Popular Science Monthly/Volume 3/October 1873/Mental Science and Sociology
|←Silk-Worms and Sericulture||Popular Science Monthly Volume 3 October 1873 (1873)
Mental Science and Sociology
By Herbert Spencer
|A National University→|
PROBABLY astonishment would make the reporters drop their pencils, were any member of Parliament to enunciate a psychological principle as justifying his opposition to a proposed measure. That some law of association of ideas, or some trait in emotional development, should be deliberately set forth as a sufficient ground for saying "ay" or "no" to a motion for second reading, would doubtless be too much for the gravity of legislators. And along with laughter from many there would come from a few cries of "question:" the entire irrelevancy to the matter in hand being conspicuous. It is true that during debates the possible behavior of citizens under the suggested arrangements is described. Evasions of this or that provision, difficulties in carrying it out, probabilities of resistance, connivance, corruption, etc., are urged; and these tacitly assert that the mind of man has certain characters, and under the conditions named is likely to act in certain ways. In other words, there is an implied recognition of the truth that the effects of a law will depend on the manner in which human intelligence and human feeling are influenced by it. Experiences of men's conduct which the legislator has gathered, and which lie partially sorted in his memory, furnish him with empirical notions that guide his judgment on each question raised; and he would think it folly to ignore all this unsystematized knowledge about people's characters and actions. But, at the same time, he regards as foolish the proposal to proceed, not on vaguely-generalized facts, but on facts accurately generalized; and, as still more foolish, the proposal to merge these minor definite generalizations in generalizations expressing the ultimate laws of Mind. Guidance by intuition seems to him much more rational.
Of course, I do not mean to say that his intuition is of small value. How should I say this, remembering the immense accumulation of experiences by which his thoughts have been moulded into harmony with things? We all know that when the successful man of business is urged by wife and daughters to get into Parliament, that they may attain a higher social standing, he always replies that his occupations through life have left him no leisure to prepare himself, by collecting and digesting the voluminous evidence respecting the effects of institutions and policies, and that he fears he might do mischief. If the heir to some large estate, or scion of a noble house powerful in the locality, receives a deputation asking him to stand for the county, we constantly read that he pleads inadequate knowledge as a reason for declining: perhaps hinting that, after ten years spent in the needful studies, he may have courage to undertake the heavy responsibilities proposed to him. So, too, we have the familiar fact that, when, at length, men who have gathered vast stores of political information gain the confidence of voters who know how carefully they have thus fitted themselves, it still perpetually happens that after election they find they have entered on their work prematurely. It is true that beforehand they had sought anxiously through the records of the past, that they might avoid legislative errors of multitudinous kinds, like those committed in early times. Nevertheless, when acts are proposed referring to matters dealt with in past generations by acts long since cancelled or obsolete, immense inquiries open before them. Even limiting themselves to the 1,126 acts repealed in 1823-'29, and the further 770 repealed in 1861, they find that to learn what these aimed at, how they worked, why they failed, and whence arose the mischiefs they wrought, is an arduous task, which yet they feel bound to undertake lest they should reinflict these mischiefs; and hence the reason why so many break down under the effort, and retire with health destroyed. Nay, more—on those with constitutions vigorous enough to carry them through such inquiries, there continually presses the duty of making yet further inquiries. Besides tracing the results of abandoned laws in other societies, there is at home, year by year, more futile law-making to be investigated and lessons to be drawn from it; as, for example, from the 134 public acts passed in 1856-'57, of which all but 68 are wholly or partially repealed. And thus it happens that, as every autumn shows us, even the strongest men, finding their lives during the recess overtaxed with the needful study, are obliged so to locate themselves that by an occasional day's hard riding after the hounds, or a long walk over the moors with gun in hand, they may be enabled to bear the excessive strain on their nervous systems. Of course, therefore, I am not so unreasonable as to deny that judgments, even empirical, which are guided by such carefully-amassed experiences, must be of much worth.
