Ferguson, "Educational Rationalization / Sublime Reason"

The Sublime and Education

Educational Rationalization / Sublime Reason

Frances Ferguson, Johns Hopkins University

  1. “Sublimity” and “education”—the words seem almost to define one another by their contrast. All that is “sublime” traffics in the unrestrained; all that is educational involves confinement—both physically, in spaces created for the pupil, and mentally, in intellectual spaces laid out for her by another. And both terms figure so insistently in the writing of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries that they can seem to represent in and of themselves a process of ongoing differentiation in popular consciousness, with freedom appearing on the side of sublimity and regimentation on the side of education, and the two increasingly far removed from one another. Such alignments seem plausible because both sublimity and education represent distinctive and frequently opposed ways of conflating facts with values.

  2. As the language of judgment becomes ever more diffused and expansive in the eighteenth century, discussions of sublimity and education assume prominent roles. They are vehicles for the notion that reports of perceptions are themselves insufficient; they must be shown as part of an evaluative array. We see this in the most basic gestures of Romantic poetry. Thus, Wordsworth introduces the Leech-gatherer not as an old man but as someone who seems “the oldest man . . . that ever wore grey hairs.” What might be the barest observational statement is promoted into a two-pronged claim—that this particular old man is strikingly and unusually old, and that the poet, that “traveller on the moor,” would not have been arrested in his progress if the old man had not been conspicuously and distinctively old. Such descriptions of perceptions are more than merely descriptive; they already carry the privilege of what is judged noteworthy, and gesture towards the undescribed elements against which they are implicitly compared.

  3. But if aesthetic discussions highlight and diffuse such comparative gestures through the most factual accounts, the educational writing that flourishes in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries is itself a schooling in arts of evaluation that are simultaneously directed at the knowledge of academic subjects and the persons who are collected for its production. Pupils, in being awarded constant companions like the tutor in Rousseau's Emile or in assuming a place in one of the monitorial classrooms of Joseph Lancaster and Andrew Bell or the projected Chrestomathic school of Jeremy Bentham, do not merely become auditors and observers. They also become part of the circuit of evaluation. Jane and John both demonstrate what they know about spelling or addition; and they also become objects of comparative knowledge themselves, as they and others can see and know that Jane knows more than John (or vice versa). In the process, they help us to see the importance of Pierre Bourdieu's notion of “a degree of rationalization of what [a communication] transmits.”[1] In his account, this communicative rationalization disambiguates various behaviors that might look similar or identical to an outside observer and that are not, indeed, always readily explicable by the persons who perform them. (A gift, as he observes, might look like an exchange; but the giver of a gift operates with different notions of timing than does the participant in a simple trade. A gift reciprocated too soon or too late is a gift wasted.)[2]

  4. We might well, on another occasion, want to question the extent to which Bourdieu's notion of practical competence—the knowingness of knowing-how—is nearly so fundamentally at odds with Kant and Kant's emphasis on distinctive mental faculties as Bourdieu suggests. For the moment, however, I mean to invoke Bourdieu simply to call attention to a fundamental insight that impels both the anthropological (and generally social scientific) writing and the educational writing of the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries: that what is communicated in social communication is not merely concrete knowledge (of, say, geometry or grammar) but social concepts, a degree of rationalization. Bourdieu, in Distinction, chalks the work of such social concepts up to what he sees as absolutely fundamental—the traffic in distinctions among persons. But educational writing in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries must engage with an obvious distinction of a different sort—that between the (adult) educator and the (child) pupil. And the intensifying awareness of the differences between them—the rationalization that stresses their separability from one another—pushes education increasingly into the realm of critique and method in the search for a common ground that would overcome that basic difference and demonstrate intergenerational education to be possible.

  5. Many accounts of childhood education trace out a progress from stern repression to enlightened indulgence, but in doing so they mischaracterize the phenomenon they describe. That is, they fail to account for the power that children—and especially children collected into groups—come to seem to possess. While they might not know all that their elders might hope to transmit to them, they seemed also to demand a continual review of the worth of that earlier learning and to insist that knowledge speak a new vernacular. For the kind of education that had been rising in importance and influence at least since Locke's Thoughts on Education was progressive. It presented itself as a staged progress for the individual but also for knowledge in general. It continually limned education as an initiation into the process of extending knowledge past what it had been; and, in the process, it created generations as forceful entities that would not so much carry the knowledge of their predecessors but would render it obsolete.

  6. Educational writers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century such as Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Jeremy Bentham depict the importance of time to the acquisition of knowledge itself, and in the process make knowledge look as though it must always be deliberately adjusted to what a pupil can know at a certain stage of development. They expand upon Rousseau's insistence upon the time-value of learning by developing, in Barbauld's case, concepts of the variable nature of the child's capacities and, in Bentham's, a technique for collecting children of similar ages into groups or classes which then become a venue for evaluating the social value of knowledge.[3]

  7. Moreover, while most follow Locke in recommending praise and blame as incentives that adults can offer children, something has happened to the very notion of incentives by the late eighteenth century. Adults may want to reinforce their approval of the correctness of an answer, may want to crown it with a reward. But because these educational schemes are so alert to the variability of the value of both a reward and a deserving answer, progressive education becomes an exercise in continually readjusted values. Thus, one of the most remarkable features of the educational programs I shall be considering is their tendency to say rather little about their own content as such. Thus, educational accomplishment may be channeled into a relatively routine progress (from, say, the learning of letters and numbers to the learning of reading and arithmetic), and each stage may arrange its learners in the ascending file that produces the “head of the class” as the most advanced. But these practical distinctions are continually being rendered obsolete—sometimes even by the next day's new set of discriminations. Their very efficacy in giving a concrete shape to particular rationalizations thus starts yielding a position that is more committed to the notion of progress itself than to the specific products of it. Reason, in other words, usurps the attention that specific rationalizations—particular applications of reason—might occupy.

