Popular Science Monthly/Volume 11/August 1877/Education as a Science III
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Education as a Science III
By Alexander Bain
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IN preceding articles the psychological bearings of Education were entered upon; and two out of the three primary functions of the intellect were considered. There remained the power named—
Similarity or Agreement.—It is neither an inapt nor a strained comparison to call this power the law of gravitation of the intellectual world. As regards education, it has an importance coequal with the plastic force that is expressed by retentiveness or memory. The methods to be pursued in attaining the commanding heights of general knowledge are framed by the circumstances attending the detection of like in the midst of unlike.
With all the variety that there is in the world of our experience, a variety appealing to our consciousness of difference, there is also great repetition, sameness, or unity. There are many shades of color, as distinguished by the discriminative sensibility of the eye; yet the same shade often recurs. There are many varieties of form—the round, the square, the spiral, etc.—and we discriminate them when they are contrasted; while the same form starts up again and again. At first sight, this would appear to mean nothing at all; the great matter would appear to be to avoid confounding differences—blue with violet, a circle with an oval; when blue recurs, we simply treat it as we did at first.
The remark is too hasty, and overlooks a vital consideration. What raises the principle of similarity to its commanding height is the accompaniment of diversity. The round form first discerned in a ring or halfpenny recurs in the full moon, where the adjuncts are totally different and need to be felt as different. In spite of these disturbing accompaniments, it is important to feel the agreement on the single circumstance called the round form.
When an impression made in one situation is repeated in an altered situation, the new experience reminds us of the old, notwithstanding the diversity; this reminder may be described as a new kind of shock, or awakened consciousness, called the shock or flash of identity in the midst of difference. A piece of coal and a piece of wood differ, and are at first looked upon as differing. Put into the fire, they both blaze up, give heat, and are consumed: here is a shock of agreement which becomes an abiding impression in connection with these two things. Of such shocks is made up one-half of what we term knowledge.
Whenever there is a difference it should be felt by us; and so wherever there is an agreement it should be felt. To overlook either the one or the other is stupidity of mind. Our education marches in both lines; and, in so far as we are helped by the schoolmaster, we should be helped in both. The artifices that promote discrimination, and the influences that thwart it, have been already considered; and many of the observations apply also to agreement. In the identifying of like in the midst of unlike, there are cases that are easy; and there are cases that the unassisted mind fails to perceive.
1. We must repeat, with reference to the delicate perception of Agreements, the antithesis of the intellectual and the emotional outgoings. It is in the stillness of the emotions that the higher intellectual exercises are possible. This circumstance should operate as a warning against the too frequent recourse to pains and penalties, as well as against pleasurable and other excitement. But a more specific application remains.
We may at once face the problem of general knowledge. The most troublesome half of the education of the intellect is the getting possession of generalities. A general fact, notion, or truth, is a fact recurring under various circumstances or accompaniments: "heat" is the name for such a generality; there are many individual facts greatly differing among themselves, but all agreeing in the impression called heat—the sun, a fire, a lamp, a living animal. The intellect discerns, or is struck with, the agreement, notwithstanding the differences; and in this discernment arrives at a general idea.
Now the grand stumbling-block in the way of the generalizing impetus is the presence of the individual differences. These may be small and insignificant; in comparing fires with one another, the agreement is striking, while the differences between one fire and another, in size, or intensity, or fuel, do not divert the attention from their agreement. But the discerning of sameness in the sun's ray and in a fermenting dung-heap is thwarted by the extraordinary disparity; and this conflict between the sameness and the difference operates widely and retards the discovery of the most important truths.
2. The device of juxtaposition applies to the expounding of agreement, no less than of difference. We can arrange the several agreeing facts in such a way that the agreement is more easily seen. The effect is gained partly by closeness, as in the case of differences, and partly by a symmetrical contact, as when we compare the two hands by placing them finger to finger, and thumb to thumb. Such symmetrical comparisons bring to view, in the same act, agreement and difference. The method reaches far and wide, and is one of the most powerful artificial aids to the imparting knowledge.
3. The cumulation of the instances is essential to the driving home of a generality. A continuous, undistracted iteration of the point of agreement is the only way to produce an adequate impression of a great general idea. I cannot now consider the various obstacles encountered in this attempt, nor explain how seldom it can he adhered to in the highest examples. It must suffice to remark that the interest special to the individual examples is perpetually carrying off the attention; and pupil and master are both liable to be turned aside by the seduction.
