Friday, May 30, 2014

The Way of Reason

18. The way of reason: We teach children, too, not to 'lean (too confidently) to their own understanding'; because the function of reason is to give logical demonstration (a) of mathematical truth, (b) of an initial idea, accepted by the will. In the former case, reason is, practically, an infallible guide, but in the latter, it is not always a safe one; for, whether that idea be right or wrong, reason will confirm it by irrefragable proofs. - Charlotte Mason, Volume 6
 Charlotte Mason suggested two guides to "moral and intellectual self-management": 'the way of the will' and 'the way of the reason.'  Teaching a child to recognize and use the strength of his own will power allows him to manage his thinking and behavior.  Teaching a child to recognize and beware the limitations of reason helps him to avoid being deceived by his own mind.

Reason can be a powerful tool.  But when reason is used to provide support for an idea, it can find support for any idea we choose.  We cannot rely on reason to be our guide because reason will prove anything we want.  If you've ever participated in debate competitions, this should be obvious.  Give an experienced debater any side of any argument, and that person will produce convincing arguments to prove that side.  Switch the sides, and the same person will produce equally convincing arguments for the opposite position.

Reason alone provides unreliable guidance when we're evaluating ideas.  We need our reason, but we must not trust too fully in it. 

In these days when Reason is deified by the unlearned and plays the part of the Lord of Misrule it is necessary that every child should be trained to recognize fallacious reasoning and above all to know that a man's reason is his servant and not his master; that there is no notion a man chooses to receive which his reason will not justify, whether it be mistrust of his neighbour, jealousy of his wife, doubts about his religion, or contempt for his country. - Charlotte Mason, Volume 6, p. 55
To avoid falling prey to the deceptions of reason, we should a) train the child "to recognize fallacious reasoning" and b) teach the child "to know that a man's reason is his servant and not his master."
The prescription?  "[A] liberal education which affords a wide field for reflection and comparison and abundant data upon which to found sound judgments."  History, learned well, should show the limits of reason.  Watching as figures in the history tales make foolish or wicked choices because they allowed their reason to convince them of what their judgment should have warned them against helps children see the wreckage that misused reason leaves behind.  Great literature also demonstrates this truth. As these incidents, historical and fictional, come up in the readings and later discussions, the fallacies should become evident.  Occasionally it might be helpful for the teacher to point out a particular fallacy directly.

The history of science also demonstrates this truth.  Reason affords scientists a great resource in uncovering truths about the world in which we live.  But reason also sometimes leads them astray, following convincing evidence and lines of reasoning down paths that later we can clearly see to have been false.  Children need to see this so that they can understand that, while scientific exploration makes significant accomplishments, the findings of such explorations are not infallible, no matter how convincing the arguments in favor of a particular finding might be.

In this gentle, steady way, children can learn to put reason in its rightful place, a servant rather than a master.

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