Popular Science Monthly/Volume 13/July 1878/Education as a Science IV

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616914Popular Science Monthly Volume 13 July 1878 — Education as a Science IV1878Alexander Bain





IN education there has to be encountered at every turn the play of motives. Now, the theory of motives is the theory of sensation, emotion, and will; in other words, it is the psychology of the sensitive and the active powers.

1. The Senses.—The pleasures, the pains, and the privations of the senses, are the earliest and the most unfailing, if not also the strongest, of motives. Besides their bearings on self-preservation, they are a principal standing dish in life's feast.

It is when the senses are looked at on the side of feeling, or as pleasure and pain, that the defectiveness of the current classification into five is most evident. For, although, in the point of view of knowledge or intellect, the five senses are the really important approaches to the mind, yet, in the view of feeling or pleasure and pain, the omission of the varied organic susceptibility leaves a wide gap in the handling of the subject. Some of our very strongest pleasures and pains grow out of the region of organic life—the digestion, circulation, respiration, muscular and nervous integrity or derangement.

In exerting influence over human beings this department of sensibility is a first resource. It can be counted on with more certainty than perhaps any other. Indeed, almost all the punishments of a purely physical kind fall within the domain of the organic sensations. What is it that makes punishment formidable, but its threatening the very vitals of the system? It is the lower degree of what, in a higher degree, takes away life.

For example, the muscular system is the seat of a mass of sensibility, pleasurable and painful: the pleasures of healthy exercise, the pains of privation of exercise, and the pains of extreme fatigue. In early life, when all the muscles, as well as the senses, are fresh, the muscular organs are very largely connected both with enjoyment and with suffering. To accord full scope to the activity of the fresh organs is a gratification that may take the form of a rich reward; to refuse this scope is the infliction of misery; to compel exercise beyond the limits of the powers is still greater misery. Our penal discipline adopts the two forms of pain: in the milder treatment of the young, the irksomeness of restraint; in the severe methods with the full-grown, the torture of fatigue.

Again, the nervous system is subject to organic depression; and certain of our pains are due to this cause. The well-known state denominated "tedium" is nervous uneasiness; and is caused by undue exercise of any portion of the nervous system. In its extreme forms it is intolerable wretchedness. It is the suffering caused by penal impositions or tasks, by confinement, and by monotony of all kinds. The acute sufferings of the nervous system, as growing out of natural causes, are represented by neuralgic pains. It is in graduated artificial inflictions, operating directly on the nerves by means of electricity, that we may look for the physical punishments of the future, that are to displace floggings and muscular torture.

The interests of nourishment, as against privation of food, are necessarily bound up with a large volume of enjoyment and suffering. Starvation, deficiency and inferiority of food, are connected with depression and misery of the severest kind; inspiring the dread that most effectually stimulates human beings to work, to beg, or to steal. The obverse condition of a rich and abundant diet is in itself an almost sufficient basis of enjoyment. The play of motives between those extremes enables us to put forth an extensive sway over human conduct.

An instructive distinction may be made between privation and hunger; likewise between their opposites. Privation is the positive deficiency of nourishing material in the blood; hunger is the craving of the stomach at its usual times of being supplied, and is a local sensibility, perhaps very acute, but not marked by the profound wretchedness of inanition. There may be plenty of material to go on with, although we are suffering from stomachic hunger. Punishing, for once, by the loss of a meal out of the three or four in the day, is unimportant as regards the general vigor, yet very telling as a motive. Absolutely to diminish the available nutriment of the system is a measure of great severity; to inflict a pending hunger is not the same thing.

When we unite the acute pleasures of the palate with stomachic relish and the exhilaration of abundance of food-material in a healthy frame, we count up a large mass of pleasurable sensibility. Between the lowest demands of subsistence and the highest luxuries of affluent means there is a great range, available as an instrumentality of control in the discipline of the young. The usual regimen being something considerably above necessaries, and yet beneath the highest pitch of indulgence, room is given to operate both by reduction and by increase of luxury, without either mischief or pampering; and, the sensibility in early years being very keen in those heads, the motive power is great. Having in view the necessities of discipline with the young, the habitual regimen in food should be pitched neither too low nor too high to permit of such variations. It is the misfortune of poverty that this means of influence is greatly wanting; the next lower depth to the delinquent child is the application of the stick.

