes_.
Whenever it is asked, “_Why_ did a person choose to do thus?” the
meaning is, What were the causes that influenced him to decide thus?

Now these causes are ascertained, as all others are, by experience. Men
are always stating to each other, as well as noticing in their own
experience, the causes which decide their determinations.

First, in certain cases, where two or more objects are presented, of
which only one can be taken, the cause assigned for the direction of the
choice may be that _one excited a stronger desire than the other_. A
vast proportion of human volitions are decided simply by the fact that
one object seems a greater good or excites a stronger desire than any
other, and is thus the strongest motive.

But there are other cases where, of the objects presented, one excites
the strongest desire, while the judgment perceives that another will
secure a _greater good on the whole_. For example, in case of a sick
person, there may be placed a favorite drink that excites a very strong
desire, and beside it may stand a nauseous medicine. In this case, the
invalid may feel the strongest desire for the drink, and yet choose the
medicine as the greater good in its final results.

In such cases, what decides the direction of a volition is the judgment
of the mind, that the object chosen, though it does not excite the
strongest desire, is still the greater good.

Another deciding cause of volition is the nature of the _constitutional
susceptibilities_. For example, when it is asked why did a man forsake
domestic life and become a soldier, the deciding cause may be that he
had a strong constitutional love of the excitement and glory connected
with that profession, and but little susceptibility for the quiet
enjoyments of domestic life.

It is sometimes the case that a child, from its birth, seems to possess
a natural love for truth, so that instructions on that point are
scarcely needed. In another case, in the same family, and under exactly
the same training, will be found a child who has the contrary
propensity, so that it costs years of careful training to form a
principle of veracity. The same constitutional variety will be found in
reference to other virtues.

Another deciding cause of volition are _the habits_. The existence of a
_habit of obedience_, for example, will induce the formation of virtuous
purposes that would never have existed but for this. A child who began
life with strong propensities to certain faults, by a wise and careful
training may secure habits that are fully equal in power to the same
constitutional traits in another child. Often, in the result, it can not
be seen whether the generic purpose to be truthful, for example,
resulted mainly from natural constitution or from the formation of

The will itself also is more or less regulated by this principle. When a
child is trained constantly to submit to fixed rules, the will acquires
increased ease and facility in doing it. On the contrary, a mind that is
never controlled grows more and more averse to yielding to any
regulating principle.

Another deciding cause of volition is such _a combination of
circumstances_ as excites one class of desires, while other
sensibilities have no appropriate objects to stimulate them.

For example, it may be asked, Why did a man choose to drink and gamble?
The cause assigned may be the presence of liquor and of tempting
companions, and the want of objects to excite higher susceptibilities.
He had no wise friends, no business, and no higher sources of enjoyment
immediately around him.

Another deciding cause of volition is the existence of _principle or
generic purpose_. For example, it may be asked, Why did a man choose to
give up his liberty and property when he could have secured them by
false testimony? The answer may be that he was a truthful man or a
virtuous man–that is, he had formed a strong generic purpose to speak
the truth or to act right on all occasions.

Another deciding cause of volition is the existence of love and
gratitude toward other minds, and the reflex influence of such minds in
the bestowal of their love, sympathy, teachings, and example.

This is the most powerful of all the influences which secure and sustain
generic volitions, as will be illustrated more at large in future pages.

_Causes that regulate the Power of Generic Volitions._

The next inquiry relates to the causes which regulate the _power_ of
generic volition.

Among those causes, the most prominent is that natural force of will
which is strictly constitutional. Some minds are formed by the Creator
with great energy and great pertinacity of will, so that when a purpose
is formed, all subordinate volitions needful to carry out this purpose
seem easily controlled. Other minds, on the contrary, possess a
naturally feeble will, so that no generic volition has a strong and
steady control, but is constantly interrupted in its power over
subordinate volitions, or is easily changed by conflicting desires.

