Can Change the World Again.
A SYSTEM OF MENTAL PHILOSOPHY. 1882.
REV. ASA MAHAN, D. D. LL.D.
Our desires," says Mr. Stewart, "are distinguishable from our appetites by the following circumstances: 1st. They do not take their rise from the body. 2nd. They do not operate periodically after certain intervals, nor do they cease after the attainment of their object," a characteristic which desires possess in common with the affections. Sensations and emotions are passive states of the sensibility. Appetites, affections, and desires are active, or impulsive states of the same department of our nature. Appetites take their rise in the body, and tend towards physical gratifications. The affections impel us to seek the good of sentient existence around us. Those phenomena of the sensibility which impel the mind to or from varied objects of thought as distinguished from those of the affections, are denominated desires. Among these we shall consider the following:
The desire of continued existence,The desire of action,The desire of knowledge, or the love of truth,The desire of esteem, objective and subjective,The desire of power,The desire of authority,The desire or principle of imitation,The desire of superiority,The desire of hoarding,and The desire or love of order.
THE DESIRE OF CONTINUED EXISTENCE.
When the mind attains to a distinct and reflective consciousness of the fact of its existence, it experiences an instinctive desire for the continuance of that existence. In the presence of the idea of the cessation of its physical being an irrepressible desire equally instinctive arises for a continuance of its mental being and activity in another state. Hence the hope of immortality "springs eternal in the human breast." This desire of continued existence is seldom repressed by the experience of unhappiness, and the extinction of hope. Even the suicide cries: "Whence this secret dread, and inward horror of falling into naught?" This universal and instinctive desire for continued existence, "this pleasing hope, this fond desire, this longing after immortality," is an absolute pledge from the Author of our being, that mind will never cease to be.
THE DESIRE FOR ACTION.
"Weary of rest" is a poetic form of speech which represents another mental principle of our sensitive nature. Action, mental and physical, is one of the immutable demands of that nature. Thought, motion, activity, are essential elements of the true and proper life of mind; and when no specific forms of action seem demanded, we bestir ourselves to escape the weariness of inaction. The rest of heaven is not the rest of utter inaction, but forms of blissful activity that never tire. As opposed to a state of inaction, glorified spirits "rest not day nor night." As we are now constituted, action long continued, or violent, overtaxes our powers, and induces the pains of fatigue. Inaction is thus desired, not as a good in itself but as an alleviation. As soon as the powers become invigorated, however, action is desired as a good in itself.
THE DESIRE, OR LOVE OF KNOWLEDGE.
"For the mind to be without knowledge is not good." Universal human nature responds to the truth of that maxim. So strong is the desire for knowledge in the mind, that it often flies from ignorance, when assured, that "knowledge leads to woe." "Who would lose, though full of pain, this intellectual being?" This love of knowledge, as it exists in the mind, assumes two forms, a desire for a knowledge of facts, or mere information, and for science properly so called, that is knowledge in systematic form.
THE DESIRE OF ESTEEM.
The desire to know that we are possessed of the approbation and favor of others, minds, and to be conscious to ourselves, that we deserve the esteem which we enjoy, are the results of original and immutable principles of our sensitive nature. Desire in the form first named, is called the love of reputation, and in the second, self-esteem. Esteem in both forms is a good to universal mind, and within proper limits may be lawfully sought as such. As a mere impulse, however, it may prompt to good or bad actions and cannot, without crime, be indulged, to the sacrifice of moral principle in any form. To sacrifice reputation in order, by adherence to moral principle, to enjoy the conscious desert of the good sacrificed, is one of the purest and noblest forms of virtue.
DESIRE OF POWER.
A little child, in a state of the intensest and most ecstatic excitement, rushed to a neighbor who had called at its father's house, to announce the great fact, that it was then able to put on its shoes without the aid of others. What induced that fullness of joy in that child's mind? It was the consciousness of power, to which it had just attained. A similar love of power dwells in all minds. We love to exercise power over all objects around us, whether material or mental. Those spheres of activity which impart the most distinct consciousness of the possession and exercise of this one prerogative, are of all others preferred. When individuals become distinctly conscious of the possession of any particular kind of power, especially of the ability to exercise such power in its perfected forms, they experience a special delight in its exercise. When, for example individuals acquire real excellence of power in any department of thought or action, they will ever after find special pleasure in such forms of activity.
Here we have revealed an immutable principle which should govern the student, the apprentice, and the clerk, in all stages of their education. It is this: Aim to acquire the entire and conscious mastery of all that you attempt to learn. You will then not only possess real excellence in your future sphere of thought and action, but you will ever after find real pleasure therein.
THE DESIRE OR LOVE OF AUTHORITY.
At first thought, it would appear, that the love of authority is only a special form in which the love of power develops and manifests itself. Whether this, in fact is so or not, the former is so peculiar in itself, that it demands special notice. The relation of ruler and subject does not imply either mental or physical superiority in the former over the latter. The ruler of a kingdom, the president of this nation, or the governor of a state, is not always the wisest, nor the strongest individual in his nation or state. Yet the will of such ruler is, in many respects, law to his subjects, and this is what is meant by authority. We are so constituted by our Maker, that the exercise of such prerogative is a source of real delight and gratification. In the proper exercise of such prerogatives, the ruler is ennobled in public estimation, while the subject is not debased. To each of these relations, those of ruler and subject, our nature is fundamentally adapted. The people naturally delight in subjection to wholesome authority, while rulers are blessed in its exercise.