These are the chief departments of organic sensibility that contain the motives made use of in reward and punishment. The inflictions of caning and flogging operate upon the organ of the sense of touch, yet, in reality, the effect is one to be classed among the pains of organic life, rather than among tactile sensations; it is a pain resulting from injury or violence to the tissue in the first instance, and if carried far is destructive of life. Like all physical acute pains it is a powerful deterring influence, and is doubtless the favorite punishment of every age and every race of mankind. The limitations to its use demand a rigorous handling; but the consideration of these is mixed up with motives afterward to be adverted to.

The ordinary five senses contain, in addition to their intellectual functions, many considerable sensibilities to pleasure and pain. The pleasures can be largely made use of as incentives to conduct. The pains might of course be also employed in the same way; but with the exceptions already indicated they very rarely are. We do not punish by bad odors, nor by bitter tastes. Harsh and grating sounds may be very torturing, but they are not used in discipline. The pains of sight reach the highest acuteness, but as punishment they are found only in the most barbarous codes.

Postponing a review of the principles of punishment generally, we approach the most perplexing department of motives—the higher Emotions. Few of the simple sensational effects are obtained in purity, that is, without the intermingling of emotions.

2. The Emotions.—One large department of psychology is made up of the classification, definition, and analysis of the Emotions. The applications of a complete theory of Emotion are numerous, and the systematic expansion must be such as to cope with all these applications. We here narrow the subject to what is indispensable for the play of motives in education.

First of all, it is necessary to take note of the large region of Sociability, comprising the social emotions and affections. Next is the department of Anti-social feeling—Anger, Malevolence, and Lust of Domination. Taking both the sources and the ramifications of these two leading groups, we cover perhaps three-fourths of all the sensibility that rises above the senses proper. They do not indeed exhaust the fountains of emotion, but they leave no other that can rank as of first-class importance, except through derivation from them and the senses together.

The region of Fine Art comprises a large compass of pleasurable feeling, with corresponding susceptibilities to pain; some of-this is sensation proper, being the pleasures of the two higher senses; some is due to associations with the interests of all the senses (Beauty of Utility); a certain portion may be called Intellectual, the perception of unity in variety; while the still largest share appears to be derived from the two great sources above described.

The Intellect generally is a source of various gratifications and also of sufferings that are necessarily mixed up with our intellectual education. Both the delights of attained knowledge and the pains of intellectual labor have to be carefully counted with by every instructor.

The pleasures of Action or Activity are a class greatly pressed into the educational service, and therefore demand special consideration.

The names Self-Esteem, Pride, Vanity, Love of Praise, express powerful sentiments, whose analysis is attended with much subtilty. They are largely appealed to by every one that has to exercise control over human beings. To gratify them is to impart copious pleasure, to thwart or wound them is to inflict corresponding pain.

Mention has not yet been made of one genus of emotion, formidable as a source of pain, and as a motive to activity, namely, Fear or Terror. Only in the shape of reaction or relief is it a source of pleasure. The skillful management of this sensibility has much to do with the efficient control of all sentient creatures, and still more with the saving of gratuitous misery.

Our rapid review of these various sources of emotion, together with others of a minor kind, proposes to deal once for all, and in the best manner, with the various educational questions that turn upon the operation of motives. We shall have to remark upon prevailing exaggerations on some heads and the insufficient stress laid on others; and shall endeavor to unfold in just proportions the entire compass of our emotional susceptibilities available for the purposes of the teacher.

3. The Emotion of Terror.—The state of mind named Terror or Fear is described shortly as a state of extreme misery and depression, prostrating the activity and causing exaggeration of ideas in whatever is related to it, It is an addition to pain pure and simple—the pain of a present infliction. It is roused by the foretaste or prospect of evil, especially if that is great in amount, and still more if it is of uncertain nature.

As far as education is concerned, terror is an incident of the infliction of punishment. We may work by the motive of evil without producing the state of terror, as when the evil is slight and well defined; a small understood privation, a moderate dose of irksomeness, may be salutary and preventive, without any admixture of the quakings and misery of fear. A severe infliction in prospect will induce fear; the more so that the subject does not know how severe it is to be.

In the higher moral education, the management of the passion of fear is of the greatest consequence. The evils of operating by means of it are so great that it should be reserved for the last resort. The waste of energy and the scattering of the thoughts are ruinous to the interests of mental progress. The one certain result is to paralyze and arrest action, or else to concentrate force in some single point, at the cost of general debility. The tyrant, working by terror, disarms rebelliousness, but fails to procure energetic service, while engendering hatred and preparing for his overthrow.