There is another aspect of the power of similarity, under which it is a valuable aid to memory or retention. When we have to learn an exercise absolutely new, we must ingrain every step by the plastic adhesiveness of the brain, and must give time and opportunity for the adhesive links to be matured. But when we come to an exercise containing parts already acquired by the plastic operation, we are saved the labor of forging fresh links as regards these, and need only to master what is new to us. When we have known all about one plant, we can easily learn the other plants of the same species or genus; we need only to master the points of variety.
The bearing of this circumstance on mental growth must be apparent at once. After a certain number of acquirements in the various regions of study—manual art, language, visible pictures—nothing that occurs is absolutely new; the amount of novel matter is continually decreasing as our knowledge increases. Our adhesive faculty is not improving as we grow in years; very much the contrary: but our facility in taking in new knowledge improves steadily; the fact being that the knowledge is so little new that the forging of fresh adhesions is reduced to a very limited compass. The most original air of music that the most original genius could compose would be very soon learned by an instructed musician.
In the practice of the schoolmaster's art, this great fact will be perpetually manifesting itself. The operation can be aided and guided in those cases where the agreement really existing is not felt. It is one of the teaching arts to make the pupils see the old in the new, as far as the agreement reaches; and to pose them upon this very circumstance. The obstacles are the very same as already described, and the means of overcoming them the same. Orderly juxtaposition isfor matters of complexity; and we may have also to counterwork the attractions of individuality.
Constructiveness.—In many parts of our education, the stress lies not in simple memory, or the tenacious holding of what has been presented to the mind, but in making us perform some new operation, something that we were previously unable to do. Such are the first stages of our instruction in speaking, in writing, and in all the mechanical or manual arts. So also in the higher intellectual processes, as in the imagining of what we have not seen. I do not go so far as to include invention or discovery; the culture of the creative faculty is not comprised in the present discussion.
The psychology of constructiveness is remarkably simple. There are certain primary conditions that run through all the cases; and it is by paying due respect to these conditions that we can, as teachers, render every possible assistance to the struggling pupils.
1. The constructive process supposes something to construct from; some powers already possessed that can be exercised, directed, and combined, in a new manner. We must walk before beginning to dance; we must articulate simple sounds before we can articulate words; we must draw straight strokes and pot-hooks before we can form letters; we must conceive trees and shrubs, flowers and grassy plots, before we can conceive a garden.
The practical inference is no less obvious and irresistible; it is one that covers the whole field of education, and could never be entirely neglected, although it has certainly never been fully carried out. Before entering on a new exercise, we must first be led up to it by mastering the preliminary or preparatory exercises. Teachers are compelled by their failures to attend to this fact in the more palpable exercises, as speaking and writing. They lose sight of it, when the succession of stages is too subtile for their apprehension, as in the understanding of scientific doctrines.
2. In aiming at a new construction, we must clearly conceive what is aimed at; we must have the means of judging whether or not our tentatives are successful. The child in writing has the copy-lines before it; the man in the ranks sees the fugleman, or hears the approving or disapproving voice of the drill-sergeant. Where we have a very distinct and intelligible model before us, we are in a fair way to succeed; in proportion as the ideal is dim and wavering, we stagger and miscarry. When we depend upon a teacher's expressed approval of our effort, it behooves him to be very consistent, as well as very sound, in his judgment; should he be one thing to-day, and another thing to-morrow, we are unhinged and undone.
It is a defect pertaining to all models that they contain individual peculiarities mixed up with the ideal intention. We carry away with us from every instructor touches of mannerism, and the worst of it is that some learners catch nothing but the mannerism; this being generally easier to fall into than the essential merits of the teaching. There is no remedy here except the comparison of several good models; as the ship-captain carries with him a number of chronometers.
In following an unapproachable original, as in learning to write from copperplate lines, we need a second judgment to inform us whether our deviations are serious and fundamental, or are venial and unavoidable. The good tact of our instructor is here put to the test; he may make our path like the shining light that shineth more and more, or he may leave us in hopeless perplexity. To point out to us where, how, and why, we are wrong, is the teacher's most indispensable function.
