Popular Science Monthly/Volume 29/September 1886/The Nature of Pleasure and Pain
|THE NATURE OF PLEASURE AND PAIN.|
PLATO and Aristotle have well said that neither pure pleasure nor unqualified displeasure exists in man. Both feelings are mixed in unequal proportions by the subtile art of Nature, and the definite impression on our consciousness is a resultant in which one or the other of the elements predominates. The complexity of all emotion may be deduced from the two dominant conceptions of modern physiology. One of them is that our bodies are in reality societies of cells, each of which has its own peculiar activity, and which contend with one another for existence. Among the lower animals each part of the organism appears to enjoy or suffer on its own account, as is exemplified when a worm is cut in two. Among the higher animals a selection and final fusion of the impressions takes place, centering in the brain.
The rudiments of agreeable and disagreeable feeling probably issue from all the parts, and are re-echoed in the general consciousness in such a manner as to communicate to it a timbre of pleasure or pain, according to which elements prevail. Our pains and pleasures would thus be a kind of summary of the elementary affections of a myriad of cells, and our individual comfort or discomfort a collective and social comfort or discomfort. The doctrine of evolution, and of the accumulative effects of heredity in the individual, also confirms this view of the collective character of our sensibility. Not only the present, but the past also, resounds in us; our feelings, even apparently the most novel ones, comprise the unconscious recollection and echo of the experiences of a whole series of ancestors.
Mr. Spencer remarks that the sight of a landscape excites within us certain deep but now vague combinations of states of feeling which were organized in the race during barbarous times, when its pleasurable activities were chiefly among the woods and waters. Mr. Schneider, in his "Freud und Leid des Menschengeschlechts," inquiring why the contemplation of a sunset gives us an impression of calm and peace, says: "There is but one answer: Because for unnumbered generations the view of the setting sun has been associated with the end of the day's work and a feeling of rest and satisfaction." This is saying too much, for the intrinsic effects of the colors and the freshness of the evening air, and our personal recollections, have much to do with these emotions. But it is safe to assume that the calm which the hours of repose have brought to the human race for centuries is reflected in us at the evening hour.
The study of pleasure and pain is thus analogous in complication and difficulty with social science, in which mutual actions and reactions seem, by virtue of their variety and multiplicity, to escape the grasp of calculation. It is not a matter of surprise that philosophers are at variance respecting the nature of these affections. There is hardly a more interesting question before investigators than that of their origin and their office as motive powers in universal evolution. We propose here to examine into what is true and what is incomplete in the explanations of these matters that have been borrowed from the doctrine of natural selection.
We can not fail to apply the biological doctrine of selection to pleasure and pain. Mr. Schneider goes to it for the inmost secret of our joys and sufferings. Not only is there a connection between pleasure and the increase of vitality, but this connection is imperatively established as a necessity of evolution. Pleasure, according to Mr. Spencer, is a feeling which we seek to bring into consciousness and retain there, and pain is a feeling which we seek to get out of consciousness and to keep out. If we could imagine beings to have ever been created by any sport of Nature, whose pleasure was connected with injurious actions and their pains with useful ones, they must have died out speedily by virtue of the vice in their constitutions. According to Darwin's principles, the essential condition of the development of life through ages is that agreeable acts be also, on the whole, favorable to development. This is a mechanical necessity.
Mr. Schneider is so confident of the accuracy of the natural mechanism, at least for the generality of cases, that he is almost ready to. believe that Nature is never mistaken when abandoned to herself. "In the normal condition," he says, "the feelings always tend to their true end; errors originate only in the morbid conditions ingrafted upon Nature by civilization. With the natural and healthy man the feelings are healthy, so that with every thought is associated a feeling of corresponding and suitable intensity." Abnormal relations appear chiefly among cultivated men, particularly among those who are diseased by their own fault or by that of their ancestors. "The passions have much less spread in the healthy and simple populations of the country than among the very artificially trained inhabitants of the large cities. Practical right and good conduct are much more dependent on health of the body than on health of the mind."
