Cambridge Essays on Education eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 229 pages of information about Cambridge Essays on Education.

We English for the most part accept this view of education, and we add that the experience of life, or what we call knowledge of the world, is the best school of practical wisdom.  We do not however identify practical wisdom with the life of reason but with that empirical substitute for it which we call common sense.  There is in all classes a deep distrust of ideas, often amounting to what Plato called misologia, “hatred of reason.”  An Englishman, as Bishop Creighton said, not only has no ideas; he hates an idea when he meets one.  We discount the opinion of one who bases his judgment on first principles.  We think that we have observed that in high politics, for example, the only irreparable mistakes are those which are made by logical intellectualists.  We would rather trust our fortunes to an honest opportunist, who sees by a kind of intuition what is the next step to be taken, and cares for no logic except the logic of facts.  Reason, as Aristotle says, “moves nothing”; it can analyse and synthesise given data, but only after isolating them from the living stream of time and change.  It turns a concrete situation into lifeless abstractions, and juggles with counters when it should be observing realities.  Our prejudices against logic as a principle of conduct have been fortified by our national experience.  We are not a quick-witted race; and we have succeeded where others have failed by dint of a kind of instinct for improvising the right course of action, a gift which is mainly the result of certain elementary virtues which we practise without thinking about them, justice, tolerance, and moderation.  These qualities have, we think and think truly, been often wanting in the Latin nations, which pride themselves on lucidity of intellect and logical consistency in obedience to general principles.  Recent philosophy has encouraged these advocates of common sense, who have long been “pragmatists” without knowing it, to profess their faith without shame.  Intellect has been disparaged and instinct has been exalted.  Intuition is a safer guide than reason, we are told; for intuition goes straight to the heart of a situation and has already acted while reason is debating.  Much of this new philosophy is a kind of higher obscurantism; the man in the street applauds Bergson and William James because he dislikes science and logic, and values will, courage and sentiment.  He used to be fond of repeating that Waterloo was won on the playing fields of our public schools, until it was painfully obvious that Colenso and Spion Kop were lost in the same place.  We have muddled through so often that we have come half to believe in a providence which watches over unintelligent virtue.  “Be good, sweet maid, and let who will be clever,” we have said to Britannia.  So we have acquiesced in being the worst educated people west of the Slav frontier.

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