  8. Necessarians like Joseph Priestley emphasize the ongoing demonstration of the regularity of human choices, and he assimilates the very preferability of one series of choices over others to an idea of progress or perfection (in which he sees nature to have been created whole and entire, so that one makes progress by explicating otherwise indiscernible differences). Priestley explicitly connects what we might think of as purely scientific and educational progress with the sublime. In History of Electricity, he thus describes how the progressive understanding of phenomena like electricity inevitably lead us to the notion of the sublime: “one cannot help forming an idea of an unlimited increase in futurity, which is a prospect really boundless, and sublime.”[4] Thus, the notion that education develops rational capacities by producing a constant series of demonstrations that enact rationalizing activities becomes identical with sublimity, in the form of unbounded practical possibility.

  9. As inspiring as Priestley's account of scientific and educational progress may be, it is precisely such a line of argument that prompted Kant to adopt a completely different account of both education and sublimity.[5] Moral reason, which Kant treats as full-fledged from early childhood and adequate to the tasks it must confront, becomes both anchor and engine for educational improvement, the working definition of the capacity to tell the better from the worse and to choose the better. While Priestley imagines science as a collective and progressive enterprise of unfolding demonstration, Kant sees moral reasoning as setting a limit to the usefulness of such demonstration. Moral thought for him is sublime precisely because it stands in need of no further explication or demonstration. And thus he arrives at the famous Kantian remark that has too often seemed merely lyrical: “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me” (CPrR 5:162, p. 269).

  10. Rousseau's Emile seemed to most educational writers (including Barbauld, Thomas Day, and Maria and Richard Lovell Edgeworth) to enjoin practical education and an emphasis on education as a series of experiments and actions, and thus verged on a nearly purely externalist description of education, with the observation of children themselves rounding out the empirical picture. Against such an empiricist line of thought, Kant has been widely credited with giving an internalist account of aesthetic experience and in arguing that aesthetic judgment tells us more about the capacity for taking an interest in beauty and sublimity than about the actual objects on which such judgment works. Yet the depth of the connection between his account of aesthetic judgment—particularly that of sublimity—and his treatment of education has received scant attention. In the discussion that follows, I shall trace out Barbauld's attempt to locate education in experience and her insight into the difficulties created by judgment itself and Bentham's effort to minimize metaphysical claims in an effort to make social value visible (and to dissipate a variety of moral judgments in the process). Perhaps it is only by seeing the full ingenuity of their efforts to ground education in actuality that we can appreciate Kant's reversal—or wholesale modification—of their thinking. Kant treats practical reason as the basis of education—not because education should retail moral maxims but rather because moral judgment is for him the capacity to cultivate a knowledge that he depicts as untaught. In Emile Rousseau had spoken of outrage at injustice as a moral (and implicitly political) reaction that even an infant might experience; in Kant's writings on practical reason and on education, the capacity to recognize justice occupies a position at least as fundamental and almost as early in its appearance.

    * * *

  11. The notions of sublimity and education developed a particularly strained relationship in Edmund Burke's A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757), with secure educational advancement appearing in the role of antagonist to the novelty and awe connected with the sublime. First, Burke depicted the experience of sublimity as the kind of incontestable contact with greatness that deserves a place in every curriculum, and then he jeopardized the transmissibility of testimony about sublime experience by raising questions about the reliability and availability of an individual's experience—even, or especially, to himself. It is easy to see how this account of the sublime would have run afoul of the notion of education, because education is always engaged in a project of transmission; the autodidact, who appears to operate in seclusion, becomes recognizable as having taught himself only in so far as he arrives at knowledge that intersects with what other people have learned through their experience and their more public acts of reading and writing.

  12. Educational communicability—whether leading individuals to knowledge or drawing knowledge from them—was frustrated by the worry that Burke laid out in the Enquiry that individuals would not continue to be moved by their own experiences. For the inability to continue to feel the values that had once seemed so indubitable in experiences of the sublime amounted to the loss of those values for the individual. “What everyone knows” faded into “what I once knew but what others now know for me.”[6] Despite everything Burke had done to affirm that one recognizes one's own experience unequivocally, he came to treat the strongly definitive character of sublime and beautiful experience as if it were a version of Robinson Crusoe's gold—useless to someone on the desert island of an experience that could no longer be felt but only remembered. One might, he thought, tire of one's experience and, in that sense, become over-educated—not just too well-rehearsed in experiences to do a job that called for only modest skills but so over-experienced as no longer to feel responsive to experience at all. This was the young Burke's version of the kind of skepticism that Kant detected in Humean empiricism (and, indeed, in all forms of empiricism). Boredom. The inability to attend any longer because one feels that one has already encountered all the experiences on offer, and no longer has the reactions that could be taken as reliable measures of objects of experience.

