Condensed Volume 6 Book 1 Chapter 9


 2.—THE WAY OF THE REASON


          We should teach children, also, not to lean (too confidently) unto their own understanding because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration of (a) mathematical truth and (b) of initial ideas accepted by the will. In the former case reason is, perhaps, an infallible guide but in the latter is not always a safe one, for whether the initial idea be right or wrong reason will confirm it by irrefragible proofs.     
          Therefore children should be taught as they become mature enough to understand such teaching that the chief responsibility which rests upon them as persons is the acceptance or rejection of ideas presented to them. To help them in this choice we should afford them principles of conduct and a wide range of fitting knowledge.

Commonly we let reason do its work without attention on our part, but there come moments when we stand in startled admiration and watch the unfolding before us point by point of a score of arguments in favour of this carpet as against that, this route in preference to the other, our chosen chum as against Bob Brown; because every pro suggested by our reason is opposed to some con in the background. How else should it happen that there is no single point upon which two persons may reason,—food, dress, games, education, politics, religion,—but the two may take opposite sides, and each will bring forward infallible proofs which must convince the other were it not that he too is already convinced by stronger proofs to
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strengthen his own argument.

But it is not only great intellectual advances and discoveries or world-shaping events for good or evil, that exhibit the persuasive power of reason. There is no object in use, great or small, upon which some man’s reason has not worked exhaustively. A sofa, a chest of drawers, a ship, a box of toy soldiers, have all been thought out step by step, and the inventor has not only considered the pros but has so far overcome the cons that his invention is there, ready for use; and only here and there does anyone take the trouble to consider how the useful, or, perhaps, beautiful article came into existence. It is worth while to ask a child, How did you think of it? when he comes to tell you of a new game he has invented, a new country of the imagination he has named, peopled and governed. He will probably tell you what first ‘put it into his head’ and then how the reasons one after another came to him. After,—How did you think of it?—the next question that will occur to a child is,
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—How did he think of it ?—and he will distinguish between the first notion that has ‘put it into his head’ and the reasoned steps which have gone to the completion of an object, the discovery of a planet, the making of a law. Sometimes a child should be taken into the psychology of crime, and he will see that reason brings infallible proofs of the rightness of the criminal act. From Cain to the latest great offender every criminal act has been justified by reasoned arguments which come of their own accord to the criminal. We know the arguments before which Eve fell when the Serpent played the part of the ‘weird Sisters.’ [from Macbeth] It is pleasant to the eye; it is good for food; it shall make you wise in the knowledge of good and evil—good and convincing arguments, specious enough to overbear the counter-pleadings of Obedience. Children should know that such things are before them also; that whenever they want to do wrong capital reasons for doing the wrong thing will occur to them. But, happily, when they want to do right no less cogent reasons for right doing will appear.
          After abundant practice in reasoning and tracing out the reasons of others, whether in fact or fiction, children may readily be brought to the conclusions that reasonable and right are not synonymous terms; that reason is their servant, not their ruler, one of those servants which help Mansoul in the governance of his kingdom. But no more than appetite, ambition, or the love of ease, is reason to be trusted with the government of a man, much less that of a state; because well-reasoned arguments are brought into play for a wrong course as for a right. He will see that reason works involuntarily; that all the beautiful steps follow one another in his mind without any activity or intention on his own part; but he need never suppose that he was hurried along into evil by thoughts which he could not help, because reason never begins it. It is only when he chooses to think about some
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course or plan, as Eve standing before the apples, that reason comes into play; so, if he chooses to think about a purpose that is good, many excellent reasons will hurry up to support him; but, alas, if he choose to entertain a wrong notion, he, as it were, rings the bell for reason, which enforces his wrong intention with a score of arguments proving that wrong is right.
          A due recognition of the function of reason should be an enormous help to us all in days when the air is full of fallacies,

It is something to recognise that probably no wrong thing has ever been done or said, no crime committed, but has been justified to the perpetrator by arguments coming to him involuntarily and produced with cumulative force by his own reason.

For ourselves and our children it is enough to know that reason will put a good face on any matter we propose; and, that we can prove ourselves to be in the right is no justification for there is absolutely no theory we may receive, no action we may contemplate, which our reason will not affirm.

