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The Power and Operation of Habit.
1. We have as yet been occupied with what may be termed the instant sensations, wherewith morality is beset in the mind of man--with the voice of conscience which goes immediately before, or with the sentence whether of approval or condemnation, which comes immediately after it; and latterly, with those states of feeling which are experienced at the moment when under the power of those affections, to which any moral designation, be it of virtue or vice, is applicable—the pleasure which there is in the very presence and contact of the one, the distaste, the bitterness which there is in the presence and contact of the other."
2. These phenomena of juxtaposition, as they may be termed; these contiguous antecedents and consequents of the moral and the immoral in man, speak strongly the purpose of Him who ordained our mental constitution, in having inserted there such a constant power of command and encouragement on the side of the former, and a like constant operation of checks and discouragements against the latter. But, perhaps, something more may be collected of the design and character of God, by stretching forward our observation prospectively in the history of man, and so extending our regards to the more distant consequences of virtue or vice, both on the frame of his character and the state of his enjoyments. By studying these posterior results, we approximate our views towards the final issues of that administration under which we are placed. That defensive apparatus, wherewith the embryo seed of plants is guarded and protected, might indicate a special care or design in the preserver of it. What that design particularly is comes to be clearly and certainly known, when, in the future history of the plant, we learn what the functions of the seed are, after it has come to maturity; and then observe, that, had it been suffered universally to perish, it would have led - not to the mortality of the individual, for that is already an inevitable law, but to the extinction and mortality of the species.
3. For tracing forward man's moral history, or the changes which take place in his moral state, it is necessary that we should advert to the influence of habit. . Yet it is not properly the philosophy of habit wherewith our argument is concerned, but with the leading facts of its practical operation. A beneficial effect might still remain an evidence of the divine goodness, by whatever steps it should be efficiently or physically brought about its power in this way depending not on the question how it is, but on the fact that so it is. It were really, therefore, deviating from our own strict and pertinent line of inquiry, did we stop to discuss the philosophic theory of habit, or suspend our own independent reasoning till that theory was settled beside most unwisely and unnecessarily attaching to our theme, all the discredit of an obscure or questionable speculation. It is with
palpable and sure results both in the material and mental world, more than with the recondite processes in either, that theism has chiefly to do; and it is by the former more than by the latter that the cause of theism is upholden. - 4. We might only observe, in passing, that the modification introduced by Dr. Thomas Brown into the theory of habit, was perhaps uncalled for, even for the accomplishment of his own purpose, which was to demonstrate that it required no. peculiar or original law of the human constitution to account for its phenomena. He resolves the whole operation of habit into the law of suggestion-only, he would extend that law to states of feelings, as well as to thoughts or states of thought. We are all aware that if two objects have been seen or thought of together on any former occasion, then the thought of one of them is apt to suggest the thought of the other, and the more apt the more frequently that the suggestion has taken place—insomuch, that, if the suggestion have taken place very often, we shall find it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to break the succession between the thought which suggests and the thought which is suggested by it. Now Dr. Brown has conceived it necessary to extend this principle to feelings as well as thoughts -insomuch, that, if on a former occasion a certain object have been followed up by a certain feeling, or even if one feeling have been followed up by another, then the thought of the object introduces the feeling, or the one feeling introduces the other feeling into the mind, on the same principle that thought introduces thought. Now we should rather be inclined to hold that thought introduces feeling, not in consequence of the same law of suggestion whereby thought introduces thought, but in virtue of the direct power which lies in the object of the thought to excite that feeling. When a voluptuous object awakens a voluptuous feeling, this is not by suggestion, but by a direct influence of its own. When the picture of that voluptuous object awakens the same voluptuous feeling, we would not ascribe it to suggestion, but still put it down to the power of the object, whether presented or only represented, to awaken certain emotions. And as little would we ascribe the excitement of the feeling to suggestion, but still to the direct and original power of the object-though it were pictured to us only in thought, instead of being pictured to us in visible imagery. In like manner, when the thought of an injury awakens in us anger, even as the injury itself did at the moment of its infliction, we should not ascribe this to that peculiar law which is termed the law of suggestion, and which undoubtedly connects thought with thought. But we should ascribe it wholly to that law which connects an object with its appropriate emotion-whether that object be present to the senses, or have only been recalled by the memory and is present to the thoughts. We sustain an injury, and we feel resentment in consequence, without surely, the law of suggestion having had aught to do with the sequence. We see the aggressor afterwards, and our anger is revived against him, and with this particular succession the law of suggestion has certainly had to do—not, however, in the way of thought suggesting feeling, but only in the way of thought suggesting thought. In truth it is a succession of three terms. The sight of the man awakens a recollection of the injury; and the thought of the injury awakens the emotion. The first sequence, or that which obtains between the first and second term, is a pure instance of the suggestion of thought by thought, or, to speak in the old language, of the association of ideas. The second sequence, or that which obtains between the middle and last term, is still, Dr. Brown would say, not an instance of suggestion, but of thought suggesting the feeling wherewith it was formerly accompanied. Whereas, in our apprehension, it is due, not to the law of suggestion, but to the law which connects an object, whether present at the time or thought upon afterwards, with its counterpart emotion. Still the result is the same, however differently accounted for. One can think, surely, of the resentment which now occupies him, as well as he can think of a past resentment--indeed it is
* The following is the passage taken from his forty-third lecture, in which Dr. Brown seems to connect feeling with feeling by the same mental law which connects thought with thought. "To explain the influence of habit in increasing the tendency to certain actions I must remark-what I have already more than once repeated that the suggesting influence which is usually expressed in the phrase association of ideas, though that very improper phrase would seem to limit it to our ideas or conceptions only, and has unquestionably produced a mistaken belief of this partial operation of a general influence--is not limited to those more than to any other states of mind, but occurs also with equal force in other feelings, which are not commonly termed deas or conceptions; that our desires or other emotions, for ex. ample, may, like them, form a part of our trains of suggestion,” &c. See another equally ambiguous passage in his sixty-fourth lecture.