The exaggerations of the Darwinian theory begin, in our opinion, at this point. A mechanism of pleasures useful to life, once produced, is, without doubt, transmitted by heredity and becomes almost infallible in the lower species; but no infallibility can be found in the higher animals, not even in those that have the mens sana in corpore sano; for, the more the organs become complicated, the more does a purely mechanical selection become difficult for them. An idle or unintelligent man, for example, is not hopelessly condemned to death by the justice of universal mechanism, for he has more than one way of escape. If one faculty is under restraint, another one can come to its help. Moreover, mechanical adaptation to the medium becomes a matter of more difficulty as we ascend in the scale of beings; and from this arise many anomalies. Individuals retain tastes which were formerly favorable, but are now useless or injurious, as the passion for hunting and the warlike disposition, which are, according to Mr. Spencer, relics of savage instincts. Other anomalies arise in consequence of an antagonism between the individual and the species, as when the lower animals destroy themselves by division to make new beings, and some of a higher grade die immediately after performing the act of reproduction. Mechanical selection is likewise incompetent to give an explanation of the origin of pleasure and pain, and to throw light on their primitive connection with life. We believe that there is a close and strong bond between these affections of life, independent of natural selection, which modifies and perfects the connection, but does not create it, and that we can find the' reason of this connection by inquiring of physiology and psychology.
Let us inquire, first, what physiology can teach us about it. In previous investigations in this direction we have reasoned too much from complex organisms already developed. The thing we ought to learn is what, in a cell or a nerve, arouses the rudiment of pleasure or of pain, to be extended ultimately to the whole of the living body. The nervous elements are constantly the scene of a double chemical labor; a "negative" work of reparation, consisting in the formation of very complex albuminoid compounds; and a "positive" one of expenditure, consisting in the reduction of these compounds to more simple ones. In the state of repose, these two molecular labors are performed simultaneously, and are nearly in equilibrium. In that case we are conscious simply of a condition of vital calm and evenness, with which is connected a vague feeling of rest and comfort. An external agent, a sound, a light, or a shock, comes to excite a nerve; the interruption of the equilibrium produces a movement of nervous expenditure, and this excites a simultaneous movement of reparation—just as water flowing out of a siphon-tube calls up into its place water which rises. These two labors are equally necessary to life, and must be suitably proportioned to one another for life to subsist. Nervous reparation, which accumulates force, always has for its result and object exercise, which expends force. In natural selection, the animal can not be satisfied with repairing his nervous system; he must put it to use, to seek food and defend himself; he must expend, to preserve. This being so, can we assume, as Léon Dumont does ("Théorie scientifique de la sensibilité"), that the accumulation of force, its "storage in the nerve," is the only cause of pleasure? Every nervous action, says this author, is an expenditure of force. How can expenditure, which is a loss, produce pleasure, the cause of which, on the other hand, is sought in augmentation of force? This view arises from an imperfect conception of the relation of the two molecular labors. The visible labor of expenditure in walking, speaking, looking, hearing, etc., is doubtless, for the instant, a loss of motive force; but then, as we have just seen, there is in an adequately fed organism reparation of the nerve by nourishment in the measure that it is worn away by exercise. Simple rest is also a sufficient condition of reparation. There is, therefore, no absolutely definitive loss. Furthermore, exercise produces skill in reducing resistances and obstacles; and, when it is moderate and agreeable, it increases and feeds the organ instead of enfeebling it. Want of use, on the other hand, produces atrophy of an organ. Thus, normal exercise, expenditure proportioned to the force, is a necessary condition of reparation, conservation, and progress. Natural selection is therefore a law of work, of incessant expenditure; but the action fortifies, and the expenditure enriches. This means that life supposes incessant recomposition and decomposition, and consequently movements of disintegration as well as of integration. To feel life is to have an obscure perception of all the vital movements; to enjoy or suffer is to feel one's self living more or living less. The more intense the decomposition with an equally intense recomposition, the more precipitous is the vital movement, and the more we feel. It is not, therefore, to adopt the language of mechanics, the potential force, but its transformation into living force and into movement, that causes pleasure—provided the expenditure does not exceed the reparation necessary for the survival of the individual and the species.
