Monday, 7 February 2011

Kant on Education

Published posthumously in 1803, Kant’s lectures on pedagogy were not written for publication, but compiled from notes of lectures he gave. Following the pattern of his philosophy generally, Kant begins with the negative before turning to the positive, from limitation (pure reason) followed by expansion (practical reason).

Man unlike animals seems to rely on intelligence instead of natural instinct, and thus uniquely among creatures requires education: care, discipline, instruction and formation until the child is able to rely on its own intelligence. A good analogy of this process is of the educator as a gardener. The ground is fertile for all kinds of seeds, both good and bad, so the gardener in his wisdom must root out the bad seeds and provide good nutrients to the ground so that the true seed of original nature may flourish. It is a negative approach to begin with (care that protects from harm and discipline to obey and speak the truth), which in turn allows for the positive approach of effective instruction and guidance, the former educating for school and the latter educating for life, cultivating ways of thinking that enable understanding to arise from within. Without instruction, man would be uncultured and raw, but without discipline, Kant contends that man would be less than human – savage, with a propensity to freedom that Rousseau considered noble, but Kant strongly disagrees. Nobility for Kant requires guidance that we may best make use of our freedom, educating to think for oneself and not be merely trained, that inner worth replace the opinions of others, that inner knowing and understanding arise from and replace feeling and experience and that good humour and natural piety replace blind and gloomy devotion. Thus, although Kant starts with constraint, the child must be afforded freedom. A good example is how generosity can only arise with the corresponding power to be generous. Kant's four keys to a good education are obedience, truthfulness, sociability and a cheerful heart. This follows closely the three keys in Arthurian legend of not too much indulgence, good company and good spirits!

If this project of education were successively improved, at each stage the educated having greater wisdom to be better educators, to what heights could man aspire? To what perfection of his true potential would he be capable? This and the project for a just society, the project of government, Kant considers to be the two most important and most difficult projects of the practical philosopher. The conduct of the project is an art, but he believes in the existence of absolute underlying principles which must be uniformly applied. There is perhaps a paradox here in that the perfection to man’s natural state seems to require very unnatural means. But these means are guided by reason which is in turn natural “in God”, so the perfection of man in God is a natural and thus universal endeavour, precisely because reason does not discriminate between individuals. And indeed Kant stresses not to “value human beings according to their religious observances, for in spite of the diversity of religions there is nevertheless unity of religion everywhere”.

This project of education, as with all culture, “begins with private individuals and extends outwards from there” to society and the world. This is because it is individuals who, unlike rulers, can take into account the good of the world above their own or their state’s interests. The image he uses to criticize the self-interested and spoilt prince is of the tree that stands apart in a sunlit field, its branches extending outwards in all directions. However, it is ironic that it is precisely this romantic image that is found in ancient Egypt for the happy man, providing ample shelter and plentiful fruit.

The existence of absolute principles, even without the insistence on absolute content, is still a questionable proposition. Does Kant really respect the dignity of difference, that “chaqu’un a son goût”? He sees a unity in religion and does not find the corresponding diversity problematic, so it is perhaps in the same light of universality that we should view his project of education. And then, at the age of sixteen, Kant sees the educated as attaining the potential paternal role of educators themselves. But we would rather consider education as an on-going life-long process, allowing for the continuing malleability of character and knowledge beyond mere childhood. Or is the cake baked by sixteen and we may enjoy the taste of our education and live happily after?… in God, through the wisdom of pure and practical reason… thanks to Kant!


  1. He speaks very well

    Animals do educate their children usually to survive as well as they can.
    Makes you wonder what kind of education should we obtain in order to make our lives a success (don't mean just money as success).
    Where can we get an education to prepare ourself to cope with life’s problems?
    Many, both young and old, extol the importance of an academic education. Some experts even say that they “fully believe that you will never be able to find a [decent] job without a college degree. Yet, there are a number of human needs that go beyond material achievements. For instance, does higher learning help you to be a good parent, mate, or friend?

    "education as an on-going life-long process," I agree
    I liked the Gardener eulogy--we know a garden left wild and unweeded often goes to ruin. I think we too need to plant as well as de-weed our minds and environment to keep us growing as healthy as possible. To do that we need to learn to reason within ourselves as he pointed out

    Nice food for thought post

  2. Thanks Nancy! "private individuals and extends outwards from there" :)

    Had, I've heard you use the gardener analogy yourself. :^) But actually I pinched it from someone else, and it's a very good metaphor for explaining Kant's thinking.

    The point Kant makes about instinct is particularly interesting. Animals seem to be born with a lot more "innate intelligence". They aren't quite as stupid as humans. Even the very young have natural survival instincts. Hana [hanakia] would claim that man does have instinct also! But somehow it's buried very deep within us, and for most is inaccessible... so we rely on reason, on intelligence, which takes longer to develop. For Kant, it seems God is the God of Reason. I know for sure many would disagree with that, but at some level it does sound reason-able...:)

  3. oops--should check my writing--analogy. Whew don't tell the English net cop.