3. The only mode of arriving at a new constructive combination is to try and try again. The will initiates some movements; these are found not to answer, and are suppressed; others are tried, and so on, until the requisite combination has been struck out. The way to new powers is by trial and error. According as the first and second conditions above given are realized, the unsuccessful trials are fewer. If we have been well led up to the combination required, and if we have before us a very clear idea of what is to be done, we do not need many tentatives; the prompt suppression of the wrong movements ultimately lands us in the right.
The mastering of a new manual combination—as in writing, in learning to swim, in the mechanical arts—is a very trying moment to the human powers; success involves all those favorable circumstances indicated in discussing the retentive or receptive faculty. Vigor, freshness, freedom from distraction, no strong or extraneous emotions, motives to succeed—are all most desirable in realizing a difficult combination. Fatigue, fear, flurry, or other wasting excitement, does away with the chances of success.
Very often we have to give up the attempt for a time; yet the ineffectual struggles are not entirely lost. We have at least learned to avoid a certain number of positions, and have narrowed the round of tentatives for the next occasion. If, after two or three repetitions, with rest-intervals, the desired combination does not emerge, it is a proof that some preparatory movement is wanting, and we should be made to retrace the approaches. Perhaps we may have learned the prerequisite movements in a way, but not with sufficient firmness and certainty for securing their being performed in combination.
Alternation and Remission of Activity.—In the accustomed routine of education, a number of separate studies and acquirements are prosecuted together; so that, for each day, a pupil may have to engage in as many as three, four, or more, different kinds of lessons.
The principles that guide the alternation and remission of our modes of exercise and application are apparently these:
1. Sleep is the only entire and absolute cessation of the mental and bodily expenditure; and perfect or dreamless sleep is the greatest cessation of all. Whatever shortens the due allowance of sleep, renders it fitful and disturbed, or promotes dreaming, is so much force wasted.
In the waking hours, there may be cessation from a given exercise, with more or less of inaction over the whole system. The greatest diversion of the working forces is made by our meals; during these the trains of thought are changed, while the body is rested.
Bodily or muscular exercise, when alternated with sedentary mental labor, is really a mode of remission accompanied with an expenditure requisite to redress the balance of the physical functions. The blood has unduly flowed to the brain; muscular exercise draws it off. The oxidation of the tissues has been retarded; muscular exercise is the most direct mode of increasing it. But definite observations teach us that these two beneficial effects are arrested at the fatigue-point; so that the exercise at last contributes not to the refreshment, but to the further exhaustion of the system.
2. The real point before us is, What do we gain by dropping one form of activity and taking up another? This involves a variety of considerations.
It is clear that the first exercise must not have been pushed so far as to induce general exhaustion. The raw recruit, at the end of his morning drill, is not in a good state to improve his arithmetic in the military schoolroom. The musical training for the stage is at times so severe as to preclude every other study. The importance of a particular training may be such that we desire for it the whole available plasticity of the system.
It is only another form of exhaustion when the currents of the brain continue in their set channels and refuse any proposed diversion.
There are certain stages in every new and difficult study, wherein it might be well to concentrate for a time the highest energy of the day. Generally, it is at the commencement; but whatever be the point of special difficulty, there might be a remission of all other serious or arduous studies, till this is got over. Not that we need actually to lay aside everything else; but there are, in most studies, many long tracts where we seem in point of form to be moving on, but are really repeating substantially the same familiar efforts. It would be a felicitous ideal adjustment, if the moments of strain in one of the parallel courses were to coincide with the moments of ease in the rest.
Hardly any hind of study or exercise is so complicated and many sided as to press alike upon all the energies of the system; hence there is an obvious propriety in making such variations as would leave unused as few of our faculties as possible. This principle necessarily applies to every mental process—acquirement, production, and enjoyment. The working out of the principle supposes that we are not led away by the mere semblance of variety.
Let us endeavor to assign the differences of subject that afford relief by transition.
There are many kinds of change that are merely another name for simple remission of the intellectual strain. When a severe and difficult exercise is exchanged for an easy one, the agreeable effect is due not to what we engage in, but to what we are relieved from. For letting down the strain of the faculties, it is sometimes better to take up a light occupation for a time than to be totally idle.
