Skip to main content

Chapter 01 - The Will and Its Action

There has been altogether too much talk about the secret of success. Success has no secret. Her voice is forever ringing through the marketplace and crying in the wilderness, and the burden of her cry is one word, will. Any man who hears and heeds that cry is equipped fully to climb to the very heights of life. If there is one thing I have tried to do through these years it is to indent in the minds of the men of America the living fact that when they give Will the reins and say ‘Drive!’ they are headed toward the heights, - Dr. Russell H. Conwell.

The human Will involves mysteries which have never been fathomed. As a "faculty" of mind it is, nevertheless, a familiar and practical reality. There are those who deny man's spiritual nature, but no one calls in question the existence of this power. While differences obtain among writers as to its source, its constitution, its functions, its limitations, its freedom, all concede that the Will itself is an actual part of the mind of man, and that its place and uses in our life are of transcendent importance.

Disagreements as to interpretations do not destroy facts.

The Will is sometimes defined as the "faculty of conscious, and especially of deliberative action." Whether the word "conscious" is essential to the definition may be questioned. Some actions which are unconscious are, nevertheless, probably expressions of the Will; and some involuntary acts, are certainly conscious. All voluntary acts are deliberative, for deliberation may proceed "with the swiftness of lightning," as the saying goes, but both deliberation and its attendant actions are not always conscious. A better definition of the Will, therefore, is "T HE POWER OF SELF DIRECTION."

This power acts in conjunction with feeling and knowledge, but is not to be identified with them as a matter of definition. Nor ought it to be confounded with desire, nor with the moral sense. One may feel without willing, and one may will contrary to feeling. So the Will may proceed either with knowledge or in opposition thereto, or, indeed, in a manner indifferent. Oftentimes desires are experienced which are unaccompanied by acts of Will, and the moral sense frequently becomes the sole occasion of willing, or it is set aside by the Will, whatever the ethical dictates in the case.


The Will is a way a person has of being and doing, by which itself and the body in which it dwells are directed. It is not the Will that wills, any more than it is the perceptive powers that perceive, or the faculty of imagination that pictures mental images.

The Will is "the Soul Itself Exercising Self Direction."

The Will is the Man

"By the term Will in the narrower sense," says Royce. "one very commonly means so much of our mental life as involves the attentive guidance of our conduct." When person employs this instrumental power, it puts forth a Volition. A Volition is the willing power in action.

All Volitions are thus secondary mental comm ands for appropriate mental or physical acts. Obedience of mind or body to Volitions exhibits the power of the Will.

No one wills the impossible for himself. One cannot will to raise a paralyzed arm, nor to fly in the air without machinery. In such cases there may be desire to act, but always mind refuses to will, that is, to put forth a Volition, which is a secondary command, when obedience, of the mind itself, or of the body, is known to lie beyond the range of the possible.

The Will may be regarded as both Static and Dynamic. In the one case it is a Power of Person to originate and direct human activities; in the other case, it is action of person for these ends.

Thus, one is said to be possessed of a strong Will (the static) when he is capable of exerting his mind with great force in a Volition or in a series of Volitions. The quality of his Will is manifest in the force and persistence of his Volitions or his acts. The manifested Will then becomes dynamic: his Volitions are the actions of the mind in self direction.

Hence, the Will is to be regarded as an energy, and, according to its degree as such, it is weak, or fairly developed, or very great. It is related of Muley Molue, the Moorish leader that, when lying ill, almost worn out by incurable dis ease, a battle took place between his troops and the Portuguese, when, starting from his litter at the great crisis of the fight, he rallied his army, led them to victory, and then instantly sank exhausted, and expired."

Here was an exhibition of stored up Will power. So, also, Blondin, the rope walker, said: "One day I signed an agreement to wheel a barrow along a rope on a given day. A day or two before I was seized with lumbago. I called in my medical man, and told him I must be cured by a certain day; not only because I should lose what I hoped to earn, but also forfeit a large sum. I got no better, and the evening before the day of the exploit, he argued against my thinking of carrying out my agreement. Next morning when I was no better, the doctor forbade my getting up. I told him, ‘What do I want with your advice? If you cannot cure me, of what good is your advice?'

