Sec 5-8: Custom, Imagination

SEC. 5: THE EFFECTS OF CUSTOM

  • Custom and repetition has the biggest effect in:
    • increasing and reducing our passions
    • converting:
      • pleasure into pain
      • pain into pleasure
  • Custom has two original effects on the mind.
    • It bestows a facility in the performance of any action or the conception of any object.
    • It afterwards bestows a tendency or inclination towards it.
      • We may account from these all its other effects, however extraordinary.

 

  • When the soul applies itself to perform any action or conception of any object it is not accustomed to, there is:
    • a certain unpliableness in the faculties
    • a difficulty of the spirit’s moving in their new direction.
  • This difficulty excites the spirits.
    • This surprise is:
      • the source of wonder, surprise, and all the emotions arising from novelty.
      • very agreeable in itself, like everything which enlivens the mind.
    • Yet it:
      • puts the spirits in agitation
      • augments our agreeable and painful affections, according to the foregoing principle, that every emotion which precedes or attends a passion, is easily converted into that passion.
  • Hence everything that is new:
    • is most affecting
    • gives us more pleasure or pain, than what naturally belongs to it.
  • When it often returns on us:
    • the novelty wears off
    • the passions subside
    • the hurry of the spirits is over
  • We survey the objects with greater tranquility.

 

  • By degrees, the repetition produces:
    • a facility of the human mind
    • an infallible source of pleasure, where the facility does not go beyond a certain degree.
  • It is remarkable that the pleasure arising from a moderate facility does not have the same tendency with the pleasure arising from novelty to augment the painful and agreeable affections.
    • The pleasure of facility does not so much consist in any ferment of the spirits, as in their orderly motion.
      • This motion will sometimes be so powerful as even to:
        • convert pain into pleasure
        • give us a relish in time what at first was most harsh and disagreeable.

 

  • Facility converts pain into pleasure.
    • It often converts pleasure into pain when it is too great.
    • It renders the mind’s actions so faint and languid, that they are no longer able to interest and support it.
  • No other objects become disagreeable through custom, but those naturally attended with some emotion or affection, which is destroyed by the too frequent repetition.
    • One can consider the clouds, and heavens, and trees, and stones, however frequently repeated, without ever feeling any aversion.
  • But when the fair sex, or music, or good cheer, or anything, that naturally should be agreeable, becomes indifferent, it easily produces the opposite affection.

 

  • Custom gives a facility to perform any action.
    • It also gives an inclination and tendency towards action, where it:
      • is not entirely disagreeable
      • can never be the object of inclination.
  • This is why custom increases all active habits, but reduces the passive, according to the observation of a late eminent philosopher.
    • The facility takes off from the force of the passive habits by rendering the motion of the spirits faint and languid.
  • But as in the active, the spirits are sufficiently supported of themselves, the tendency of the mind gives them new force, and bends them more strongly to the action.

 

SEC. 6: THE INFLUENCE OF THE IMAGINATION ON THE PASSIONS

  • It is remarkable that:
    • the imagination and affections have close union together
    • nothing, which affects the imagination can be entirely indifferent to the affections.
  • Whenever our ideas of good or evil acquire a new vivacity, the passions:
    • become more violent
    • keep pace with the imagination in all its variations.
  • I shall not determine whether this proceeds from the above principle, that any attendant emotion is easily converted into the predominant one.
    • It is sufficient that we have many instances to confirm this influence of the imagination on the passions.

 

  • Any pleasure we are acquainted with, affects us more than any other superior pleasure but of whose nature we are wholly ignorant.
    • We can form a particular and determinate idea of the pleasure we know.
    • We conceive the unknown pleasure under the general notion of pleasure.
  • The more general and universal any of our ideas are, the less influence they have on the imagination.
  • A general idea is nothing but a particular one considered in a certain view.
    • It is commonly more obscure because no particular idea, which we use to represent a general one, is ever fixed or determinate.
      • It may easily be changed for other particular ones serving equally in the representation.