But, fully recognizing the vast amount of information which the legislator has laboriously gathered from the accounts of institutions and laws, past and present, here and elsewhere, and admitting that, before thus instructing himself, he would no more think of enforcing a new law than would a medical student think of plunging an operating-knife into the human body before learning where the arteries ran, the remarkable anomaly here demanding our attention is, that he objects to any thing like analysis of these phenomena he has so diligently collected, and has no faith in conclusions drawn from the ensemble of them. Not discriminating very correctly between the word "general" and the word "abstract," and regarding as abstract principles what are in nearly all cases general principles, he speaks contemptuously of these as belonging to the region of theory, and as not concerning the law-maker. Any wide truth that is insisted upon as being implied in many narrow truths, seems to him remote from reality and unimportant for guidance. The results of recent experiments in legislation he thinks worth attending to; and, if any one reminds him of the experiments he has read so much about, that were made in other times and other places, he regards these also, separately taken, as deserving of consideration. But, if, instead of studying special classes of legislative experiments, some one compares many classes together, generalizes the results, and proposes to be guided by the generalization, he shakes his head skeptically. And his skepticism passes into ridicule if it is proposed to affiliate such generalized results on the laws of Mind. To prescribe for society on the strength of countless unclassified observations, appears to him a sensible course; but, to colligate and systematize the observations so as to educe tendencies of human behavior displayed throughout cases of numerous kinds, to trace these tendencies to their sources in the mental natures of men, and thence to draw conclusions for guidance, appears to him a visionary course.
Let us look at some of the fundamental facts he ignores, and at the results of ignoring them.
Rational legislation, based as it can only be on a true theory of conduct, which is derivable only from a true theory of mind, must recognize as a datum the direct connection of action with feeling. That feeling and action bear a constant ratio, is a statement needing qualification; for at the one extreme there are automatic actions which take place without feeling, and at the other extreme there are feelings so intense that, by deranging the vital functions, they impede or arrest action. But, speaking of those activities which life in general presents, it is a law tacitly recognized by all, though not distinctly formulated, that action and feeling vary together in their amounts. Passivity and absence of facial expression, both implying rest of the muscles, are held to show that there is being experienced neither much sensation nor much emotion, while the degree of external demonstration, be it in movements that rise finally to spasms and contortions, or be it in sounds that end in laughter, and shrieks, and groans, is habitually accepted as a measure of the pleasure or pain, sensational or emotional. And so, too, where continued expenditure of energy is seen, be it in a violent struggle to escape, or be it in the persevering pursuit of an object, the quantity of effort is held to show the quantity of feeling.
This truth, undeniable in its generality, whatever qualifications secondary truths make in it, must be joined with the truth that cognition does not produce action. If I tread on a pin, or unawares dip my hand into very hot water, I start: the strong sensation produces motion without any thought intervening. Conversely, the proposition that a pin pricks, or that hot water scalds, leaves me quite unmoved. True, if to one of these propositions is joined the idea that a pin is about to pierce my skin, or to the other the idea that some hot water will fall on it, there results a tendency, more or less decided, to shrink. But that which causes shrinking is the ideal pain. The statement that the pin will hurt or the water scald produces no effect, so long as there is nothing beyond a recognition of its meaning: it produces an effect only when the pain verbally asserted becomes a pain actually conceived as impending—only when there rises in consciousness a representation of the pain, which is a faint form of the pain as before felt. That is to say, the cause of movement here, as in other cases, is a feeling and not a cognition. What we see even in these simplest actions, runs through actions of all degrees of complexity. It is never the knowledge which is the moving agent in conduct, but it is always the feeling which goes along with that knowledge, or is excited by it. Though the drunkard knows that after to-day's debauch will come to- morrow's headache, yet he is not deterred by consciousness of this truth, unless the penalty is