The worst of all modes and instruments of discipline is the employment of spiritual, ghostly, or superstitious terrors. Unless it were to scourge and thwart the greatest of criminals—the disturbers of the peace of mankind—hardly anything justifies the terrors of superstition. On a small scale, we know what it is to frighten children with ghosts; on a larger scale is the influence of religions dealing almost exclusively in the fear of another life.

Like the other gross passions, terror admits of being refined upon and toned down, till it becomes simply a gentle stimulation; and the reaction more than makes up for the misery. The greatest efforts in this direction are found in the artistic handling of fear, as in the sympathetic fears of tragedy, and in the passing terrors of a well-constructed plot. In the moral bearings of the emotions, its refined modes are shown in the fear of giving pain or offense to one that we love, respect, or venerate. There may be a considerable degree of the depressing element even in this situation; yet the effect is altogether wholesome and ennobling. All superiors should aspire to be feared in this manner.

Timidity, or susceptibility to fear, is one of the noted differences of character; and this difference is to be taken into account in discipline. The absence of general vigor, bodily and mental, is marked by timidity; and the state may also be the result of long bad usage, and of perverted views of the world. In the way of culture, or of high exertion in any form, little is to be expected from thoroughly timid natures; they can be easily governed, so far as concerns sins of commission, but their omissions are not equally remediable.

The conquest of superstitious fears is one of the grandest objects of education taken in its widest compass. It cannot be accomplished by any direct inculcation; it is one of the incidental and most beneficial results of the exact study of Nature—in other words, science.

4. The Social Motives.—This is perhaps the most extensive and the least involved of all the emotional influences at work in education.

The pleasures of love, affection, mutual regard, sympathy, or sociability, make up the foremost satisfaction of human life; and as such are a standing object of desire, pursuit, and fruition. Sociability is a wholly distinct fact from the prime supports of existence and the pleasures of the five senses, and is not, in my opinion, resolvable into those, however deeply we may analyze it, or however far back we may trace the historical evolution of the mind. Nevertheless, as the supports of life, and the pure sense agreeables and exemptions, come to us in great part through the medium of fellow-beings, the value of the social regards receives from this cause an enormous augmentation, and, in the total, counts for one paramount object of human solicitude. It would appear strange if this motive could ever be overlooked by the educator, or by any one; yet there are theories and methods that treat it as of inferior account.

The vast aggregate of social feeling is made up of the intenser elements of sexual and parental love, and the select attachments in the way of friendship, together with the more diffused sentiments toward the masses of human beings. The motive power of the feelings in education may be well exemplified in the intense examples; we can see in these both the merits and defects of the social stimulus. The "Phædrus" of Plato is a remarkable ideal picture of the study of philosophy prompted by Eros, in the Grecian form of attachment. The ordinary love of the sexes, in our time, does not furnish many instances of the mutual striving after high culture; it may be left out of account in the theory of early education. We frequently find mothers applying to studies that they feel no personal attraction for, in order to assist in the progress of their children. This is much better than nothing; a secondary end may be the initiation and discovery of a taste that at last is self-subsisting.

The intense emotions, from the very fact of their intensity, are unsuited to the promptings of severe culture. The hardest studious work, the laying of foundations, should be over, before the flame of sexual and parental passion is kindled; when this is at its height the intellectual power is in abeyance, or else diverted from its regular course. The mutual influence of two lovers is not educative for want of the proper conditions. No doubt considerable efforts are inspired; but there is seldom sufficient elevation of view on the one side, or sufficient adaptability on the other, to make the mutual influence what Plato and the romancists conceive as possible. By very different and inferior compliances on both sides, the feeling may be kept alive; if more is wanted, it dies away.

The favorable conjunction for study and mental culture in general is friendship between two, or a small number, each naturally smitten with the love of knowledge for its own sake, and basing their attachment on that circumstance. A certain amount of mutual liking in other respects perfects the relationship; but the overpowering sensuous regards of the Platonic couple do not furnish the requisite soil for high culture. As a matter of fact, those attachments, as they existed in Greece, prompted to signal instances of self-devotion in the form of surrendering worldly goods and life itself; and this is the highest fruit that they have yielded in later times.

