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CONATION (from Lat. conari, to attempt, strive), a psychological term, originally chosen by Sir William Hamilton (Lectures on Metaphysics, pp. 127 foll.), used generally of an attitude of mind involving a tendency to take action, e.g. when one decides to remove an object which is causing a painful sensation, or to try to interrupt an unpleasant train of thought. This use of the word tends to lay emphasis on the mind as self-determined in relation to external objects. Another less common use of the word is to describe the pleasant or painful sensations which accompany muscular activity; the conative phenomena, thus regarded, are psychic changes brought about by external causes.

The chief difficulty in connexion with Conation is that of distinguishing it from Feeling, a term of very vague significance both in technical and in common usage. Thus the German psychologist F. Brentano holds that no real distinction can be made. He argues that the mental process from sorrow or dissatisfaction, through hope for a change and courage to act, up to the voluntary determination which issues in action, is a single homogeneous whole (Psychologie, pp. 308-309). The mere fact, however, that the series is continuous is no ground for not distinguishing its parts; if it were so, it would be impossible to distinguish by separate names the various colours in the solar spectrum, or indeed perception from conception. A more material objection, moreover, is that, in point of fact, the feeling of pleasure or pain roused by a given stimulus is specifically different from, and indeed may not be followed by, the determination to modify or remove it. Pleasure and pain, i.e. hedonic sensation per se, are essentially distinct from appetition and aversion; the pleasures of hearing music or enjoying sunshine are not in general accompanied by any volitional activity. It is true that painful sensations are generally accompanied by definite aversion or a tendency to take action, but the cases of positive pleasure are amply sufficient to support a distinction. Therefore, though in ordinary language such phrases as "feeling aversion" are quite legitimate, accurate psychology compels us to confine "feeling" to states of consciousness in which no conative activity is present, i.e. to the psychic phenomena of pleasure or pain considered in and by themselves. The study of such phenomena is specifically described as Hedonics or Algedonics ; the latter term was coined by H. R. Marshall (in Pain, Pleasure and Aesthetics, 1894), but has not been generally used.

The problem of conation is closely related to that of Attention (q.v.), which indeed, regarded as active consciousness, implies conation (G. T. Ladd, Psychology, 1894, p. 213). Thus, whenever the mind deliberately focusses itself upon a particular object, there is implied a psychic effort (for the relation between Attention and Conation, see G. F. Stout, Analytic Psychology, book i. chap. vi.). All conscious action, and in a less degree even unconscious or reflex action, implies attention; when the mind "attends" to any given external object, the organ through the medium of which information regarding that object is conveyed to the mind is set in motion. (See Psychology.)

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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