    Does seem the animals have more smarts in some ways. Some humans I think it must be very buried, And they walk among us too as normal.

    I agree it does sound more reasonable than many things. Products of design -Science would say.

    I do like comparing life to gardens and with animals-and do so often. We can learn from nature.

    Good post. Was interesting.

  4. Thanks Had!

    And I didn't actually notice the Freudian slip. Subconsciously, you were praising the gardener. :) The only problem I have with the gardener analogy is that it suggests at some level a separation between nature and that which tends to nature... and so I think at a higher level, it's really important to see the gardener too as part of nature, as fulfilling a purpose within a grander scheme, so "natural in God". If we don't accept the gardener as part of nature, then I see two possibilities. The first is we end up seeing nature as lacking inherent goodness and needing to be corrected (by the external force of the gardener) and then why should the gardener not himself/herself need to be corrected by a greater gardener and so on, so truth and goodness become entirely subjective, and there is no "ultimate". I find this unsatisfactory. The second possibility is that we do accept the inherent goodness of nature, and therefore we conclude that the best thing that a gardener can do is to let nature be. I can see from your previous comment that you don't like that (very Daoist and certainly libertarian) idea, but there are many instances in political history where great leaders were the ones who "let the people be" (the development of Hong Kong is a good example of the last century). Having said that, I don't completely agree with this idea either, else we might as well have "no gardener"...

    ...which in summary, is why I like the "natural in God" idea i.e. natural within the ultimate scheme of things. Within this scheme, the gardener fulfills their purpose which is to tend to the garden for the best good of the garden as nature intended. This means the gardener has their own concepts of goodness and beauty, which come from within and may not agree with others. Thus, in conclusion, despite the apparent "negative first" of the gardener getting rid of all that does not fulfill their ideals of goodness and beauty, personally I see that as saying that in an abstract form, those positive ideals still exist first and pre-exist any negative actions...

    That might sound terribly abstruse, so here's a concrete example...

    Example: suppose the people in some country are really unhappy with their leaders and want to change the system in their country to make things better... lol... mentioning no names. The negative approach is to say "No!" to their leaders. This is a very powerful and unified voice. If you look behind the "No!" you will find the positive, but it will have different shades of colour and emphasis depending on the person. It will often be more abstract also, a knowing that things can be done better without necessarily the concrete plans for how they might be. It is the abstract thought of "Yes!" e.g. yes to peace, that comes before the concrete action of "No!" e.g. don't send our troops to war. Which "comes first"? The Yes!, it seems, comes first in Thought, but the No! comes first in Action!!

    For a more spiritual example, think of the "via negativa"
    I haven't read this yet, but in summary it's the putting aside all the obstacles that obscure God, i.e. the removal of addictions and idols, as the only way to God. But the positive "thought" of God comes first (abstractly, else it too becomes an idol). So it seems to fit the same pattern I was proposing.

  5. Very well said.!! Yes I see more now----Always learning.(I hope)

    Enjoyed the read on the link-interesting

    One mussing I have(well one that I will mention right now-lol)--your comment:

    Example: suppose the people in some country are really unhappy with their leaders and want to change the system in their country to make things better... lol... mentioning no names. The negative approach is to say "No!" to their leaders...................................................Yes

    There is a small group called the Amish. They don't depend on the government although they live under them too. In history, a town about 500 hundred came together, Unhappy with how poor things have become where they were at. They had so very little to begin anew, And how they couldn't worship as they wanted. So these 500 started building-one by one in turns on everything for each other-but all together.They lived in tents to begin with. They each planted and helped their neighbor plant by turns. They taught each other skills they knew, wood burning, carpentry, horse care, farming, candle making , blanket making. child care, fires, gardening, herbs, educating, etc. They sold their goods and were taught to used the money well. Some was theirs of course but the share what you could principle was well laid with-in them. They came together as they could to worship in their own homes (taking turns--they had no meeting place as yet but were building one together) and making plans for the whole and well as the one. Needs were addressed and met. Men took on the more heavy labor-but women took on the rest and to meet the labors needs as well. There were things they could help in doing. If you couldn't eat than you were given a place till they could help you till your plot and raise your own food. If you were sick another would tend to you and your home and land needs. This town today is very Amish. Where many live and raise their children and give them the starts they need. People often travel to see how they live. Quaint we think.
    To think a Church (or temple--or in this case just a home to meet) actually help their spiritual brothers or sisters. Not by demands of others to meet their needs but by putting their needs upon themselves.
    The thing that got me thinking--not once did they demand that the government solve their problems. It rarely does . Instead they said we have enough people (as few as they were) we can work together and changed some things. Build not demand or whine how terrible things are. And that they did and still do to this day.And many will tell you they lead a good life that many admire. There are not many as many pursue things a different way.
    But I wonder if we are not missing a lesson there? Especially when so many come together. When there are so many meeting places, temples, churches, people--why are they not helping them, telling them, teaching them how to help the other to build more rather than encouraging demand?

