Lev Vygotsky 1931


If we were to try to synthesize the separate forms of development of higher mental functions described in the preceding chapters, it would be easy to see that all of them have a common psychological characteristic which we touched upon indirectly thus far, but which is the characteristic that distinguishes them from all other mental processes. All of these processes are processes of mastering our own reactions by different means. We face the problem of considering what the process of controlling our own reactions consists of and how it develops in the child. Most typical for controlling our own behavior is selection, and it is not for nothing that in studying voluntary processes, the old psychology saw the very essence of the voluntary act in selection. In continuing our analysis, we also often came across the phenomena of selection.

For example, in the experiments on attention, we had occasion to study the selection reaction since it is determined by the structure of external stimuli. In the selection reaction with mnemotechnical remembering of instruction, we tried to trace the course of this complex form of behavior when it is determined preliminarily in such a way that certain stimuli must correspond to certain reactions.

If in experiments of the first type, selection depended mainly on externals and all activity of the child was reduced to isolating these external traits and to picking up the objective relation between them, then in the subsequent reaction, the question was about stimuli that had no external relation with each other, and the child’s problem was reduced to fixing or establishing the required brain connections reliably. Correspondingly, the first problem of selection was resolved with the help of attention, the second, with the help of memory. There the pointing finger, here a mnemotechnical device were the keys to mastering this reaction.

However, there is still selection of a third type that we tried to trace in special experiments which would cast light on the problem itself of mastering our reactions. This is free choice between two possibilities determined not externally, but from within by the child himself.

In experimental psychology, a method of studying free choice in which the subject is told to select and carry out one of two actions has long been established. We will complicate this device somewhat by asking the child to make a choice between two series of actions which include both something that the subject finds pleasant and something he finds unpleasant. In this case, the increase in number of actions from which a selection is to be made not only introduced quantitative complication in the system of conflicting motives that determine choice in one direction or another, not only complicated the conflict of motives, but also greatly affected the quality of the very process of selection. The qualitative changes were evident in that the unequivocal motive was replaced by ambiguous motives and this resulted in a complex adjustment with respect to the given series of actions. As has been said, the series included something attractive and something repellent, something pleasant and something unpleasant, and this applied as well to the new series from which a selection had to be made. In this way, we obtained experimentally a model of the complex behavior that is usually termed conflict of motives in a complex selection.

From the aspect of method, the substantial change introduced by this device consists in our being able to create motive experimentally since the series which we use are flexible and can be increased, decreased, replaced in part, and finally moved from series to series; in other words, we are able experimentally to change the basic conditions of selection and study how the process changes depending on this.

Experiment shows that from the very beginning such conditions of selection become quite complicated and impede the process; the subject experiences indecisiveness, vacillation, suspension of motives, and effort to balance them. Sometimes selection is arrested and becomes extremely difficult. In these cases, we introduce a new, additional factor that is the very center of our experiments; we suggest to the child that he make a choice by lot. The suggestion is made through various devices beginning with having a die on the table or letting the child play with a die before the experiment and ending with a direct question as to whether he would like to use the die or a direct suggestion when the child sees how another person solves the same problem.

Sometimes we were able to observe how the subject uses the die or some other device of this type completely independently, but since our main task was not to study inventiveness of the child but the process of selection using a die, for the most part we proceeded as indicated above. We resorted to the device we used repeatedly: direct proposal that the child use the appropriate device. As Köhler would say, we placed a stick in the hands of the monkey and watched what would happen. We proceeded in this way in studying writing when we gave the child a pencil and induced him to write.

Our experiments show the depth of the changes in all of the child’s behavior when the use of a die is introduced. In order to study under which circumstance, the child resorts to using a die, we subsequently left this decision to the free choice of the child. Varying external conditions, we were able purely empirically to observe the circumstances under which the child voluntarily turned to using a die. Thus, if we abbreviated the time of selection and so did not allow conflict of motives and resolution of this conflict time to develop, as a rule the child almost always resorted to using the die. This also happened in cases when the child was not aware of some of the motives, let us say, one or two of the actions in a series were given to the child in a sealed envelope that he could open only after making a choice. Frequently, he resorted to using the die even when the motives were not different, that is, if both series between which he had to choose did not involve actions that would at all forcefully affect the child in a positive or negative way. The relative balance of motives had the same effect in cases where both series between which a choice had to be made included attractive and repellent elements in a more or less equal form.

