Page:Reason in Common Sense (1920).djvu/234

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.


a maladjustment which has more or less natural stability. It may be instantaneous only; by its lack of equilibrium it may involve the immediate destruction of one of its factors. In that case we fabulously say that the pain has instinctively removed its own cause. Pain is here apparently useful because it expresses an incipient tension which the self-preserving forces in the organism are sufficient to remove. Pain’s appearance is then the sign for its instant disappearance; not indeed by virtue of its inner nature or of any art it can initiate, but merely by virtue of mechanical associations between its cause and its remedy. The burned child dreads the fire and, reading only the surface of his life, fancies that the pain once felt and still remembered is the ground of his new prudence. Punishments, however, are not always efficacious, as everyone knows who has tried to govern children or cities by the rod; suffering does not bring wisdom nor even memory, unless intelligence and docility are already there; that is, unless the friction which the pain betrayed sufficed to obliterate permanently one of the impulses in conflict. This readjustment, on which real improvement hangs and which alone makes “experience” useful, does not correspond to the intensity or repetition of the pains endured; it corresponds rather to such a plasticity in the organism that the painful conflict is no longer produced.

Threatened destruction would not involve pain unless that threatened de-