  13. In sorting experiences into those of the sublime and the beautiful, Burke had acknowledged the importance of value. The notions of the sublime and beautiful allowed him not just to talk about experiences as perceptual facts but also to include evaluation in that process. To say that honey was sweet and aloes bitter was for him to find general categories in which to classify them in evaluative groupings. Yet the happy convergence of the two—the sense that experiences and evaluations of them were simultaneous and united—ended in the moment that experience came to seem equivocal or stale. One point of the desire to classify objects as sublime and beautiful was scientific—knowing where to turn for an experience of the sublime, say, because one had identified particular objects as reliably producing sublime experiences. From this standpoint, a perception of the sublime was supposed both to be an experience and an incentive for other experiences of sublimity. But Burke's sense of the staling of experience ruptured its self-reinforcing quality. Other motives came to be necessary, and so society—along with God's providential interest in the perpetuation of the human race and in the contribution that individual ambition makes to the common good—came to stand as the justification for the experiences that we no longer have but remember having had in the sweet spot of our lives when our senses had appeared to judge the world aright. In his own version of the argument from design, Burke thus undermines the notion of a progressive education by transferring the benefits of learned experience from individuals to societal interests. Experiences, that is, recruit individuals for societal aims, and the individuals who lose intense feeling then become vehicles for interests that seem personally remote but conceptually available—the providentially arranged society.

  14. While Burke presented experience as a process of continual sorting into the types of sublimity and beauty, his ideal experiential subject appeared to be a man recently arrived at maturity, someone old enough to know how to register his experiences and young enough not to be jaded. Thus, he described a temporal arc from “the morning of our days,” but showed no interest in the idea of accommodating experience to people at different phases of their lives. And it was that aspect of the project of education—the delivery of experience in units that were age-appropriate—that assumed centrality in the educational writings that were ever more frequently written in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. In Emile, published in 1762 shortly after Burke's Enquiry of 1757, Rousseau would try to harness the experience of a child to a carefully staged progress, and to make education a process of moving from the most obviously sensory experiences (such as the heat of a stove and the burn it causes) to social concepts (such as the idea of property). Experience, on Rousseau's account, can teach that property must be an implicit agreement that each will not undo another's work—with the concept functioning as a kind of invisible fence that prevents redundant labor that would put (one person's) labor into conflict (with another's), and keeps many persons from digging and planting the same ground that they would if each worked earnestly and in ignorance of the others' work. What Rousseau depicts is less a war of each against each, or all against all, than a recognition of the importance of a concept in holding the place of otherwise invisible work.

  15. Burke foregrounded individual experience and then made it supremely dispensable, but Rousseau's Emile obviated that problem by depicting education as a progressive compact between an individual and the objects of experience. Burke had collected instances of beautiful and sublime experience to create a coding, a language of evaluation, that was said to continue to exist without benefit of actual experience when one came to talk of the divine motives that operated to make the sublime and beautiful permanent representatives of society's needs for personal ambition and the continuation of the human race. By contrast, Rousseau's pedagogy—even more than Locke's before it—insists that the only justification for education is that a child might ratify the world that he encounters—that “why” should always involve an indubitable experience (that a hot stove will burn the touch) or a plausible inference (that the idea of property does not simply by definition assign land or objects as “meum” and “tuum” but that it involves a respect for the frequently invisible labor that someone puts into that land or object—and the desire not to waste everyone's labor by having them all apply it to the same land or object). Better to retreat from society than to risk the Burkean outcome, transferring one's perceptions and rationalizations to others.

  16. First, the Rousseauvian scheme had represented the education that an individual receives from nature as the most authoritative and indubitable (and had thus minimized the extent to which this natural education was already social, with the tutor always at Emile's side to draw out the moral of every encounter). Second, Rousseau had suggested that concepts like that of property could readily be derived from nature—that one could, in any given moment, produce a practical demonstration of the inevitability that persons would reason their way to the notion of property—as a logical rather than arbitrarily social one. Rousseau's scheme not only foregrounded the possibility of confidence in one's own intuitions and reasonings. It also suggested an ordering that would dole out child-sized portions of experience and conceptualization, and fit education less to a particular child than to a child of a particular age and degree of development.

  17. Rousseau's educational theory seemed to Anna Laetitia Barbauld, the most gifted English adapter of his work, to offer a particularly happy way of resolving disagreements about the world and its ultimate purposes. She took the lesson of Rousseau's criticism of reading Aesop's fables to children (in which he maintained that a child would hear the story of the fox and the crow and would think less about what's involved in being tricked by a sly antagonist and more about getting the cheese that figures in the story) and imagined that the project of education must honor two aims: that of appealing, as Rousseau did, to the immediate world of a child's experience and that of adjusting adult speech to that of a child. Thus, while Rousseau had described the miscommunications that resulted from the fact of difference between adults and children, Barbauld set out to create a series of age-graded readers—Lessons for Children of Two to Three Years Old (1778) through Lessons For Children (Part 4, 1788).[7]

  18. As many have observed, children's books are only indirectly for children.[8] They must make their appeal at least as much to the adults who read with the children as to the children themselves. But Barbauld's age-graded books aimed less to make the parent or teacher the spokesperson for advantageous and superior knowledge than to provide a kind of script for an adult so as to make the adult, merely by reading these books as they were written and printed, speak the language that a child might. Her primers appear at least as much as trots for adults to use in their interactions with children as expressions of adult authority. Even before a child was expected to read the books for herself, their pages were designed for young eyes. They had generous margins, abundant leading, and large type; each book in the series was short but longer than the previous one, out of consideration of a child's short but lengthening attention span. Moreover, the books erased the boundary dividing the book and the world of the actual child for whom Barbauld was writing, her adoptive son (and biological nephew) Charles. The deictics of the texts—the references to “this” and “that”—coordinated exactly with those of this child's actual world; and the textual references to the cat and the sewing kit were confirmed (for Charles and Anna Laetitia Barbauld, at least) in references to the cat and the sewing kit with which they had direct acquaintance.

