Chapter 12 Faith and Duty

Chapter 12

Faith and Duty 

Claims of Philosophy as an Instrument of Education

English Educational Thought tends towards Naturalism––Since Locke established a school of educational thought, based on English philosophy, our tendency has been exclusively towards naturalism, if not materialism; to the exclusion of an element in education––the force of the idea.

Madame de Staël has a remarkable passage concerning this tendency in English philosophy which, though we may not be disposed to admit her conclusions en bloc, should certainly give us pause, and lead us to consider whether we should not wisely modify the tendencies of our national thought by laying ourselves open to foreign influences:––

Madame de Staël upon Locke––'Hobbes prit à la lettre la philosophie qui fait dériver toutes nos idées des impressions des sens; il n'en craignit point les conséquences, et il a dit hardiment que l'âme était, soumise à la nécessité comme la société au despotisme. Le culte des tous les sentiments éléves et purs est tellement consolidé en Angleterre par les institutions politiques et religieuses, que les spéculations de l'esprit tournent autour de ces imposantes colonnes sans jamais les ébranler. Hobbes eut donc peu de partisans dans son pays; mais l'influence de Locke fut plus universelle. Comme son caractère était morale et religieuse, il ne se permit aucun des raisonnements corrupteurs qui derivaient nécessairement de sa métaphysique; et la plupart de ses compatriotes, en l'adoptant, ont eu comme lui la noble inconséquence de séparer les résultats des principes, tandis que Hume et les philosophes français, après avoir admis le système, l'ont appliqué d'une manière beaucoup plus logique.

'La métaphysique de Locke n'a en d'autre effet sur les esprits, en Angleterre, que de ternir un peu leur originalité naturelle; quand même elle dessé cherait la source des grandes pensées philosophiques, elle ne saurait detruire le sentiment religieux, qui sait si bien y suppléer; mais cette métaphysique reçue dans le reste de l'Europe, l'Allemagne exceptée, a été l'une des principales causes de l'immoralité' dont on s'est fait une théorie pour en mieux assurer la pratique1.' 

Our Educational Efforts lack Definite Aim––It is well that we should recognise the continuity of English educational thought, and perceive that we have in Spencer and Bain the lineal descendants of the earlier philosophers. Probably the chief source of weakness in our attempt to formulate a science of education is that we do not perceive that education is the outcome of philosophy. We deal with the issue and ignore the source. Hence our efforts lack continuity and definite aim. We are content to pick up a suggestion here, a practical hint there, without even troubling ourselves to consider what is that scheme of life of which such hints and suggestions are the output. 

We are on the Verge of Chaos––Mr. Greenstreet's translation of M. Fouillée's remarkable work2 should not be without its effect upon the burning questions of the hour. As the translator well says in his preface: 'The spirit of reform is in the air; the question of the retention of Greek at the Universities is but a ripple of the great wave that seems ready to burst upon us and to obliterate the characteristic features of our national system of education . . . A glance at the various forms of the educational Systems obtaining in Europe and America is sufficient to betray to the observant eye how near to the verge of chaos we are standing.'

But also in the Throes of an Educational Revolution––These are words of insight and wisdom, but let us not therefore despair as though the end of all things were at hand. The truth is, we are in the throes of an educational revolution; we are emerging from chaos rather than about to plunge into it; we are beginning to recognise that education is the applied science of life, and that we really have existing material in the philosophy of the ages and the science of the day to formulate an educational code whereby we may order the lives of our children and regulate our own. We need not aspire to a complete and exhaustive code of educational laws. This will come us duly when humanity has, so to speak, fulfilled itself. Meantime, we have enough to go on with if we would believe it. What we have to do is to gather together and order our resources; to put the first thing foremost and all things in sequence, and see that education is neither more nor less than the practical application of our philosophy. Hence, if our educational thought is to be sound and effectual we must look to the philosophy which underlies it, and must be in a condition to trace every counsel of perfection for the bringing-up of children to one or other of the two schools of philosophy of which it must needs be the outcome.

Is our System of Education to be the Issue of Naturalism or Idealism?––Is our system of education to be the issue of naturalism or of idealism, or is there indeed a media via? This is practically the question which M. Fouillée sets himself to answer in the spirit of a philosophical educationalist. He examines his premises and draws his deductions with a candour, culture, and philosophic insight which carry the confidence of the reader. No doubt he is of a mind with that umpire in a cricket-match who lays down the dictum that one must be quite fair to both sides with a little leaning to one's own. M. Fouillée takes sides with classical as preferred to scientific culture. But he is not a mere partisan; he has philosophic reasons for the faith that is in him, and his examination of the question of national education is full of instruction and inspiration for the thoughtful parent as well as for the schoolmaster.

The Ethical View in Education––M. Fouillée gives in his preamble a key to his treatment of the subject. He says,

"On this as on all great questions of practical philosophy Guyau has left his mark. . . . He has treated the question from the highest standpoint, and has treated it in a strictly scientific form. 'Given the hereditary merits and faults of a race, how far can we modify existing heredity by means of education for a new heredity?' For the problem is nothing less than this. It is not merely a matter of the instruction of individuals, but of the preservation and improvement of the race. Education must therefore be based upon the physiological and moral laws of the culture of races . . . The ethnical is the true point of view. By means of education we must create such hereditary tendencies as will be useful to the race both physically and intellectually."