Experiment confirms the deductions which are drawn from the laws of natural selection and of the struggle for life. Every normal and proportioned action of a well-fed nerve causes enjoyment; and the pleasure increases with the force of the stimulant to the point where the stimulation and the expenditure which it involves exceed the compensatory labor of reparation. Pain is due to the exhaustion, or the destruction, or the rupture, of the sensitive tissue; disorders which if prolonged would induce the death of the individual or of his posterity. The proportionate or disproportionate exercise of a particular nerve thus extends its effect, by diffusion and sympathy, so that it makes itself felt by the whole of the nervous system, and consequently of the organism. Hence, in the struggle for existence, four situations are possible when considered as to the relation of the expended to the accumulated energy, of the labor produced to the nutrition: 1. An excess of acquisition with insufficient expenditure produces the negative pain of want—the well-fed child suffers from immobility. 2. An increase of expenditure succeeding an increase of nutrition produces the positive pleasure of exercise—the child takes delight in running, jumping, and playing. 3. An increase of expenditure with insufficient reparation produces fatigue and positive pain—a too fast or too long race brings on weariness. 4. Absence of expenditure after exhaustion produces the negative pleasure of rest. It appears to us that, by a psychological interpretation of physiological facts, these laws can be reduced to one superior and really primitive law. Some have sought the meaning of the law of proportion, which demands that the positive labor of exercise bear a just relation with the negative labor of reparation, in the theory of a just mean, or a kind of golden mediocrity, by which the fundamental law of sensibility would be equilibrium, not action pure and simple. This is confounding the limit of a thing with its essence. Moderation, in itself, is not pleasure, nor the primitive law of life. It is a necessity which life encounters and submits to according to the needs of the organism. The true primary law is that pleasure is connected with the most intense possible activity; and this is, besides, the true condition of superiority in the struggle for existence. For this reason, if the increase of the activity or of the exercised function does not exceed the reserve of forces and wear upon the organ, the pleasure increases with the activity, without regard to moderation. If excess of muscular motion produces pain, it is because, not proportioning our actions to the strength of our organs, we wear upon them. The supposed increase of activity is then really a diminution.
Another problem is met in seeking the reason for the necessity of a change of action, for which contemporary psychologists, like Mr. Bain and Mr. Sully, have propounded the law of contrast as opposed to the laws of stimulation and moderation. It is in reality, however, derivable from the same principle as the other law. Change in action is only a means of assuring continued intensity of action. It makes other nerves to work while the former ones rest, and, effecting a separation of the nerves after this manner, augments the vital power.
To enjoy is, then, to act as much as possible with the greatest intensity, independence, and liberty. Activity, by itself, goes on infinitely. It moderates itself only by necessity and constraint, only to have afterward to moderate itself less, and to deploy itself beyond all the limits successively erected before it.
It might say, with Faust: "If ever I stretch myself, calm and composed, upon a couch, be then at once an end of me. If thou canst ever flatteringly delude me into being pleased with myself if thou canst cheat me into enjoyment—be that day my last. If I ever say to the passing moment, 'Stay, thou art so fair!' then mayst thou cast me into chains; then I will readily perish; then may the death-bell toll; . . . the clock may stand, the index hand-may fall; be time a thing no more for me."
Activity changes, therefore, only to maintain itself, to adapt itself progressively to the medium which changes, to increase its conquests without losing its acquisitions. In the evolution of species, this expansion of activity has always been a condition of survival and of superiority over other species.
Some authors have maintained that the final intensity of the action and its victory in the struggle for life are connected with the brute quantity of nervous excitation, independently of its quality. But this view involves difficulties. How, for example, can we explain the fact that some sounds and some odors are disagreeable in all their degrees? Again, fix your eyes upon a moderately lighted white surface; you will feel neither fatigue nor displeasure, but you will also experience only a weak positive pleasure. Substitute a blue surface for the white one. The blue ray, which was previously present in the white light as one of its constituent elements, is now offered separately to your eye, with the other rays eliminated, and your pleasure is increased. The increase of pleasure can not be due to an increase of stimulus, for the physical stimulus has been in fact diminished by the quantity of light that has been eliminated. Your pleasure is no more due to a diminution of fatigue, for there was nothing fatiguing about the white. The agreeable nature of the blue is therefore associated with the mode rather than with the degree of nervous action. An effect of heredity and selection is also involved. Animated beings have for many ages received the blue rays from the sky under which they lived, and they have become hereditarily accustomed and adapted to this luminous medium of clear days as well as to the green rays of the fields and woods. It is, however, impossible to account for the details of our sensory pleasures any more than for our æsthetic pleasures. All that can be said is, generally, that the form or quality of the excitation must be taken account of, as well as its quantity.