 

  • Themistocles told the Athenians that he had formed a design, which would be highly useful to the public.
    • But it was impossible for him to communicate to them without ruining the execution, since its success depended entirely on its secrecy.
  • The Athenians, instead of granting him full power to act as he thought fitting, ordered him to communicate his design to Aristides.
    • They had entire confidence in Aristides’ prudence.
    • They would blindly to submit to his opinion.
  • Themistocles’ plan was to secretly set fire to all Greek fleets assembled in a neighbouring port.
    • This would destroy the rivals of the Athenians at sea.
    • Aristides returned to the assembly and told them, that Themistocles’ plan was most advantageous but most unjust.
      • The people unanimously rejected the project.

 

  • Charles Rollin [Ancient History (Paris, 1730–38)] admires this most unique passage of ancient history.

 

  • He says:
    • “The philosophers establish the finest maxims and most sublime rules of morality easily in their schools.
    • Here, they do not decide that interest should never prevail above justice.
    • It is the people who are interested in this proposal.
      • They consider it important to the public good.
      • They reject it unanimously and without hesitation, merely because it is contrary to justice.”

 

  • I see nothing extraordinary in this proceeding of the Athenians.
    • The same reasons, which render it so easy for philosophers to establish these sublime maxims, tend to reduce the merit of such a conduct in that people.
  • Philosophers never balance between profit and honesty.
    • Because their decisions are general, and neither their passions nor imaginations are interested in the objects.
  • In the present case the advantage was immediate to the Athenians as a general advantage.
    • It was not conceived by any particular idea.
    • It must have:
      • had a less considerable influence on their imaginations
      • been a less violent temptation, than if they had been acquainted with all its circumstances.
  • Otherwise it is difficult to conceive that everyone should so unanimously have adhered to justice, and rejected any considerable advantage,since men are commonly unjust and violent.

 

  • Any fresh and recent satisfaction operates on the will with more violence than a distant satisfaction with traces decayed and almost obliterated.
  • From whence does this proceed, but that the memory in the first case assists the fancy and gives an additional force and vigour to its conceptions?
  • The image of the past pleasure is strong and violent.
    • It bestows these qualities on the idea of the future pleasure, which is connected with it by the relation of resemblance.

 

  • A pleasure suitable to our life excites our desires and appetites more than a pleasure which is foreign to life.
    • This phenomenon may be explained from the same principle.

 

  • Nothing is more capable of infusing any passion into the mind, than eloquence.
    • It represents objects in their strongest and most lively colours.
  • We may acknowledge that such an object is valuable and another is odious.
    • But until an orator excites the imagination and gives force to these ideas, they may have but a feeble influence on the will or the affections.

 

  • But eloquence is not always necessary.
  • The bare opinion of another, especially when enforced with passion, will cause an idea of good or evil to influence us, which would otherwise have been entirely neglected.
    • This proceeds from the principle of sympathy or communication.
      • Sympathy is nothing but the conversion of an idea into an impression by the imagination’s force.

 

  • It is remarkable that lively passions commonly attend a lively imagination.
  • In this respect, the passion’s force depends as much on the temper of the person, as the object;s nature or situation.

 

  • I have already observed, that belief is nothing but a lively idea related to a present impression.
    • This vivacity is a requisite circumstance to the exciting all our passions, the calm as well as the violent.
    • The fiction of the imagination has no considerable influence on either of them.
      • It is too weak to:
        • take hold of the mind or
        • be attended with emotion.

 

SEC. 7: CONTIGUITY AND DISTANCE IN SPACE AND TIME

  • Everything contiguous to us in space or time is conceived with a peculiar force and vivacity and excels every other object, in its influence on the imagination because:
    • ourself is intimately present to us
    • whatever related to self must also be present to us.
  • But if an object is so far removed, as to have lost this relation, its idea becomes still fainter and more obscure.
    • This would, perhaps, require a more particular examination.

