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Some Thoughts Concerning Education

John Locke

100–115: Temperaments

95–99: As Child Gets Older

115–122: Cowardice, Cruelty, Curiosity

Locke now turns to the topic of temperaments in more detail. He runs through some of the more common temperaments found in children (mostly negative ones) and gives advice on how best to deal with these.

The first inclination that he considers is one that he believes nearly all children share. It is a love of dominion and power. This temperament, Locke asserts, is the cause of nearly all injustice and contention in the world. Therefore, it is very imp ortant that it be eliminated early. He brings forward two pieces of evidence to bolster the claim that all children love dominion. First of all, he points out, all children cry and grow peevish for the mere purpose of having their way. They love, in other words, to have other people submit to their desires. In addition, all children are proprietary and possessive. As anyone who has been around children must have noticed, they love to say "mine".

Locke has several ideas about how to counteract this temperament. First, a child can never be permitted to ask for something specifically by name. He can say, "I am hungry", but he cannot say, "I want a plum". Or rather, he cannot ask for things by name u ntil he is old enough to be asking based on reason and discretion. (The only exception is in the case of recreation; they can ask for specific toys and games by name.) Second, a child must be rewarded for acting deferential, complaisant, and civil towar d all other children. Once they see that this behavior earns them love and esteem and that they do not lose anything by it, they will actually come to prefer this sort of behavior to domineering. Relatedly, a child must be encouraged to share. He should b e led to the conclusion that the most generous person always has the most to choose from (because then everyone shares with him). Extra care must be taken that the child never lose anything by being generous, because this would naturally encourage covetou sness, which is the root of all evil.

The best way to encourage a sense of justice is also by encouraging generosity, since it is impossible to understand what injustice is until you understand the concept of property. If however, a child does behave unjustly (i.e. by taking something that is not his)then the father or tutor must react by taking away something that belongs to the child. This will teach the child that it makes no sense to behave unjustly since there will always stronger men in the world than you, and others can always join for ces against you.

Closely related to the issue of dominion, is the issue of crying. Locke says that crying cannot be tolerated. He breaks crying down into two sorts. One sort of crying is a sign of stubbornness and domineering. It is an attempt to impose your will upon oth ers. The other sort of crying is a querulouslness and whining. The first sort of crying cannot be tolerated because it encourages inclinations that we want to subdue: namely the indulgence of their desires. If a child goes away crying, he is confirming to himself the legitimacy of his desire, and resolving to satisfy that desire as soon as he gets the chance. The way to prevent this sort of crying is to react to it with a severe look, disapproving words, or, if it comes to the point of obstinacy, blows.

The second sort of crying cannot be tolerated because it only makes the child feel worse for himself. Though a parent should show compassion for every little pain, he should not do so through pity. The child needs to be hardened against suffering. The way to put an end to this sort of crying is to divert the child's thoughts in whatever way is most appropriate (either by laughing, teasing, or whatever best suits his temperament and mood).

Analysis

Locke makes two sweeping claims in his discussion of dominion. The first is that dominion is the root of all injustice and contention. The second is that covetousness (which is a particular aspect of the desire for dominion) is the root of all evil. B oth of these claims make more sense when placed in the context of Locke's political theory, in particular as it is spelled out in the ##Second Treatise of Government##.

Locke's political theory is a version of the social contract model of political justification. He begins by describing what is called a "state of nature", which is simply the state that human beings would be in if there were no such thing as government. D rawing on this description, he then shows that, if any of us were in this state, we would all choose to have a certain sort of government(an agency government in which the ruler can only remain in power so long as he is acting in the peoples' best interes t). This sort of government, then, is justified to all people, because we would all choose it were we in a state of nature.

Locke believes in God-given natural laws, with the most basic one being the duty to protect all of God's creatures. Because of these natural laws, the state of nature which Locke describes is not such a terrible place. It is not, for instance, the fre e-for-all, amoral chaos of Thomas Hobbes' state of nature in ##Leviathan##. Locke's state of nature has morality built into it because of the natural laws; people in a state of nature have duties to one another, including the duty to respect one another's life and property.

If the state of nature were so perfect, we would not need a government at all. The problem with the state of nature stems from the lust for dominion, in particular from covetousness. Locke thinks that the right to own property is one of the basic rights i n the state of nature. People need to be able to take things out of common property in order to survive. If we could not, for instance, pluck a piece of fruit off of a tree and eat it, then we would all starve to death. Obviously God would not want his ch ildren to starve to death, and so we have a natural right to own property. We also have a natural right to punish those who violate other people's natural rights (those who try to hold dominion or act on covetous desires). This, though, is where the probl ems come in. In a state of nature we are all left on our own to judge, sentence, and administer punishment. This is not a tenable situation. First of all, we cannot be trusted to judge objectively when we ourselves have been wronged. Second of all, if we judge and sentence too harshly then we ourselves have done wrong and can be judged and sentenced. This will lead to never-ending feuds. Finally, certain very powerful, well-connected people can protect themselves so thoroughly that they are immune to retr ibution; no one will be able to administer their punishment. We need a government, therefore, to act as a central authority responsible for judging, sentencing, and administering punishment. In other words, we need a government for the sole purpose of pro tecting our property (both in our person and in our possessions).

With this picture of society in mind, let us return to Locke's two claims. The first is that the inclination toward dominion is the source of all injustice and contention. Based on Locke's description of the state of nature, we can see why he would make t his claim. Without the inclination toward dominion, the state of nature would be a perfect place, with everyone respecting everyone else's God-given natural rights. What forces people to violate those rights is, to a certain extent, the desire to assert o ne's own power, and, much more frequently, a bare greed. This brings us to Locke's second claim, that covetousness is the root of all evil. What makes the state of nature so intolerable that we feel we must give over some of our rights to a government, is covetousness; people cannot be expected to respect each others' property.

Of course, when Locke says that dominion and covetousness are the sources of all things bad, he is not just saying that they are the factors that make a state of nature untenable. He is also saying that even in a civil society (a society with a central go vernment) these remain the sources of all evil. Government, as we saw, is created in his view specifically to combat these inclinations. Government exists primarily as a police force to punish and prevent acts of dominion and covetousness. Whether Locke i s right or not in claiming that these two inclinations are the source of all of society's ills is an open question (we will return to it in the next section, with the discussion of cruelty); his Second Treatise of Government, though, provides an in -depth argument for these claim.

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