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On Education

On Education

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Immanuel Kant believed that education differs from training in that the former involves thinking whereas the latter does not. In addition to educating reason, of central importance to him was the development of character and teaching of moral maxims. Kant was a proponent of public education and of learning by doing.

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ISBN-13: 9781514327807
Publisher: CreateSpace Publishing
Publication date: 06/12/2015
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 90
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.19(d)

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On Education

By Immanuel Kant, Annette Churton

Dover Publications, Inc.

Copyright © 2003 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-486-15507-4



1. MAN is the only being who needs education. For by education we must understand nurture (the tending and feeding of the child), discipline (Zucht), and teaching, together with culture. According to this, man is in succession infant (requiring nursing), child (requiring discipline), and scholar (requiring teaching).

2. Animals use their powers, as soon as they are possessed of them, according to a regular plan—that is, in a way not harmful to themselves.

It is indeed wonderful, for instance, that young swallows, when newly hatched and still blind, are careful not to defile their nests.

Animals therefore need no nurture, but at the most, food, warmth, and guidance, or a kind of protection. It is true, most animals need feeding, but they do not require nurture. For by nurture we mean the tender care and attention which parents must bestow upon their children, so as to prevent them from using their powers in a way which would be harmful to themselves. For instance, should an animal cry when it comes into the world, as children do, it would surely become a prey to wolves and other wild animals, which would gather round, attracted by its cry.

3. Discipline changes animal nature into human nature. Animals are by their instinct all that they ever can be; some other reason has provided everything for them at the outset. But man needs a reason of his own. Having no instinct, he has to work out a plan of conduct for himself. Since, however, he is not able to do this all at once, but comes into the world undeveloped, others have to do it for him.

4. All the natural endowments of mankind must be developed little by little out of man himself, through his own effort.

One generation educates the next. The first beginnings of this process of educating may be looked for either in a rude and unformed, or in a fully developed condition of man. If we assume the latter to have come first, man must at all events afterwards have degenerated and lapsed into barbarism.

It is discipline, which prevents man from being turned aside by his animal impulses from humanity, his appointed end. Discipline, for instance, must restrain him from venturing wildly and rashly into danger. Discipline, thus, is merely negative, its action being to counteract man's natural unruliness. The positive part of education is instruction.

Unruliness consists in independence of law. By discipline men are placed in subjection to the laws of mankind, and brought to feel their constraint. This, however, must be accomplished early. Children, for instance, are first sent to school, not so much with the object of their learning something, but rather that they may become used to sitting still and doing exactly as they are told. And this to the end that in later life they should not wish to put actually and instantly into practice anything that strikes them.

5. The love of freedom is naturally so strong in man, that when once he has grown accustomed to freedom, he will sacrifice everything for its sake. For this very reason discipline must be brought into play very early; for when this has not been done, it is difficult to alter character later in life. Undisciplined men are apt to follow every caprice.

We see this also among savage nations, who, though they may discharge functions for some time like Europeans, yet can never become accustomed to European manners. With them, however, it is not the noble love of freedom which Rousseau and others imagine, but a kind of barbarism—the animal, so to speak, not having yet developed its human nature. Men should therefore accustom themselves early to yield to the commands of reason, for if a man be allowed to follow his own will in his youth, without opposition, a certain lawlessness will cling to him throughout his life. And it is no advantage to such a man that in his youth he has been spared through an over-abundance of motherly tenderness, for later on all the more will he have to face opposition from all sides, and constantly receive rebuffs, as soon as he enters into the business of the world.

It is a common mistake made in the education of those of high rank, that because they are hereafter to become rulers they must on that account receive no opposition in their youth. Owing to his natural love of freedom it is necessary that man should have his natural roughness smoothed down ; with animals, their instinct renders this unnecessary.

6. Man needs nurture and culture. Culture includes discipline and instruction. These, as far as we know, no animal needs, for none of them learn anything from their elders, except birds, who are taught by them to sing; and it is a touching sight to watch the mother bird singing with all her might to her young ones, who, like children at school, stand round and try to produce the same tones out of their tiny throats. In order to convince ourselves that birds do not sing by instinct, but that they are actually taught to sing, it is worth while to make an experiment. Suppose we take away half the eggs from a canary, and put sparrow's eggs in their place, or exchange young sparrows for young canaries; if the young birds are then brought into a room where they cannot hear the sparrows outside, they will learn the canary's song, and we thus get singing sparrows. It is, indeed, very wonderful that each species of bird has its own peculiar song, which is preserved unchanged through all its generations; and the tradition of the song is probably the most faithful in the world.

