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NATURE OF THE EMOTIONS.
§. 13. We have a knowledge of emotions by consciousness. In prosecuting the examination of the Sensibilities, in accordance with the plan which has been marked out in the Introduction, we begin with the Emotions. It is of course implied in the arrangement we have inade, which assigns them a distinct place, that this class of mental states has a nature and characteristics of its own, in virtue of which they are distinguished from all others. At the same time it cannot be denied, that it is extremely difficult to explain by mere words what that precise nature is. We do not suppose, indeed, that any one is ignorant of what is meant, when we have occasion to speak of an emotion, whether it be an emotion of melancholy, of cheerfulness, of surprise, or of some other kind. But whatever may be the fact as to our knowledge, it is unquestionable, that we are unable to give a verbal explanation of them, in themselves considered. In this respect they are like all other states of the mind, which are truly simple. The fact of their entire simplicity necessarily renders them undefinable ; because a definition implies a separation of the thing defined into parts. So that we are dependent for a knowledge of the interior and essential nature of emotions, not upon verbal explanations and definitions, which are inadequate to the communication of such knowledge, but upon consciousness. It is a species of knowledge, which the soul reveals to itself by its own act, directly and immediately. While, therefore, we do not profess to define emotions, in any proper and legitiinate sense of defining, we may commend them without impropriety to each one's internal examination. And certainly we may rely upon the intimations, which consciousness, when properly interrogated, can hardly fail to disclose, in this case as well as in others.
§. 14. The place of emotions, considered in reference to other mental acts.
Although, in attempting to give some idea of Emotions, we are obliged, for a knowledge of them, in themselves considered, to refer each one to his own consciousness, we may nevertheless mention some circumstances, which throw an indirect light on them; and at any rate render more clear to our perception the relation, which they sustain to other mental states. The first circumstance, which we propose to indicate, has reference to the position which they occupy ; (of course it will be understood that we mean their position, not in the material sense of the term, but in time or succession.) It will be found on examination to be the fact, as we have already had occasion to suggest, that Emotions always occupy a place between intellections or acts of the intellect and the desires, if they are natural emotions; and between intellections and feelings of moral obligation, if they are moral emotions. That they are subsequent to intellections, we believe must be abundantly clear. It is as obvious as any axiom of geometry, that we cannot have any feeling, any emotion, in respect to that, whatever it is, which we have no knowledge of.
In regard to the Desires, it is true, that like the emotions they are subsequent to the perceptive and cognitive acts ; but it is well understood that they are not in immediate proximity with them. It is perfectly obvious, that no act of perception, or of cognition in any shape, can lay the foundation for a desire, unless the object of perception is pleasant to us; in other words, unless it excites within us pleasant einotions. For, whenever we speak of a thing as pleasant to us, we certainly involve the fact, that we have pleasant emotions in view of it.
-Nor, furthermore, can any perceptive or intellectual act lay the foundation for Obligatory feelings, (that is to say, feelings of moral obligation,) without the intervention and aid of moral emotions. It may be regarded as selfevident, that we never could feel under moral obligation to do or not to do a thing, unless the thing to be done or not to be done had first excited within us an emotion of approval or disapproval. So that the desires, and those feelings in the moral sensibilities which correspond to them, are based upon emotions, as really as the emotions are based upon intellections. In the order of nature, therefore, ernotions are found in the place which has now been allotted them, and they are found no where else; being always and necessarily posterior to a knowledge of the things to which they relate; and on the other hand, antecedent, by an equally strict natural necessity, to the other states of mind, which have been mentioned. §. 15. The character of emotions changes so as to conform to that of
perceptions. It is important to impress upon the recollection, that the order of succession, in fact and in nature, is precisely that which has been stated, viz, intellections, emotions, and desires in the case of the natural sensibilities, and obligatory feelings in the case of the moral sensibilities. The two last mentioned being followed immediately, as their natural results, by acts of the will, which terminate and complete the entire process of mental action. But as we must take them and examine them in their order, we say further, in regard to the Emotions, which is the topic before us at present, that the fact of their subsequence to intellections and of their being based upon them is confirmed by the circumstance of their always changing or varying in precise accordance with the perceptive or intellective acts. If it were otherwise, (that is to say, if they had any other foundation than intellective acts,) how does it happen, that these changes so uniformly take place? We are looking, for instance, on some extended landscape ; but are so situated, that the view of certain objects is interrupted, and of course the relations of the whole are disturbed. At such a time the emotions we have are far from being pleasant ; perhaps they are decidedly unpleasant. But as soon as our imperfect perceptions are corrected, as soon as we are able to embrace the portions which were previously thrust out of view, and thus restore the interrupted proportions and harmony of the whole scenery, our emotions change at once, and we experience the highest pleasure.Again, if we look at a painting, which has come from the hand of some master of his art, we are distinctly conscious at first sight of a pleasing emotion ; but we examine it further, and make ourselves acquainted with a nuinber of things, less prominent than others but still decidedly showing the skill of the painter, which escaped our first view, and we are conscious of a distinct change in that emotion. It becomes more decided, more full, in precise conformity with the increased knowledge, which we have obtained of the merit, which the picture actually possesses. And it is so, if no unusual disturbing influence is interposed, in every other case, showing not only the intimate but proximate connection between the emotions and the intellective acts, and the dependence of the former on the latter.
§. 16. Emotions characterized by rapidity and variety. When we assert, that the position of emotions is between intellections on the one hand, and desires and obligations on the other, we imply of course, that there is a real and marked distinction between them and the latter mental states. And this distinction exists. If consciousness gives us a knowedge of emotions, the same consciousness can hardly fail to give a knowledge of the mental states that are subsequent to them; and the difference of knowledge, resulting from these different acts of consciousness, involves necessarily a difference in the things known. Among other things, if we consult our consciousness, for the purpose of ascertaining the comparative nature of the mental states in question, we shall undoubtedly be led to notice, that the emotions, as compared with the others, are generally more prompt and rapid in their origin, as well as more evanescent. They arise and depart on the surface of the mind, swelling and sinking almost instantaneously, like the small waves and ripples that play upon the scarcely agitated surface of a summer's lake, and which have no sooner arrested the eye of the beholder than they are gone. The desires and feelings of obligation not only arise subsequently and more slowly, but obviously possess a greater tenacity and inflexibility of nature. When a strong desire or a decided sentiment of duty has once entrenched itself in the soul, it is well known that it is comparatively difficult to dislodge it.
There is another circumstance, involved in the distinction between them. The emotions have less unity in kind ; in other words, are more various. Desires and obligations, although liable like other mental states to be modified by peculiar circumstances, are, in themselves considered, 'always one and the same. But of emotions we find many varieties, such as the emotions of cheerfulness and joy, of melancholy and sorrow, of shame, of surprise, astonishment, and wonder. We have furthermore the emotions, differing from all others, of the ludicrous, the emotions of beauty and sublimity, also the moral emotions of approval and disapproval, and some others. If the reader will bear these statements in mind, taken in connection with some things to be said hereafter, he will feel less objection, than he might otherwise have felt, to the general and subordinate classifications, which we have thought ourselves authorized to make. These divisions we hold to be fundamental. They are necessarily involved, as we apprehend, in a thorough and consistent knowledge of the mind. Important points, for instance, in the doctrine of the Will, will be found to depend upon distinctions, which are asserted to exist in the sensibilities. It is desirable, therefore, that the grounds of such distinctions should be understood, so that they may not only be above rejection, but above doubt.