It developed that the complexity of motives and difficulty of choice, but particularly the presence of sharp emotional pleasant or repelling elements, resulted in a more frequent use of the die and, finally, when both series included extremely various motives which were difficult to compare, the emotional evaluation of which lay in seemingly different planes, that is, when the motives were addressed toward different aspects of the child’s personality, the natural selection was impeded and the child readily let the play of the die decide his fate.

This is a short list of cases in which the child usually resorted to the die. We ask what do all of these cases have in common? We can make only a qualitative determination of the situation in which dice are used. To a certain degree, this situation exhibits a similarity to the well-known philosophical anecdote that is erroneously attributed to Buridan and which is usually used to illustrate that our will is determined by motives and when the motives are equal, selection becomes impossible and will is paralyzed.

Among others, Spinoza also touches on this example indicating not the freedom of our will, but its dependence on external motives. He says that the donkey experiencing only hunger and thirst and placed between food and drink at equal distances from him, will die of hunger and thirst since he has no basis for making a choice between moving to the right toward the food or to the left toward the water. The anecdote says that the human, like the sheet of paper that remains in place if we pull at it with equal force on opposite sides, will be paralyzed if motives acting on it are in balance. The anecdote contains the deep and true idea that the illusion of free will collapses as soon as we try to trace the determinacy of will and its dependence on motives.

It is understood that in this example we have taken the ideal case of balanced motives (which we never actually see) and correspondingly extremely simplified conditions of the effect of motives. But at every step in life and in laboratory experiments, we encounter situations that approximate to a certain degree the situation of Buridan’s donkey and involve motives approximately balanced in strength that result in a temporary refusal to make a choice, in vacillation, in more or less long inactivity and seem to paralyze the will. Inactivity resulting from vacillation of motives has served many times as a theme in tragic and comic works and Spinoza, in giving this example, says directly that man placed in such a situation, experiencing nothing but hunger and thirst and seeing food and drink at equal distances from himself, will always die of hunger and thirst.

But Spinoza himself, touching on this question elsewhere, gives an answer that is directly opposite. What would happen if a man found himself in the situation of Buridan’s donkey? Spinoza answers: if we imagine a man in the situation of the donkey, we would have to consider him as an unthinking thing, but more shameful than the donkey if he were to die of hunger and thirst. And actually, here we touch upon the most important elements that distinguish the will of man from the will of an animal.

Human freedom consists specifically of man’s ability to think, that is, that man is cognizant of the developing situation. To the question posed by Spinoza, we can give an empirical response on the basis of both observations from life and our experiments. Man placed in the situation of Buridan’s donkey throws dice and in this way escapes the difficulty that confronts him. This is an operation that is impossible for animals, an operation in which the whole problem of freedom of the will appears with experimental distinctness. In experiments in which the child is confronted by a similar situation and finds a way out by using a die, we see the deep philosophical sense of the phenomenon that interests us. We have already cited the opinion of one of Ach’s subjects that a psychological experiment of this kind is transformed into experimental philosophy.

Actually, in experiments with the die, we are inclined to see experimental philosophy. Two kinds of activities are presented for the child’s selection; he must select one and reject the other. By complicating the child’s selection, balancing the motives, shortening the time, creating a serious emotional impediment, we create a Buridan situation for the child. Selection is made more difficult. The child resorts to a die and introduces into the situation new stimuli that arc completely neutral in comparison with the whole situation and ascribes to them the force of motive. He decides in advance that if the die turns black side up, he will choose one series, and if it turns white side up, the other series. In this way, the choice is made in advance.

The child ascribed the force of motives to neutral stimuli by introducing an auxiliary motive into the situation and leaving selection to the die. Then the child throws the die, it falls black side up, he selects the first series and the choice is made. How different it is from the selection the child had just made between similar series without the help of the die! We can compare the two processes experimentally and observe something very instructive.

First we will analyze the selection using the die. What shall we call the action chosen by the child – free or not free? On the one hand, it was not at all free, bin strictly determined; the child carried out the action not because he wanted to, not because he preferred it to the alternative, not even because he was simply drawn to it, but exclusively because the die fell black side up. The child carried out the action as a reaction to a stimulus, as a response to instruction; a second earlier he could not have said which of the two actions he would take. Thus, we have the most determined, least free selection. But, on the other hand, in themselves, the black and white sides of the die do not to any degree compel the child to take one action or the other. The child himself ascribed to it the force of a motive in advance and he himself linked one action to the white side and the other to the black side of the die. He did this solely in order to determine his selection through these stimuli. Thus, we have maximum freedom and a completely voluntary act. Dialectical contradiction consisting of freedom of the will appears here in an experimentally separated form accessible to analysis.