For a
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nation of logical thinkers, the French made an extraordinary faux-pas when they elected the Goddess of Reason to divine honours. But, indeed, perhaps they did it because they are a logical nation; for logic gives us the very formula of reason, and that which is logically proved is not necessarily right.

So we are at the mercy of the doctrinaire in religion, the demagogue in politics, and, dare we say, of the dreamer in science; and we think to save our souls by being in the front rank of opinion in one or the other. But not if we have grown up cognisant of the beauty and wonder of the act of reasoning, and also, of the limitations which attend it.
          We must be able to answer the arguments in the air, not so much by counter reasons as by exposing the fallacies in such arguments and proving on our own part the opposite position. For example, “that very lovable, very exasperating but essentially real, though often wrong-headed enthusiast,” Karl Marx, dominates the socialistic thought of to-day. Point by point, for good or for evil, the Marxian Manifesto of 1848 is coming into force. “For the most advanced countries,” we are told, “the following measures might come into very general application.”
[Here Charlotte gives 10 points of Marx/Communist philosophy and the fallacies within them]

But they must follow arguments and detect fallacies for themselves. Reason like the other powers of the mind, requires material to work upon whether embalmed in history and literature, or afloat with the news of a strike or uprising. It is madness to let children face a debatable world with only, say, a mathematical preparation. If our business were to train their power of reasoning, such a training would no doubt be of service; but the power is there already, and only wants material to work upon.
          This caution must be borne in mind. Reason, like all other properties of a person, is subject to habit and works upon the material it is accustomed to handle.
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          What are we to do? Are we to waste time in discussing with children every idle and blasphemous proposition that comes their way? Surely not. But we may help them to principles which should enable them to discern these two characters for themselves.

Children should be brought up, too, to perceive that a miracle is not less a miracle because it occurs so constantly and regularly that we call it a law; that sap rises in a tree, that a boy is born with his uncle’s eyes, that an answer that we can perceive comes to our serious prayers; these things are not the less miracles because they happen frequently or invariably, and because we have ceased to wonder about them. No doubt so did the people of Jerusalem when our Lord performed many miracles in their streets.

When children perceive that,—“My Father worketh hitherto and I work ”—is the law which orders nations and individuals: that “My spirit shall not always strive with man,” is an awful warning to every people and every person; that to hinder the mis-doing, encourage the well-doing of men and nations is incessant labour, the work of the Father and the Son:—to a
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child who perceives these things miracles will not be matters of supreme moment because all life will be for him matter for wonder and adoration.

Children must know that we cannot prove any of the great things of life, not even that we ourselves live; but we must rely upon that which we know without demonstration.

Once we are convinced of the fallibility of our own reason we are able to detect the fallacies in the reasoning of our opponents and are not liable to be carried away by every wind of doctrine. Every mother knows how intensely reasonable a child is and how difficult it is to answer his quite logical and foolishly wrong conclusions. So we
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need not be deterred from dealing with serious matters with these young neophytes, but only as the occasion occurs; we may not run the risk of boring them with the great questions of life while it is our business to send them forth assured.

Yet few children take pleasure in Grammar, especially in English Grammar, which depends so little on inflexion. Arithmetic, again, Mathematics, appeal only to a small percentage of a class or school, and, for the rest, however intelligent, its problems are baffling to the end, though they may take delight in reasoning out problems of life in literature or history.
our business is to provide abundant material upon which this supreme power should work; and that whatever development occurs comes with practice in congenial fields of thought. At the same time we may not let children neglect either of these delightful studies. The time will come when they will delight in words, the beauty and propriety of words; when they will see that words are consecrated as the vehicle of truth and are not to be carelessly tampered with in statement or mutilated in form;

From this point of view, of immutable law, children should approach Mathematics;

Mathematics are delightful to the mind of man which revels in the perception of law, which may even go forth guessing at a new law until it discover that law; but not every boy can be a champion prize-fighter, nor can every boy ‘stand up’ to Mathematics. Therefore perhaps the business of teachers is to open as many doors as possible in the belief that Mathematics is one out of many studies which make for education

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