 

  • The imagination can never totally forget the points of space and time which we exist in.
    • It receives their frequent advertisements from the passions and senses.
    • No matter how it turns its attention to foreign and remote objects, it needs to reflect on the present at every moment.
  • It is also remarkable, that we:
    • take real objects in their proper order and situation
    • never leap from one real object to another, which is distant from it, without running over all those objects between them.
  • Therefore, when we reflect on any object distant from ourselves, we reach it by:
    • passing through all the intermediate space between ourselves and the object
    • renew our progress every moment, recalling the consideration of ourselves and our present situation.
  • This interruption must weaken the idea by:
    • breaking the action of the mind
    • hindering the conception from being so intense and continued, as when we reflect on a nearer object.
  • The fewer steps we make to arrive at the object and the smoother the road, the less this reduction of vivacity is felt.
    • But still may be observed more or less in proportion to the degrees of distance and difficulty.

 

  • Here then we are to consider two kinds of objects, the contiguous and remote.
    • The contiguous object approaches an impression in force and vivacity, through their relation to ourselves.
    • The remote object appears in a weaker and more imperfect light, through the interruption in our manner of conceiving them.
  • This is their effect on the imagination.
    • If my reasoning is just, they must have a proportional effect on the will and passions.
  • Contiguous objects must have an influence much superior to the distant and remote.
    • Accordingly, we commonly find that men are principally concerned about those objects which are not much removed in space or time.
    • They enjoy the present and leave what is afar off, to the care of chance and fortune.
      • Talk to a man of his condition 30 years hence, and he will not regard you.
      • Speak of what is to happen tomorrow, and he will lend you attention.
      • The breaking of a mirror gives us more concern when at home, than the burning of a house abroad, some hundred leagues distant.

 

  • Distance in space and time has a considerable effect:
    • on the imagination
    • consequently, on the will and passions, yet the consequence of a removal in space are much inferior to those of a removal in time.
  • 20 years are certainly a small distance of time compared to what history and even the memory of some may inform them of
    • Yet I doubt if 1,000 leagues, or even the greatest distance this globe can admit of, will so remarkably:
      • weaken our ideas
      • reduce our passions.
  • A West-Indian merchant will tell you that he is concerned with what happens in Jamaica.
    • Though few extend their views so far into the future, as to dread very remote accidents.

 

  • The cause of this phenomenon lies in the different properties of space and time.
  • Without having recourse to metaphysics, anyone may easily observe that space or extension consists of a number of co-existent parts:
    • disposed in a certain order
    • capable of being at once present to the sight or feeling.
  • On the contrary, time or succession never presents to us more than one at once.
    • It is impossible for any two of them ever to be co-existent.
  • These qualities of the objects have a suitable effect on the imagination.
    • The parts of extension are susceptible of a union to the senses.
    • They acquire a union in the fancy.
    • The appearance of one part does not exclude another.
    • The transition or passage of the thought through the contiguous parts is rendered more smoother and easier by that means.
  • On the other hand, the incompatibility of the parts of time in their real existence:
    • separates them in the imagination
    • makes it more difficult for the imagination to trace any long succession or series of events.
  • Every part must appear single and alone.
    • It cannot regularly enter the fancy without banishing what has been immediately precedent.
  • By this means any distance in time causes a greater interruption in the thought than an equal distance in space.
    • Consequently, weakens more considerably the idea, and consequently the passions which depend on the imagination, according to my system.

 

  • There is another phenomenon of a like nature with the foregoing: the superior effects of the same distance in futurity above that in the past.
    • This difference with respect to the will is easily accounted for.
  • None of our actions can alter the past.
    • It is not strange that it should never determine the will.
  • But with respect to the passions this question is yet entire and well worth the examining.

