Book 1, Chapter 9 - The Way of the Reason

We should teach children, also, not to lean (too confidently) unto their own understanding because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration of (a) mathematical truth and (b) of initial ideas accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide but in the latter is not always a safe one, for whether the initial idea be right or wrong reason will confirm it by irrefragible proofs.

Therefore children should be taught as they become mature enough to understand such teaching that the chief responsibility which rests upon then: as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas presented to them. To help them in this choice we should afford them principles of conduct and a wide range of fitting knowledge.

Every child, every man, who comes to a sudden halt watching the action of his own reason, is another Columbus, the discoverer of a new world. Commonly we let reason do its work without attention on our part, but there come moments when we stand in startled admiration and watch the unfolding before us point by point of a score of arguments in favour of this carpet as against that, this route in preference to the other, our chosen chum as against Bob Brown; because every pro suggested by our reason is opposed to some con in the background. How else should it happen that there is no single point upon which two persons may reason,––food, dress, games, education, politics, religion,––but the two may take opposite sides, and each will bring forward infallible proofs which must convince the other were it not that he too is already convinced by stronger proofs to strengthen his own argument. Every character in history or fiction supports this thesis; and probably we cannot give a better training in right reasoning than by letting children work out the arguments in favour of this or that conclusion.

Thus, Macbeth, a great general, returns after a brilliant victory, head and heart are inflated, what can he not achieve? Could he not govern a country as well as rule an army? Reason unfolds the steps by which he might do great things; great things, ay, but are they lawful, these possible exploits? And then in the nick of time he comes across the 'weird Sisters,' as we are all apt to take refuge in fatalism when conscience no longer supports us. He shall be Thane of Cawdor, and, behold, confirmation arrives on the spot. He shall also be king. Well, if this is decreed, what can he do? He is no longer a free agent. And a score of valid arguments unfold themselves showing how Scotland, the world, his wife, himself, would be enhanced, would flourish and be blessed if he had the opportunity to do what was in him. Opportunity? The thing was decreed! It rested with him to find the means, the tools. He was not without imagination, had a poetic mind and shrank before the horrors he vaguely foresaw. But reason came to his aid and step by step the whole bloody tragedy was wrought out before his prescient mind. When we first meet with Macbeth he is rich in honours, troops of friends, the generous confidence of his king. The change is sudden and complete, and, we may believe, reason justified him at every point. But reason did not begin it. The will played upon by ambition had already admitted the notion of towering greatness or ever the 'weird Sisters' gave shape to his desire. Had it not been for this countenance afforded by the will, the forecasts of fate would have influenced his conduct no more then they did that of Banquo.

But it must not be supposed that reason is malign, the furtherer of ill counsels only. Nurse Cavell, Jack Coruwell, Lord Roberts, General Gordon, Madame Curie, leave hints enough to enable us to follow the trains of thought which issued in glorious deeds. We know how Florence Nightingale received, welcomed, reasoned out the notion of pity which obsessed her, and how through many difficulties her great project for the saving of the sick and suffering of her country's army worked itself out; how she was able to convey to those in power the same convincing arguments which moved herself. That was a happy thought of the medieval church which represented the leading idea of each of the seven Liberal Arts by a chosen exponent able to convince others by the arguments which his own reason brought forward. So Priscian taught the world Grammar; Pythagoras, Arithmetic; and the name of Euclid still stands for the science which appealed to his reason. But it is not only great intellectual advances and discoveries or world-shaping events for good or evil, that exhibit the persuasive power of reason. There is no object in use, great or small, upon which some man's reason has not worked exhaustively. A sofa, a chest of drawer, a ship, a box of toy soldiers, have all been thought out step by step, and the inventor has not only considered the pros but has so far overcome the cons that his invention is there, ready for use; and only here and there does anyone take the trouble to consider how the useful, or, perhaps, beautiful article came into existence. It is worth while to ask a child, How did you think of it? when he comes to tell you of a new game he has invented, a new country of the imagination he has named, peopled and governed. He will probably tell you what first 'put it into his head' and then how the reasons one after another came to him. After,––How did you think of it?––the next question that will occur to a child is, How did he think of it?––and he will distinguish between the first notion that has put it into his head and the reasoned steps which have gone to the completion of an object, the discovery of a planet, the making of a law. Sometimes a child should be taken into the psychology of crime, and he will see that reason brings infallible proofs of the rightness of the criminal act. From Cain to the latest great offender every criminal act has been justified by reasoned arguments which come of their own accord to the criminal. We know the arguments before which Eve fell when the Serpent played the part of the 'weird Sisters.' It is pleasant to the eye; it is good for food; it shall make you wise in the knowledge of good and evil––good and convincing arguments, specious enough to overbear the counter-pleadings of Obedience. Children should know that such things are before them also; that whenever they want to do wrong capital reasons for doing the wrong thing will occur to them. But, happily, when they want to do right no less cogent reasons for right doing will appear.