The exchange of study for sport has the twofold advantage of muscular exercise and agreeable play. To pass from anything that is simply laborious to the indulgence of a taste or liking, is the fruition of life. To emerge from constraint to liberty, from the dark to the light, from monotony to variety, from giving to receiving, is the exchanging of pain for pleasure. This, which is the substantial reward of labor, is also the condition of renovating the powers for further labor and endurance.
To come closer to the difficulty in hand. The kind of change that may take place within the field of study itself, and that may operate both as a relief from strain and as the reclamation of waste ground, is best exemplified in such matters as these: In the act of learning generally there is a twofold attitude—observing what is to be done, and doing it. In verbal exercises, we first listen and then repeat; in handicraft, we look at the model, and then reproduce it. Now, the proportioning of the two attitudes is a matter of economical adjustment. If we are kept too long on the observing stretch, we lose the energy for acting; not to mention that more has been given us than we are able to realize. On the other hand, we should observe long enough to be quite saturated with the impression; we should have enough given us to be worthy of our reproducing energy. Any one working from a model at command learns the suitable proportion between observing and doing. The living teacher may err on either side. He may give too much at one dose; this is the common error. He may also dole out insignificantly small portions, which do not evoke the sense of power in the pupils.
When an arduous combination is once struck out, the worst is over, but the acquisition is not completed. There is the further stage of repetition and practice, to give facility, and insure permanence. This is comparatively easy. It is the occupation of the soldier after his first year. There is a plastic process still going on, but it is not the same draft upon the forces as the original struggles. At this stage, other acquirements are possible, and should be made. Now, in the course of training, it is a relief to pass from the exercises that are entirely new and strange, to those that have been practised and need only to be continued and confirmed.
Before considering the alternations of departments of acquisition, we may advert to the two different intellectual energies called, respectively, Memory and Judgment. These are in every way distinct, and in passing from the one to the other there is a real, and not merely an apparent, transition. Memory is nearly identical with the retentive, adhesive, or plastic faculty, which I have assumed to be perhaps the most costly employment of the powers of the mind and brain. Judgment, again, may be simply an exercise of discrimination; it may also involve similarity and identification; it may further contain a constructive operation. It is the aspect of our intellectual power that turns to account our existing impressions, as contrasted with the power that adds to our accumulated stores. The most delightful and fructifying of all the intellectual energies is the power of similarity and agreement, by which we rise from the individual to the general, trace sameness in diversity, and master, instead of being mastered by, the multiplicity of Nature.
Much more would be necessary to exhaust the nature of the opposition between exercises of memory and exercises of judgment. Language and science approximately represent the contrast, although language does not exclude judgment, and science demands memory. But, in the one region, mere adhesion is in the ascendant, and, in the other, the detection of similarity in diversity is the leading circumstance. There is thus a real transition, and change of strain, in passing from the one class of studies to the other; the only qualifying circumstance is that in early years, routine adhesion plays the greatest part—being, in fact, easier than the other line of exertion, for reasons that can be divined.
We can now see what are the departments that constitute the most effective transitions or diversions, whereby relief maybe gained at one point, and acquirement pushed at some other. In the muscular acquirements, we have several distinct regions—the body generally, the hand in particular, the voice (articulate), and the voice (musical). To pass from one of these to the other is almost a total change. Then, as to the sense engaged, we may alternate between the eye and the ear, making another complete transition. Further, each of the sense organs has distinguishable susceptibilities, as color and form to the eye, articulation and music to the ear.
Another effective transition is from books or spoken teaching to concrete objects as set forth in the sciences of observation and experiment. The change is nearly the same as from an abstract subject like mathematics to one of the concrete and experimental sciences, as botany and chemistry. A still further change is from the world of matter to the world of mind, but this is liable to assume false and delusive appearances.
It has been well remarked that arithmetic is an effective transition from reading and writing. The whole strain and attitude of the mind are entirely different, when the pupil sets to perform sums after a reading-lesson. The mathematical sciences are naturally deemed the driest and hardest of occupations to the average mind; yet there may be occupations such as to make them an acceptable diversion. I have known clergymen whose relaxation from clerical duty consisted in algebraical and geometrical problems.
The fine-art acquisitions introduce an agreeable variety, partly by bringing distinctive organs into play, and partly by evoking a pleasurable interest that enters little, if at all, into other studies. The more genial part of moral training has a relationship to art. The severer exercises are a painful necessity, and not an agreeable transition from anything.
