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In the philosophy of mind,[1] and in psychology, conation refers to the ability to apply intellectual energy to a task to achieve its completion or reach a solution.[2] Conation may be distinguished from other mental phenomena, particularly cognition, and sensation,[1] and has been described as "neglected" in comparison with these phenomena. It may overlap to some extent with the concept of motivation, but "the ability to focus and maintain persistent effort" has been seen as more pertinent to conation.[2]


Merriam-Webster's online dictionary defines conation as "an inclination (as an instinct or drive) to act purposefully".[3] The word comes from the Latin words conari (to try) and conatio (an attempt).[4] Hannah et al. define "moral conation" as "the capacity to generate responsibility and motivation to take moral action in the face of adversity and persevere through challenges".[5]


Edwin Boring included a review of the history of the concept in his History of Experimental Psychology, published in 1929, referring to James Ward's typology of cognition, conation, and feeling,[2] and to conation as George Stout's "famous doctrine". The division of the mind into cognition, conation (or desire), and feeling was also described by Immanuel Kant.[6] However, Norman Schur more recently included the word "conation" among his 1000 most challenging (or oft-forgotten or unknown) words in the English language.[7] For George Berkeley in his essay De Motu, it was a term to be avoided, because "we do not rightly understand" its meaning.[8]


Neuropsychology researchers Ralph M. Reitan and Deborah Wolfson looked at the performance of specific tasks which were "judged to require conative ability" in a research study published in 2000 and surmised that "conation, which has been a neglected dimension of behavior in neuropsychological assessment, may be the missing link between cognitive ability and prediction of performance capabilities in everyday life".[2]

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Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ a b Crawford, S. (2012), Minds and mental phenomena: an introduction, 3: Varieties of mental phenomena, accessed 19 May 2023
  2. ^ a b c d Reitan, R. M. and Wolfson, D., Conation: A Neglected Aspect of Neuropsychological Functioning, Archives of Clinical Neuropsychology, Vol. 15, No. 5, 2000, pp. 443–453, accessed 19 May 2023
  3. ^ Merriam-Webster, conation, accessed 8 June 2023
  4. ^ Davis, Noah Knowles (1892). Elements of Psychology. New York: Silver, Burdett. p. 72.
  5. ^ Hannah, Sean T.; Avolio, Bruce J.; May, Douglas R. (2011). "Moral Maturation and Moral Conation: A Capacity Approach to Explaining Moral Thought and Action". Academy of Management Review. 36 (4): 663–685. doi:10.5465/amr.2010.0128. S2CID 32416882.
  6. ^ Katz, L. D., Pleasure in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, revised 17 June 2016, accessed 23 May 2023
  7. ^ Schur, N. (1990), 1000 most challenging words, New York: Ballantine Books
  8. ^ Kilne, A. D., George Berkeley: Philosophy of Science, in the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, accessed 23 May 2023