THE DESIRE OR PRINCIPLE OF IMITATION.
Man, in fundamental particulars, is, from the immutable laws of his being, a copyist. The child copies the man, and as imitative beings, our speech, our manners, and to a great extent, our morals, unconsciously take form from those of the community around us. We naturally dislike to be singular, and he is a moral hero who dares to do right, in opposition to general example around him. The power which fashion sways over community has its basis in the principle under consideration. Other influences combine with this to give it power, such for example, as the love of country, reverence of ancestry, respect for associates, and the principle of friendship. The power of example, also, has its chief foundation in the principle under consideration. What others do, we are naturally inclined to copy. Hence any form of activity which constantly stands revealed before us in living example, we almost unconsciously take on.
THE LOVE OF SUPERIORITY.
When we witness any form of activity performed by others, we are naturally inclined, not only to repeat the same, but as naturally desire to excel what we perceive to have been done. The desire to excel does not imply delight in the want of excellence in others; nor that theirs shall be less than ours actually is. On the other hand, when we know what others are, or can do, we naturally desire to reach a higher degree of excellence, and rejoice in the thought that we have greater forms and degrees of excellence than they possess. That such is the constitution of our nature is undeniable, and to it the progress of society towards higher and higher forms and degrees of excellence is chiefly owing. Nor is action under this principle wrong in itself. My neighbor for example, does well in some given department of thought or activity in which I am engaged. Where is the wrong in my desiring and aiming to attain to a form of excellence more perfect than his? If this desire induces, in me the spirit of envy, jealousy, or detraction, here is a moral wrong, and that wrong consists, not in the mere desire entertained, nor in any form of proper action under it, but in violating, under the influence of that desire, the law of duty.
THE DESIRE OF HOARDING.
Whatever is to us an object of interest and delight, we naturally desire to possess, and to retain for future use and enjoyment when possessed. The idea, that any form of good is ours, that we have an exclusive right in it, and control over it, is to our minds a source of great delight, and enjoyment. The same feeling naturally induces the desire to gain possession of such forms of good which are not now under our control. Thus we have the desire of property, or the love of hoarding,a universal principle of human nature.
THE DESIRE OR LOVE OF ORDER.
"Order is heaven's first law," as a consequence, the love of order is a first and fundamental attribute of universal mind. There is a natural and universal desire for knowledge systematized, for facts classified under general principles, and that all things be conformed to rules of order. The absence of order, in any department of thought or action, is to the mind a source of deep disquietude. Order is the immutable condition of efficiency in every important sphere of thought and action.
GENERAL REMARKS UPON THE DESIRES.
A few remarks of a general nature are required upon the subject before us.
1. The phenomena included under each of these classes, are to be referred to distinct and original susceptibilities of our nature, for the obvious reason that neither can be resolved, into any or all of the others; nor into any other principle of our nature. Yet they appear as universal and positive impulses of the sensibility.
2. Each of these principles is disinterested in this sense, that the object is sought for its own sake, as a good in itself, and not on account of any consequences near or remote, anticipated from, nor under any more general impulse of our nature, such as self-love. We do not, for example, first say, that knowledge will make us happy, and then seek it for that reason. Before any such reflex calculations were made, knowledge was regarded as a good in itself, and on its own account; and as such it was desired. So of each of the other classes referred to.
3. Our desires are impulsive, not regulative principles of action. Each desire impels the mind towards its own, and away from every other, object. The intelligence must determine which is to be gratified on any particular occasion, and how far.
4. These principles of our nature present a striking illustration of the divine beneficence. Whenever we are pursuing any object, with any reference to our general well being, we are always gratifying some one or more definite demands of our nature. The farmer, when laboring to provide for the maintenance of himself and family, is not obeying merely the impulse of conscience, self-love, and paternal affection. Many other principles of his nature combine their influence to render labor itself a good.
5. I will here notice a mistake into which, as it appears to me, many philosophers have fallen in regard to the active principles now under consideration. We are so constituted, it is said, that the value of present attainments, is always lost with the attainment itself, while the mind is borne on after new objects. Thus man, from the constitution of his being, is under the influence of perpetual delusions, seeking as a good, that which experience perpetually affirms to be "vanity and vexation of spirit." This is true, only when inferior objects are sought, not as a good, but as the ultimate, the supreme good. Then human nature is to itself a perpetual lie, and then only.
6. The mistake of many Christians in endeavoring to destroy their own, or the hold of sinners upon the world, by descanting upon the vanity of worldly pursuits, is obvious. They thus represent nature as a lie, and God as requiring gratitude for that which is not a good.
The desires which we have been considering, may be called primary. We have others which may be called secondary, or artificial. That which conduces to gratify natural desire, will be desired as means to that end. So when we have willed the attainment of any object, a law of our nature impels us to desire and seek it. A large portion of our desires are of this class.