distinctly represented—unless there rises in his consciousness a vivid idea of the misery to be borne—unless there is excited in him an adequate amount of feeling antagonistic to his desire for drink. Similarly with improvidence in general. If coming evils are imagined with clearness and the threatened sufferings ideally felt, there is a due check on the tendency to take immediate gratifications without stint; but, in the absence of that consciousness of future ills which is constituted by the ideas of pains, distinct or vague, the passing desire is not opposed effectually. The truth that recklessness brings distress, fully acknowledged though it may be, remains inoperative. The mere cognition does not affect conduct—conduct is affected only when the cognition passes out of that intellectual form in which the idea of distress is little more than verbal, into a form in which this term of the proposition is developed into a vivid imagination of distress—a mass of painful feeling. It is thus with conduct of every kind. See this group of persons clustered at the river-side. A boat has upset, and some one is in danger of drowning. The fact, that, in the absence of aid, the youth in the water will shortly die, is known to them all. That by swimming to his assistance his life may be saved, is a proposition denied by none of them. The duty of helping fellow-creatures who are in difficulties, they have been taught all their lives; and they will severally admit that running a risk to prevent a death is praiseworthy. Nevertheless, though sundry of them can swim, they do nothing beyond shouting for assistance or giving advice. But now here comes one who, tearing off his coat, plunges in to the rescue. In what does he differ from the others? Not in knowledge. Their cognitions are equally clear with his. They know as well as he does that death is impending, and know, too, how it may be prevented. In him, however, these cognitions arouse certain correlative emotions more strongly than they are aroused in the rest. Groups of feelings are excited in all; but, whereas in the others the deterrent feelings of fear, etc., preponderate, in him there is a surplus of the feelings excited by sympathy, joined, it may be, with others not of so high a kind. In each case, however, the behavior is not determined by knowledge, but by emotion. Obviously, change in the actions of these passive spectators is not to be effected by making their cognitions clearer, but by making their higher feelings stronger.
Have we not here, then, a cardinal psychological truth, to which any rational system of human discipline must conform? Is it not manifest that a legislation which ignores it and tacitly assumes its opposite will inevitably fail? Yet much of our legislation does this: and we are at present, legislature and nation together, eagerly pushing forward schemes which proceed on the postulate that conduct is determined not by feelings, but by cognitions.
For what else is the assumption underlying this anxious urging-on of organizations for teaching? What is the root-notion common to Secularists and Denominationalists, but the notion that spread of knowledge is the one thing needful for bettering behavior? Having both swallowed certain statistical fallacies, there has grown up in them the belief that State-education will check ill-doing. In newspapers, they have often met with comparisons between the numbers of criminals who can read and write and the numbers who cannot; and, finding the numbers who cannot greatly exceed the numbers who can, they accept the inference that ignorance is the cause of crime. It does not occur to them to ask whether other statistics, similarly drawn up, would not prove with like conclusiveness that crime is caused by absence of ablutions, or by lack of clean linen, or by bad ventilation, or by want of a separate bedroom. Go through any jail, and ascertain how many prisoners had been in the habit of taking a morning bath, and you would find that criminality habitually went with dirtiness of skin. Count up those who had possessed a second suit of clothes, and a comparison of the figures would show you that but a small percentage of criminals were habitually able to change their garments. Inquire whether they had lived in main streets or down courts, and you would discover that nearly all urban crime comes from holes and corners. Similarly, a fanatical advocate of total abstinence or of sanitary improvement could get equally strong statistical justifications for his belief. But, if, not accepting the random inference presented to you, that ignorance and crime are cause and effect, you consider, as above, whether crime may not with equal reason be ascribed to various other causes, you are led to see that it is really connected with an inferior mode of life, itself usually consequent on original inferiority of nature; and you are led to see that ignorance is simply one of the concomitants, no more to be held the cause of crime than various other concomitants.