  19. While Thomas Day, another of the English Rousseauveans, put a distinctly Christian spin on the aim to direct writing and thinking to children by quoting Jesus's injunction to “suffer the little children to come unto me,” Barbauld's writing, by contrast, avoided such appeals to the authority of scripture, or revealed religion. Rather, by engaging an author like herself in appealing to the thought processes and attention span of a child, Barbauld attempted to deliver on two projects at once. She hoped to create texts that would, by virtue of their continual reference to an actual world, put the child and the adult on the same page in relation to the world. And she also aimed to move the child slowly and steadily toward recognition of the ways in which the beauties and terrors of the actual world were a manifestation of the greatness and goodness of the god who had authored it. As Anne Janowitz has noted, Barbauld's Hymns in Prose for the Use of Children (1781) inspired great praise for what M.H. Abrams would call its natural supernaturalism, the interfusion of naturalistic descriptions with religious sentiment, in which one felt one's way to God.[9]

  20. The actual world, that is, need not be expurgated for children; it might be depicted in all its appealing and terrifying aspects, and might thus provide the kind of education that Wordsworth described himself as having received when he was “fostered alike by beauty and by fear.”[10] A difficulty appeared, however, when Barbauld converted opposed aspects of divine providence into equivalents: the beautiful might be obviously good, but the terrifying was also good, because purposeful, from the perspective of the deity. With the movement from the individual perspective of the human child to the providential revaluation of terror, Barbauld raised the same sorts of problems of freedom and determinism that Burke had. While Burke had temporarily disguised these issues by introducing the question of growing insensibility and boredom, both he and Barbauld relied on intuition of the natural world to suggest that individuals were equipped to understand and evaluate the world aright and then to undercut that confidence as the providential perspective trumped individual intuitions and appraisals.

  21. Barbauld's appeal to providential judgment cast doubt on human perceptions and decisions, rendering them insubstantial stop-gaps that were always in danger of being overruled, but her position also had the effect of delegitimizing the coercive authority of parents and teachers. Pressing the implications of the argument from design, she raised the possibility that parents and tutors would not need to anticipate and enforce societal judgments. The punitive face of education might disappear, for any correction that a child needed would be provided by the judgments of society and, ultimately, of providence.

  22. Barbauld's very tolerance, however, emptied the notions of social agreement and social judgment of any content. Whereas Rousseau had imagined that there might be social concepts—such as that of property—that could derive their warrant simply from a logic of human interaction, Barbauld's attempt to unite the natural with the divine created as many problems as it was designed to resolve. On the most basic level the argument from design—the view that God infuses all natural objects with spirit and that the world is a continuing testimony to his existence—offered a deterministic view. Despite its general air of benignity, its very inclusiveness exacerbated its deterministic tendencies: all religions were essentially one religion; all tendencies had the same destination. Thus, apparent ecumenicism might counsel tolerance, but it was a comparatively empty tolerance that generalized the possibility of everyone's being proved wrong by providence in the end and that never really had to face what John Rawls has called the fundamental fact of disagreement about comprehensive doctrines in modern societies.[11] Barbauld's relation to this problem is a particularly interesting one both because she was a prolific and thoughtful writer who took Rousseauvean educational theory quite seriously, and because she herself, as a Dissenter, repudiated the coerciveness of state religion. Indeed, at Warrington Academy, she was a close friend of Joseph Priestley, whom Kant praised for having the insight and candor to acknowledge the absurdity of repentance for an action that one has committed when one is, as Priestley was, “a genuine fatalist proceeding consistently” (CPrR 5:98, p. 219). Pantheism, Kant insisted, left no room for significant regret on the part of human agents, because their actions were only to be understood as permitted by an omniscient and omnipresent deity who ordered all things “for the best in the best of all possible worlds,” as Voltaire's Pangloss would put the Leibnizian formula.

  23. Yet while a writer like Barbauld attempted to use the actual world as a common resource to persons of many ages and many creeds, she achieved her inclusiveness by casting judgment as deferred and delegated. In challenging the authority of families, their associates, their sects, and their nations in interpreting the message of a providentially arranged natural world, she moved past the Burkean appeal to a providential investment in social aims and insisted that even the judgments of societies are open to correction. In her essay “On Education” (1773), Barbauld first imagined the family itself as a mediator between the child and the world and spoke of the importance of the example that parents set. Thus, in response to a request from a friend with a substantial fortune, she offered her advice on the education of his son. Although the friend had been studying books of education (“from Xenophon to Locke, and from Locke to Catherine Macaulay”), Barbauld urged him and his wife to attend principally to “the education of circumstances—insensible education—which, like insensible perspiration, is of more constant and powerful effect, and of infinitely more consequence to the habit, than that which is direct and apparent” (“On Education” 2). Their example, she insisted, would educate their child, and “it is not in your power to withdraw him from the continual influence of these things, except you were to withdraw yourself also” (“On Education” 2).

