Bertrand Russell: The Analysis of Mind


The first thing to be defined when we are dealing with Will is a VOLUNTARY MOVEMENT. We have already defined vital movements, and we have maintained that, from a behaviourist standpoint, it is impossible to distinguish which among such movements are reflex and which voluntary. Nevertheless, there certainly is a distinction. When we decide in the morning that it is time to get up, our consequent movement is voluntary. The beating of the heart, on the other hand, is involuntary: we can neither cause it nor prevent it by any decision of our own, except indirectly, as e.g. by drugs. Breathing is intermediate between the two: we normally breathe without the help of the will, but we can alter or stop our breathing if we choose.

James ("Psychology," chap. xxvi) maintains that the only distinctive characteristic of a voluntary act is that it involves an idea of the movement to be performed, made up of memory-images of the kinaesthetic sensations which we had when the same movement occurred on some former occasion. He points out that, on this view, no movement can be made voluntarily unless it has previously occurred involuntarily.*

* "Psychology," Vol. ii, pp. 492-3.

I see no reason to doubt the correctness of this view. We shall say, then, that movements which are accompanied by kinaesthetic sensations tend to be caused by the images of those sensations, and when so caused are called VOLUNTARY.

Volition, in the emphatic sense, involves something more than voluntary movement. The sort of case I am thinking of is decision after deliberation. Voluntary movements are a part of this, but not the whole. There is, in addition to them, a judgment: "This is what I shall do"; there is also a sensation of tension during doubt, followed by a different sensation at the moment of deciding. I see no reason whatever to suppose that there is any specifically new ingredient; sensations and images, with their relations and causal laws, yield all that seems to be wanted for the analysis of the will, together with the fact that kinaesthetic images tend to cause the movements with which they are connected. Conflict of desires is of course essential in the causation of the emphatic kind of will: there will be for a time kinaesthetic images of incompatible movements, followed by the exclusive image of the movement which is said to be willed. Thus will seems to add no new irreducible ingredient to the analysis of the mind.

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