 

  • Besides the propensity to a gradual progression through the points of space and time, we have another peculiarity in our method of thinking which concurs to produce this phenomenon.
    • We always follow the succession of time in placing our ideas
    • From the consideration of any object, we pass more easily to the object which follows immediately after it than to that which went before it.
  • We may learn this from the order of historical narrations.
    • Only an absolute necessity can oblige a historian to:
      • break the order of time in his narration
      • give the precedence to an event which was really posterior to another.

 

  • A person’s present situation is always that of the imagination.
    • It is from thence we proceed to conceive any distant object.
  • When the object is past, the thought’s progression in passing to it from the present is contrary to nature, as proceeding from:
    • one point of time to the preceding point, and
    • from that to another preceding point, opposing the natural course of the succession.
  • On the other hand, when we think of a future object, our fancy:
    • flows along the stream of time
    • arrives at the object by a natural order, passing from one point of time to a point immediately posterior to it.
  • This easy progression of ideas:
    • favours the imagination
    • makes it conceive its object in a stronger and fuller light than when we are:
      • continually opposed in our passage
      • obliged to overcome the difficulties arising from the natural propensity of the fancy.
  • Therefore, a short span in the past has a greater effect in interrupting and weakening the conception, than a much greater span in the future.
    • Time’s influence on the will and passions is derived from this effect on the imagination.

 

  • There is another cause which:
    • contributes to the same effect
    • proceeds from the same quality of the fancy
      • This quality determines us to trace the succession of time by a similar succession of ideas.
  • When from the present instant, we consider two points of time equally distant in the future and the past, their relation to the present is almost equal when abstractedly considered.
    • The future will sometimes be present, so the past was once present.
  • If we could remove this quality of the imagination, an equal distance in the past and in the future, would have a similar influence.
    • This true when the fancy:
      • remains fixed and surveys the future and the past from the present instant
      • changes its situation and places us in different periods of time.
  • When we put ourselves in a point in time between between the present instant and the future object, we find:
    • the future object approach to us
    • the past retire and become more distant.
  • When we put ourselves in a point in time between the present and the past, the past approaches to us and the future becomes more distant.
    • But from the property of the fancy above-mentioned, we rather choose to fix our thought on the point of time between the present and the future, than on that between the present and the past.
  • We advance rather than retard our existence.
    • We proceed from past to present and from present to future, following what seems the natural succession of time.
    • Through this, we conceive:
      • the future as flowing every moment nearer us
      • the past as retiring.
  • Therefore, an equal distance in the past and in the future does not have the same effect on the imagination.
    • Because we consider the one as continually increasing, and the other as continually diminishing.
  • The fancy:
    • anticipates the course of things
    • surveys the object in that condition to which:
      • it tends
      • is regarded as the present.

 

SEC. 8: THE SAME SUBJECT CONTINUed

 

  • Thus, we have accounted for three phenomena which seem pretty remarkable.
    1. Why distance weakens the conception and passion.
    2. Why distance in time has a greater effect than that in space.
    3. Why distance in past time has still a greater effect than that in future.
  • We must now consider three phenomena, which seem to be the reverse of these:
    1. Why a very great distance increases our esteem and admiration for an object.
    2. Why such a distance in time increases it more than a distance in space.
    3. Why a distance in the past increases it more than that in the future.
  • I hope the curiousness of the subject will excuse my dwelling on it for some time.

 

  • For the first phenomenon, the mere view and contemplation of any successive or extended greatness:
    • enlarges the soul
    • gives it a sensible delight and pleasure.
  • A wide plain, the ocean, eternity, and a succession of several ages are all entertaining objects.
    • These exceed anything that is not great, no matter how beautiful.
  • When any very distant object is presented to the imagination, we naturally reflect on the interposed distance.
    • We conceive something great and magnificent, receive the usual satisfaction.
  • The admiration directed to the distance, naturally diffuses itself over the distant object, as the fancy:
    • passes easily from one idea to another related to it
    • transports to the second idea all the passions excited by the first idea.
  • The object does not need to be actually distant from us to cause our admiration.
    • It is enough that it conveys our view to any considerable distance by the natural association of ideas.
  • A great traveler our room will pass for a very extraordinary person as a Greek medal in our cabinet is always esteemed a valuable curiosity.
    • Here the object conveys our views to the distance, by a natural transition.
    • The admiration arising from that distance returns back to the object by another natural transition.