The experiment tells us that freedom of will is not freedom from motives; it consists in that the child recognizes a situation, recognizes the need to make a choice based on motive and, as the philosophical definition states, in the given case, his freedom is the recognition of necessity. The child controls his selection reaction, but not in such a way as to change the laws that govern it, but in such a way as to make it subject to Bacon’s law[note], that is, as subject to laws.

As we know, the basic law of our behavior states that behavior is determined by situations and reaction is elicited by stimuli; for this reason the key to controlling behavior lies in controlling stimuli. We cannot master our own behavior except through appropriate stimuli. In cases of selection with the die of which we just spoke, the child controls his behavior, directs his behavior through the auxiliary stimuli. In this sense, human behavior is no exception to the laws of nature. As we know, we are subject to nature, comply with its laws. Our behavior is one of the natural processes, the basic law of which is also the law of stimulus-response, and for this reason the basic law of mastering natural processes is mastering them through stimuli. We must not bring forth any process of behavior and control it other than by creating an appropriate stimulus.

Only spiritualistic psychology could admit that the spirit directly affects the body, that our thoughts are a purely mental process and can elicit any change in human behavior. Thus, S. Ramon y Cajal explains the influence of will on the process of conceptions by the contraction of neurological cells affected by will; he explains the activity of attention in the same way.

His opponent is completely justified in asking: how can will, from which Ramon y Cajal diverts such a major role, be effective? Is not this the property of the neuroglial cell? Is it possible to understand the word “will” as a nervous current? Actually, if we assume that the mental process can shift a brain atom by even a millionth part – the law of conservation of energy will be disrupted, that is, we must instantly reject the basic principle of natural science on which all of contemporary science is based. It remains for us to assume that our control over our own processes of behavior are constructed in essentially the same way as control over natural processes. Of course, man living in society is always affected by other people. Speech, for example, is one of the powerful means of affecting the behavior of others, and naturally, in the process of development, man himself masters the means by which others controlled his behavior.

O. Neurath developed a position on the use of auxiliary means in the study of so-called auxiliary motives; dice are a simple form of such means when they function to affect one’s decision, that is, the choice one makes, through some neutral stimuli that acquire the force of motives because of this significance.

We can cite many examples of auxiliary motives.

William James, in analyzing the voluntary act, turns to the daily act of getting up. Upon waking, a person knows, on the one hand, that he must get up and, on the other hand, that he would like to sleep a little longer. A conflict of motives develops. The two motives alternate, appear in consciousness, and replace each other. James believed that it is most characteristic that at the instant of vacillation, for the person, the moment of transition to action, the moment of decision, passes unnoticed. It is as if it had not happened at all. Suddenly, one of the motives, as if nudged, squeezes out the competitor and almost automatically results in a selection. Suddenly I find myself getting up – this is one way of putting it.

The elusiveness of this most important moment in the voluntary act can be explained by the fact that its mechanism is internal. The auxiliary motive in this case is not sufficiently distinct and clear. A typical, developed voluntary act in the same situation exhibits the following three instants: (1) I must get up (motive), (2) I don’t want to get up (motive), (3) counting to oneself: one, two, three (auxiliary motive) and (4) at the count of three, rising. This is the introduction of an auxiliary motive, creating a situation from within that makes me get up. This is completely similar to saying to a child, “Now, one, two, three – drink your medicine.” This is will in the true sense of the word. In the example of getting up, I got up at the signal “three” (conditioned reflex), but I, myself, through a signal and a connection with it, got up, that is, I controlled my behavior through an auxiliary stimulus or an auxiliary motive. We find the mechanism itself, that is, controlling oneself through auxiliary stimuli, in experimental and clinical studies of the will.

K. Lewin did experimental studies on the formation and execution of so-called intentional acts. He came to this conclusion: intention itself is a volitional act that creates situations that make it possible for a man to subject himself subsequently to the action of external stimuli so that carrying out the intended act is not at all voluntary, but is an act purely of the conditioned-reflex order. I decide to drop a letter in the mailbox and for this reason I remember an appropriate connection between the mailbox and my action. This and only this is the essence of intention. I created a certain connection that will subsequently act automatically in the manner of a natural need. Lewin calls this a quasi-need. Now I must go out into the street – and the first mailbox will automatically make me carry out the whole operation of mailing the letter.

Thus, a study of intention compels a conclusion that seems paradoxical at first glance – specifically, intention is a typical process of controlling one’s own behavior by creating appropriate situations and connections, but executing it is a process that is completely independent of will and takes place automatically. In this way, the paradox of the will consists in that the will creates involuntary acts. However, even here there is a great difference between executing an intended action that is seemingly dictated by the newly created need and a simple habit.