The introduction of narratives, stirring incidents, and topics of human interest generally, is chiefly a mode of pleasurable recreation. If taken in any other view, it falls under some of the leading studies, and engages the memory, the judgment, or the constructive power, and must be estimated accordingly.
Bodily training, fine art (itself an aggregate of alternations), language, science, do not exhaust all the varieties of acquirement, but they indicate the chief departments whose alternation gives relief to the mental strain, and economizes power in the whole. Under these, as already hinted, there are variations of attitude and exercise; from listening to repeating, from learning a rule, to the application of it in new cases, from knowledge generally to practice.
The transition from one language to another, being a variation in the nature of the impressions, is a relief of an inferior kind, yet real. It is the more so, if we are not engaged in parallel exercises; learning strings of Latin words in the morning, and of German in the evening, does not constitute any relief.
From one science to another, the transition may be great, as already shown, or it may be small. From botany to zoölogy affords a transition of material, with similarity in form. Pure and mixed mathematics are the very same thing. The change from algebra to geometry is but slightly refreshing; from geometry to trigonometry, and geometrical conic sections, is no relief to any faculty.
There are minor incidents of relief and alternation that are not to be despised. Passing from one master to another (both being supposed competent) is a very sensible and grateful change; even the change of room, of seat, of posture, is an antidote against weariness, and helps us in making a fresh start. The jaded student relishes a change of books even in the same subject, the alteration from solitude to company.
Some subjects are in themselves so mixed, that they would appear to contain the elements of a sufficiently various occupation of the mind; such are geography, history, and what is called literature, when studied both for expression and for subject-matter. This variety, however, is not altogether a desirable thing. The analytic branch of the science of education would have to resolve those aggregates into their constituent parts, and consider not only their respective contributions to our mental culture, but also the advantages and disadvantages attending the mixture.
Culture of the Emotions.—The laws attainable in the departments of emotion and volition are the immediate prelude to moral education, in which all the highest difficulties culminate. There are emotional and volitional forces prior to any cultivation, and there are new forces that arise through cultivation; yet from the vagueness attaching to the measured intensity of feelings and emotions, it is not easy to value the separate results.
The general laws of retentiveness equally apply to emotional growths. There must be repetition and concentration of mind to bring about a mental association of pleasure or of pain with any object. But there are peculiarities in the case such as to demand for it a supplementary treatment. Perhaps the best way of bringing out the points is to indicate the modes or species of growths, coming under emotion and volition, that most obtrude themselves upon the notice of the educationist.
I. We may quote first the associations of pleasure and pain with the various things that have been present to us, during our experiences of delight and suffering. It is well known that we contract pleasurable regards toward things originally indifferent that have been often present to us in happy moments. Local associations are among the most familiar examples; if our life is joyous, we go on increasing our attachments to our permanent home and neighborhood; we are severely tried when we have to migrate; and one of our holiday delights is to revisit the scenes of former pleasures. A second class of acquired feelings includes the associations with such objects as have been the instruments of our avocations, tastes, and pursuits. The furnishings of our home, our tools, weapons, curiosities, collections, books, pictures—all contract a glow of associated feeling, that helps to palliate the dullness of life. The essence of affection, as distinguished from emotion, is understood to be the confirming and strengthening of some primary object of our regards. As our knowledge extends, we contract numerous associations with things purely ideal, as with historic places, persons, and incidents. I need only allude to the large field of ceremonies, rites, and formalities, which are cherished as enlarging the surface of emotional growths. The fine-art problem of distinguishing between original and derived effects consists in more precisely estimating these acquired pleasures.
The educationist could not but cast a longing eye over the wide region here opened up, as a grand opportunity for his art. It is the realm of vague possibility, peculiarly suited to sanguine estimates. An education in happiness pure and simple, by well-placed joyous associations, is a dazzling prospect. One of Sydney Smith's pithy sayings was, "If you make children happy now, you make them happy twenty years hence, by the memory of it." This referred, no doubt, to the home-life. It may, however, be carried out also in the school-life; and enthusiasm has gone the length of supposing that the school may be so well constituted as to efface the stamp of an unhappy home.
The growth of such happy associations is not the work of days; it demands years. I have endeavored to set forth the psychology of the case ("The Emotions and the Will," third edition, p. 89), and do not here repeat the principles and conditions that seem to be involved. But the thread of the present exposition would be snapped, if I were not to ask attention to the difference in the rate of growth when the feelings are painful; the progress here is not so tedious nor so liable to thwarting and interruption.
