"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Emboldened Mischief-Makers, Part Four

And lastly, Part Four of "Emboldened Mischief-Makers."

Part One
Part Two
Part Three

It may be hard to believe but I started all of this (the first shall be the last) because I wanted to share a little bit of mischief from a student's pen who attended the Dixwell Preparatory School in Cambridge, MA, graduating in 1855.  (The student is 16-years-old.)

"What is your favorite virtue? Do you select it, because you delight to practice it, or  because you think you need it, or because you have seen it beautifully exemplified in a Friend?"

(No scantron question this!)

"Here the simple question is put to me.  No prevarication, no equivocation will do.  I am not asked to state what my favorite virtue ought to be, nor upon what one I can write the best theme, but, with my hand upon my heart, to tell what it is.

"I have no favorite virtue.  A regular oration, with its Exordium, Proposition, Explication, Arguments, Pathetic Parts, and Conclusion, would hardly add to the strength of this assertion.  I shall take the liberty, therefore, since a theme must be written, of attempting to show that no one ought to have a favorite virtue, and that favoritism is as bad in morals as anywhere else.

"In the first place, then, there are different ways of understanding the words, "your favorite."  If they signify that which is liked best, disregarding its moral claims (of course, the only claims of virtue, as such), the question is answered, at once; for we ought not to disregard the moral claims of virtues in deciding which we like the best.  But if the words mean "which virtue is it your opinion, has the most claim to be liked?", a doubt arises as to the meaning of the word, virtue.

"For there are two kinds of virtues--moral states, and moral acts of the soul.  Of the virtues of the first kind, it is not a matter of opinion, which has the most moral claim, (as I shall show below) and therefore it is not a matter for favoritism;--we might as well have a favorite between the dollar and the dime.

"If, then, the other kind is intended, I wish to inquire, in what the moral claim of an act upon our admiration consists.  Does it lie in the origin of the act, in the act itself of the soul, or in its effect?

"The effects of acts have only intellectual claim, for morality does not deal in effects; and acts, in themselves considered, have only an aesthetical claim, for the same act may be moral and immoral, instructive & deceptive, politic & impolitic, in different circumstances.  It is only the origin of acts, then, which have a moral claim.  And what is the origin of acts but states of the soul?  And as to these, there abide, Faith, Hope, Charity--these three--and the greatest of these is charity.

Having thus accurately--and arrogantly--called his teacher stupid for asking a silly question and then concluding with a sophistical twist of phrase that he deserved charity for doing so, Peirce expressed his contempt for the majority of his...education.  (Brent, Joseph. Charles Sanders Peirce: A Life. 55-56.)

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