The remaining aspect of sociability—the influence of the general multitude—holds out the most powerful and permanent motive to conduct, and is largely felt in education. In the presence of an assembly the individual is roused, agitated, swayed; the thrill of numbers is electric; in whatever direction the influence tends, it is almost irresistible. Any effort made in the sight of a host is totally altered in character; and all impressions are very much deepened.

Having in view this ascendency of numbers, we can make a step toward computing the efficacy of class-teaching, public schools, and institutions where great multitudes are brought together. The power exercised is of a mixed character and the several elements admit of being singled out. The social motive, in its pure form of gregarious attraction and mutual sympathy, does not stand alone. Supposing it did, the effect would be to supply a strong stimulus in favor of everything that was supported by common consent; the individual would be urged to attain the level of the mass. The drill of a regiment of soldiers corresponds very nearly to this situation; every man is under the eye of the whole, and aspires to be what the rest are and not much, if anything, beyond; the sympathetic coöperation of the mass, guides, stimulates, and rewards the exertion of the individual. Even if it were the destination of a soldier to act as an isolated individual, still his education would be most efficaciously conducted in the mass system, being finished off by a certain amount of separate exercise to prepare for the detached or independent position.

In every kind of education in classes, the social feeling, in the pure form now assumed, is frequently operative, and the results are as stated. The tendency is to secure a certain approved level of attainment those that are disinclined of themselves to work up to that level are pushed on by the influence of the mass. If there were no other strong passions called out in society, the general result would be a kind of communism or socialism characterized by mediocrity and dead level; everything correct up to a certain point, but no individual superiority or distinction.

The influence of society as the dispenser of collective good and evil things, in addition to its operation in the affections and sympathies, is necessarily all-powerful in every direction. If this stimulus were always to coincide with high mental culture, the effect would be something that the imagination hardly dares to shadow forth. It is, however, a power that may be propitiated by many different means, including shams and evasions, and the bearing upon culture is only occasional. Nevertheless, the social rewards have often served to foster the highest genius—the oratory of Demosthenes, and the poetry of Horace and Virgil—a form of genius notoriously allied with toil and perseverance of the most arduous kind. The same influence, working by disapprobation and approbation combined, is, as I contend, the principal generating source of the ordinary moral sentiments of mankind, and the inspiration of exceptional virtues.

5. The Anti-social and Malign Emotions.—The emotions of Anger, Hatred, Antipathy, Rivalry, Contumely, have reference to other beings, no less than Love or Affection, but in an opposite way. In spite of the painful incidents in their manifestation—the offense in the first instance, and the dangers of reprisal—they are a source of immediate pleasure, often not inferior, and sometimes superior, in amount to the pleasures of amity and gregarious coöperation. In numerous instances people are willing to forego social and sympathetic delights to indulge in the pleasures of malignity.

In the work of discipline the present class of emotions occasions much solicitude. They can in certain ways be turned to good account; but, for the larger part, the business of the educator and the moralist is to counterwork them as being fraught with unalloyed evil.

Being a fitful or explosive passion, anger should, as far as possible, be checked or controlled in the young; but there are no adequate means, short of the very highest influence of the parent or teacher. The restraint induced by the presence of a dread superior at the time does not sink deep enough to make a habit; opportunities are sought and found to vent the passion with safety. The cultivation of the sympathies and affections is what alone copes with angry passion, both as a disturber of equanimity and as the prompter of wrong. The obverse of ill-temper is the disposition that thinks less of harm done to self and more of harm done to other people; and, if we can do anything to foster this disposition, we reduce the sphere of malignant passion. The collateral incentives to suppress angry passion include, besides the universal remedy of disaprobation, an appeal to the sense of personal dignity and to the baneful consequences of passionate outbursts.

The worst form of malignant feeling is cold and deliberate delight in cruelty; all too frequent, especially in the young. The torturing of animals, of weak and defenseless human beings, is the spontaneous outflow of the perennial fountain of malevolence. This has to be checked, if need be, at the expense of considerable severity. The inflictions practised on those that are able to recriminate, generally find their own remedy; and the discipline of consequences is as effectual as any. By having to fight our equals, we are taught to regulate our wrathful and cruel propensities.

The intense pleasure of victory contains the sweetness of malevolence, heightened by some other ingredients. The prostration and destruction of an enemy or a rival is, no doubt, the primary situation where malevolent impulses had their rise; and it continues to be, perhaps, the very strongest stimulant of the human energies. Notwithstanding its several drawbacks, we are obliged to give it a place among motives to study and mental advancement. In the fight and struggle of party contests the pleasure of victory enters in full flavor; and in the competitions at school the same motive is at work.