7. Man can only become man by education. He is merely what education makes of him. It is noticeable that man is only educated by man —that is, by men who have themselves been educated. Hence with some people it is want of discipline and instruction on their own part, which makes them in turn unfit educators of their pupils. Were some being of higher nature than man to undertake our education, we should then be able to see what man might become. It is, however, difficult for us accurately to estimate man's natural capabilities, since some things are imparted to man by education, while other things are only developed by education. Were it possible, by the help of those in high rank, and through the united forces of many people, to make an experiment on this question, we might even by this means be able to gain some information as to the degree of eminence which it is possible for man to attain. But it is as important to the speculative mind, as it is sad to one who loves his fellow-men, to see how those in high rank generally care only for their own concerns, and take no part in the important experiments of education, which bring our nature one step nearer to perfection.

There is no one who, having been neglected in his youth, can come to years of discretion without knowing whether the defect lies in discipline or culture (for so we may call instruction). The uncultivated man is crude, the undisciplined is unruly. Neglect of discipline is a greater evil than neglect of culture, for this last can be remedied later in life, but unruliness cannot be done away with, and a mistake in discipline can never be repaired. It may be that education will be constantly improved, and that each succeeding generation will advance one step towards the perfecting of mankind; for with education is involved the great secret of the perfection of human nature. It is only now that something may be done in this direction, since for the first time people have begun to judge rightly, and understand clearly, what actually belongs to a good education. It is delightful to realise that through education human nature will be continually improved, and brought to such a condition as is worthy of the nature of man. This opens out to us the prospect of a happier human race in the future.

8. The prospect of a theory of education is a glorious ideal, and it matters little if we are not able to realise it at once. Only we must not look upon the idea as chimerical, nor decry it as a beautiful dream, notwithstanding the difficulties that stand in the way of its realisation.

An idea is nothing else than the conception of a perfection which has not yet been experienced. For instance, the idea of a perfect republic governed by principles of justice—is such an idea impossible, because it has not yet been experienced ?

Our idea must in the first place be correct, and then, notwithstanding all the hindrances that still stand in the way of its realisation, it is not at all impossible. Suppose, for instance, lying to become universal, would truth-speaking on that account become nothing but a whim? And the idea of an education which will develop all man's natural gifts is certainly a true one.

9. Under the present educational system man does not fully attain to the object of his being; for in what various ways men live! Uniformity can only result when all men act according to the same principles, which principles would have to become with them a second nature. What we can do is to work out a scheme of education better suited to further its objects, and hand down to posterity directions as to how this scheme may be carried into practice, so that they might be able to realise it gradually. Take the auricula as an example. When raised from a root this plant bears flowers of one colour only; when raised from seed, the flowers are of the most varied colours. Nature has placed these manifold germs in the plant, and their development is only a question of proper sowing and planting. Thus it is with man.

10. There are many germs lying undeveloped in man. It is for us to make these germs grow, by developing his natural gifts in their due proportion, and to see that he fulfils his destiny. Animals accomplish this for themselves unconsciously. Man must strive to attain it, but this he cannot do if he has not even a conception as to the object of his existence. For the individual it is absolutely impossible to attain this object. Let us suppose the first parents to have been fully developed, and see how they educate their children. These first parents set their children an example, which the children imitate and in this way develop some of their own natural gifts. All their gifts cannot, however, be developed in this way, for it all depends on occasional circumstances what examples children see. In times past men had no conception of the perfection to which human nature might attain—even now we have not a very clear idea of the matter. This much, however, is certain : that no individual man, no matter what degree of culture may be reached by his pupils, can insure their attaining their destiny. To succeed in this, not the work of a few individuals only is necessary, but that of the whole human race.