Lewin explains voluntary action with the same example of the mailbox. Of course, if in the given case the conditioned connection simply called a habit in a conditioned reflex, we would have to expect that the second, third, etc., mailbox would be an even stronger reminder of mailing the letter. Moreover, the created apparatus stops acting as soon as the need for which it was created is satisfied. Here the process of the voluntary action is reminiscent of the course of the ordinary instinctive reaction. Lewin does not fully appreciate the essential difference between voluntary and involuntary actions evident in his experiment.

As his experiments have shown, human behavior that does not have a specific intention is subject to the power of the situation. Every thing requires some kind of action, elicits, excites, actualizes some kind of reaction. The typical behavior of a person waiting in an empty room with nothing to do is characterized mainly by the fact that he is at the mercy of the environment. Intention is also based on creating an action in response to a direct need of things or, as Lewin says, coming out of the surrounding field. The intention to mail the letter creates a situation in which the first mailbox acquires the capability of determining our behavior, but in addition, with intention, an essential change in the person’s behavior occurs. The person, using the power of things or stimuli, controls his own behavior through them, grouping them, putting them together, sorting them. In other words, the great uniqueness of the will consists of man having no power over his own behavior other than the power that things have over his behavior. But man subjects to himself the power of things over behavior, makes them serve his own purposes and controls that power as he wants. He changes the environment with his external activity and in this way affects his own behavior, subjecting it to his own authority.

That in Lewin’s experiments we are actually speaking of such control of oneself through stimuli is easy to see from his example. The subject is asked to wait for a long time and to no purpose in an empty room. She vacillates – to leave or to continue waiting, a conflict of motives occurs. She looks at her watch; this only reinforces one of the motives, specifically, it is time to go, it is already late. Until now the subject was exclusively at the mercy of the motives, but now she begins to control her own behavior. The watch instantly constituted a stimulus that acquires the significance of an auxiliary motive. The subject decides “When the hands of the watch reach a certain position, I will get up and leave.” Consequently, she closes a conditioned connection between the position of the hands and her leaving; she decides to leave through the hands of the watch and she acts in response to external stimuli, in other words, she introduces an auxiliary motive similar to the dice or the count “one, two, three” for getting up. In this example, it is very easy to see how a change in the functional role of the stimulus, its conversion to an auxiliary motive, occurs.

Clinical studies of hysteria also make it possible to detect this kind of separation.

E. Bleuler established long ago the relative independence of the almost automatic actuating mechanism separate from will and from decision. Bleuler calls this the apparatus of chance and cites the same example as Lewin: “I wrote a letter, put it in my pocket with the intention of dropping it into the nearest mailbox. 1 don’t have to think about it any more. The first mailbox I see after I leave home will remind me to mail the letter.” When a person makes a choice, he seemingly establishes in his brain an apparatus, for example, that green will cause him to react with his right hand and red, with his left.

In isolated reactions, the conscious “I” participates very little or not at all. The reaction proceeds automatically. The opposite also happens when consciousness interferes and prevents reaction. In the examples cited above, using a simple primary situation, we constructed a certain cerebral apparatus for determining the case at hand. The apparatus makes the decision in exactly the same way as habit creates automatic apparatus or as phylogenesis constructs appropriate apparatus.

In the words of Kretschmer, every decision, every wish to undertake something, creates this kind of functional apparatus, beginning from the simplest automatism resembling reflexes and responding to certain stimuli with reaction, as in a simple psychological experiment, and ending with a continuing real-life problem that ends only at death and whose resolution may be interrupted thousands of times. The question of whether to sleep after the alarm or not to sleep after the alarm is an example of this; a similar apparatus may also develop as a result of combining the centrifugal part of one reflex with some new stimulus (the Pavlovian conditioned reflex).

We can draw these two conclusions. First, we see that in voluntary action, we must differentiate two apparatus that are relatively independent of each other. The first corresponds to the instant of decision and consists in the formation of a certain functional apparatus, in establishing a reflex connection and in forming a new nerve path. This is the closure part of the voluntary process. It is formed exactly as habit is formed, that is, it consists of constructing a conditioned reflex curve. In brief, we might say that this is an artificially created reflex. In our experiments it corresponds to the instant that is presented very satisfactorily in isolated form, the instant of decision to act in a certain way depending on the fall of the die. Here we see most clearly the moment of decision because at this very moment, the subject still does not know how he will act. Here we see clearly that the decision itself that determines the subsequent choice is completely analogous to the formation of a double connection in the selection reaction. The subject as if gives himself the instruction: “If the die falls black side up, I will react in one way, if white side up, I will react in another.”

