Laws of Connections

mind, feelings, association, volition, associations, idea, law, word, individual and powers

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37. It may be well to enlarge a little here. Numerous are the associations, particularly of a speculative nature, which yield to the influence of time and change of circumstances. In many in stances the destruction of the association depends upon the efforts of the individu al ; but in the greater number it is occa sioned without his direct efforts, by the increase of his knowledge, by circum stances preventing the recurrence of the association, or by the formation of con trary associations upon more solid grounds. But that they may be broken should never be allowed as a reason for the formation of improper associations ; for the difficulty is frequently great, in many instances insuperable, except by such discipline, such peculiar concurren ces of circumstances as fall not to the lot of every individual. The association be tween certain motives and that state of mind which we call volition, formed in early life, and strengthened by frequent repetition, is frequently found so indisso luble, that it leads the unhappy individual to act against his better judgment, and the destruction of his corporeal, and even of his mental energies, produced by his conduct, prevents those exertions for his release which he wishes to make, but has not the power to attempt.—In every mind, more or less, circumstances gene rate desires and passions, these generate volition, and volition produces action. How few are there who have attained the power of voluntarily separating passion or volition, or rendering them less con nected ; or of repressing those passions which were previously invariably con nected with the circumstances which gave them origin. In all men the train of thought is partly involuntary : how few are there who are capable of ing their associations into one channel by the exertion of volition, and employing them in one definite way ; of destroying improper associations, and of forming new ones, actuated by a view to the claims of duty, and to their improvement in wisdom and virtue. How frequently do we see others (and self knowledge will shew us repeated instances which come home to our own .bosoms) in situations where they act against their better judgment, a situation which is so forcibly described by the apostle, " for that which I do, I allow not ; for what would, that I do not ; but what I hate, that I do." This we can easily account for upon the principles of association. He who is in such a situation, may be convinced that certain actions are wrong, that they will infallibly injure his future happiness, that they must imbitter his present enjoyment : but his conviction comes too late. The object which pro mises the gratification of some or other of his powerful principles of action, presents itself to his mind; it strongly prompts his desires or his passions ; the association between these and volition, is perhaps of very long standing, confirmed by repeat ed exercise, not counteracted, or but weakly, by any contrary associations, or by any exertion of the individual ; it is impossible to overcome it, or at least, it can be overcome with extreme difficulty; the mind sinks under the trial, and the commission of the action tends to strengthen the association, to render the mind still more the slave of vice and mi sery.—The picture unhappily is not too highly drawn; and though the habit may not be so deeply fraught with unhappi ness, few are those who can say that they have not one confirmed habit which they would wish to change, or at least to weaken. If these have made the attempt to destroy the connection between de sire and volition, the difficulties cannot have appeared trifling.

3. Law of Transference.

38. We now proceed to state and to explain that important law of associa tion, agreeably to which associations are formed by means of intermediate links. We must here request our readers to bear in mind, that we use the word idea in the wide sense in which it is employed by Hartley, to denote every internal feel ing except sensation, whether simple or compound, whether or not accompanied with pleasure or pain.—The law to which we have referred may be thus stated. One idea may become connected with a second, by means of their mutual connec tion with a third ; and where it is not ne cessary to attend to this third or interme diate idea, the more the connection be tween the first and second is confirmed, the less will the third be perceptible ; so that when the association becomes com pletely fixed, the intermediate idea is often lost entirely from the view of the mind. The absence of the intermediate idea is often so complete, that its ever having been present can only be disco vered by tracing the progress of the con nection between the extremes ; and in certain cases where the association has been long in a perfect state, the difficul ty may become so great, that we are in clined to admit an intermediate idea, on ly because we feel it in other similar cases, and perhaps in the very same con nections in other individuals whose habits are less fixed.—This law, or mode of ope

ration, of the principle which we call as sociation, meets us at almost every step of our reflection on what passes within us. It may be termed the law of transfer ence, and we shall state it again in ano ther form. Let A, B, and C, represent three ideas, simple or compound, plea surable, painful or indifferent. If A is connected with B, and B with C, A may be transferred to C, and he recalled by it, without B being present in the mind.

39. This is an exceedingly important and constantly operating law of associa tion : it is thus that numerous, almost in numerable, phenomena are produced, which at first sight appear inexplicable upon any known principles, and which therefore are referred to instinct ; that is, they are supposed to result necessarily from the conformation of the mind, with out the operation of any acknowledged faculty of the mind. Such are the belief in what is called seffievident truths ; the pleasures derived from ob jects which do not affect the mind by di rect sensations, disinterested affections, &c.—Whenever we meet with the word ,instinct, applied to the human mind, we are to consider it simply as an appeal to ignorance ; and though it seems often to be held out as the solution of a difficulty, it is, in fact, nothing more than saying, the feeling, or whatever else it be, springs up we know not how ; we know nothing of its origin, progress, or exercise. The term instinct explains nothing, and though it is conveniently used with re spect to the minds of brutes, of which we can learn nothing with certainty, yet when applied to the human mind, respect ing whose operations we may often gain correct ideas, it is worse than saying no thing, for it stops investigation by a pre tence of knowledge. It is true, we cannot trace many links in the chain of cause and effect ; but as far as the great Creator has furnished us with powers, we need not be afraid to employ them, while their employment is conducted with judgment and caution.—We do not say that all those feelings which we are too apt to call instinctive, can in the present state of our knowledge be completely analyz ed, and traced to their origin ; but while so many can, so many too which in no res pect differ from those which we cannot account for, except in the opportunity which we have of accounting for them, we have a full and fair right to say, that as attention to mental science increases, these difficulties will diminish, and that by degrees the whole of our mental fur niture will be traced, as we can trace a great part of it, to sensations, retained by the retentive power, and combined and variously modified by the associative power.—We have no objection to the term natural feelings, &c. rightly explain ed ; the word is abused, and often means the same as instinctive. We understand by the term those feelings, &c. which in all cases, where there is not something peculiar in the individual, will spring up in the mind, in consequence of the influ ence of generally occurring circumstan ces upon the powers with which the great Former of the mind bath endowed it. For instance, the parental, the filial feelings, &c. are natural feelings : in all cases where there is not something wrong in the individual, these feelings will spring up in his mind in consequence of the influence of generally occurring cir cumstances upon the powers with which the mind is endued. So also a great varie ty of other feelings, which, with the • strictest propriety, may in this sense be termed natural.—Some objection, how ever, lies against another word often used in a similar way. Such feelings are said to be implanted. If the word be understood to mean nothing more than what some do mean when they use it, that the feel. ings, &c. spring up in the mind with the same certainty as though they had made a part of the original structure of the mind, all is well. But if it be understood to mean that these feelings do form a part of the original structure, then it hit. plies the same cutting of the Gordian knot, the same appealto ignorance, which is implied in the use of the word instinc tive. If, however, we can restrict its sig nification in our minds, we shall do well. Let it mean no more than that the feel ings, &c. to which it is applied, are the necessary results from those powers which the Supreme Being has implanted in us; in fact, let it have the same general meaning as natural, with rather more force, denoting the necessity of their aris ing from the powers which are given us, and we shall not be giving way to those erroneous views which we must unlearn before we can acquire truth.

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