With understood exceptions, pleasure is related physically with vitality, health, vigor, harmonious adjustment of all the parts of the system; it needs sufficiency of nutriment or support, excitement within due limits, the absence of everything that could mar or irritate any organ. Pain comes of the deficiency in any of these conditions, and is therefore as easy to bring about and maintain as the other is difficult. To evoke an echo or recollection of pleasure, is to secure, or at least to simulate, the copiousness, the due adjustment and harmony of the powers. This may be easy enough when such is the actual state at the time, but that is no test. What we need is to induce a pleasurable tone, when the actuality is no more than indifferent or neutral, and even, in the midst of actual pain, to restore pleasure by force of mental adhesiveness. A growth of this description is, on a priori grounds, not likely to be very soon reached.
On the other hand, pain is easy in the actual, and easy in the ideal. It is easy to burn one's fingers, and easy to associate pain with a flame, a cinder, a hot iron. Going as spectators to visit a fine mansion, we feel in some degree elated by the associations of enjoyment; but we are apt to be in a still greater degree depressed by entering the abodes of wretchedness, or visiting the gloomy chambers of a prison.
II. The facility of painful growths is not fully comprehended, until we advert to the case of passionate outbursts or the modes of feeling whose characteristic is explosiveness. These costly discharges of vital energy are easy to induce at first hand, and easy to attach to indifferent things, so as to be induced at second hand likewise. Very rarely are they desirable in themselves; our study is to check and control them in their original operation, and to hinder the rise of new occasions for their display. One of the best examples is terror, an explosive and wasteful manifestation of energy under certain forms of pain. If it is frequently stimulated by its proper causes, it attaches itself to by-standing circumstances with fatal readiness, and proceeds with no tardy steps. Next is irascibility, also an explosive emotion. It too, if ready to burst out by its primary causes, soon enlarges its borders by new associations. It is in every way more dangerous than terror. The state of fear is so miserable that we would restrain it if we could; the state of anger, although containing painful elements, is in its nature a luxurious mood; and we may not wish either to check it in the first instance, or to prevent it from spreading over collateral things. When any one has stirred our irascibility to its depths, the feeling overflows upon all that relates to him. If this be pleasure, it is a pleasure of rapid growth; even in tender years we may be advanced in hatreds. That combination of terror and irascibility giving rise to what is named antipathy is (unless strongly resisted) a state easy to assume and easy to cultivate, and is in wide contrast with the slow growth of the pleasures typified under the foregoing head. A signal illustration of explosiveness is furnished by laughter, which has both its original causes, and also its factitious or borrowed stimulants. This is an instance where the severity of the agitation provokes self-control, and where advancing years contract rather than enlarge the sphere. As the expression of disparaging and scornful emotions, its cultivation has the facility of the generic passion of malevolence. We may refer, next, to the explosive emotion of grief, which is in itself seductive, and, if uncontrolled, adds to its primary urgency the force of a habit all too readily acquired. There is, moreover, in connection with the tender emotion, an explosive mode of genuine affection, of which the only defect is its being too strong to last: it prompts to a degree of momentary ardor that is compatible with a relapse into coldness and neglect. This, too, will spontaneously extend itself, and will exemplify the growth of emotional association with undesirable rapidity.
What has now been said is but a summary and representation of familiar emotional facts. Familiar also is the remark that explosiveness is the weakness of early life, and is surmounted to a great degree by the lapse of time and the strengthening of the energies. The encounter with others in every-day life begets restraint and control; and one's own prudential reflections stimulate a further repression of the original outbursts, by which also their growth into habits is retarded. In so far as they are repressed by influence from without, and counter-habits established, as a part of moral education, I have elsewhere stated what I consider the two main conditions of such a result—a powerful initiative, and an unbroken series of conquests. When these conditions are exemplified through all the emotions in detail, the specialties of the different genera—fear, anger, love, and the rest—are sufficiently obvious.
III. The chief interest always centres in those associations that, from their bearing on right and wrong conduct, receive the name "Moral." The class just described have this bearing in a very direct form; while the first class indirectly subserves moral ends. But when we approach the subject with an express view to moral culture, we must cross the field of emotional association in general by a new track.