Second, we must distinguish the actuating apparatus, that is, the functioning of the cerebral connection already formed in this way. In the examples of Lewin and Bleuler, this would correspond to the moment of carrying out a voluntary action when the mailbox reminds me to mail the letter. In our example, this would be the implementing of one action or another after throwing the die. The second, relatively independent part of the voluntary process acts exactly as the selection reaction usually acts. Here we have the Pavlovian conditioned reflex.

If the first instance consists in creating a conditioned reflex that might be compared to the instant in the laboratory when a dog develops a conditioned reflex, then the second instance consists in the functioning of an already developed reflex; an analogy to this can be found in the action of a developed conditioned stimulus.

Thus, the paradox of the will consists in that we create with its help an involuntarily acting mechanism.

The question of the relation of the second, or actuating mechanism, to the first, or closure mechanism, can be answered in different ways.

Experiments lead Lewin to the conviction that there is a closer dependence between the first and second instance, that in this case, a quasi-need is formed that itself automatically turns off the corresponding apparatus after the quasi-need is extinguished. Thus, in Lewin’s opinion, the need arises first and the conditioned connection in itself is not the true cause of purposeful action, for, says Lewin, if an intended action were subject to the law of association, then, due to the law of repetition, the second, third, and fourth mailbox would arouse a stronger memory about the letter than the first. If this does not actually happen, it is only because a purposeful action is similar not to habit, but to need. When the need expires, the apparatus created to serve it disappears of itself.

Clinical data led Kretschmer, on the other hand, to the position that this is an erroneous representation, that apparently every movement, every function of the central nervous system ends by itself. In his opinion, every closure that develops must be opened again in order for it to stop functioning. Kretschmer says that there are as few self-originated changes in physiology as there are in physics. He cites examples of the fact that once a set-up is created, it continues to function automatically. In his opinion, even at the very beginning an action frequently becomes relatively independent of the will so that the will only creates a prepared set-up that now begins to work of itself. And this set-up produced for a specific purpose, this functional apparatus, does not stop working of itself. For this a special directed impulse of the will is required that would inactivate the closure established for a given purpose, would switch it off; otherwise it would continue to work endlessly. In Kretschmer’s opinion, it is specifically this that occurs in hysteria. A functional apparatus appropriate for a given case is formed that becomes liberated from the will and acquires an existence independent of it and continues to work despite it and even against it.

Observation leads us to the conclusion that in this case, the truth is on Lewin’s side and not on Kretschmer’s. Kretschmer’s data indicate that only in those cases produced by decision does the apparatus continue to lead an independent existence, when there are special motives that support it. When this is not so, it switches off automatically and, as experiments demonstrate, it switches off because at the moment of decision, that is, at the moment of the creation of this apparatus, all differentiated conditions for its existence and activity are determined. If it continues to function (and this happens in cases of anomaly), the apparatus created begins to feed on other sources of energy and results in the formation of hysteria.

Thus, we came to separating the voluntary act into two separate processes of which the first, corresponding to decision, consists in the closure of a new brain connection, in wearing through a path, or in creating a special functional apparatus. The second, or actuating process, consists of the work of the apparatus created, in action according to instruction, in implementing a decision, and it exhibits all the marks of the selection reaction that we studied. In connection with such a separation of the voluntary act into two separate processes, we must also distinguish the different methods of action of stimuli on both processes and in connection with this, the special kind of auxiliary stimulus or motive for each process. Thus we arrive at distinguishing the concepts of stimulus and motive.

If as stimulus, we understand the more or less simple stimulation acting directly on an already established reflex curve, no matter how it was established, and as motive, we understand a complex system of stimuli connected with the construction, formation, or selection of one of the reflex curves, then differentiating between a motive and a stimulus can be quite precise. We can say that the stimulus becomes a motive under certain conditions, it activates a complex reactive formation intruding into a certain system formed to evaluate the set-up and habits. This complex, reactive formation crystallized around the stimulus is a motive. Thus, in voluntary selection it is not stimuli that are in conflict, but reactive formations, whole systems of assemblies. The motive is, in a certain sense, a reaction to a stimulus. Stimuli seemingly activate associates and involve them in the conflict, they fight as if they were armed. In a concrete collision of two stimuli a conflict of assemblies may occur. If we imagine a simple case in which I decide not to greet a person, having lost my respect for him, then the direct stimulus would be meeting him and remembering my decision. The conflict is actually not between two stimuli: this was resolved earlier when the apparatus itself was formed, at the moment of decision, and comes into being as a result of the conflict of motives in the sense of that word, as we have just said.

