Music Psychology – The Will

WILL is the name usually given to the executive faculty of the soul. It makes the third grand division of our psychology, and completes the round of all the known modes of mental activity. An act of will implies choice, motive and execution. In so far as it implies choice it rests in a cognitive function; in so far as it implies motive it rests in an emotional function; and on its executive side it rests in motor function. So then the will as the supreme faculty covers the field both of the concepts and of the feelings; it extends its sway over the entire realm of psychic life. It is royal in its nature and if not dethroned by the anarchistic forces of low animal passions and indulgences, it is seated upon its throne and “by divine right” rules the life of man in simple majesty and order.

The choice involved in an act of volition depends on knowledge, The will is, therefore, an intelligent sovereign. There could be no choice between different things or different courses of action if there were not knowledge of the things discriminated. In that beautiful allegory, “The Choice of Hercules,” when the young hero stood perplexed at the point where he had to choose one path or the other, he was fully instructed by the two virgins, Virtue and Vice, concerning the nature and goal of their respective paths, and therefore made his choice intelligently. It is a correct representation of every true choice. In choice there is always knowledge of alternatives and deliberation upon the merits of the things in consciousness. In order that the will may guide to a right and safe goal there must be adequate information; otherwise it will be like the blind leading the blind. If knowledge be lacking volition résolves itself into submission to fate, which goes ever “as weird must go.” First, then, as the basis for the development of a resolute and normal will, there must be a liberal supply of concepts, both extensive and intensive knowledge.

The motive power of volition is furnished by the feelings. The direction in which the will goes is determined by an idea, but the propelling force which urges it on to its goal is emotion. It is true, that the emotions themselves, as we have seen, are modified and even controlled by the will; but it is also true that the emotions thus innervated and strengthened, in turn react upon the will to determine its action. If my feelings are indifferent, my will is weak, undecided, wavering. If I cherish no noble ambition, the hope or expectation of whose attainment thrills my soul with an inner delight, my will is not able to surmount the petty obstacles that lie in my way. If the feeling of a worthy purpose does not move your will, you will never become a good musician. Your ardent desires, your earnest longings, your sincere love for your art must fan your will into a flame, and then the little difficulties which obstruct your way will soon be consumed. It is an old saying that “love conquers all things,” and also that “a stout heart makes a strong arm.” In the light of our subject is disclosed the philosophy of these maxims; we see how love conquers’ and how the `stout heart’ innervates the arm for mighty execution.

Our remarks lead us again to the physiological aspect of the subject, namely, to consider how the nervous energy of a high-wrought feeling like water from a reservoir on a high elevation, with great potentiality discharges itself downward into the motor organs. It is an exceedingly fascinating field which the `new psychology’ has opened up to view; but we cannot enter now. Many startling and radical things are said by writers on the subject, but most of them remain to be proved. According to Munsterberg, “The will is only a complex of sensations.” If this is a fair specimen of the `new doctrines,’ we prefer to cling to the old until we have better information.

The question concerning the freedom of the will has puzzled the minds of philosophers from the earliest days, and it is not yet settled in all its aspects. But in the light of the best philosophy and the best science of today there is no good reason for doubting that the will of man, in the right sense of the word, is free. When the physiological aspects of the problem are cleared up it will be found that the facts which appear to militate against the doctrine of freedom really do not belong to the will proper. The determinism of reflex action is not the determinism of will.

We must assume that the choices and decisions of man are free, that is, they are his own unconstrained acts, otherwise we have no foundation for character. If I am not the author of my acts, then I am not responsible for them; then the administration of moral law and civil law is lawlessness, Moral law and civil law imply accountability, and accountability implies freedom to choose and act. We do not forget the influence of heredity and environment in shaping character; but eliminate these, and the great central factor remains. A man cannot choose his parents; heredity is a powerful factor; but it is a matter of common observation that a man by the power of his will can deeply modify and in many instances entirely overcome the appetites and tendencies which he has received from his parents. If a son has in his nature the taint of a hereditary fondness for drink, it does not follow that he must be and will be a drunkard; he has a power within him which by proper cultivation is able to overcome the hereditary leaning. We believe that resisting the devil, overcoming temptation, and such like phrases in the language of religion and morals are more than mere figures of speech. They are solid facts, and they have their foundation in psychological principles.

Environment is a powerful factor in shaping character; we have remarked concerning it in the chapter on association, and we see it daily illustrated. But it is also true, in the first place, that a man can to a great extent determine his environment, and, in the second place, that he can materially modify his existing environment. On the authority of experience and the authority of God’s word any man, by the grace of God, can be what he ought to be, an honest, upright, industrious, temperate, law-abiding, pious, Christian man. The fact argues the sovereignty of will and sovereignty implies freedom.

The will, like all other faculties, is capable of cultivation. Not all men are gifted alike in respect to will power; not every man is a Napoleon. But whatever a man’s endowment, he can improve it indefinitely. The child’s will is undeveloped, capricious, and lawless; it needs to have its potency developed and guided and controlled. A large share in the business of education has to do with will training. To control the child’s will power and to enlist it in the work of mental development is the teacher’s first strategic point. And in mature life it is a prominent duty of everyone to attend to the culturing of his will. The cultivation of will consists not alone in developing strength, but also in directing its energy in the proper channel, in keeping it under proper control, and in coordinating it in a normal manner with the various other elements of psychic life.

What has been given in the chapter on habit by way of rules for the formation of right habits is applicable here by way of suggestion as to the cultivation of the will. We have also in another place spoken of the possibilities of the will in practical life and of its influences on states of body and mind, and therefore this subject needs nothing further here. In our brief remarks in this chapter on the will we have but hinted at a few things from the midst of a great and broad field upon which volumes have been written, and which our brief space forbids us to unfold.