  24. One might anticipate that Barbauld's line of argument might have ended in a statement of cross-generational cultural solidarity (of the kind that Burke so passionately espoused in Reflections on the Revolution in France), but she instead pursued a very different route. She describes a child as a symptom of the changes that have occurred in the history of a family. While “poverty educated” her friend; “wealth will educate” his child (“On Education” 3). Barbauld draws a vivid contrast between the neglect that the father experienced in childhood and the attentiveness that he and his wife manifest toward their son: “Your life was of very little consequence to any one; even your parents, encumbered with a numerous family, had little time to indulge the softnesses of affection, or the solicitude of anxiety” but “it is not possible for you, it would not even be right for you, in your present situation, to pay no more attention to your child than was paid to you” (“On Education” 3).

  25. One cannot educate one's children as one was educated oneself, Barbauld thinks, because the difference in understandings that Rousseau describes is itself not merely the product of differences in age but also of a difference in circumstances. Thus, while she counsels parents to educate their children by their examples and repudiates “any plan of factitious education which you could provide for them” (“On Education” 9-10), she both encourages them to think about those circumstances—an awareness, in the first instance, of the effect of money and social position—and also urges that parents temper their desires to correct their children's faults (however right it may be to perceive them). Providence, she says, “continues his education upon a larger scale, and by a process which includes means far more efficacious” than those available to the parents who are the chief educators in the family home (“On Education” 10). Urging parents to spare both the rod and the sermon, Barbauld imagines that larger social circumstances—those of the individual and of nations themselves—will eventually produce their own correction. In imagining that circumstances will cure any flaws of character or mind that a young person has on leaving the family home, Barbauld is not, however, simply stressing the importance of attention to society. Rather, she is imagining both that society speaks more powerfully to individual characters than any other individuals can and also that the judgments of societies are themselves limited. “States,” she writes, “are educated as individuals—by circumstances” (“On Education” 11). While “vices will certainly follow certain states of poverty or riches, ignorance or high civilization,” they will be corrected by a Providence that awards its judgments in the form of “an unsuccessful war, a loss of trade, or any of those great calamities by which it pleases Providence to speak to a nation, in such language as will be heard” (“On Education” 11).

  26. In commending tolerance even of a child's bad behavior, Barbauld does not mean to suggest that a child will amend such behavior herself but rather to insist that judgment will inevitably come. And she does so out of a sense that society, in the first instance, and providence, in the last, provide judgments on an individual's actions. While social circumstance may change “the giddy youth . . . into the wise counsellor” and “the thoughtless, gay girl, into the sober wife” (“On Education” 14), Barbauld's providentialism suspends the urgency even of societal judgments by suggesting an ever-unfolding series of courts of appeal that ends in divine providence. Parents need not assess their children's every action, need not hover over their every word and deed, because, Barbauld thinks, they can rest assured that vices will be corrected, if only in the indeterminate and unforeseeable future.

  27. Barbauld's depiction of the workings of providence in the individual life and in national history might seem to assimilate her to an educational tradition that has been described more often than it has, I think, existed. That tradition is depicted as, ultimately, an education essentially confined to what Kant terms “discipline,” the capacity to sit still and pay attention, to accept the rules of the societal game. I think, to the contrary, that Barbauld had better reasons for her educational theory than we can fathom by accepting Charles Lamb's attacks on Barbauld's desire not to recount fairy tales and court the world of fantasy but instead to focus on an actual world and by putting her on the side of an authoritarian crackdown on the liberty of children's imaginations. For, as I have been suggesting, one major achievement of her age-graded readers was continually to point to a shared world, what Wordsworth would call “the world that is the world of all of us.” Yet even as Barbauld was substantially more indulgent in describing relations among persons—including parents and teachers, on the one hand, and children, on the other—her providential reading of historical potentialities undercut her aim to link adults and children, teachers and taught, by constantly referring to the world that they all occupied. She had rejected fairy tales because they did not, she thought, support the kinds of sharable and shared experiences that would enable both religion and everyday life to be rational. By appealing to an imaginative world in which objects, experiences, and outcomes could all be pulled from the magician's hat of fantasy, fairy tales introduced a kind of privilege analogous to that which Hume had found in miracles. In the fairy tale, such privilege was, to lay out Barbauld's line of thinking in terms that she does not herself use, bound up in the fantasist's claim to be able to see past the limits of sense.

  28. Yet her insistence upon providential correction itself ultimately repeated the abandonment of the very actuality that she tried to embrace. The constant appeal to the world seemed at first to suggest that the natural and the supernatural worlds were in perfect alignment, that one's experience of the natural world was one and the same with rational religion. Staging experience correctly—without moving too quickly to play the religious trump card—ought to make it possible for individuals to develop their characters virtuously because rationally. But at the same time the invocation of a system of judgments—even as they were said to show the continuing interchange between the actual world and the supersensible world—revealed the limitations in one's perceptions and evaluations of objects and events in the present. The prospect of future corrections that was supposed to obviate the need for stern castigations in the present made the future look like nothing so much as a potentially relentless erosion of present judgments. The claim on behalf of the goodness and greatness of the world looked as though it demanded a providential system of rewards and punishments to explain why different interpretations of the shared world persisted and to adjust for the difficulties that reason had in reading the world aright.