After abundant practice in reasoning and tracing out the reasons of others, whether in fact or fiction, children may readily be brought to the conclusions that reasonable and right are not synonymous terms; that reason is their servant, not their ruler,––one of those servants which help Mansoul in the governance of his kingdom. But no more than appetite, ambition, or the love of ease, is reason to be trusted with the government of a man, much less that of a state; because well-reasoned arguments are brought into play for a wrong course as for a right. He will see that reason works involuntarily; that all the beautiful steps follow one another in his mind without any activity or intention on his own part; but he need never suppose that he was hurried along into evil by thoughts which he could not help, because reason never begins it. It is only when he chooses to think about some course or plan, as Eve standing before the apples, that reason comes into play; so, if he chooses to think about a purpose that is good, many excellent reasons will hurry up to support him; but, alas, if he choose to entertain a wrong notion, he, as it were, rings the bell for reason, which enforces his wrong intention with a score of arguments proving that wrong is right.

A due recognition of the function of reason should be an enormous help to us all in days when the air is full of fallacies, and when our personal modesty, that becoming respect for other people which is proper to well-ordered natures whether young or old, makes us willing to accept conclusions duly supported by public opinion or by those whose opinions we value. Nevertheless, it is something to recognise that probably no wrong thing has ever been done or said, no crime committed, but has been justified to the perpetrator by arguments coming to him involuntarily and produced with cumulative force by his own reason. Is Shakespeare ever wrong? And, if so, may we think that a Richard III who gloats over his own villainy as villainy, who is in fact no hypocrite, in the sense of acting, to himself––is hardly true to human nature? Great is Shakespeare! So perhaps Richard was the exception to the rule which makes a man go out and hang himself when at last he sees his incomparable villainy, and does not Richard say in the end, "I myself find in myself no pity for myself"? For ourselves and our children it is enough to know that reason will put a good face on any matter we propose; and, that we can prove ourselves to be in the right is no justification for there is absolutely no theory we may receive, no action we may contemplate, which our reason will not affirm. Of course we know by many infallible proofs that Bacon wrote Shakespeare, and an ingenious person has worked out a chain of arguments proving that Dr. Johnson wrote the Bible! Why not? For a nation of logical thinkers, the French made an extraordinary faux-pas when they elected the Goddess of Reason to divine honours. But, indeed, perhaps they did it because they are a logical nation; for logic gives us the very formula of reason, and that which is logically proved is not necessarily right. We need no longer wonder that two men equally upright, equally virtuous, selected out of any company, will hold opposite views on almost any question; and each will support his views by logical argument. So we are at the mercy of the doctrinaire in religion, the demagogue in politics, and, dare we say, of the dreamer in science; and we think to save our souls by being in the front rank of opinion in one or the other. But not if we have grown up cognisant of the beauty and wonder of the act of reasoning, and also, of the limitations which attend it.

We must be able to answer the arguments in the air, not so much by counter reasons as by exposing the fallacies in such arguments and proving on our own part the opposite position. For example, "that very lovable, very exasperating but essentially real, though often wrong-headed enthusiast," Karl Marx, dominates the socialistic thought of to-day. Point by point, for good or for evil, the Marxian Manifesto of 1848 is coming into force. "For the most advanced countries," we are told, "the following measures might come into very general application."