The Will and Its Action

When I got to the place, there was the doctor, protesting I was unfit for the exploit. I went on, though I felt like a frog with my back. I got ready my pole and barrow, took hold of the handles and wheeled it along the rope as well as ever I did. When I got to the end I wheeled it back again, and when this was done I was a frog again.

What made me that I could wheel the barrow? It was my reserve Will. Power of Will is, first, mental capacity for a single volitional act: A powerful Will, as the saying is, means the mind's ability to throw great energy into a given command for action, by itself, or by the body, or by other beings. This is what Emerson calls “the spasm to collect and swing the whole man.”

The mind may, in this respect, be compared to an electric battery; discharges of force depend upon the size and makeup of the instrument; large amounts of force may be accumulated within it; and by proper manipulation an electric current of great strength may be obtained. There are minds that seem capable of huge exercise of Will power in single acts and under peculiar circumstances, as by the insane when enraged, or by ordinary people under the influence of excessive fear, or by exceptional individuals normally possessed of remarkable mental energy. So, power of Will may, as it were, be regarded as capable of accumulation. It may be looked upon as an energy which is susceptible of increase in quantity and of development in quality.

The Will is not only a dynamic force in mind, it is also secondly, a power of persistent adherence to a purpose, be that purpose temporary and not remote, or abiding and far afield in the future; whether it pertain to a small area of action or to a wide complexity of interests involving a lifelong career. But what it is in persistence must depend upon what it is in any single average act of Volition. The Will may exhibit enormous energy in isolated instances while utterly weak with reference to a continuous course of conduct or any great purpose in life. A mind that is weak in its average Volitions is incapable of sustained willing through a long series of actions or with reference to a remote purpose. The cultivation, therefore, of the Dynamic Will is essential to the possession of volitional power for a successful life.

"A chain is no stronger than its weakest link." Development of Will has no other highway than absolute adherence to wise and intelligent resolutions. The conduct of life hinges on the Will, but the Will depends upon the man. Ultimately it is never other than his own election. At this point appears the paradox of the Will: The Will is the soul's power of self direction; yet the soul must decide how and for what purposes this power shall be exercised.

The Will Is the Man

It is in such a paradox that questions of moral freedom have their origin. The freedom of the Will is a vexed problem, and can here receive only superficial discussion. The case seems to be clear enough, but it is too metaphysical for these pages.


"The Will," says a French writer," is to choose in order to act." This is not strictly true, for the Will does not choose at all. The person chooses. But in a general or loose way the Will may be now defined as a power to choose what the man shall do.

The choice is always followed by volition, and Volition by appropriate action. To say that we choose to act in a certain way, while abstaining from so doing, is simple to say either that, at the instant of so abstaining, we do not choose, or that we cease to choose.

We always do what we actually choose to do, so far as mental and physical ability permit. When they do not permit, we may desire, but we do not choose in the sense of willing. In this sense choice involves some reason, and such reason must always be sufficient in order to induce person to will.

A Sufficient Reason is a motive which the person approves as ground of action. This approval precedes the act of willing, that is, the Volition. The act of willing, therefore, involves choice among motives as its necessary precedent, and decision based upon such selection. When the mind approves a motive, that is, constitutes it Sufficient Reason for its action in willing, it has thereby chosen the appropriate act obedient to willing. The mind frequently recognizes what, at first thought, might be regarded as Sufficient Reason for Volition, yet refrains from putting forth that Volition. In thus case other motives have instantaneously, perhaps unconsciously, constituted Sufficient Reason for inaction, or for action opposed to that immediately before considered.