If we examine the directions toward which the movements of the organisms ultimately tend, we shall find that some tend to the preservation of the substance, others to its destruction; some to life, others to death. Pleasure is of victory in the struggle, of life, pain of defeat, of death. All suffering is a partial death which comes upon some organ or function. Darkness makes us sad because it extinguishes the sight; discords, because the jangle of noises afflicts our perception of sounds. Thus, everything that tends to obstruct and annul a function of the senses produces annoyance and pain. So with mental functions. We enjoy what we can understand clearly, for it implies life and vigor of thought; we are pained when we fail to understand anything clearly, because that conveys an impression of impotency of thought. The emotion of the sublime involves a mingling of sorrow and joy, because, in the immensity of that which excites it, the possibility of perceiving the whole, of comprehending it all in our eye or even in our imagination, is taken away from us; but, by a superior effort, we conceive the infinite, and annul the material obstacle by the power of thought. We thus, at the same time, feel a physical inferiority that depresses us, and a moral superiority that raises us: we die in the world of sense, and are born again in the world of mind.
While Darwin discusses the struggle for existence, he does not consider the question of why beings should live, or should desire to live; or why there are agreeable and useful variations which the being should mate an effort to preserve. Now, external selection evidently presupposes an internal spring, of necessity or spontaneity, which produces, with life, the bound toward a higher life, the bound of evolution. A German biologist, Mr. Rolph, looked for this spring in the movement of assimilation by endosmose, which is characteristic of all organized beings, or of all individual cells, and which he assumed to be insatiable. In this view, we might then speak of a "mechanical hunger," or craving, as the cause of all the actions of living organisms. Corresponding with this "mechanical hunger" appears, at a particular stage of evolution, what Mr. Rolph calls "psychical hunger," which makes itself felt at first essentially as pain; while pleasure is only "a secondary and derivative phenomenon." Hence it results that pain is the motive spring of the universe. This theory is intimately connected with the doctrine which assumes that the essence of pleasure, or at least its necessary condition, is the suppression of pain. Leibnitz has mentioned those infinitesimal and imperceptible "little griefs" which, being suppressed, give "a quantity of half-pleasures," the continuation and accumulation of which, "as in the continuation of the impulsion of a grave body, which gains impetuosity as it falls," become at last a real and whole pleasure. "And at the bottom," he adds, "without these half-griefs there would be no pleasure, and we should have no means of perceiving that anything aids and relieves us by removing the obstacles that hinder our setting ourselves at ease." An Italian philosopher of the eighteenth century, Verri, developing Leibnitz's thought, came to the conclusion that a pain precedes every pleasure; and the theory has been followed up by Kant and Schopenhauer and the pessimists.
To resolve this question which the pessimists have raised, we must inquire whether there are any pleasures that make themselves felt directly, without the intervention of a previous pain; and whether there can be motives to activity without the assistance of pain. It appears to us that the pleasures of the higher senses, of sight, hearing, and smell, and the mental pleasures, and those of science and art, belong to the latter category. A child, seeing a scarlet cloth for the first time, gains an excitation of the sense of sight which is in no way the suppression of a previous pain. To invoke in this case imperceptible uneasiness and latent wants, and a tension of the optic nerve aspiring to fulfill them, is to form a hypothesis which has a part of truth, but does not wholly explain the phenomena. The pleasure here is not simply the exact filling of a void, or the adequate satisfaction of a pre-existing want; it is a surplus, an addition. If we regard the scale of intensities in sensation, we shall find that there is a point near to indifference, departing from which some pleasures are capable of arising by an increase of intensity. Not every pleasure supposes a previous descent below the ideal point of indifference into the lower region of pain. Pleasure, then, is felt directly as such, and not indirectly through a pain which it replaces; and the sight enjoys without having suffered.