 

  • Every great distance produces an admiration for the distant object.
    • A distance in time has a more considerable effect than a distance in space.
  • Ancient busts and inscriptions are more valued than Japanese tables.
    • We more venerate the old Chaldeans and Egyptians, than the modern Chinese and Persians.
    • We take more fruitless pains to dear up the former’s history and chronology, than it would cost us to travel and be informed of the former’s character, learning and government.
  • I shall make a digression to explain this phenomenon.

 

  • Any opposition which does not entirely discourage and intimidate us, has rather a contrary effect.
    • It inspires us with a more than ordinary grandeur and magnanimity.
  • In collecting our force to overcome the opposition, we:
    • invigorate the soul
    • give the soul an elevation it would never have otherwise.
  • Compliance renders our strength useless.
    • It makes us insensible of it.
    • But opposition awakens and employs it.

 

  • This is also true in the universe.
  • Opposition enlarges the soul.
    • When full of courage and magnanimity, the soul seeks opposition.
    • Among the tamer beasts, he longs to have a slavering boar or a tawny lion come down from the mountain.

 

  • Whatever supports and fills the passions is agreeable to us.
    • What weakens and enfeebles them is uneasy.
  • Opposition has the first effect and compliance the second effect.
    • No wonder the mind desires opposition and is averse to compliance, in certain dispositions.

 

  • These principles have an effect on the imagination and the passions.
    • To be convinced of this. we only need to consider the influence of heights and depths on that faculty.
  • Any great elevation of place communicates a kind of pride or sublimity of imagination.
    • It gives a fancied superiority over those that lie below.
    • Vice versa, a sublime and strong imagination conveys the idea of ascent and elevation.
  • Hence we associate the idea of whatever is good with that of height, and evil with lowness.
    • Heaven is supposed to be above, and hell below.
    • A noble genius is called an elevate and sublime one.
      • He spurns the dank soil in winged flight.
    • On the contrary, a vulgar and trivial conception is stiled indifferently low or mean.
    • Prosperity is denominated ascent, and adversity descent.
    • Kings and princes are supposed to be placed at the top of human affairs
    • Peasants and day-labourers are said to be in the lowest stations.
  • These methods of thinking and self-expression, are not of little consequence as they may appear at first sight.

 

  • There is no natural nor essential difference between high and low.
    • This distinction only arises from the gravitation of matter which produces a motion from the one to the other.
  • The very same direction, which in this part of the globe is called ascent, is called descent in our antipodes.
    • This proceeds only from the contrary tendency of bodies.
  • The tendency of bodies continually operating on our senses, must produce a like tendency in the fancy, from custom.
    • The idea of the weight of any ascending object gives us a propensity to transport it from its ascended situation to the place immediately below it, until we come to the ground.
      • This equally stops the body and our imagination.
  • For a like reason, we feel a difficulty in mounting.
    • We are reluctant to pass from the lower to the higher situation, as if our ideas acquired a kind of gravity from their objects.
  • As a proof of this, we find that in the cadency of the harmony in music or poetry, the idea of facility communicates to us that of descent, in the same way as descent produces a facility.