We can take a further step in understanding the processes of voluntary selection if we admit not only the fact that in voluntary selection, it is not stimuli, but motives that are in conflict but if we also admit that the conflict itself is not what stimuli in general are in conflict over. In voluntary selection with a conflict of motives there is also a conflict over the common motive field, generally not for the actuating mechanism, but for the closure mechanism. This distinction has a deep psychological and neurological significance. We shall start with the latter.

As established by C. Sherrington, the conflict over the common motive field and how it is most clearly apparent in the collision of two reflexes in a dog, for example, an itch that requires scratching the back and a protective drawing back that requires bending over, is in essence a conflict of two nervous currents proceeding from sensory paths to the efferent neuron. This conflict over a motor path depends to a significant degree on purely mechanical conditions.

The conflict of motives that occurs when a decision is made is not over the actuating mechanism, not over the efferent neuron, and not over the motor path for the already developed nervous excitation – it is over the choice of closure path. For this reason, we are speaking not of whether one and the same implementing organ was defeated in the conflict by a stimulation present in another, but of which path to select, what kind of uniting pathway in the brain cortex to establish, what kind of closure or cerebral apparatus to create. Because of this, from the neurological point of view, transferring the conflict to a different territory, to another instance, and changing the very object of the conflict is of greatest importance.

Of itself it is understood that these changes are not without consequences for the conflict process itself since its outcome can be determined by quite different factors under these completely new conditions in which the conflict is occurring. Specifically, we think that making a decision in favor of a motive that is weaker in the biological sense may be truly explained only in connection with transferring the whole process to new instances. Here we immediately come to the psychological significance of the distinction we made. If it is true that the conflict is not over the actuating mechanism, but over closure, then we can determine selection itself as construction of this kind of cerebral apparatus. Selection is an act of the closure mechanism, that is, closure of the connection between the given stimulus and the reaction. Everything that follows occurs exactly as it does in selection following instruction.

The psychological significance of this may be reduced to three basic points.

The first is that the conflict of motives shifts in time – is transferred to an earlier moment. The conflict between motives frequently occurs a long time before the actual situation develops in which it becomes necessary to act. As a rule, the conflict of motives and the decision coupled with it are, in general, possible only if they precede in time the conflict of stimuli; otherwise the conflict of motives is converted simply into a conflict over a common motive field. In this way, the conflict is moved along and is played out and decided upon to its very end; it is a seemingly anticipated regimental leader for the strategic plan of the competition. Psychologically, it is very understandable that developing the plan may be completely different from its execution. A decision is made and the conflict ends often long before the real or actual conflict begins.

Another substantial psychological change in the process of selection is that here we have an explanation of the basic problem of voluntary action which was left essentially unresolved on the basis of empirical psychology. We have in mind the well-known illusion that always arises with a voluntary act and consists in that the voluntary act is directed as if along a line of greatest resistance. We select what is more difficult and call only such a choice voluntary.

William James recognized this problem as being unsolvable on the basis of a scientific deterministic view of the will and had to admit the intrusion of spiritual force, the voluntary “yes, let it be!” “Yes, let it be” (“fiat” – the word with which God created the world). Selection of the word itself is very indicative. If we conceal the philosophy of this term, we can easily see that, in essence, hidden behind it is the following idea. To explain the voluntary act, for example, the fact that a person on the operating table represses cries of pain and stretches out to the surgeon the affected member despite a direct impulse that would make him pull his arm away and scream, science cannot say anything else except that here we have a repetition of an act like the creation of the world, but of course on a microscopic scale. This means that explaining a voluntary act led the scientist standing on empirical ground to a purely biblical teaching on the creation of the world.

A number of observations, particularly experimental studies, have shown that this illusion of action along the line of greatest resistance arises regularly every time a voluntary selection is made.

Recently, Claparède came to the same conclusion on the basis of his experiments. But most important is the fact that the illusion is elicited by something that is undoubtedly objective. To disclose the objective moment embedded in the process of voluntary selection that leads to the development of this illusion, we can formulate the state of the matter thus: in voluntary selection, both the subject and the experimenter following the line of greatest resistance give the impression that the outcome of the conflict would be different if it had occurred at different instances. If it had actually been a conflict over motive fields, the patient on the operating table would undoubtedly scream and would pull his hurt arm away since the relative force of the stimulation and all the other points indicated by Sherrington affecting the result of this conflict certainly favor such an outcome.