M. Fouillée begins at the beginning. He examines the principle of selection, and shows that it is a working principle, not only in animal, but in intellectual, æsthetic, and moral life. He demonstrates that there is what may be called psychological selection, according to whose laws those ideas which are the fittest rule the world; and it is in the light of this truth, of the natural selection of ideas and of their enormous force, that he would examine the vexed question of the subjects and methods of education.

No Attempt has been made to Unify Education––M.Fouillée complains with justice that no attempt has been made to harmonise or unify education as a whole in any one civilised nation. Controversy rages round quite secondary questions––whether education shall be literary or scientific? and, again, whether the ancient or the modem languages shall be taught? But science and literature do not exhaust the field. Our author introduces a new candidate. He says,

"In this volume we shall inquire if the link between science and literature is not to be found in the knowledge of man, of society, of the great laws of the universe––i.e. in morals and social science and æsthetics––in a word, in philosophy." 

Claims of Philosophy as an Educational Agent––Now this is the gist of the teaching which we have laboured to advance in the Parents' Union and its various agencies. 'The proper study of mankind is man,' is one of those 'thoughts beyond their thought' which poets light upon; and I am able to add my personal testimony to the fact that under no other study with which I am acquainted is it possible to trace such almost visible expansion of mind and soul in the young student as in this of philosophy.

A peculiarly interesting and original line of thought, worked out very fully in this volume, is, that just as the child with an individual bent should have that bent encouraged and 'educated,' so of a nation:––

'If social science rejects every mystical interpretation of the common spirit animating a nation, it by no means rejects the reflected consciousness or spontaneous divination, possessed by every nation, of the functions which have devolved upon it.'

A Nation should be Educated for its Proper Functions––Here is a most fruitful suggestion. Think of the fitness of a scheme of physical, intellectual, and moral training, based upon our ideal of the English character and of the destiny of the English nation.

The chapter on 'Power of Education and of Idea-Forces––Suggestions––Heredity' is very valuable, as utilising a floating nebulæ of intuitions, which are coming upon us in connection with the hundred and one hypnotic marvels of the day. M. Fouillée maintains that––

'The power of instruction and education, denied by some and exaggerated by others, being nothing but the power of ideas and sentiments, it is impossible to be too exact in determining at the outset the extent and limits of this force. This psychological problem is the foundation of pedagogy.'

M. Fouillée Neglects the Physiological Basis of Education––In a word, M. Fouillée returns boldly to the Platonic philosophy; the idea is to him all in all, in philosophy and education. But he returns empty-handed. The wave of naturalism, now perhaps on the ebb, has left neither flotsam nor jetsam for him save for stranded fragments of the Darwinian theory. Now, it is to this wave of thought, materialistic, what you will, that we owe the discovery of the physiological basis of education.

While we believed that thought was purely volatile, incapable of impact upon matter, or of being acted by matter, our theories of education were necessarily vague. We could not catch our Ariel; how, then, could we school him? But now, the physiologists have taught us that our wilful sprite rests with the tips of his toes, at any rate, upon solid ground; nay more, his foothold is none so slight but that it leaves footmarks behind, an impress on that domain of the physical in which we are somewhat at home. The impalpable thoughts that we think leave their mark upon the quite palpable substance of the brain; set up, so the physiologists tell us, connections between the nerve-cells of which that organ is composed, in fact, to make a long story short, the cerebrum 'grows to the uses it is earliest and most constantly put to.' This fact opens up a function of education upon which M. Fouillée hardly touches, that most important function of the formation of habits––physical, intellectual, moral. As has been well said, 'Sow an act, reap a habit; sow a habit, reap a character; sow a character, reap a destiny.' And a great function of the educator is to secure that acts shall be so regularly, purposefully, and methodically sown that the child shall reap the habits of the good life, in thinking and doing, with the minimum of conscious effort.

The Minor Moralities become Matters of Habit––We are only now beginning to discover how beneficial are the laws which govern our being. Educate the child in right habits and the man's life will run in them, without the constant wear and tear of the moral effort of decision. Once, twice, three times in a day, he will still, no doubt, have to choose between the highest and the less high, the best and the less good course. But all the minor moralities of life may be made habitual to him. He has been brought up to be courteous, prompt, punctual, neat, considerate; and he practises these virtues without conscious effort. It is much easier to behave in the way he is used to, than to originate a new line of conduct. And this is so, because it is graciously and mercifully ordered that there shall be a physical record and adaptation as the result of our educational efforts, and that the enormous strain of moral endeavour shall come upon us only occasionally. 'Sow a habit, reap a character'; that is, the formation of habits is one of the chief means whereby we modify the original hereditary disposition of the child until it becomes the character of the man.