The social problem of restraining individuals in their selfish grasping of good things—the mere agreeables and exemptions of the senses—is rendered still more intractable by the craving for the smack of malevolent gratification. Total repression has been found impossible; and ingenuity has devised a number of outlets that are more or less compatible with the sacredness of mutual rights.

One chief outlet for the malevolent impulses is the avenging of wrong, whether private or public. A convicted wrong-doer is punished by the law, and the indignation roused by the crime turns to gratification at the punishment. In the theory of penal retribution some allowance is claimed for the vindictive satisfaction of the public. To think only of the prevention of crime, and the reformation of criminals, and suppressing all resentful feeling, is a severe and ascetic view, beyond human nature as at present constituted. The privacy of the punishments of criminals, in our modern system, is intended to keep the indulgence within bounds.

A wide ideal scope is given to our resentful pleasures in history and in romance; we are gratified by the retribution inflicted upon the authors of wrong. Narratives of evil-doers and of their punishment are level to the meanest capacity; this is the sort of history that suits the imagination even of children.

The highest refinement of the malevolent gratification I take to be the creation called the ludicrous and the comic. There is a laugh of vindictiveness, hatred, and derision, which carries the sentiment as far as it can be carried without blows. But there is also the laugh expressed by playfulness and humor, in which the malignant feeling seems almost on the point of disappearing in favor of the amicable sentiment. It is of some importance to understand that in play, fun, and humor, there is a delicate counterpoise of opposing sentiments, an attempt to make the most of both worlds—love and anger. The great masterpieces of humor in literature, the amenities of every-day society, the innocent joyousness of laughter—all attest the success of the hazardous combination. Nothing could better show the intensity of the primitive charm of malevolence than the unction that survives after it is attenuated to the condition of innocent mirthfulness. When the real exercise of the destructive propensity is not to be had, creatures endowed with emotions still relish the fictitious forms. This is seen remarkably in the amicable "play" of puppies and kittens. Not being endowed with much compass of the caressing acts, they show their love by snarling and sham biting; in which, through their fortunate self-restraint, they seem to enjoy a double pleasure. In the play of children there is the same employment of the forms of destructive malevolence, and, so long as it is happily balanced, the effect is highly piquant. By submitting in turn to be victimized, a party of children can secure, at a moderate cost to each, the zest of the malevolent feeling; and this I take to be the quintessence of play.

The use of this close analysis is to fix attention upon the precarious tenure of all these enjoyments, and to render a precise reason for the well-known fact that play or fun is always on the eve of becoming earnest; in other words, the destructive or malevolent element is in constant danger of breaking loose from its checks, and of passing from fictitious to actual inflictions. The play of the canine and the feline kind often degenerates in this fashion; and in childish and youthful amusements it is a perpetual rock ahead.

It is no less dangerous to indulge people in too much ideal gratification of the vindictive sentiments. Tales of revenge against enemies are too apt to cultivate the malevolent propensity. Children, it is true, take up this theme with wonderful alacrity; nevertheless it is a species of pampering supplied to the worst emotions instead of the best.

One other bearing of irascibility on education needs to be touched. When disapproval is heightened with anger, the dread inspired is much greater. The victim anticipates a more severe infliction when the angry passion has been roused; hence the supposition is natural that anger is an aid to discipline. This, however, needs qualifying. Of course, any increase of severity has a known deterrent effect, with whatever drawbacks may attend the excess. But anger is fitful; and, therefore, its cooperation mars discipline by want of measure and want of consistency; when the fit has passed, the mind often relapses into a mood unfavorable to a proper amount of repression.

The function of anger in discipline may be something very grand, provided the passion can be controlled. There is a fine attitude of indignation against wrong that may be assumed with the best effect. It supposes the most perfect self-command, and is no more excited than seems befitting the occasion. Mankind would not be contented to see the bench of justice occupied by a calculating machine that turned up a penalty of five pounds, or a month's imprisonment, when certain facts were dropped in at the hopper. A regulated expression of angry feeling is a force in itself. Neither containing fitfulness, nor conducting to excess of infliction, it is the awe-inspiring personation of justice, and is often sufficient to quell insubordination.

  1. Continued from The Popular Science Monthly of August, 1877.