(1) "Expropriation of landed property and application of rent to State Expenditure." We have not space to examine the Marxian proposition in detail but let us consider a single fallacy. It is assumed that the rent of landed property is for the sole use, enrichment and enjoyment of the owner. Now the schedule of the Duke of Bedford, for example, published recently, shows that the income derived from park property is inadequate to its upkeep and to the taxes imposed upon the owner. Again, landowners are not only large employers of labour, generally under favourable conditions, but they keep up a very important benefaction; most of the extensive landowners make of their places public parks kept in beautiful order at their private expense.

(2) "Heavy progressive taxation." The fallacy lies in the fact that the proletariat in whose interest the Manifesto was issued must necessarily on account of their numbers be large taxpayers. Therefore it is upon them that heavy progressive taxation will press––as we have all seen in Russia––to the point of their extinction.

(3) "Abolition of inheritance." A measure designed to reduce all persons to the same level. As we know, the abolition of class is the main object of socialism. But the underlying fallacy is the assumption that class is stable and is not in a state of continual flux, the continual upward and downward movement as of watery particles in the Ocean. The man at the bottom to-day may be at the top to-morrow, as we see, not only in Soviet Russia, but in most civilised countries. Attempts to control this natural movement are as vain as King Canute's command to the Ocean.

(4) "Confiscation of the property of all emigrants and rebels." Assumed authority must be supported by tyranny, that worst tyranny which requires all men to think to order, as they must in a Soviet State, or be penalised to make them powerless. The fallacy lies in a misconception of human nature. There is nothing that men will not sacrifice for an idea, for such an idea as that of freedom of thought and of movement

(5), (6), (7), deal with centralisation, credit, of transport, of factories, of instruments of production in the hands of the State,––the State, that is, Everyman,––the Proletariat, in fact,––in whose hands all wealth and means of obtaining wealth shall be lodged.

Here we have a logically thought-out preparation for the government of the people, by the people, for the people; but the underlying fallacy is that it makes for revolution which effects no change but a mere change of rulers, better or worse as may be. In the Soviet Republic, according to the law of perpetual social flux, new rulers would come to the top, arbitrary and tyrannical; because not hemmed in by precedent and custom; and children will be at no loss to show how the last state of a nation so governed is worse than the first.

(8) "Compulsory obligation of labour upon all." The initial idea of a Soviet State is that it shall afford due liberty and equal conditions for all. But even in the contemplation of such a State it was necessary to postulate for everybody conscription and the discipline of an army.

(9) "Joint prosecution for Agriculture and Manufacture." The aim being the gradual removal of the distinction of town and country. Here is a point in the Manifesto which we should all like to see in practice but––is it possible?

(10) "Public and gratuitous education for all children." This happily we have seen carried out with the proviso, 'for whom it may be necessary or desirable.' The difficulty lies in the conception of education formed by a Soviet community; and the plea for free education is a specious blind, the intention being such an education as shall train the coming generation in rabid revolutionary principles.

To continue our examination of the Tenth Maxim; the next clause (b) requires "abolition of children's labour in factories in its present form." So far so good. Happily we have lived to see this abolition; there may be a sinister reading of the clause but on the surface it carries the assent of all good citizens.

(c) "Union of education with material production." Here from motives of economy we are going the way of the Communists in our Continuation Schools; but a fallacy underlies the maxim which may well frustrate our efforts towards the better education of the people. The assumption is that the boy who learns, say, certain manufacturing processes, pari passu with his intellectual education does better in the future than he who gives the full period to education. There is no consensus of the opinion of employers to prove that this is the case. On the contrary, given a likely boy, and a manufacturer will be satisfied that he will soon learn his business in the 'works.' But the function of education is not to give technical skill but to develop a person; the more of a person, the better the work of whatever kind; and as I have said before, the idea of the Continuation School is, or should be, a University course in the 'humanities'; not in what have been called the 'best humanities,' i.e., the Classics, though whether these are in any sense 'best' is a moot question, but in the singularly rich 'humanities' which the English tongue affords.