But this obvious criticism, and the obvious counter-conclusion it implies, are not simply overlooked, but, when insisted on, seem powerless to affect the belief which has taken possession of men. Disappointment alone will now affect it. A wave of opinion, reaching a certain height, cannot be changed by any evidence or argument, but has to spend itself in the gradual course of things before a reaction of opinion can arise. Otherwise it would be incomprehensible that this confidence in the curative effects of teaching, which men have carelessly allowed to be generated in them by the reiterations of doctrinaire politicians, should survive the direct disproofs yielded by daily experience. Is it not the trouble of every mother and every governess, that perpetual insisting on the right and denouncing the wrong do not suffice? Is it not the constant complaint that on many natures reasoning and explanation and the clear demonstration of consequences are scarcely at all operative; that where they are operative there is a more or less marked difference of emotional nature; and that where, having before failed, they begin to succeed, change of feeling rather than difference of apprehension is the cause? Do we not similarly hear from every house-keeper that servants usually pay but little attention to reproofs; that they go on perversely in old habits, regardless of clear evidence of their foolishness; and that their actions are to be altered not by explanations and reasonings, but by either the fear of penalties or the experience of penalties—that is, by the emotions awakened in them? When we turn from domestic life to the life of the outer world, do not like disproofs everywhere meet us? Are not fraudulent bankrupts educated people, and getters-up of bubble-companies, and makers of adulterated goods, and users of false trade-marks, and retailers who have light weights, and owners of unseaworthy ships, and those who cheat insurance-companies, and those who carry on turf-chicaneries, and the great majority of gamblers? Or, to take a more extreme form of turpitude—is there not, among those who have committed murder by poison within our memories, a considerable number of the educated—a number bearing as large a ratio to the educated classes as does the total number of murderers to the total population?
This belief in the moralizing effects of intellectual culture, flatly contradicted by facts, is absurd a priori. What imaginable connection is there between the learning that certain clusters of marks on paper stand for certain words and the getting a higher sense of duty? What possible effect can acquirement of facility in making written signs of sounds have in strengthening the desire to do right? How does knowledge of the multiplication-table, or quickness in adding and dividing, so increase the sympathies as to restrain the tendency to trespass against fellow-creatures? In what way can the attainment of accuracy in spelling and parsing, etc., make the sentiment of justice more powerful than it was; or why from stores of geographical information, perseveringly gained, is there likely to come increased regard for truth? The irrelation between such causes and such effects is almost as great as that between exercise of the fingers and strengthening of the legs. One who should by lessons in Latin hope to give a knowledge of geometry, or one who should expect practice in drawing to be followed by expressive rendering of a sonata, would be thought fit for an asylum; and yet he would be scarcely more irrational than are those who by discipline of the intellectual faculties expect to produce better feelings.
This faith in lesson-books and readings is one of the superstitions of the age. Even as appliances to intellectual culture, books are greatly over-estimated. Instead of second-hand knowledge being regarded as of less value than first-hand knowledge, and as a knowledge to be sought only where first-hand knowledge cannot be had, it is actually regarded as of greater value. Something gathered from printed pages is supposed to enter into a course of education; but, if gathered by observation of Life and Nature, is supposed not thus to enter. Reading is seeing by proxy—is learning indirectly through another man's faculties, instead of directly through one's own faculties; and such is the prevailing bias that the indirect learning is thought preferable to the direct learning, and usurps the name of cultivation! We smile when told that savages consider writing as a kind of magic: and we laugh at the story of the negro who hid a letter under a stone, that it might not inform against him when he devoured the fruit he was sent with. Yet the current notions about printed information betray a kindred delusion: a kind of magical efficacy is ascribed to ideas gained through artificial appliances, as compared with ideas otherwise gained. And this delusion, injurious in its effects even on intellectual culture, produces effects still more injurious on moral culture, by generating the assumption that this, too, can be got by reading and the repeating of lessons.