  29. Education thus presented for Barbauld (as for her friend Priestley) the same sort of problems that sublimity had for Burke: the ultimate content of the education—the belief that a benevolent deity had arranged the world for the best—compromised the notion of individual freedom. Under the influence of the Rousseauvian maxim that all will be lost if a child is forced to make choices and act before she understands what she's being asked to choose, writers stressed the importance of free and conscientious deliberation. Under the influence of the notion of design, such deliberation could look like the active pursuit of the inevitable. Rousseau had made the process of education appear as an on-going experiment (and experimental science had become an important element of the educational plans of Priestley, William Godwin, Maria and Richard Lovell Edgeworth, and others). Providentialism, in the form of the claim that there is a design that is only intermittently discernible to persons, might ultimately result in making all experimental engagements with the natural world reduce scientific discovery to an uncovering of the destiny of particular individuals who had been chosen for knowledge.

  30. Thus, even though rational Dissenters like Priestley and Barbauld stoutly defended political and religious freedom, the values that individuals expressed and affirmed in the choices they made looked, from the standpoint of natural religion, like very flimsy decisions. The problem was not simply that agents might make decisions that they would later regret. Those regrettable decisions ceased to appear to be decisions at all as they became a kind of compost for the ultimate happiness of the universe. Thus, the authority of even a beneficent deity compromised the freedom and tolerance that such committedly progressive figures as Priestley and Barbauld had to offer, and the greatest happiness of the universe overrode individual freedom. The decisions that one made, that is, never really could achieve the status of independent actions. They were, instead, merely gestures that assisted other, more remote actions. And the authority of even a beneficent teacher could thus seem like an assertion of coercive power. Individual action looked as though it was always in danger of being sacrificed on the altar of the universal and eternal view.

  31. Some version of the criticism I have just made applies as well to utilitarianism in most standard accounts (even as they are given by utilitarians). And this should not be surprising, because Jeremy Bentham, generally seen as the initiator of modern utilitarian thought, corresponded regularly with Priestley and claimed to have drawn his notion of the “greatest happiness for the greatest number” from Hume and Priestley. Moreover, reading J.J.C. Smart's defense of utilitarianism alongside Bernard Williams's assault on it makes it easy to see the affinities between the religious and the atheistic versions.[12] For the garden-variety accounts of utilitarianism and pantheistic necessity suffer from the fact that they feel obliged to make individuals equipped with calculative reason take on board too much, to imagine scenarios in which they might face the possibility of rescuing one person or ten, saving the writer and educator Fenelon or his servant (in William Godwin's example), deciding for a more diffusive influence and against a less diffusive one. That is, the examples all build in an open-endedness that warps the description of the choices to be contemplated, because the examples revolve around a series of conjectures about the future that only have provisional stopping points, since the greatest good of the greatest number is always at risk of being replaced with another account of the quantity of good and a larger number of persons who benefit from it. This unsteady relation between an action in prospect and an action in outcome jeopardizes the individual perspective for both pantheistic providentialism and utilitarianism alike. Utilitarianism, as Smart describes it, closely approximates the simple notion of choosing the better as opposed to the worse and representing it in loosely comparative terms (even Kant, for Smart, sometimes seems to qualify as a utilitarian). In this form, it is not descriptive enough to be of any real help.

  32. Indeed, utilitarianism as Smart presents it is so thoroughly committed to a comparative assessment of externalized positive and negative incentives—for the individual decision-maker and for this decision-maker as someone who works on behalf of humanity at large—that two problems arise. First, it is hard to visualize many decisions that could plausibly be called moral or even political that can be easily quantified by ordinary individuals—that is, by anyone other than the officials who practice what Williams calls “Government House utilitarianism” and who claim to have an especially well-informed perspective on the general good. Second, it is even more difficult to imagine the process of sorting through various sets of consequences of one's actions under conditions of emergency. Robinson Crusoe may have the time to deliberate about many of his decisions, but would an actual agent along the lines described by William Godwin be able to save either Fenelon or his servant if he paused, in the midst of a raging fire, to consider which to save?

  33. In both Smart and Williams's accounts, utilitarianism functions as a split-screen intuitionism. That is, even though it sometimes has recourse to the apparent tough-mindedness of numerical comparison, its comparativism essentially involves individuals making choices by representing an array of possibilities to themselves and selecting one. They may know, more or less, how things like this have gone for other people—may, for instance, have a sense of how fires move and of how much time they'll have to reach the philosopher or his servant. But, in this characterization, which is certainly true of Smart's position and is possibly true even of aspects of Bentham's early writings, there is scarcely ever a plausible occasion for testing one's ordinary decisions to see how they have come out. Decisions thus can come to look like predictions about what will have made one—and a great number of others—happy, but the number of decisions that lead to acts that can be effectively weighed and measured after the fact looks like an absurdly small portion of one's activity in the world. Indeed, though Bentham was a vigorous opponent of the very idea of a deity, it is easy to understand why accounts of his position that follow the tracks I have been describing would see him as a crypto-theist.[13] For the very idea of arriving at an ultimate perspective on any action that would enable one to evaluate how much happiness one had produced looks like Priestleyan providentialism that simply happens to be unequipped with an explicitly acknowledged providential deity.