These Ten Marxian Maxims give us ample ground for discussion not for lectures or for oral lessons, but for following for a few minutes any opening suggested by 'current events,' a feature in the children's programme of work. But they must follow arguments and detect fallacies for themselves. Reason like the other powers of the mind, requires material to work upon whether embalmed in history and literature, or afloat with the news of a strike or uprising. It is madness to let children face a debatable world with only, say, a mathematical preparation. If our business were to train their power of reasoning, such a training would no doubt be of service; but the power is there already, and only wants material to work upon.

This caution must be borne in mind. Reason, like all other properties of a person, is subject to habit and works upon the material it is accustomed to handle. Plato formed a just judgment on this matter, too, [Education of the Young.] and perceived that mathematics afford no clue to the labyrinth of affairs whether public or private.

We have seen that their reading and the affairs of the day should afford scope and opportunity for the delight in ratiocination proper to children. The fallacies they themselves perpetrate when exposed make them the readier to detect fallacies elsewhere.

What are we to do? Are we to waste time in discussing with children every idle and blasphemous proposition that comes their way? Surely not. But we may help them to principles which should enable them to discern these two characters for themselves. A proposition is idle when it rests on nothing and leads to nothing. Again, blasphemy is a sin, the sin of being impudent towards Almighty God, Whom we all know, without any telling, and know Him to be fearful, wonderful, loving, just and good, as certainly as we know that the sun shines or the wind blows. Children should be brought up, too, to perceive that a miracle is not less a miracle because it occurs so constantly and regularly that we call it a law; that sap rises in a tree, that a boy is born with his uncle's eyes, that an answer that we can perceive comes to our serious prayers; these things are not the less miracles because they happen frequently or invariably, and because we have ceased to wonder about them. No doubt so did the people of Jerusalem when our Lord performed many miracles in their streets.

When children perceive that,––"My Father worketh hitherto and I work"––is the law which orders nations and individuals: that "My spirit shall not always strive with man," is an awful warning to every people and every person; that to hinder the mis-doing, encourage the well-doing of men and nations is incessant labour, the work of the Father and the Son:––to a child who perceives these things miracles will not be matters of supreme moment because all life will be for him matter for wonder and adoration.

Again, if we wish children to keep clear of all the religious clamours in the air, we must help them to understand what religion is––[What Religion Is, by Bernard Bosanquet, D.C.L.]

"Will religion guarantee me my private and personal happiness? To this on the whole I think we must answer, No; and if we approach it with a view to such happiness, then most certainly and absolutely No."

Here is a final and emphatic answer to the quasi religious offers which are being clamourously pressed upon hesitating souls. Ease of body is offered to these, relief of mind, reparation of loss, even of the final loss when those they love pass away. We may call upon mediums, converse through table-rappings, be healed by faith,––faith, that is, in the power of a Healer who manipulates us. Sin is not for us, nor sorrow for sin. We may live in continual odious self-complacency, remote from the anxious struggling souls about us, because, forsooth, there is no sin, sorrow, anxiety or pain, if we will that these things shall not be. That is to say, religion will "guarantee me my private and personal happiness," will make me immune from every distress and misery of life; and this happy immunity is all a matter within the power of my own will; the person that matters in my religion is myself only. The office of religion for me in such a case is to remove all uneasiness, bodily and spiritual, and to float me into a Nirvana of undisturbed self-complacency. But we must answer with Professor Bosanquet, "absolutely NO." True religion will not do this for me because the final form of the religion that will do these things is idolatry, self-worship, with no intention beyond self.

To go on with our quotation,––

"Well, but if not that then what? We esteem the thing as good and great, but if it simply does nothing for us, how is it to be anything to us? But the answer was the answer to the question and it might be that to a question sounding but slightly different, a very different answer would be returned. We might ask, for instance, 'does it make my life more worth living?' And the answer to this might be,––'It is the only thing that makes life worth living at all.'"

In a word, "I want, am made for and must have a God."