We thus perceive four steps connected with the act of willing:

1. Presentation in mind of something that may be done;

2. Presentation in mind of motives or reasons relating to what may be done;

3. The rise in mind of Sufficient Reason;

4. Putting forth in mind of Volition corresponding to Sufficient Reason

The Will and Its Action

As Professor Josiah Royce remarks in "Outlines of Psychology," "We not only observe and feel our own doings and attitudes as a mass of inner facts, viewed all together, but in particular we attend to them with greater or less care, selecting now these, now those tendencies to action as the central objects in our experience of our own desires." "To attend to any action or to any tendency to action, to any desire, or to any passion, is the same thing as 'to select,' or 'to choose,' or 'to prefer,' or 'to take serious interest in,' just that tendency or deed. And such attentive (and practical) preference of one course of conduct, or of one tendency or desire, as against all others present to our minds at any time, is called a voluntary act." This is in effect the view of the author taken ten years before the writing of the first edition of the present work.

A motive is an appeal to person for a Volition. "A motive cannot be identified with the Volition to act, for it is the reason of the Volition. The identification of motives and Volitions would involve us in the absurdity of holding that we have as many Volitions as motives, which would result in plain contradiction." And, it may also be remarked, a motive is not an irresistible tendency, an irresistible tendency is not a desire, and a desire is not a Volition. In short, it is impossible to identify a Volition or act of Will with anything else. It is an act, sui generis.

But while motives must be constituted Sufficient Reasons for willing, the reason is not a cause; it is merely an occasion. The cause of the act of Will is the person, free to select a reason for Volition. The occasion of the action of Volition in mind is solely the motive approved.

Motives are conditions; they are not causes. The testimony that they are not determining conditions stands on the validity of the moral consciousness. The word "ought" always preaches freedom, defying gospelers and metaphysicians of every pagan field.


Moreover, the phrase "freedom of will" is tautology, and the phrase "bondage of will" is contradiction of terms. To speak of the freedom of the Will is simply to speak of the Will's existence. A person without power to decide what he shall do is not a complete organism.

Will may not exist, but if there is any Will in mind, it is free.

The Will Is the Man

Will may be weak, but within the limitations of weakness, freedom nevertheless obtains. No bondage exists in the power of person to will somewhat. Bondage may obtain in the man, by reason of physical disorders, or of mental incapacity, or of moral perversion, or perhaps, of environment. For the Will “does not sensate: that is done by the senses; it does not cognize: that is done by the intellect; it does not crave or loathe an object of choice: that is done by the affections; it does not judge of the nature, or value, or qualities of an object: that is done by the intellect; it does not moralize on the right or wrong of an object, or of an act of choice: that is done by the conscience (loosely speaking): it does not select the object to be chosen or to be refused, and set it out distinct and defined. known and discriminated from all others, and thus made ready, after passing under the review of all the other faculties, to be chosen or refused by the Will: for this act of selecting has already been done by the intellect.”

The operations of the sense perceptions, of the intellect and of the moral powers may thus be inadequate, and there may be great difficulty in deliberating among motives, and even inability to decide which motive shall rule, but these weaknesses obtain in the mind or the man, they do not inhere in the Will. This does not surrender the freedom of the Will by shifting it from a faculty the definition of which makes it free to the person which may or may not be free, because any bondage of person has before it actual freedom as the result of development, education and moral influences. The action of Will is not determined by motive but by condition of person and to a degree, except under the oppression of disease, the person may always raise any motive to the dignity of Sufficient Reason.

Most people experience some bondage to evil, but the bondage of evil lies in the fact that the evil self tends to select a motive whose moral quality is of a like character. Accountability springs from this, that evil has been permitted to establish that tendency. A force endowed with intelligence, capable of forming purposes and pursuing self-chosen ends may neglect those rules of action which alone can guide it safely, and thus at last wholly miss the natural ends of its being."

As Samuel Johnson says: "By trusting to impressions a man may gradually come to yield to them and at length be subject to them so as not to be a free agent, or, what is the same thing in effect, to suppose that he is not a free agent."

As to the doctrine of necessity, no man believes it. If a man should give me arguments that I did not see, though I could not answer them, should I believe that I did not see? Hence the sway and the value of moral character in the arena of Will. A person of right character tends to constitute right motives Sufficient Reason for Volitions .