    Which goes to this post--the right kind of teaching.
    I don't believe it's money or raising their standard of living that everyone seems to think they need, ( still being depended) -certainly many in the world are very poor -even uneducated who live happy and content and respectful among themselves under the worst of conditions too.

    Your post says--"instruction and guidance, the former educating for school and the latter educating for life'
    I think we have a great lack of the the later"-good "guidance

    Just mussing some on good education-sorry if I ventured out some--I do that at times

  6. I didn't get round to replying to your comment Had, but I read and very much appreciated it. The example you gave of the Amish is very instructive. That which breaks with the "established system" need not be seen as a threat. Many negative examples can be given, but the Amish show a positive example of something that is not swallowed up within the whole and yet happily co-exists. When there's "idolatory of the system", we find individuals suffer for the sake of the imaginary "whole".

    In dictatorships, then all kinds of actions are justified in the name of stability and security of the dictator. Any threat or disagreement with the dictator is Unacceptable. In capitalist democracy, we find the stability of the capitalist system is much more important than the democracy, so banks are bailed out and foreign intervention to save from bankruptcy are accepted though there might not be popular approval. I'm not judging this, by the way, merely observing that the recent financial crisis revealed a lot about what we consider Unacceptable. What a society considers Unacceptable is something very interesting! At the cost equal to our entire debt, we bailed out the banks... and probably rightly... but it makes you think:

    What else should be Unnacceptable? What else should we put all the resources at our disposal to put an end to?

    If you ask that question to most people, the first answers you get are unlikely to be... the financial system, though of course, this is crucial. But, first for most people would be slavery, poverty, hunger, cruelty... etc....

  7. Interesting. Dang, You make me think--lol
    I would have liked you as a school chum. I like you now though, so that is a contentment.

    Your question;
    "What else should be Unnacceptable? What else should we put all the resources at our disposal to put an end to?"

    Need or Want--What is enough for people?

    WHEN birds wake up in the morning, they often chirp for a while and then fly off in search of food. In the evening, they return to their roosts, chirp a little more, and go to sleep. In certain seasons they mate, lay eggs, and raise their young who follow their example. Other animals follow a similarly predictable pattern.

    We humans are different. True, we eat, sleep, and reproduce, but most of us are not content with just those things. (needs) We have wants. We want to know why we are here. We seek meaning in our lives, even in stuff. We also desire a hope for the future, something to look forward too. These deeper needs point to a quality that is unique to humankind—a spirituality of a sorts, or the need and capacity for spiritual,- learning and material things to go with our needs.

    "you ask that question to most people, the first answers you get are unlikely to be... the financial system, though of course, this is crucial. But, first for most people would be slavery, poverty, hunger, cruelty... etc.... "

    Hmm I wonder if they had those things in order would it really be enough for" most" as the world is today?

    Interesting post-enjoyed it much and the exchanged of thoughts

  8. Lol, of course this isn't "enough"... we want to reach for the stars... literally! I think that's great btw.

    I'm just asking what as a society we consider as our absolute priorities, but in the negative sense. If it came down to our last pound, what would we spend it on? Most people would use it to feed themselves another day... So, as a society, to end starvation, free people from slavery and treat people, animals and our environment with dignity. If it's not our priority, then no wonder we can never achieve it!

    But you were thinking more from the positive perspective, which is a very different question... if I gave you a pound more, what would you spend it on? And of course, you would use it to reach for the stars!

    I'm wrong to phrase it in terms of money though... so rather, the negative becomes: when there is nothing we can do, we honour this moment, and how could we enjoy people and the world unless we give some minimum level of respect, and do what we can to end suffering. And from the positive side, when we are granted openness and possibilty, we honour the responsibility of our choice, reach for the stars, and spread the joy!

    :^) always happy to make people think... it's my way of helping me think... but without ever holding thoughts too tightly.

  9. I believe you are right. So need would win out -rather slave or freeman- Food, water, health we would spend all on for another day rather our lives or children or love(clothes could go too -sheeze and I didn't want to run around Buck Naked. )

    Thank you I think that makes for a conclusion of sorts

  10. As an individual, food, health & yes even clothing are very important (don't want you catching a cold). So it seems obvious that the same are priorites for society also. Once the basic needs are met, then we can become fully human. Civilization started once the nomads settled down etc. ... and these are positive needs, but what seems curious to me about humans unlike animals is that from these positive concepts we then derive negative ones which we need protection from: protection from starvation, disease, etc. As Kant said in his original article, animals seem to have natural instincts, instincts for self-preservation that they don't need protection from themselves. So why the focus of the human on the negative: human rights (protection from starvation, cruelty etc.), freedom (which is almost always freedom from some authority that threatens us), etc. Why is man so lacking and vulnerable from his "natural estate"... it takes a lot of work to feed 7 billion people!

    I have lots more thoughts spinning around actually... back later if I can sort them out.

    But see you next time, whenever that be... and have a great week!