Modern physiology teaches us that the higher sensibility is connected with special organs, like the eye, the ear, the nose, and the mouth, while inferior sensibility is diffused through the body, without connection with well-differentiated organs. Inferior sensibility informs us of conditions that are material to our existence, as contact, hunger, thirst, etc., and it has been organized through natural selection so as to be alarmed when these conditions are threatened. Hence, inferior sensibility is better adapted to suffering than to enjoyment. The higher senses, on the other hand, particularly sight and hearing, respond less to the needs of life than to superfluity, to conservation than to progress, and are better adapted to pleasure than to pain. It results from this that the mutual relations of enjoyment and suffering are inverse for the higher and the lower senses. For general and internal sensibility, for the sense of temperature or of touch, a distinct pleasure presupposes some antecedent uneasiness or want. It is pleasant to eat or drink when we are hungry or thirsty, and to plunge into fresh water when the skin feels hot; but, if, when we eat or drink without previous hunger or thirst, we feel pleasure, it is because of some particular effect of the aliment on the specialized sense of taste. So, when the body is at the normal temperature, heat or cold will give it but a slight gratification. Contrast with antecedent pain seems in these cases to be necessary to present pleasure. On the other hand, only a slight degree of divergence on the side of pain, as in the case of a burn, a blow, or a colic, is enough to cause considerable suffering.
An opposite law rules in the higher senses, and particularly in those which have very specialized organs. In them pleasure arises immediately, and is capable of acquiring a notable degree of distinction at the very start from the point of indifference. This takes place in excitations of the sight, hearing, smell, and. In return, the higher senses are less subject to suffering than to simple annoyance. A discord, a piercing whistle, inharmonious colors, a dazzling light, and a disagreeable odor, do not provoke any pain of the hearing or vision comparable in intensity to that of a wound or a burn. These, we believe, are the real scientific reasons why the higher sensibility is free from necessity and "hunger," while the lower sensibility is enslaved to them.
If we compare the higher with the lower senses in respect to their activity, we shall find that a greater specialization corresponds with a lessened passivity, and a greater share of central activity and willpower. We have but little control over our internal organs; we can not, for example, put our stomach or our heart into the active attitude of attention; but we can at will look, hear, smell, taste, or touch. Now, pleasure precisely corresponds with this higher activity.
Between the higher and the lower senses is a kind of intermediate class, the importance of which has not hitherto been sufficiently remarked—we mean muscular sensations, or sensations of resistance, which many philosophers regard as the base of all the other sensations. Now, in the movement of our muscles, in which our activity is continually applied to overcoming a resistance, and in which, therefore, we are perpetually active and passive, we see the pleasure of exercise and the pain of fatigue drawn clearly one upon the other, according to the exact relation that exists between our muscular force and the external resistance. This essential fact clears up the rest. It shows the intimate and primitive connection of pleasure with activity, and of pain with passivity. The possible independence in respect to necessity and pain manifested by the highest senses is still more remarkable in the intellectual, æsthetic, and moral pleasures which may even come without being sought. Of such is the pleasure of surprise. The first shooting-star that passes before the eyes of a child charms it without having been anticipated or desired. A discovery made without having been sought is a happy chance, a pure gain, an unexpected inheritance. For all these reasons we assume that there exist pleasures of surplus which attend an excess of activity or stimulation. In them the same cause excites activity and satisfies it, without the intercalation of any want, of any "mechanical or mental hunger" or unsatisfied desire. Kant's doctrine that one pleasure can not immediately succeed another without the interposition of a want or a pain is contradicted by the facts. If, while I am eating savory meats, I unexpectedly hear fine music and am surprised by the spectacle of graceful dances, I experience an increase in which pleasures are added to one another without my having to go through the gate of suffering. Furthermore, a progressive' increase of pleasure would be impossible under Kant's theory, which supposes the necessity of successive breaks, or interrupting pains. Mr. Schneider believes that we are conscious of an agreeable feeling only when we perceive a change for the better, and of a disagreeable one when we perceive a change for the worse. His theory ends in the same vicious circle as Kant's: "We must suffer to be able to enjoy, and must enjoy to be able to suffer." How, then, do we get joy or suffering in the first place? The theories of Schopenhauer and Hartmann involve similar fallacies.
We have just shown that there exist direct pleasures, due to a surplus of activity without previous pain, the simple object of which is not the preservation of the organism in the struggle for life. We may go further, and ask if all pleasures, even those which appear to originate in a want, even those seemingly the grossest, are not of the same nature to one who looks to the bottom of the matter.