However, the illusion arises not only in the subject, but also in psychologists. They do not take into account the simple fact that the line of greatest resistance in some instances may be the line of least resistance in others. Transferring the conflict from the stimulus to the motive, transferring it to a new plan and changing the object itself of the conflict profoundly transforms both the relative strength of the initial stimuli and the conditions and outcome of the conflict between them. The stronger stimulus may become the weaker motive and conversely, the stronger stimulation that automatically would have dominated the motor efferent path at the decisive moment would be breached in the same way that a strong stream of water tears through a dike. This stimulation can only affect the selection of the closure path tangentially, that is, only one-sidedly.

It seems to us that without such distinction, psychology would not be able at all to find a way to study the higher forms of human behavior and establish the main difference between the behavior of man and animals.

Let us consider a simple example. In Pavlov’s experiments, a positive reaction was developed to painful, damaging stimulation. The dog reacted to an injection, to burns, to pain just as it normally reacts to feeding. Pavlov indicates that such deviation of reaction from the initial path might have arisen only as a result of a very long conflict between two reflex curves, a conflict that sometimes ended in conquest of one opponent or the other. Significantly, Pavlov’s opinion, based on experiments, is that the one-sided connection existing between these reactions is determined by the nature of the beast. This means that the food center being biologically stronger can draw to itself the stimulation that usually goes to the pain center, but not the other way around.

Moreover, a person says he is hungry and continues to be hungry. It seems to us that from the common view of a person who experiences hunger and does not eat the food given him regardless of terrible hunger, we can say that his behavior is directed along the line of greatest resistance. The fact of suicide among people, the fact that it is not found in the animal kingdom, has long been considered paradoxical for all teaching on freedom of the will, and not without reason did many philosophers consider it a sign of human freedom. But, of course, as in the case with hunger and in James’ example of the patient on the operating table, here too freedom is, of course, not freedom from necessity, but freedom understood as recognizing necessity. In this plan, the expression “to take oneself in hand” may have a certain literal sense like the expression “to stand the pain, clenching his teeth.” This means that the basis of such freedom, like the basis of freedom with respect to the external world, is recognition of necessity.

The third psychological point resulting from our distinguishing between stimuli and motives is that the character of the auxiliary stimulus used changes depending on whether this stimulus is an auxiliary means in the conflict over the closure mechanism or in the conflict over the actuating mechanism. Dice as a voluntary sign and mnemotechnical signs in the selection reaction with instruction fulfill completely different functions psychologically. We can say that the difference between predetermined selection and free selection is that in one case, the subject carries out the instruction and in the other, he creates the instruction. In psychological terms, this would correspond to the fact that in one case an established actuating mechanism functions and in the other, we are speaking of creating the apparatus itself.

From what has been said, we can reach a most important psychological conclusion: this is how we can explain the old teaching of the intellectualists who point out that laws of will are, in essence, laws of memory, that in the true sense, ways and means of thought controlling action belong to will, that the will mechanism essentially is not anything other than association that is under our control, and that in connection with this, the technique of desire in action, as Meumann noted, is, to a significant degree, mnemotechnique. All of this indicates that voluntary action may be trained, that in themselves, voluntary factors, like Ach’s determining tendencies, are most likely contrary to will and as will, we can understand only those means by which we control action. In this sense, will means control over action carried out in itself; we only create artificial conditions in order to carry out the action; for this reason, will is never a direct, unmediated process.

In the chapter on memory, we cited the valid opinion of psychologists, going back to Spinoza, that the soul cannot carry out any kind of intention if it does not remember it. However, these psychologists, it seems to us, erroneously assumed the actuating mechanism to be the essence of the voluntary process and paid no attention to the process itself of the formation of this mechanism. This is absolutely correct: implementing an intended action is very much like a mnemotechnical operation, that is, an artificial conditioned-associative connection between a stimulus and response. But the process itself of establishing this connection proceeds quite differently.

Kretschmer, as we have seen above, distinguishing two wills and explaining all features of behavior of the hysteric by conflict of the two wills, comes directly to the conclusion that we are dealing not only with two different directions of reaction of the hysterical patient, who, in contrast to the patient in James’ example, coming to the doctor, wants the doctor to cure him, on the one hand, and, on the other hand, like all hysterical patients, is opposed to this. Here, as Kretschmer’s brilliant clinical analysis shows, this is not a situation like the conflict between two stimuli or two motives. He says that the situation pertains not only to two different observations, but also to different aspects of will and in this lies the main part of the problem. The view of the will in which the patient is opposed to his cure exhibits a completely different structure psychologically than the view in which the patient strives for recovery. Kretschmer calls the first type of will hypobulia, and the second will in the true sense of the word.