It will, I know, be said that not from intellectual teaching, but from moral teaching, are improvement of conduct and diminution of crime looked for. While, unquestionably, many of those who urge on educational schemes believe in the moralizing effects of knowledge in general, it must be admitted that some hold general knowledge to be inadequate, and contend that rules of right conduct must be taught. Already, however, reasons have been given why the expectations even of these are illusory; proceeding, as they do, on the assumption that the intellectual acceptance of moral precepts will produce conformity to them. Plenty more reasons are forthcoming. I will not dwell on the contradictions to this assumption furnished by the Chinese, to all of whom the high ethical maxims of Confucius are taught, and who yet fail to show us a conduct proportionately exemplary. Nor will I enlarge on the lesson to be derived from the United States, the school-system of which brings up the whole population under the daily influence of chapters which set forth principles of right conduct, and which nevertheless in its political life, and by many of its social occurrences, shows us that conformity to these principles is any thing but complete. It will suffice if I limit myself to evidence supplied by our own society, past and present, which negatives, very decisively, these sanguine expectations. For, what have we been doing all these many centuries by our religious agencies, but preaching right principles to old and young? What has been the aim of services in our ten thousand churches, week after week, but to enforce a code of good conduct by promised rewards and threatened penalties?—the whole population having been for many generations compelled to listen. What have Dissenting chapels, more numerous still, been used for, unless as places where pursuance of right and desistance from wrong have been unceasingly commended to all from childhood upward? And if now it is held that something more must be done—if, notwithstanding perpetual explanations and denunciations and exhortations, the misconduct is so great that society is endangered, why, after all this insistance has failed, is it expected that more insistance will succeed? See here the proposals and the implied beliefs. Teaching by clergymen not having had the desired effect, let us try teaching by school-masters. Bible-reading from a pulpit, with the accompaniment of imposing architecture, painted windows, tombs, and "dim religious light," having proved inadequate, suppose we try bible-reading in rooms with bare walls, relieved only by maps and drawings of animals. Commands and interdicts, uttered by a surpliced priest to minds prepared by chant and organ-peal, not having been obeyed, let us see whether they will be obeyed when mechanically repeated in school-boy sing-song to a threadbare usher, amid the buzz of lesson-learning and clatter of slates. No very hopeful proposals, one would say; proceeding, as they do, upon one or other of the beliefs, that a moral precept will be effective in proportion as it is received without emotional accompaniment, and that its effectiveness will increase in proportion to the number of times it is repeated. Both these beliefs are directly at variance with the results of psychological analysis and of daily experience. Certainly, such influence as may be gained by addressing moral truths to the intellect, is made greater if the accompaniments arouse an appropriate emotional excitement, as a religious service does; while, conversely, there can be no more effectual way of divesting such moral truths of their impressiveness, than associating them with the prosaic and vulgarizing sounds and sights and smells coming from crowded children. And no less certain is it that precepts, often heard and little regarded, lose by repetition the small influence they bad. What do public-schools show us?—are the boys rendered merciful to one another by listening to religious injunctions every morning? "What do universities show us?—have perpetual chapels habitually made undergraduates behave better than the average of young men? "What do cathedral-towns show us?—is there in them a moral tone above that of other towns, or must we from the common saying, "the nearer the church," etc., infer a pervading impression to the contrary? What do clergymen's sons show us?—has constant insistance on right conduct made them conspicuously superior, or do we not rather hear it whispered that something like an opposite effect seems produced. Or, to take one more case, what do religious newspapers show us?—is it that the precepts of Christianity, more familiar to their writers than to other writers, are more clearly to be traced in their articles, or has there not ever been displayed a want of charity in their dealings with opponents, and is it not still displayed? Nowhere do we find that repetition of rules of right, already known but disregarded, produces regard for them; but we find that, contrariwise, it makes the regard for them less than before.
The prevailing assumption is, indeed, as much disproved by analysis as it is contradicted by familiar facts. Already we have seen that the connection is between action and feeling; and hence the corollary, that only by a frequent passing of feeling into action is the tendency to such action strengthened. Just as two ideas often repeated in a Certain order become coherent in that order; and just as muscular motions, at first difficult to combine properly with one another and with guiding perceptions, become by practice facile, and at length automatic; so the recurring production of any conduct by its prompting emotion makes that conduct relatively easy. Not by precept, though heard daily; not by example, unless it is followed; but only by action, often caused by the related feeling, can a moral habit be formed. And yet this truth, which Mental Science clearly teaches, and which is in harmony with familiar sayings, is a truth wholly ignored in current educational fanaticisms.
There is ignored, too, the correlative truth; and ignoring it threatens results still more disastrous. While we see an expectation of benefits which the means used cannot achieve, we see no consciousness of injuries which will be entailed by these means. As usually happens with those absorbed in the eager pursuit of some good by governmental action, there is a blindness to the evil reaction on the natures of citizens. Already the natures of citizens have suffered from kindred reactions, due to actions set up centuries ago; and now the mischievous effects are to be increased by further such reactions.