11. Education is an art which can only become perfect through the practice of many generations. Each generation, provided with the knowledge of the foregoing one, is able more and more to bring about an education which shall develop man's natural gifts in their due proportion and in relation to their end, and thus advance the whole human race towards its destiny. Providence has willed, that man shall bring forth for himself the good that lies hidden in his nature, and has spoken, as it were, thus to man: ' Go forth into the world! I have equipped thee with every tendency towards the good. Thy part let it be to develop those tendencies. Thy happiness and unhappiness depend upon thyself alone.'

12. Man must develop his tendency towards the good. Providence has not placed goodness ready formed in him, but merely as a tendency and without the distinction of moral law. Man's duty is to improve himself; to cultivate his mind; and, when he finds himself going astray, to bring the moral law to bear upon himself. Upon reflection we shall find this very difficult. Hence the greatest and most difficult problem to which man can devote himself is the problem of education. For insight depends on education, and education in its turn depends on insight. It follows therefore that education can only advance by slow degrees, and a true conception of the method of education can only arise when one generation transmits to the next its stores of experience and knowledge, each generation adding something of its own before transmitting them to the following. What vast culture and experience does not this conception presuppose? It could only be arrived at at a late stage, and we ourselves have not fully realised this conception. The question arises, Should we in the education of the individual imitate the course followed by the education of the human race through its successive generations?

There are two human inventions which may be considered more difficult than any others— the art of government, and the art of education; and people still contend as to their very meaning.

13. But in developing human talents where are we to take our stand? Shall we begin with a rude, or with an already developed state of society?

It is difficult to conceive a development from a state of rudeness (hence it is so difficult to understand what the first man was like), and we see that in a development out of such a condition man has invariably fallen back again into that condition, and has raised himself out of it. In the earliest records of even very civilised nations we still find a distinct taint of barbarism, and yet how much culture is presupposed for mere writing to be possible! So much so that, with regard to civilised people, the beginning of the art of writing might be called the beginning of the world.

14. Since the development of man's natural gifts does not take place of itself, all education is an art. Nature has placed no instinct in him for that purpose. The origin as well as the carrying out of this art is either mechanical and without plan, ruled by given circumstances, or it involves the exercise of judgment. The art of education is only then mechanical, when on chance occasions we learn by experience whether anything is useful or harmful to man. All education which is merely mechanical must carry with it many mistakes and deficiencies, because it has no sure principle to work upon. If education is to develop human nature so that it may attain the object of its being, it must involve the exercise of judgment. Educated parents are examples which children use for their guidance. If, however, the children are to progress beyond their parents, education must become a study, otherwise we can hope for nothing from it, and one man whose education has been spoilt will only repeat his own mistakes in trying to educate others. The mechanism of education must be changed into a science, and one generation may have to pull down what another had built up.

15. One principle of education which those men especially who form educational schemes should keep before their eyes is this—children ought to be educated, not for the present, but for a possibly improved condition of man in the future; that is, in a manner which is adapted to the idea of humanity and the whole destiny of man. This principle is of great importance. Parents usually educate their children merely in such a manner that, however bad the world may be, they may adapt themselves to its present conditions. But they ought to give them an education so much better than this, that a better condition of things may thereby be brought about in the future.

16. Here, however, we are met by two difficulties —(a) parents usually only care that their children make their way in the world, and (b) Sovereigns look upon their subjects merely as tools for their own purposes.

Parents care for the home, rulers for the state. Neither have as their aim the universal good and the perfection to which man is destined, and for which he has also a natural disposition. But the basis of a scheme of education must be cosmopolitan. And is, then, the idea of the universal good harmful to us as individuals? Never! for though it may appear that something must be sacrificed by this idea, an advance is also made towards what is the best even for the individual under his present conditions. And then what glorious consequences follow! It is through good education that all the good in the world arises. For this the germs which lie hidden in man need only to be more and more developed; for the rudiments of evil are not to be found in the natural disposition of man. Evil is only the result of nature not being brought under control. In man there are only germs of good.

17. But by whom is the better condition of the world to be brought about? By rulers or by their subjects? Is it by the latter, who shall so improve themselves that they meet half-way the measures for their good which the government might establish? Were it to depend upon rulers, their own education will first have to be improved, for this has for a long time suffered, owing to the great mistake that they have been allowed to meet with no opposition in their youth.


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