 

  • The imagination finds an opposition in its internal qualities and principles in running from low to high.
    • The soul seeks opposition when elevated with joy and courage.
    • It eagerly throws itself into any scene of thought or action where its courage meets matter to nourish and employ it.
  • It follows that everything which invigorates and enlivens the soul, whether by touching the passions or imagination, naturally:
    • conveys to the fancy this inclination for ascent
    • determines it to run against the natural stream of its thoughts and conceptions.
  • This aspiring progress of the imagination suits the mind’s present disposition.
    • This difficulty sustains and increases its vigour, instead of extinguishing it.
  • This is why virtue, genius, power, and riches are associated with height and sublimity, as poverty, slavery, and folly are conjoined with descent and lowness.
  • Milton represents descent to be adverse with the angels.
    • Angels cannot sink without labour and compulsion.
  • If we were like his angels, this order of things would be entirely inverted.
    • The very nature of ascent and descent is derived from the difficulty and propensity.
    • Consequently, every one of their effects proceeds from that origin.

 

  • All this is easily applied to why a considerable distance in time produces a greater veneration for the distant objects than a like removal in space.
    • The imagination moves with more difficulty in passing from one portion of time to another, than in a transition through the parts of space.
    • Because space or extension appears united to our senses, while time or succession is always broken and divided.
  • This difficulty interrupts and weakens the fancy, when joined with a small distance.
    • But it has a contrary effect in a great removal.
  • The mind, elevated by the vastness of its object, is still further elevated by the difficulty of the conception.
    • It is obliged every moment to renew its efforts in the transition from one part of time to another.
    • It feels a more vigorous and sublime disposition than in a transition through the parts of space, where the ideas flow with easiness and facility.
    • In this disposition, the imagination, passing from the consideration of the distance to the view of the distant objects, gives us a proportional veneration for it.
    • This is why all the relics of antiquity:
      • are so precious in our eyes
      • appear more valuable than what is brought even from the remotest parts of the world.

 

  • The third phenomenon I have remarked will be a full confirmation of this.
    • Not every removal in time produces veneration and esteem.
  • We are not apt to imagine our posterity will excel us, or equal our ancestors.
    • This phenomenon is the more remarkable, because any distance in futurity does not weaken our ideas so much as an equal removal in the past.
    • Though a removal in the past, when very great, increases our passions beyond a like removal in the future.
      • Yet a small removal has a greater influence in reducing them.

 

Effort of the Imagination

  • In our common way of thinking we are placed in a middle station between the past and future.
  • Our imagination finds a difficulty in running along the past, and a facility in following the future, the difficulty conveys the notion of ascent, and the facility of descent.
  • Hence we imagine our ancestors to be mounted above us, and our posterity to lie below us.
  • Our fancy arrives at the past with effort, but easily reaches the future.
    • This effort:
      • weakens the conception if the distance is small.
      • enlarges and elevates the imagination, when attended with a suitable object.
  • On the other hand, the facility assists the fancy in a small removal.
    • But it takes off from its force when it contemplates any considerable distance.

 

  • I will summarize this subject of the will to set it more distinctly before the reader’s eyes.
  • A passion is a violent and sensible emotion of mind, when presented with:
    • any good or evil is presented, or
    • any object which excites an appetite.
  • The affections mean the same with the passions.
    • But affections:
      • operate more calmly
      • cause no disorder in the temper.
  • Tranquillity leads us to a mistake concerning them.
    • It causes us to regard them as conclusions only of our intellectual faculties.
  • The causes and effects of these violent and calm passions are pretty variable.
    • They depend on every individual’s peculiar temper and disposition.
  • The violent passions generally have a more powerful influence on the will.
    • The calm passions are able to control the violent ones  in their most furious movements, when:
      • corroborated by reflection
      • seconded by resolution.
  • A calm passion may easily be changed into a violent one by:
    • a change of temper or the object’s circumstances and situation.
    • the borrowing of force from any attendant passion
    • custom, or
    • exciting the imagination.
      • This makes this whole affair more uncertain.
  • On the whole, this struggle of passion and of reason:
    • diversifies human life
    • makes men so different from each other and from themselves in different times.
  • Philosophy can only account for a few of the greater and more sensible events of this war.
    • It must leave all the smaller and more delicate revolutions, as dependent on principles too fine and minute for her comprehension.

 

Words: 4671

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