In one case the person is denominated a man of firm purpose or a man of
a strong will. In the other case he is called a man of yielding
temperament or a weak character.

The remaining causes that give strength to a generic purpose are most of
those that have been enumerated as causes of the _direction_ of
volition, or _deciding causes_. These are the constitutional
susceptibilities–the habits–the surrounding circumstances–the
existence of love and gratitude toward other minds, and the reflex
influence of such minds in the bestowal of their love, sympathy,
teachings, and example.

In all this variety of influences that decide those generic volitions
which are the foundation of moral character, it must be remembered that
in every case the mind has the power to choose that which the judgment
decides to be the greatest good on the whole for itself and for the

_How one Mind causes Volitions in another Mind._

In this connection, it is important to secure exact ideas of what is
meant when one mind is spoken of as _the cause_ of the volitions of
another mind.

Of course, in this relation, no mind can be the _producing_ cause of
volition in any mind but itself. It must be, then, either as
_occasional_ or as _deciding_ causes that we can influence other minds.

The only mode by which we can regulate the volitions of other minds is
by _the employment of motives to stimulate desire, or by changing the
constitutional susceptibilities_.

In the first case, men have power to so combine circumstances of
temptation as to affect the most excitable and powerful sensibilities,
or they can remove those objects and influences that sustain moral
principle, or by a long course of training they can form habits and
induce principles. The combinations of motive influences that one mind
can bring to bear on another, as temptations to right or wrong action,
are almost infinite.

The other mode is by _changing the constitutional susceptibilities_.
This can sometimes be effected to a certain degree by education and the
formation of habits. It can be still more directly effected through the
physical organization. For example, a child may be trained to use
coffee, tea, alcohol, or tobacco, till the nervous system is shattered,
and then a placid temper becomes excitable, a generous nature grows sour
and selfish, an active nature becomes indolent, and multitudes of other
disastrous changes are the result.

These are the only two modes in which one mind is ever regarded as the
cause of right or wrong volition in other minds.

_On a Ruling Purpose._

The most important of all the voluntary phenomena is the fact that,
while there can be a multitude of these quiet and hidden generic
purposes in the mind, it is also possible to form _one_ which shall be
the dominant or controlling one, to which all the other volitions, both
generic and specific, shall become subordinate. In common parlance, this
would be called the _ruling passion_. It may also be called the _ruling
purpose_ or _controlling principle_. This consists in the permanent
choice of some one mode of securing happiness as the _chief end_ or
grand object of life.

We have set forth on preceding pages the chief sources of happiness and
of suffering to the human mind. Now in the history of our race we find
that each one of these modes of enjoyment have been selected by
different individuals as the chief end of their existence–as the mode
of seeking enjoyment, to which they sacrifice every other. Some persons
have chosen the pleasures of eating, drinking, and the other grosser
enjoyments of sense. Others have chosen those more elevated and refined
pleasures that come indirectly from the senses in the emotions of taste.

Others have devoted themselves to intellectual enjoyments as their chief
resource for happiness. Others have selected the exercise of physical
and moral power, as in the case of conquerors and physical heroes, or of
those who have sought to control by moral power, as rulers and

Others have made the attainment of the esteem, admiration, and love of
their fellow-creatures their chief end. Others, still, have devoted
themselves to the promotion of happiness around them as their chief
interest. Others have devoted themselves to the service of God, or what
they conceived to be such, and sometimes by the most miserable life of
asceticism and self-torture.

Others have made it their main object in life to obey the laws of
rectitude and virtue.

In all these cases, the _moral character_ of the person, in the view of
all observers, has been decided by this dominant volition, and exactly
in proportion to the supremacy with which it has _actually controlled_
all other purposes.

Some minds seem to have no chief end of life. Their existence is a
succession of small purposes, each of which has its turn in controlling
the life. Others have a strong, defined, and all-controlling principle.