The newly-appointed professors of the theory of education are perhaps not yet fully aware that, when they venture upon the troubled arena of moral education, they will not be able to evade the longstanding question. What is the moral faculty? A very short argument will prove the point. Moral improvement is obviously a strengthening of this so-called moral faculty, or conscience—increasing its might (in Butler's phrase) to the level of its right. But in order to strengthen an energy we must know what it is: if it is a simple, we must define it in its simplicity; if it is a compound, we must assign its elements, with a view to define them. The unconventional handling of moral culture by Bentham and James Mill is strongly illustrative of this part of the case. Mill's view of the moral sense is the theory of thorough-going derivation; and, in delineating the process of moral education, he naturally follows out that view. He takes the cardinal virtues piecemeal; for example: "Temperance bears a reference to pain and pleasure. The object is, to connect with each pain and pleasure those trains of ideas which, according to the order established among events, tend most effectually to increase the sum of pleasures upon the whole, and diminish that of pains." The advocates of a moral faculty would have a different way of inculcating temperance—which, however, I will not undertake to reproduce.
It will not be denied, as a matter of fact, that the perennial mode of insuring the moral conduct of mankind has been punishment and reward—pain and pleasure. This method has been found, generally speaking, to answer the purpose; it has reached the springs of action of human beings of every hue. No special endowment has been needed to make man dread the pains of the civil authority. Constituted as we are to flee all sorts of pain, we are necessarily urged to avoid pain when it comes as punishment. Education is not essential to this effect any more than it is essential to our avoiding the pains of hunger, cold, or fatigue.
Those who demur to the existence of a special faculty, different from all the other recognized constituents of mind—feeling, will, or intellect—are not to be held as declaring that conscience is entirely a matter of education; for, without any education at all, man may be, to all intents and purposes, moral. What is meant by the derivative theory of conscience is, that everything that it includes is traceable to some one or other of the leading factors of our nature: first of all to will or volition, motived by pain and pleasure, and next to the social and sympathetic impulses. The coöperation of these factors supplies a nearly all-powerful impetus to right conduct, wherever there is the external machinery of law and authority. Education, as a third factor, plays a part, no doubt, but we may overrate as well as underrate its influence. I should not be far out in saying that seventy-five per cent, of the average moral faculty is the rough and ready response of the will to the constituted penalties and rewards of society.
At the risk of embroiling the theory of education in a controversy that would seem to be alien to it, I conceive it to be necessary to make these broad statements, as a prelude to inquiring what are the emotional and volitional associations that constitute the made-up or acquired portion of our moral nature. That education is a considerable factor is shown by the difference between the children that are neglected and such as are carefully tended; a difference, however, that means a good deal more than education.
When the terrors of the law are once thoroughly understood, it does not seem as if any education could add to the mind's own original repugnance to incur them; and, on the other hand, when something in the nature of reward is held forth to encourage certain kinds of conduct, we do not need special instruction to prompt us to secure it. There is, indeed, one obvious weakness that often nullifies the operation of these motives, namely, the giving way to some present and pressing solicitation, a weakness that education might do something for, but rarely does. The instructor that could reform a victim to this frailty would effect something much wider than moral improvement properly includes.
Going in search of some distinct lines of emotional association that enhance the original impulses coincident with moral duty, I think I may cite the growth of an immediate, independent, and disinterested repugnance to what is uniformly denounced and punished as being wrong. This is a state or disposition of mind forming part of a well-developed conscience; it may grow up spontaneously under the experience of social authority, and it may be aided by inculcation; it may, however, also fail to show itself. This is the parallel of the much-quoted love of money for itself; but is not so facile in its growth. For one thing, the mind must not treat authority as an enemy to be counted with, and to be obeyed only when we can't do better. There must be a cordial acquiescence in the social system as working by penalties; and this needs the concurrence of good impulses together with reflection on the evils that mankind are saved from. It is by being favorably situated in the world, as well as by being sympathetically disposed, that we contract this repugnance to immoral acts in themselves, and without reference to the penalties that are behind; and thus perform our duties when out of sight, and not in the narrowness of the letter, but in the fullness of the spirit. It would take a good deal of consideration to show how the schoolmaster might cooperate in furthering this special growth.
- See Popular Science Monthly for February and March, 1877