Notes on Lovejoy

Several years ago I started the practice of summarizing books I read so as not to forget the lessons I wanted to take from it. Since I’ve started the study of logotherapy I’ve been interested in various points of interface. Thus I want to post my reading notes on this logotherapy blog.

I’ve started reading Reflections on Human Nature by Arthur Lovejoy and I want to share some ideas from there with you. On page 10 Lovejoy quotes Leonard Troland in his Fundamentals of Human Motivation with the remark that

“When the lay man thinks of psychology, he is usually interested in the nature and interplay of human motives. He looks to psychology for some explanation of some peculiarity in the behavior of a fellow man, or in his own desires and impulses. He believes that psychology should tell him why people act as they do, and how their tendencies of action can be modified in desirable directions…[But] anyone who opens a modern text-book of psychology with this interest in mind is doomed to sore disappointment.”

He then quotes William McDougall saying that the most important part of psychology is the question of motivation with the aim of modifying behavior in a more desirable direction, and this “most important part” of psychology “remains almost ignored by the majority of psychologists.” “The reason for this” according to McDougall, is found in “the unfortunate convention which has assigned the study of our intellectual development to the psychologists, and that of our moral development to the ethical philosophers.”

It seems we find ourselves in a similar position today. Speak about “moral development” as a goal in therapy and you will be trounced upon for inappropriate mixing of religion into therapy. Yet speak about behavioral change and psychologists will nod their heads in agreement.

If man is in fact interested in modifying behavior in more desirable directions as Troland states, Wherein lies the disconnect, the gap between the field of psychology and the layman’s interest?

What’s missing is a definition of “desirable.” After all, psychology is involved in modifying behavior. But what makes one behavior more desirable than another?

The beginnings of an answer can be found in Lovejoy’s explanation of motivation. He writes (p. 72):

“What at least ordinarily and normally determines choice, among alternative possible courses of action, is the relative intensity of the pleasantness or unpleasantness attaching, at the moment preceding choice, to the ideas of the two or more possible courses of action – not necessarily the anticipated pleasantness or unpleasantness of their future results.

He goes on to explain that behaviors, such as an expression of anger or happiness, are not determined by words flung into the atmosphere that cause a rearrangement of matter in the brain but that the words have to mean something to me. The words express ideas

To return again to our question about the meaning of “desirable” – He notes that the word “drive” is described as a push while the term “desire” tends to suggest a pull. We can simplify our conception of all human choice as a fixed row of dominoes where pushing down the first makes the second and all the rest fall in suit.

But human desire is not so simple. We think about the future desirable end, what will be the most satisfying eventual end, the highest good? In conclusion he states “The affective determinant of deliberate desire is, then the felt relative pleasantness or welcomeness of an idea of a future state-or-things at the moment of choice – the present valuedness of the idea, the the anticipated future value of the state-or-things.”

In sum: What makes a behavior more desirable is the value attached to the idea of what will result.

What resonates for me logotherapeutically is Frankl’s similar expression of being pushed by drives and pulled by values, and the emphasis on values as the motivation for the choices we make. Human beings are spiritual. They are not determined in their behavior but can operate from a position of valuing. They have the capacity to choose higher values.

Back to the realm of psychologists vs. ethical philosophers – “More desirable behavior” can be defined as drives by psychology or it can be defined as externally imposed moral teachings by ethical philosophers.

An alternative to both these options is logotherapy, a system within psychology that defines “desirable behavior” as that which is desired by the spirit within man – ideas about valued future states-or-being envisioned by the person. These ideas about values motivate human beings above any psychological or biological motives. Frankl’s approach would not “disappoint” McDougall were he alive today.

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