The English people are complained of as improvident. Very few of them lay by in anticipation of times when work is slack; and the general testimony is that higher wages commonly result only in more extravagant living or in drinking to greater excess. As we saw a while since, they neglect opportunities of becoming shareholders in the companies they are engaged under; and those who are most anxious for their welfare despair on finding how little they do to raise themselves when they have the means. This tendency to seize immediate gratification regardless of future penalty is commented on as characteristic of the English people; and, contrasts between them and their Continental neighbors having been drawn, surprise is expressed that such contrasts should exist. Improvidence is spoken of as an inexplicable trait of the race—no regard being paid to the fact that races with which it is compared are allied in blood. The people of Norway are economical and extremely prudent. The Danes, too, are thrifty; and Defoe, commenting on the extravagance of his countrymen, says that a Dutchman gets rich on wages out of which an Englishman but just lives. So, too, if we take the modern Germans. Alike by the complaints of the Americans, that the Germans are ousting them from their own businesses by working hard and living cheaply, and by the success here of German traders and the preference shown for German waiters, we are taught that in other divisions of the Teutonic race there is nothing like this lack of self-control. Nor can we ascribe to such portion of Norman blood as exists among us this peculiar trait: descendants of the Normans in France are industrious and saving. Why, then, should the English people be improvident? If we seek explanation in their remote lineage, we find none; but, if we seek it in the social conditions to which they have been subject, we find a sufficient explanation. The English are improvident because they have been for ages disciplined in improvidence. Extravagance has been made habitual by shielding them from the sharp penalties extravagance brings. Carefulness has been discouraged by continually showing to the careful that those who were careless did as well as, or better than, themselves. Nay, there have been positive penalties on carefulness. Laborers working hard and paying their way have constantly found themselves called on to help in supporting the idle around them; have had their goods taken under distress-warrants that paupers might be fed; and eventually have found themselves and their children reduced also to pauperism. Well-conducted poor women, supporting themselves without aid or encouragement, have seen the ill-conducted receiving parish-pay for their illegitimate children. Nay, to such extremes has the process gone, that women with many illegitimate children, getting from the rates a weekly sum for each, have been chosen as wives by men who wanted the sums thus derived! Generation after generation the honest and independent, not marrying till they had means, and striving to bring up their families without assistance, have been saddled with extra burdens, and hindered from leaving a desirable posterity; while the dissolute and the idle, especially when given to that lying and servility by which those in authority are deluded, have been helped to produce and to rear progeny, characterized, like themselves, by absence of the mental traits needed for good citizenship. And then, after centuries during which we have been breeding the race as much as possible from the improvident, and repressing the multiplication of the provident, we lift our hands and exclaim at the recklessness our people exhibit! If men, who, for a score of generations, had by preference bred from their worst-tempered horses and their least-sagacious dogs, were then to wonder because their horses were vicious and their dogs stupid, we should think the absurdity of their policy paralleled only by the absurdity of their astonishment; but human beings instead of inferior animals being in question, no absurdity is seen either in the policy or in the astonishment.
And now something more serious happens than the overlooking of these evils wrought on men's natures by centuries of demoralizing influences. We are deliberately establishing further such influences. Having, as much as we could, suspended the civilizing discipline of an industrial life so carried on as to achieve self-maintenance without injury to others, we now proceed to suspend that civilizing discipline in another direction. Having in successive generations done our best to diminish the sense of responsibility, by warding off evils which disregard of responsibility brings, we now carry the policy further by relieving parents from certain other responsibilities which, in the order of Nature, fall on them. By way of checking recklessness, and discouraging improvident marriages, and raising the conception of duty, we are diffusing the belief that it is not the concern of parents to fit their children for the business of life; but that the nation is bound to do this. Everywhere there is a tacit enunciation of the marvellous doctrine that citizens are not responsible individually for the bringing up each of his own children, but that these same citizens, incorporated into a society, are each of them responsible for the bringing up of everybody else's children! The obligation does not fall upon A in his capacity of father to rear the minds as well as the bodies of his offspring; but in his capacity of citizen there does fall on him the obligation of mentally rearing the offspring of B, C, D, and the rest, who similarly have their direct parental obligations made secondary to their indirect obligations to children not their own! Already it is estimated that, as matters are now being arranged, parents will soon pay in school-fees for their own children only one-sixth of the amount which is paid by them through taxes, rates, and voluntary contributions, for children at large: in terms of money, the claims of children at large to their care will be taken as six times the claim of their own children! And, if, looking back forty years, we observe the growth of the public claim versus the private claim, we may infer that the private claim will presently be absorbed wholly. Already the correlative theory is becoming so definite and positive that you meet with the notion, uttered as though it were an unquestionable truth, that criminals are "society's failures." Presently it will be seen that, since good bodily development, as well as good mental development, is a prerequisite to good citizenship (for without it the citizen cannot maintain himself, and so avoid wrong-doing), society is responsible also for the proper feeding and clothing of children: indeed, in school-board discussions, there is already an occasional admission that no logically-defensible halting-place can be found between the two. And so we are progressing toward the wonderful notion, here and there finding tacit expression, that people are to marry when they feel inclined, and other people are to take the consequences!