Does the complete satisfaction of a want, even of a physical one, consist only in filling a pre-existing void, without anything more, and thus simply re-establishing an equilibrium? If it were so, the equilibrium would produce a mental condition of consciousness and feeling, or immobility, and there would be no evolution. What causes enjoyment in satisfying a want, such as the want of food or exercise, is that there is, relatively to the previous condition, a surplus, and hence a movement of progression in which is continuously produced an excess as compared with what we have just got, and we are enriched above our previous poverty. It is not, therefore, simple suppression of pain that constitutes sensual enjoyment, for that would be merely neutralization of the former condition by the after condition. Enjoyment is constituted by the suppression of pain plus an excess, which produces a progress, not a rest, of activity. The painful condition of hunger is composed of an infinite number of rudimentary pains. The pleasure which we feel in restoring our forces is a continual victory over these rudiments of pain, and produces something like the accelerated velocity of a moving body. But a continual victory is a continual surplus, and it is this surplus that makes the pleasure. Hence, not only does pleasure not require for its existence a previous want, but even when it succeeds a real want, as in many of the pleasures of the senses, it is nevertheless in itself independent of the want, or essentially positive. We can not, then, with Messrs. Leslie Stephen and Delbœuf, locate pleasure in the simple feeling of a normal equilibrium. Even in the act of eating, the pleasure felt incites the expenditure of energy, and the equilibrium is not reached till satiety causes the action to cease. The feeling of equilibrium only constitutes a general and fundamental comfort, very near to indifference. We can not be satisfied, either, with saying, with Mr. Spencer, that equilibrium is the accompaniment of normal action. To our mind pleasure, as a distinct emotion, appears precisely when the limit of normal action has been passed, for it supposes, at whatever point, a richness. We go, then, to the end of the way opened to us by the great philosophers, and define pleasure as the feeling of: a surplus of activity. Its relation to pain only marks the beginnings, not the end, of evolution and selection; it is primary, but not definitive; it is accidental, but not essential.
We now turn to the final and fundamental question—Is pain the sole motive to activity, and consequently the real motive power of universal evolution? This discouraging doctrine maybe found among other psychologists than Schopenhauer and the pessimists, and they have not always drawn from it the moral, metaphysical, and religious consequences that they might have drawn. According to Mr. Leslie Stephen, pleasure, being a condition of equilibrium, is for that reason a state of satisfaction in which there is a tendency to persist. Mr. Rolph ("Biologische Probleme") remarks that it is a state which we seek to prolong, and can therefore never be the cause of a change of condition. When it is objected to this, that man when, for example, he is under the influence of love—may seek a greater pleasure than the one that is present, and that the object of his action, in that case, consciously or unconsciously, is certainly pleasure, he replies, "Yes, but the actual motive is a feeling of non-satisfaction, which is the same as pain." This theory touches what are the most obscure as well as most important problems of psychology and morals. In our opinion, the doctrine of pain, as the motive of action, could be true only if all activity were solely applied to change toward another condition. Of this character are effort, want, and desire; hunger, thirst, hope, and anger. But is it certain that all activity consists thus exclusively in moving toward another condition, as a mobile material object moves toward another point in space? Is change, or unquiet, as the ancients said, the essence of action, or is it only the result of the limits of action, of its deficiency, or of the external resistance which it meets? Present enjoyment, such as the enjoyment of agreeable sounds or beautiful colors, so far as it is complete, and considered in itself, does not provoke the desire for anything else, is satisfied with itself. Does that mean that it is constantly passive and inert? From the circumstance that the action of the living being, being never solitary, is always exerted toward a point of application which itself reacts, it results that change is attached to activity, as a necessity of the resistances of the medium, if not of its essence. At the precise moment and in the measure that we are enjoying our active state, as in the contemplation of a scene of nature, we cease to desire change as Mr. Rolph and Leslie Stephen maintain; but no enjoyment and no action can continue long at the same level of intensity. The prolongation of the exercise and agreeable stimulation of the nerves tends to diminish the effect, according to the law of wear-and-tear. It is the feeling of this diminution, of this constant decline, in which pleasure betrays itself, which is the real excitant of the always reviving desire or hunger. But in this case the hunger is revived, because the former comfort, which existed independently of it, feels itself menaced, diminished, exhausted, and escaping as it were from itself. The pain is pleasure's cry of alarm, but pleasure does not essentially imply pain.