  34. This problem particularly bedevils educational theory, because the pantheistic and utilitarian accounts (as Smart and Williams depict them) both accept the idea that one outcome or set of consequences may be superior to another and undermine that superiority for the future. Thus, anyone who appears in the guise of a teacher or a “Government House utilitarian” must look as though he is assuming ultimately unjustifiable power in relation to pupils, in relation to citizens. In the grip of this thought, various commentators, including Miran Bozovic in the introduction to Bentham's Panopticon writings, have thought that Jeremy and Samuel Bentham's vision for the Panopticon converted the superintendent or inspector into a god-equivalent.[14] They have seen his heightened powers of vision as a version of divine omniscience that implicitly included omnipotence as well, particularly as an effect of the inspector's frequent invisibility: as Bozovic puts it, “we are seen without seeing the one who sees us,” and “the panopticon is governed by a gaze and a voice which are desubjectivized, detached from their bearer—in a word, by gaze and voice qua objects” (Panopticon Writings 11). And to this account of the physics of gaze and voice is added a metaphysics; the anxiety of the prisoners or pupils in relation to the inspector is thought to be equivalent to the anxiety of believers in relation to a god who might, at any moment, suddenly and eternally decide their presently uncertain fates.

  35. The question of power—the Panopticon as an instrument for wielding god-like omnipotence—has thus seemed to emerge as central, and has seemed particularly intractable in education, where an adult can seem (to himself and to a child) like a god-like being. Moreover, because analysts have frequently read the text simply as a recommendation of techniques for subordinating a large number of persons to the power of one, they have not noticed the connection between the Panopticon letters (of 1787) and postscripts (of 1791)—and they certainly have not noticed the jokes he makes along the way. Bentham, writing from Russia to his brother Samuel, who had initially proposed the idea of such a structure, becomes so conscious of warming to his theme that he begins suggesting that the Panopticon be adopted for seraglios (which represent for Bentham what “secret societies” represent for Kant—obedience without the spirit of freedom). But two features of his thinking here are particularly important. First, he elaborately modeled the usefulness of this kind of building and the arrangements it allows and of comparing it with institutional buildings—prisons, hospitals, schools—then in use (so that he was not depicting an individual thinking about the greater or lesser utility of a particular course of action). Second, he stressed the way the transparency of the functioning of the prison or the school enabled the various inmates or students to be compared with one another—on the basis of observable behavior rather than the thoughts that might be imputed to a supposed rebel or criminal: the panopticon system, “confining its attention to overt acts, leaves thoughts and fancies to their proper ordinary, the court above” (Panopticon Writings 94).

  36. Understanding how the providentialism of Barbauld and Priestley sundered reasoned deliberation from any reliable estimation of the consequences of one's decisions helps to explain why Bentham sought ways of making decisions and decision-making a more finite and circumscribed process than it was for those enlightened religionists. While they might imagine providence intervening to introduce justice into the world of human decision, he developed elaborate planning documents and explorations of the usefulness of specific views, on the one hand, and, on the other, systems like the Panopticon that intensified the perceptibility of the world by creating occasions for visible comparison of one person with others. If one could collect a group of proposals and compare them one with another, he thought, one would not need to demand of any proposal that it yield perfect consequences. Legislators might thus choose among proposals not by thinking about what was best in the best of all possible worlds but by thinking instead about which among these actual proposals realistically promised the best consequences. Panoptic superintendents, in the case of schools, might thus establish classes of students who were continually displaying the value of their achievement in the process of moving from one seat to another (going, for instance, to the head of the class). In the Panopticon and in his plan for Chrestomathic education Bentham aimed to contract the field in which comparisons would operate, so that the relative values of characteristics (such as height or weight) and the relative values of performances (in the oral examinations in spelling or geometry) would be immediately and objectively visible.

  37. Religion appeared trivially in Bentham's Panopticon writings when he recommended that prisoners should attend religious services (while also saying that the particular religion and sect of these services was an indifferent matter). But his general line of thought suggests how religious belief itself was not accidentally and insignificantly linked to education. Religion, in his view, installed a god whose influence on humans and their commitment to their own actions was incompatible with their taking their actions seriously. The infinite perspective that Burke had associated with the sublime needed, he thought, to be combated rather than extolled—as became obvious in 1822 when Bentham (under the pseudonym Philip Beauchamp) published An Analysis of the Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind. There he treated the question of the desirability of belief in the basic tenets of natural religion—that there is a deity who is omniscient and omnipotent, who knows everything that each and every person does and who punishes or rewards these deeds (and thoughts) in an afterlife. Whereas he noted that religious belief had frequently been seen as a spur to virtue, he thought it was just the opposite. From the standpoint of human action in the temporal world, Bentham judged belief in an omnipotent and omniscient deity to be nothing short of disastrous for human freedom and moral choice: “The unlimited agency of the Deity is equivalent to this universal espionage [of the most effective tyrant]. He is conceived as the unseen witness of every thing which passes our lips—indeed even of our thoughts [so that] it would be madness, therefore, to hazard an unfavorable judgment of his proceedings, while thus constantly under his supervision” (Analysis 53).