The Idea which Initiates a Habit––But even in this physiological work, the spiritual force of the idea has its part to play. For a habit is set up by following out an initial idea with a long sequence of corresponding acts. You tell a child that the Great Duke slept in so narrow a bed that he could not turn over, because, said he, 'When you want to turn over it's time to get up.' The boy does not wish to get up in the morning, but he does wish to be like the hero of Waterloo. You stimulate him to act upon this idea day after day for a month or so, until the habit is formed, and it is just as easy as not to get up in good time.

Can Spirit act upon Matter?––The functions of education may be roughly defined as twofold: (a) the formation of habits; (b) the presentation of ideas. The first depends far more largely than we recognise on physiological processes. The second is purely spiritual in origin, method, and result. Is it not possible that here we have the meeting point of the two philosophies which have divided mankind since men began to think about their thoughts and ways? Both are right; both are necessary; both have their full activity in the development of a human being at his best. The crux of modern thought, as indeed of all profound thought, is, Is it conceivable that the spiritual should have any manner of impact upon the material? Every problem, from the education of a little child to the doctrine of the Incarnation, turns upon this point. Conceive this possibility and all is plain, from the unlawful marvels resulting from hypnotic suggestion to the miracles of our faith. It becomes possible, though not easy, to believe what we are told, that, by an effort of passionate concentration of thought and feeling the devout have arrived at the figure of the stigmata upon hands and feet. With this key nothing is impossible to our faith; all we ask for is precedent. And, after all, this interaction of forces is the most common and everyday of our experiences. What is it but the impact of spirit upon matter which writes upon the face of flesh that record of character and conduct which we call countenance? And not only upon the face; he is a dull scholar in the lore of human nature who cannot read a man fairly well from a back view. The sculptor knows the trick of it. There is a statue of the late Prince Consort in Edinburgh in which representative groups pay homage to the Prince. Stand so as to get the back view of any one of them and the shoulders of scholar, soldier, peasant, artisan, tell unmistakably the tale of their several lives. What is this but the impress of spirit upon matter?

There is no Middle Way Open––Anyway we are on the horns of a dilemma. There is no middle course open to us. The physiologists have made it absolutely plain that the brain is concerned with thinking. Nay, more, that thought may go on without any volition on the part of the thinker. Further, that much of our best work in art and literature is the result of what is called unconscious cerebration. Now, we must admit one of two things. Either thought is a process of the material brain, one more 'mode of motion,' as the materialists contend, or the material brain is the agent of the spiritual thought, which acts upon it, let us say, as the fingers of a player upon the keys of his instrument. Grant this and the whole question is conceded. The impact of the spiritual upon the material is an accepted fact.

The Individuality of Children is Safeguarded––As we have had occasion to say before, in this great work of education parents and teachers are permitted to play only a subordinate part after all. You may bring your horse to the water, but you can't make him drink; and you may present ideas of the fittest to the mind of the child; but you do not know in the least which he will take, and which he will reject. And very well for us it is that this safeguard to his individuality is implanted in every child's breast. Our part is to see that his educational plat is constantly replenished with fit and inspiring ideas, and then we must needs leave it to the child's own appetite to take which he will have, and as much as he requires. Of one thing we must beware. The least symptom of satiety, especially when the ideas we present are moral and religious, should be taken as a serious warning. Persistence on our part just then may end with the child's never willingly sitting down to that dish any more.

Importance of Salient Ideas––The very limitations we see to our own powers in this matter of presenting ideas should make us the more anxiously careful as to the nature of the ideas set before our children. We shall not be content that they learn geography, history, Latin, what not,––we shall ask what salient ideas are presented in each such study, and how will these ideas affect the intellectual and moral development of the child. We shall be in a mood, that is, to go calmly and earnestly into the question of education as presented by M. Fouillée. We shall probably differ from him in many matters of detail, but we shall most likely be inclined to agree with his conclusion that, not some subject of mere utility, but moral and social science conveyed by means of history, literature, or otherwise, is the one subject which we are not at liberty to leave out from the curriculum of 'a being breathing thoughtful breath.'

The tables of studies given in the Appendix are of extreme value. Every subject is treated from what may be called the ideal point of view.

A Scientific Spirit––"Two things are necessary. First, we must introduce into the study of each science the philosophic spirit and method, general views, the search for the most general principles and conclusions. We must then reduce the different sciences to unity by a sound training in philosophy, which will be as obligatory to students in science as to students in literature . . . Scientific truths, said Descartes, are battles won; describe to the young the principal and most heroic of these battles; you will thus interest them in the results of science, and you will develop in them a scientific spirit by means of the enthusiasm for the conquest of truth; you will make them see the power of the reasoning which has led to discoveries in the past, and which will do so again in the future. How interesting arithmetic and geometry might be if we gave a short history of their principal theorems; if the child were mentally present at the labours of a Pythagoras, a Plato, a Euclid, or in modern times of a Viète, a Descartes, a Pascal, or a Leibnitz. Great theories, instead of being lifeless and anonymous abstractions, would become human, living truths, each with its own history, like a statue by Michael Angelo, or like a painting by Raphael." 

1See Appendix

2Education From a National Standpoint.