And this is thought to be the policy conducive to improvement of behavior. Men who have been made improvident by shielding them from many of the evil results of improvidence are now to be made more provident by further shielding them from the evil results of improvidence. Having had their self-control decreased by social arrangements which lessened the need for self-control, other social arrangements are devised which will make self-control still less needful: and it is hoped so to make self-control greater. This expectation is absolutely at variance with the whole order of things. Life of every kind, human included, proceeds on an exactly-opposite principle. All lower types of beings show us that the rearing of offspring affords the highest discipline for the faculties. The parental instinct is everywhere that which calls out the energies most persistently, and in the greatest degree exercises the intelligence. The self-sacrifice and the sagacity which inferior creatures display in the care of their young are often commented upon; and every one may see that parenthood produces a mental exaltation not otherwise producible. That it is so among mankind is daily proved. Continually we remark that men who were random grow steady when they have children to provide for; and vain, thoughtless girls, becoming mothers, begin to show higher feelings, and capacities that were not before drawn out. In both there is a daily discipline in unselfishness, in industry, in foresight. The parental relation strengthens from hour to hour the habit of postponing immediate ease and egoistic pleasure to the altruistic pleasure obtained by furthering the welfare of offspring. There is a frequent subordination of the claims of self to the claims of fellow-beings; and by no other agency can the practice of this subordination be so effectually secured. Not, then, by a decreased, but by an increased, sense of parental responsibility is self-control to be made greater and recklessness to be checked. And yet the policy now so earnestly and undoubtingly pursued is one which will inevitably diminish the sense of parental responsibility. This all-important discipline of parents' emotions is to be weakened that children may get reading, and grammar, and geography, more generally than they would otherwise do. A superficial intellectualization is to be secured at the cost of a deep-seated demoralization.
Few, I suppose, will deliberately assert that information is important and character relatively unimportant. Every one observes from time to time how much more valuable to himself and others is the workman who, though unable to read, is diligent, sober, and honest, than is the well-taught workman who breaks his engagements, spends days in drinking, and neglects his family. And, comparing members of the upper classes, no one doubts that the spendthrift or the gambler, however good his intellectual training, is inferior as a social unit to the man who, not having passed through the approved curriculum, nevertheless prospers by performing well the work he undertakes, and provides for his children instead of leaving them in poverty to the care of relatives. That is to say, looking at the matter in the concrete, all see that, for social welfare, good character is more important than much knowledge. And yet the manifest corollary is not drawn. What effect will be produced on character by artificial appliances for spreading knowledge is not asked. Of the ends to be kept in view by the legislator, all are unimportant compared with the end of character-making; and yet character-making is an end wholly unrecognized.
Let it be seen that the future of a nation depends on the natures of its units; that their natures are inevitably modified in adaptation to the conditions in which they are placed; that the feelings called into play by these conditions will strengthen, while those which have diminished demands on them will dwindle; and it will be seen that the bettering of conduct can be effected, not by insisting on maxims of good conduct, still less by mere intellectual culture, but only by that daily exercise of the higher sentiments and repression of the lower, which results from keeping men subordinate to the requirements of orderly social life—letting them suffer the inevitable penalties of breaking these requirements, and reap the benefits of conforming to them. This alone is national education.