Emotions and volitions, he holds, are not directly self-preservations of the soul, as our presentations are, but variable states of such presentations resulting from their interaction when above the threshold of consciousness.
Ethics, which is but one branch of aesthetics, although the chief, deals with such relations among volitions (Willensverheiltnisse) as thus unconditionally please or displease.
These relations Herbart finds to be reducible to five, which do not admit of further simplification; and corresponding to them are as many moral ideas (Musterbegriffe), viz.: (I) Internal Freedom, the underlying relation being that of the individual's will to his judgment of it; (2) Perfection, the relation being that of his several volitions to each other in respect of intensity, variety and concentration; (3) Benevolence, the relation being that between his own will and the thought of another's; (4) Right, in case of actual conflict with another; and (5) Retribution or Equity, for intended good or evil done.
Ideals and volitions are upon his view ultimately movements of the brain.
The volition of primitive man was one with that of God but it becomes broken up into separate volitions which oppose themselves to the divine will, and through the oppositions and trials of this world work onward to a second and completer harmony.