No doubt through the sweetness of their faith and love children have immediate access to God, and what more would we have? 'Gentle Jesus' is about their path and about their bed; angels minister to them; they enjoy all the immunities of the Kingdom. But we may not forget that reason is as active in them as the affections. Towards the end of the last century people had a straight and easy way of giving a reasonable foundation to a child's belief. All the articles of the Christian Faith were supported by a sort of little catechism of 'Scripture Proofs'; and this method was not without its uses. But, to-day, we have to prove the Scriptures if we rely upon Scripture proofs and we must change our point of attack. Children must know that we cannot prove any of the great things of life, not even that we ourselves live; but we must rely upon that which we know without demonstration. We know, too, and this other certainty must be pressed home to them, that reason, so far from being infallible, is most exceedingly fallible, persuadable, open to influence on this side and that; but is all the same a faithful servant, able to prove whatsoever notion is received by the will. Once we are convinced of the fallibility of our own reason we are able to detect the fallacies in the reasoning of our opponents and are not liable to be carried away by every wind of doctrine. Every mother knows how intensely reasonable a child is and how difficult it is to answer his quite logical and foolishly wrong conclusions. So we need not be deterred from dealing with serious matters with these young neophytes, but only as the occasion occurs; we may not run the risk of boring them, with the great questions of life while it is our business to send them forth assured.

We find that, while children are tiresome in arguing about trifling things, often for the mere pleasure of employing their reasoning power, a great many of them are averse to those studies which should, we suppose, give free play to a power that is in them, even if they do not strengthen and develop this power. Yet few children take pleasure in Grammar, especially in English Grammar, which depends so little on inflexion. Arithmetic, again, Mathematics, appeal only to a small percentage of a class or school, and, for the rest, however intelligent, its problems are baffling to the end, though they may take delight in reasoning out problems of life in literature or history. Perhaps we should accept this tacit vote of the majority and cease to put undue pressure upon studies which would be invaluable did the reasoning power of a child wait upon our training, but are on a different footing when we perceive that children come endowed to the full as much with reason as with love; that our business is to provide abundant material upon which this supreme power should work; and that whatever development occurs comes with practice in congenial fields of thought. At the same time we may not let children neglect either of these delightful studies. The time will come when they will delight in words, the beauty and propriety of words; when they will see that words are consecrated as the vehicle of truth and are not to be carelessly tampered with in statement or mutilated in form; and we must prepare them for these later studies. Perhaps we should postpone parsing, for instance, until a child is accustomed to weigh sentences for their sense, should let them dally with figures of speech before we attempt minute analysis of sentences, and should reduce our grammatical nomenclature to a minimum. The fact is that children do not generalise, they gather particulars with amazing industry, but hold their impressions fluid, as it were; and we may not hurry them to formulate. If the use of words be a law unto itself, how much more so the language of figures and lines! We remember how instructive and impressive Ruskin is on the thesis that 'two and two make four' and cannot by any possibility that the universe affords be made to make five or three. From this point of view, of immutable law, children should approach Mathematics; they should see how impressive is Euclid's 'Which is absurd,' just as absurd as would be the statements of a man who said that his apples always fell upwards, and for the same reason. The behaviour of figures and lines is like the fall of an apple, fixed by immutable laws, and it is a great thing to begin to see these laws even in their lowliest application. The child whose approaches to Arithmetic are so many discoveries of the laws which regulate number will not divide fifteen pence among five people and give them each sixpence or ninepence; 'which is absurd' will convict him, and in time he will perceive that 'answers' are not purely arbitrary but are to be come at by a little boy's reason. Mathematics are delightful to the mind of man which revels in the perception of law, which may even go forth guessing at a new law until it discover that law; but not every boy can be a champion prize-fighter, nor can every boy 'stand up' to Mathematics. Therefore perhaps the business of teachers is to open as many doors as possible in the belief that Mathematics is one out of many studies which make for education, a study by no means accessible to everyone. Therefore it should not monopolise undue time, nor should persons be hindered from useful careers by the fact that they show no great proficiency in studies which are in favour with examiners, no doubt, because solutions are final, and work can be adjudged without the tiresome hesitancy and fear of being unjust which beset the examiners' path in other studies.

We would send forth children informed by "the reason firm, the temperate will, endurance, foresight, strength and skill," but we must add resolution to our good intentions and may not expect to produce a reasonable soul of fine polish from the steady friction, say, of mathematical studies only.