Now experience shows that both of these classes are capable, the one of
_forming_ and the other of _changing_ such a purpose. For example, in a
time of peace and ease there is little to excite the mind strongly; but
let a crisis come where fortune, reputation, and life are at stake, and
men and women are obliged to form generic decisions involving all they
hold dear, and many minds that have no controlling purpose immediately
originate one, while those whose former ruling aims were in one
direction change them entirely to another.

This shows how it is that days of peril create heroes, statesmen, and
strong men and women. The hour of danger calls all the energies of the
soul into action. Great purposes are formed with the strongest desire
and emotion. Instantly the whole current of thought, and all the
co-existing desires and emotions, are conformed to these purposes.

The experience of mankind proves that a dominant generic purpose may
_extend to a whole life_, and actually control all other generic and
specific volitions.

_Mode of Controlling the Intellect, Desires, and Emotions._

We will now consider some of the modes by which the will controls the
intellect, desires, and emotions.

We have seen, in previous pages, the influence which desire and emotion
exert in making both our perceptions and conceptions more vivid.
Whatever purpose or aim in life becomes an object of strong desire, is
always distinctly and vividly conceived, while all less interesting
objects are more faint and indistinct.

We have also seen that whenever any conception arises it always brings
connected objects, according to certain laws of association, forming a
new and complex picture.

Whenever the mind is under the influence of a controlling purpose, the
object of pursuit is always _more interesting_ than any other. This
interest always fastens on those particulars in any mental combination
that are connected with the ruling purpose and seem fitted to promote
it, making them more vivid. Around these selected objects their past
associated ideas begin to cluster, forming other complex pictures. In
all these combinations, those ideas most consonant with the leading
interest of the mind become most vivid, and the others fade away.

The grand method, then, for _regulating the thoughts_ is by the generic
decisions of the mind as to the modes of seeking enjoyment.

In regard to the power of the mind over its own desires and emotions, it
is very clear that these sensibilities can not be regulated by direct
specific volitions. Let any person try to produce love, fear, joy, hope,
or gratitude by simply choosing to have them arise, and it is soon
perceived that no such power exists.

But there are _indirect_ modes by which the mind can control its
susceptibilities. The first method is by directing attention to those
objects of thought which are fitted to call forth such emotions. For
example, if we wish to awaken the emotion of fear, we can place
ourselves in circumstances of danger, or call up ideas of horror and
distress. If we wish to call forth emotions of gratitude, we can direct
attention to acts of kindness to ourselves calculated to awaken such
feelings. If we wish to excite desire for any object, we can direct
attention to those qualities in that object that are calculated to
excite desire. In all these cases the mind can, by an act of will,
_direct its attention_ to subjects calculated to excite emotion and

The other mode of regulating the desires and emotions is by _the
direction of our generic volitions_. For example, let a man of business,
who has never had any interest in commerce, decide to invest all his
property in foreign trade. As soon as this is done, the name of the ship
that bears his all can never be heard or seen but it excites some
emotion. A storm, that before would go unnoticed, awakens fear; the
prices in the commercial markets, before unheeded, now awaken fear or
afford pleasure. And thus multitudes of varied desires and emotions are
called into existence by this one generic volition.

One result of a purpose to deny an importunate propensity is frequently
seen in the immediate or gradual diminution of that desire. For example,
if a person is satisfied that a certain article of food is injurious,
and resolves on _total abstinence_, it will be found that the desire for
it is very much reduced, far more so than when the effort is to diminish
the indulgence.

When a generic purpose is formed that involves great interests, it is
impossible to prevent the desires and emotions from running consonant
with this purpose. The only mode of changing this current is to give up
this generic purpose and form another. Thus, if a man has devoted his
whole time and energies to money-making, it is impossible for him to
prevent his thoughts and feelings from running in that direction. He
must give up this as his chief end, and take a nobler object, if he
would elevate the whole course of his mental action.

These are the principal phenomena of the grand mental faculty which is
the controlling power of the mind, and on the regulation of which all
its other powers are dependent.