We see then, anew, that what is really primary is the action, the same in being and in comfort, from which arise, with external resistance, distinct pain, and, with victory over the resistance, distinct pleasure. Change, motion, and progress have their reason in the perfection of activity; but enjoyment is, as Descartes, Leibnitz, and Spinoza believed, the feeling of some actual perfection come to realization of some power.
In wholly absorbing activity into disquiet, want, or hunger, Mr. Rolph has only discerned half of the truth. He has not insisted enough on the counterpart of hunger and nutrition, which is the disengagement of force and movement. Like Darwin, whose doctrine he desired to perfect, he has considered principally the support and development of the organs, not their exercise and the development of their functions. Hunger, regarded by him as the primary and universal feeling, has for its object the appropriation of matters coming from without. It is a force of concentration and absorption into itself. But, as we have seen, nutrition and the restoration of the organs, which simply store up the forces of tension by a kind of negative work, are not the real source of positive pleasures or of positive pains. It is in expending the energy of materials already appropriated that we feel pleasures and pains. In that way are brought about the development of the being and evolution toward new conditions of life: the living being acts upon the medium, and the medium is in turn modified by the increasing power of the being. There is, therefore, in animated nature a development from within to without, and not only a kind of envelopment and absorption from without by that which is within. The acquisition and restoration of the tissues suppose a certain activity already present, an anterior outbreak of life manifested by movement; and it is plausible to suppose beneath this vital movement, preceding the rudimentary pain caused by the exterior resistance, the rudiment of pleasure attached to the interior action.
The conclusions to which our study appears to have brought us are not less important for the theory of morals than for the theory of man and of the world. The first is, that natural selection, a wholly mechanical and exterior process, presupposes an internal principle of evolution, which principle is an activity capable of enjoying and suffering. A second conclusion is, that pleasure is immediately connected with action, and comfort with existence and the unfolding of life. Hence it follows that pain is not, as some of the pessimists believe, the principle of internal action and desire, but only that of the reaction on the external world.
Extending these results to the general theory of the world, we can infer from them that pain is not the sole motive of universal evolution. It is only at the origin of evolution that uneasiness, pain, or hunger, is the principal spur of which Nature avails herself. But in a higher degree in the scale of beings, pleasure, through the intervention of the thought that anticipates it, becomes the certain stimulus to activity. Hence, we have seen the higher senses effecting rapid condensations of an infinity of delicate and subtile pleasures, objects of luxury rather than of the necessities of material life; and evolution becoming a child of wealth, and not a child of poverty only. For this reason evolution does not seem to us to be solely "preservation of self," according to Darwin's term, or "maintenance of the normal equilibrium"; but it is, or may become, a progress. Pain, therefore, is not, as Schopenhauer and Yon Hartmann maintain, the eternal and irremediable condition of beings, a kind of damnation, or a hell from which the world can not escape except by annihilation of itself.
Still other moral consequences, no less important, are brought out. If hunger and inner nutrition are not the only law of being, if expenditure from self to without is also a fundamental and essential law, it results that egotism is not radical, and activity may really become loving. The being does not tend solely to bring everything toward itself, as if by a gravitation of which it is the only center; but it tends also to extend, to give, and to join itself. Utilitarianism, Darwinism, and Spinozism are passed by. Enjoyment, "pure and veritable," which is not merely a remedy for pain, thus becomes apparent as the overflowing activity, which feels itself at last free from obstacles, superior to what was strictly necessary for the satisfaction of want; it is no longer a simple balance, but a profit, and, as we think we have shown, a surplus. It is, therefore, in the domain of sense, something analogous to what in art causes pleasure by excellence, and realizes the supreme charm—grace. Grace is produced by a superabundance, resulting in enfranchisement from the rude struggle for existence, freedom and ease of motion, facile play of thought, expansion of the heart, and generosity of the will. True pleasure is the grace of life.—Translated for the Popular Science Monthly from the Revue des Deux Mondes.