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Guilt And Shame In Some Thoughts Concerning Education And Robinson Crusoe

2265 words - 9 pages

Guilt and Shame in Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Robinson Crusoe        

    In Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century England, a major transition was occurring; attitudes were shifting towards a more sensibility-based perspective, in which the "warrior" mentality of earlier times was falling out of fashion, in favor of sensitive "gentlemen." Such gentlemen were expected to be morally sound, well-educated, "enlightened." Yet, despite all this, men were still expected to be masculine to be able to take control of a situation or solve a particular problem. John Locke postulated that all of this could be encouraged in young men via their education. Sadly, he found that no educational program at the time was up to the task. He argued that one of the foremost goals of education should be responsible self-government, or the ability to determine properly what to do and what not to do without an external authority commanding it. This ideal became very en vogue among sensible folk at this time many Englishmen (as well as other Europeans) wanted to be so morally upright that they need only answer to themselves. Locke, of course, had some thoughts on this, and those thoughts revolved chiefly around (of all things) shame.

Some Thoughts Concerning Education was first published by Locke in 1693. The ideas it advocated were progressive, even by today's standards. One point he makes very clear is that physical rewards and punishments (as a system of encouraging morally-correct behavior) are ineffective in raising children to be responsible, moral adults (38 - 39). As an alternative, he suggested the following:

Esteem and disgrace are, of all others, the most powerful incentives to the mind, when once it is brought to relish them. If you can once get into children a love of credit, and an apprehension of shame and disgrace, you have put into them the true principle, which will constantly work, and incline them to be right. (41)

This passage, while being very perceptive, seems to be inadequate in one crucial area; although his argument against punishments (such as beatings, etc.) is very thoroughly explained and developed, it makes one or two assumptions that Locke doesn't even attempt to support. The most glaring assumption is that we, as humans, are social creatures. Esteem and disgrace are great motivators, but only if one values others' opinions about oneself. This leads to a question about solitude: were individuals to be morally educated in the Lockian fashion, then removed from society in some manner, it is questionable as to whether or not the lessons taught would indeed "constantly work, and incline them to be right."

Without the presence of other people, it is difficult to say whether or not one would continue to feel shame for "wrong" or "bad" actions. Whether isolated by geography (a mountain-dwelling hermit, say) or by one's own mind (in the case of certain types of mental retardation or the effects of some psychoactive...

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