In clinical observations, we can distinguish the effect of stimuli on one voluntary apparatus and the effect of motives on another. The will of the patient-hysteric is affected by reasonable arguments and evidence, consideration, appreciation of one’s situation and, in general, everything that leads him to a decision. Another view of will that makes the patient oppose cure is characterized mainly by this will being blind, not appreciating the situation, and not connected with the intellectual mechanisms. As Kretschmer says, this will is like a foreign body with respect to the integral personality; it is blind, without memory of the past or thought of the future. It concentrates on the present moment, and the character of its reaction is determined exclusively by the impression of that moment. This will is not affected by conviction or reasonable arguments; they do not reach it and it does not hear them, for it they are an empty place; it can be affected only in other ways, for example, by a loud shout, a sharp or unexpected blow, pain, or a jolt. Thus, in brief, the first will flows from motives, the second reacts to stimulation.

We might say that in the second case what is acting is an isolated cerebral apparatus. Most important is the following. What we note in the hysteric as a kind of sick foreign body, be it a demon or a counterpart of purposeful will, we find in higher animals and in small children. For them it is will in general, it is a step in development and is a normal, perhaps the only, existing method of desire.

The hypobulic type of will is an ontogenetic and phylogenetic lower step of the purposeful apparatus. In addition to this, we see the genetic point of view injected into the teaching on will. The two apparatus of the will of which we spoke from the very beginning are actually two stages in the genesis of will.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing that the psychologist can now say about will is the following: will develops and is the product of the cultural development of the child. Self-control and the principles and means of this control do not differ basically from control over the environment. Man is part of nature, his behavior is a natural process, and controlling it forms like all control of nature, according to Bacon’s principle that “nature is overcome by subjection.” Not in vain does Bacon place control of nature and control of intellect in one order; he says that the bare hand and the mind taken in themselves do not mean much – the deed is done with tools and auxiliary means.

But no one expressed with such clarity the general idea that freedom of will is derived from and develops in the process of the historical development of humanity as did Engels. He says: “Not in the imaginary independence of laws of nature does freedom lie, but in recognizing these laws and, based on this, knowing the possibilities of systematically making the laws of nature work toward certain goals. This refers both to laws of external nature and to laws that govern the bodily and mental existence of man himself – that there are two classes of laws that can be separated from each other is the most important thing in our concept which is by no means far from reality. Consequently, freedom of will means nothing other than the ability to make a decision with knowledge of the matter” (Marx and Engels, Collected Works, Vol. 20, p. 116). In other words, Engels places in one order the control of nature and control of self. Freedom of will with respect to one and the other is, for him as for Hegel, understanding necessity.

Engels says: “Consequently, freedom is based on recognizing the needs of nature (Naturnotwendigheiten), control of ourselves and of external nature; for this reason, it is an indispensable product of historical development. The first humans coming out of the animal kingdom were in all essentials as lacking in freedom as the animals; but each step forward on the path of culture was a step toward freedom” (ibid.).

Therefore, the psychologist-geneticist is confronted with the most important task of finding in the development of the child the lines along which maturation of freedom of the will occurs. We are confronted with the task of presenting the gradual growth of this freedom, of disclosing its mechanisms and showing it as a product of development.

We have seen that for the clinician, the genetic significance of the will of the hysteric is clear. In the words of Janet, in studying the hysteric, we are dealing with a large child. Kretschmer says of the hysteric that he cannot be convinced or simply forced, he must be constrained.

The method with which we affect the will in difficult cases of hysteria is similar to the concept of training. It does not differ in principle from will in the higher sense of the word. The latter does not create new mechanisms. This is apparent from the fact that people of whom we speak as having a strong will base this trait on a well-conserved hypobulia.

The philosophical perspective opens before us at this point of our study. For the first time in the process of psychological studies we can resolve essentially purely philosophical problems by means of a psychological experiment and demonstrate empirically the origin of the freedom of human will. We cannot trace in all its completeness the philosophical perspective opening before us here. We expect to do this in another work devoted specifically to philosophy. Now we shall try only to note this perspective in order to see most clearly the place we have reached. We cannot help but note that we have come to the same understanding of freedom and self-control that Spinoza developed in his “Ethics.”


Note: Natura non vincitur nisi parendo” (Nature cannot be vanquished until she is obeyed), Aphorism 3 of Book 1 of Novum Organum Scientiarum, Francis Bacon.