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Locke on Habituation, Autonomy, and Education ALEX NEILL JOHN LOCKE'STREATISESome Thoughts Concerning Education ~ has been largely neglected by philosophers; D. J. O'Connor echoes what has for some time been the accepted view of the work when he suggests that anyone concerned with Locke's philosophical ideas can dispense with his writings on education, which, he says, contain "little of philosophical interest.''~ One philosopher who has not neglected Locke's educational writings is John Passmore, who has discussed the Education in his essay "The Malleability of Man in EighteenthCentury Thought," and in his book The Perfectibility of Man.3 It is my contention , however, that Passmore's treatment of the Education is seriously inadequate , and in fact lends credence to the view that Locke's educational writings contain little that is of interest to those concerned with his epistemology and philosophy of mind. On at least one crucial issue, I shall argue, Passmore misinterprets Locke, leading him to overlook an important philosophical tension which threatens the overall coherence of Locke's account of education, an understanding of which is crucial to an understanding of the account as a whole. As a result, Passmore's account gives us an over-simple picture of I am indebted to David Jennex, Peter Laslett, Marianne Melling, and Peter Schouls for discussions of Locke's writings on education, and for their comments on earlier versions of this paper. I am also grateful to two anonymous Journal of theHistoryofPhilosophyreferees for useful comments. i Reprinted in James L. Axtell, ed., TheEducationalWritingsofJohn Locke(Cambridge University Press, a968). Henceforth E. D. J. O'Connor,John Locke(New York: Dover Publications, 1967), ~o3. 3 John Passmore, "The Malleability of Man in Eighteenth-Century Thought," in E. R. Wasserman , ed., Aspectsof theEighteenthCentury(Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1965); and ThePerfectibility ofMan (London: Duckworth, a97o), chapter 8. Another philosopher who has not neglected Locke's account of education is John Yolton, who has discussed it in some detail in hisJohn Locke and Education (New York: Random House, 1971), and more recently in Locke (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1985). [~5] 926 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 27:2 APRIL 1989 Locke's theory of education. In this paper, I want to identify what I take to be the central problem in Locke's writings on education, and in doing so to indicate that it is a problem which is relevant to his thought in general. My discussion will center on the roles played in Locke's work by the notions of habituation and autonomy, for it is only through a thorough understanding of these notions, I believe, that the tension which threatens the coherence of his writings on education can be resolved. The tension I shall be concerned with in this paper, then, is created by the roles played in Locke's account of education by the notions of habituation and autonomy, and is signalled in the opening section of the Education: Men's Happiness or Misery is most part of their own making.... I think I may say, that of all the Men we meet with, Nine Parts of Ten are what they are, Good or Evil, useful or not, by their Education. 'Tis that which makes the great Difference in Mankind. The little, and almost insensible Impressions on our tender Infancies, have very important and lasting Consequences: And there 'tis, as in the Fountains of some Rivers, where a gentle Application of the Hand turns the flexible Waters into Chanels, that make them quite contrary Courses, and by this little Direction given them at first in the Source, they receivedifferent Tendencies, and arrive at last, at very remote and distant Places. (E, wa) This passage both indicates the importance that Locke placed on education, and suggests a problem that any adequate account of his writings on the subject must attempt to deal with. This problem can be put as follows: Locke's statement that men make their own happiness or misery, which suggests the importance of autonomy, of individual effort and responsibility, seems to be in conflict with the rest of the passage, which suggests that, with the exception of a few who have "Constitutions of Body and Mind so vigorous...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 225-245
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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