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Some Thoughts Concerning Education

John Locke

95–99: As Child Gets Older

88–94: The Tutor

95–99: As Child Gets Older, page 2

page 1 of 2


Locke now turns to explore how to alter one's behavior toward an older child. When children are young, remember, it is of the utmost importance that they relate to their parents through fear and awe. This is the proper foundation of the parents' absolute authority. As the child matures, however, and develops his own powers of discernment, he does not have to be under such stern authority from his parents. The child can begin to substitute his own reason for his parents' will. In fact, the parents should cease imposing their own wills altogether once the child is fully matured, since failing to do so will only make the child resent the parent. The relationship needs to alter at this point; instead of relating to his parents though fear and awe, the child should begin to relate through love and reverence. A parents' authority over their grown children, Locke astutely observes, can only persist if the child becomes more afraid of offending so good a friend than of, say, losing their inheritance.

Unfortunately, Locke points out, parents usually reverse the proper order. They are familiar and indulgent with small children, and remote and stern with older children. But it is the small children, who have no rational power of their own, who need a parents' will imposed upon them; a grown child has no need for this, since he is a fully rational creature.

In order to develop a friendship with his maturing son, Locke advises a father to ask the son's business advice whenever possible. This has two advantages. First, it puts serious thoughts into the son's mind. By treating the son like a man, a father speeds up the process of his becoming one. In addition, by treating the son like an equal and showing an openness toward him and confidence in him you make your son into a friend. Whenever the son gives you good advice, Locke adds, be sure to take it. And whenever this advice proves beneficial, be sure to commend him.

A good side effect of this growing trust is that the son will begin to confide his own affairs in his father. This way the father knows what is going on in the son's life. If the son does confide in the father, though, Locke warns that the father must be careful to only advise him as someone more experienced, and not to command. The father should not expect that the son's inclinations are just like his, and he should respect the fact that his son is a rational person.

Just as a father should increase his familiarity with the maturing child, the tutor should as well. Instead of lecturing to child, the tutor should allow the child to speak, and to reason for himself. In this way, the child will come to value knowledge as he sees that it enables him to have his ideas taken seriously. Locke suggests in particular that the tutor ask for his student's judgement of certain case studies on morality, prudence, and breeding.


Locke's advice is not designed with only a good continuing parent-child relationship in mind. The move from fear to love can also play an important role in the development of the child's moral agency. A young child is trained to be motivated by his desire for esteem (and the horror of disgrace) in the eyes of his parents. He must somehow move from this motivation to a motivation by conscience; from an external motivation to an internal one. Locke thinks that this transference from parents to self will take place largely on its own (at least he gives no indication that there is anything further that we can do to encourage it to take place). But the transformation of the parent-child relationship from one based on awe and fear to one based on love and reverence can be seen as helping this other transformation(from external to internal motivation) along.

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