Take now a simple case of voluntary action. I see a picture hanging awry and set it straight. All that I am conscious of at the moment is perhaps a sense of dissatisfaction at its position, followed by the performance of the requisite movements of hand and arm. If I pay more attention to what occurs I notice that the movements are preceded by a more or less complex disposition which includes a preparatory anticipation of their performance, and which constitutes the intention to execute the action. There is first a mental disposition, accompanied by a representation of the end to be attained; there is then a presentation of the end as attained. There may be some strains and tensions which give rise to a sense of effort; and in more complex cases of volition there may be between first and last an indefinite number of intermediate stages which we speak of as the means by which the end is finally reached. But every stage is susceptible of a similar analysis into an intermediate end first anticipated and then realised, with some sense of effort thrown in. Voila tout. A conscious configuration which we call the intention is the only known antecedent of the conscious configuration which we call the fulfilment. Why the configuration changes in this particular way we do not know; it is to be accepted as part of the constitution of nature. In the doctrine of the ego. as formulated by naturalistic psychology, the soul or mind is simply the name which we apply to a sequence of such configurations in constant relation with a wider configuration which we term the environment.
It may be well to expand a little more fully this naturalistic account of the phenomena of Volition. Professor Munsterberg shall be our accredited guide. It should, however, be distinctly understood that, in his work Die Willenshandlung, he bases his analysis of the act of will on a strictly scientific treatment of psychology—one from which teleology is resolutely excluded. His later publications show that he fully realises the importance of teleology in the drama of human life as viewed from the standpoint not of psychology but of history. Here an interpretation going beyond the generalisations of psychology as a natural science is, in his view, essential to a philosophical treatment of the interaction of human wills and purposes. Remembering this, let us first take note of the scientific foundations on which he builds. "Modern psychology," he says, "designates the ultimate irreducible constituents into which the content of consciousness may be analysed as sensations, ascribing to sensations a quality, an intensity, and a tone of feeling which expresses their relation to consciousness. But if sensation is the element of all psychical phenomena, and if, on the other hand, the will, so far as we are concerned with it [we must note this reservation], is only a phenomenon in consciousness, it follows necessarily that the will, too, is only a complex of sensations." Consider a simple example. I see an acquaintance, and wave my hand in greeting him. All that I am conscious of at the moment is perhaps that I just execute the movement. But suppose I execute a rather more difficult movement and pay attention to what occurs in consciousness, making the movement slowly and deliberately. There are perhaps some feelings and tensions in the head. Apart from this, each movement is preceded by an idea or anticipation of the muscular contraction before the actual attraction is felt to occur. This constitutes the impulse to the movement in question. In all such cases, says Professor Munsterberg, "I perceive in the first stadium the more or less distinct, more or less clearly represented, idea of the end; and in the second stadium I have an impression of the end as attained. That alone is the type of the external act of will." "In order that the desire of an attainable object pass into the corresponding act of will, neither more nor less requires to be added than just the carrying out of the desire, so that the idea of the end may be completed by the perception of its attainment. The liveliest feeling of practical freedom cannot alter the fact that the will itself is nothing more than the perception (frequently accompanied by associated sensations of tension in the muscles of the head) of an effect attained by the movement of our own body along with an antecedent idea of the same effect drawn from imagination, i.e. in the last resort from memory, this anticipated idea being given as feeling of innervation when the effect itself is a bodily movement".
But how does an idea or anticipation of a desired movement come to precede its fulfilment in act ? We must remember that all our voluntary movements are the results of the compounding and recompounding of automatic responses which have been brought under control—the control of the will, which has, however, turned out to be the control of grouped sensations or ideas. I have many times performed such a voluntary act as greeting my friend with a wave of the hand. The sight of my friend therefore calls forth two things, the idea of waving my hand and the execution of this act of greeting; in other words, first the ideal and then the actual completion of the situation. Both are the determinate results of the impression I receive. But "the former process takes place by the shorter way of the association-paths in the hemispheres; the latter requires first to be conducted to the muscles, the inertia of the muscles has to be overcome, the contraction to be actually produced, the sensory nerves to be affected, and the sensory stimulus conducted back to the cortex. All this takes an appreciable time, and the sensory stimulus arrives accordingly considerably later. And now," says Prof. Munsterberg, "we see clearly why our feeling of innervation precedes the perception of the actual movement. In it, as the constant signal of movement (a signal that is also the actual counterpart of the movement), we involuntarily believe that we see the movement's cause. This is the type of voluntary action from which all other forms may be derived." No matter how great the complication may be, an impression together with the total complex of associated ideas which it calls into play is the conscious precursor of the voluntary act which is by them and by them alone determined. Here then, as I said above, a conscious configuration which we call the intention is the only known antecedent of the conscious configuration which we call the fulfilment.