The Will and Its Action

The Will, therefore, is under law for it is a part of the universal system of things. It must obey the general laws of man's being, must be true to the laws of its own nature. A lawless Will can have no assignable object of existence. As a function in mind it is subject to the influences of the individual character, of environment and of ethical realities. But in itself it discloses that all Volitions are connected with motives or reasons, that every Volition has its sufficient Reason, and that no Volition is determined solely by any given reason. To suppose the Will to act otherwise than as required by these laws is to destroy its meaning. A lawless Volition is not a free Volition, it is no Volition. Lawless Volition is caprice. Capricious Volitions indicate a mind subject to indeterminate influences. When an individual is in such a state, we say that he is a slave, because he is without power to act intelligently for a definite purpose and according to a self chosen end.

Will is not free if it is not self caused, but to be self caused, in any true sense, it must act according to the laws of its own being. Law is the essence of freedom. Whatever is free is so because it is capable of acting out unhindered the laws of its nature.

The Will cannot transcend itself. It is not necessary that it should transcend its own nature in order to be free. A bird is free to fly, but not to pass its life under water. A bird with a broken wing cannot fly; nevertheless flight is of the freedom of bird-nature. And limitations upon bird-nature are not limitations upon such freedom. Induced limited states of individual minds cannot set aside the free ability of Will to act according to its fundamental nature.

The following, written of Howard the philanthropist, is a good illustration of the Will (a) as static, (b) as dynamic, (c) as an energy, (d) as controlled by the mind, (e) as free, and (f) as determined by character, what the individual makes himself to be: The (c) energy of his (a) determination was so great, that if, instead of being habitual, it had been (b) shown only for a short time on particular occasions, it would have appeared a vehement impetuosity; but, by being unintermitted, it had an equability of manner which scarcely appeared to exceed the tone of a calm constancy, it was so totally the reverse of anything like turbulence or agitation. It was the calmness of an intensity, (d) kept uniform by the nature of the human mind forbidding it to be more, and by the (f) character of the individual (e) forbidding it to be less."

Howard was an illustration of Emerson's meaning when he said: "There can be no driving force, except through the conversion of the man into his Will, making him the Will, and the Will him." Human nature is a huge commentary on this remark. Man's driving force, conquering fate, is the energy of the free Will.

The Will Is the Man

Said Dr. Edward H. Clarke : "The Will or Ego who is only known by his volitions, is a constitutional monarch, whose authority within certain limits is acknowledged throughout the system. If he chooses, like most monarchs, to extend his dominions and enlarge his power, he can do so. By a judicious exercise of his authority, employing direct rather than indirect measures, he can make every organ his cheerful subject. If, on the other hand, he is careless of his position, sluggish and weary of constant vigilance and labor, he will find his authority slipping from him, and himself the slave of his ganglia."

That you have a great world of opportunity awaiting your determination to possess it, is evidenced by this stirring view from the pen of C.G. Leland. "Now the man who can develop his will, has it in his power not only to control his moral nature to any extent, but also to call into action or realize very extraordinary states of mind, that is faculties, talents, or abilities which he never suspected to be within his reach. All that Man has ever attributed to the Invisible World without, lies, in fact, within him, and the magic key which will confer the faculty of sight and the power to conquer is there.

We have now finished our brief survey of the theory of Will power. The idea has been to make clear to you the place which Will power occupies in your life, to stimulate you to an immediate, determined, and pleasurable, nay, profitable training in this kingly force within your possession.

What this book shall accomplish for the reader depends solely upon himself.


“The Will is The Man"

The Will is God, the Will is man, The Will is power loosed in Thought; In Will the Unfathomed Self began, In Will the lesser mind is wrought: Nothing is willless entity: All one, to act, to will, to be. He only is who wills to live The best his nature prophesies: Master of fate, executive Of self , a sovereign strong and wise. Art thou a pigmy? Courage, soul! For thee, as all, the kingly goal.

-- The Author.


Syndicate content