  38. In that same discussion Bentham went on to challenge the usefulness of religion in a host of different ways. Suffice it to say here that one of the things that he was disputing was the way in which the notion of divine rewards and punishments created a speculative economy that effectively dissolved actions; punishments, that is, could become completely detached from actual crimes, as when flagellants punished themselves ritually, making punishment free-standing and not related to specific actions. (In his educational writing, he similarly denounced the floggings that masters dispensed to children who failed to understand their lessons for misrepresenting lack of understanding as a crime and thus providing a distraction from a more substantial evaluation.) It was not until Bentham wrote the Chrestomathia in 1815 and 1816 that he developed his account of education in any great detail. But his writings on legal punishment and on religion are pertinent to his discussions of education, because they stem from the conviction that public institutions—the law of crime and punishment, hospitals, schools, and work-houses—should be seen as complex actors. A Benthamite prison thus concerns itself with questions of hygiene—clean water, a system for disposing of excrement—out of the same concern for sustaining life that Rousseau and Kant stress when recommending that mothers breast-feed their children. Taking decent steps to sustain an inmate's health is, Bentham thinks, a requirement for any system of punishment that doesn't intend to use prison to create the likelihood of punishing all crimes with death.[15]

  39. Thus, while Bentham stressed that we should attend to the importance of proximity in rather trivial ways (and see, for instance, that we are likelier to act when the actions are, as it were, ready to hand, so that an A.T.M. that is nearer to us can charge us a fee that we wouldn't otherwise pay), his commitment to the claims of proximity was also more substantial. For in insisting upon the importance of health for pupils as for prisoners, Bentham was wedding himself to the primacy of the actual rather than the wishful conjecture. What Foucault has memorably described as the anatomy of detail in Panoptic systems drew its motivation from the sense that the conscious elaboration of social systems might help to anchor persons in the actual, and thus blot out appeals to a remote and, certainly, extra-experimental deity.

  40. Indeed, many of the features of Benthamite utilitarian education that have been regularly criticized for their philistine indifference to reflection and reflectiveness and their attachment to the short and readily available answer stem directly from Bentham's efforts to drive metaphysics out of education. The public examination as Bell and Lancaster practiced it and as Bentham reworked it in his Chrestomathic writings aimed at great transparency. It settled on a subject and posed a series of different questions to the different students in a class—on the model that we have come to think of as that of the spelling bee. Correct responses allowed a student to continue in the examination; incorrect responses and failures to respond eliminated him or her. As the examination proceeded, each member of the group was evaluated in relation to the other members of the group. While Kant, by contrast, continued to advise a catechetical method and proposed that teachers draw out their lines of reasoning in detail, Bentham was so little interested in capturing private thoughts of the kind that spies would search out that students were not asked to show that they could thread their way through a demonstration. An answer was taken as evidence of the ability to produce that answer. And the intrinsic value of an answer—its correctness—was only one aspect of education; the relative value of that answer—the way it caused a particular student to advance or decline in the comparative rankings—was at least as important.

  41. Bentham thus replaced metaphysical transcendentalism with the concrete transcendentals of specific social institutions. And while his schemes for the organization of education may have extended educational opportunities to more persons and made learning proceed more rapidly than it had done under the tutorial model, they offered no opening onto sublimity. Indeed, he set his plans for the intensification of perceptibility against the very kind of obscurity that Burke had associated with the sublime. While Burke had portrayed individual uncertainty about power as a key element of its force, Bentham sought ever greater transparency, developing techniques that made the actual physical arrangements of persons in social structures like classes, workhouses, and prisons yield up a series of ongoing displays of relative value rendered visible. While Burke had insisted upon the importance of a metaphysics even to the idea of physical power, Bentham aimed to colonize the metaphysical arena that had been claimed by morality with physicality squared—a physicality that rendered values as well as persons and objects in perceptible form and that replaced the dramatic actions implicit in sublime power with a representational scheme that made even relatively slight and inconspicuous gestures like omissions appear as actions. Rousseau's model of education had encouraged pupils to discover natural concepts through their actions. Bentham's scheme represented human action as so thoroughly incorporating a relation to society that it almost ceased to be intelligible outside that relation.

  42. Because Bentham's writings appeared during his lifetime in highly-edited and frequently bowdlerized form, it is easy to imagine that Kant would simply have assimilated Bentham to prudentialism. In that line of thought, he would have seen Benthamite utilitarianism as an analogue to one of his examples of the moral limits of effectively good behavior. Considering the case of a merchant who adopts a standard price for adults and children alike when he could have exploited the child's ignorance of money and pricing, Kant saw the merchant's upstanding behavior as only resembling moral action rather than instantiating it. For him, the merchant's action was simply an example of self-interest taking a longer view and passing up the chance to extract an exorbitant price from an innocent in the present out of a desire to continue to do business in the future. Bentham would have treated the merchant's behavior without discriminating among his motives at the outset, and would not have distinguished between the merchant's acting out of fairness, on the one hand, and his consciousness of the business advantages that would accrue to his acting fairly in his dealings with everyone. Kant, by contrast, produces an account of behavior that sees it less an outward sign that must be accepted in itself than as a symptom of a capacity for morality. And, as with the sublimity that the aesthetic judgment recognizes in seeing the power of its own capacity to think past the limits of sense, morality becomes a statement of how our experience cannot be derived exclusively from sense and the perspicuousness of social custom. Thus, although Kant pays deference to educational experiments that had been undertaken by his contemporaries, his account of education does not revolve around studies of the quickest way of promoting quickness in pupils. Instead, he centers his educational theory around his claims for moral judgment as the most basic of all human acts. Whereas it might count as a problem for some that one cannot tell whether the merchant is honest from virtue or from prudence or whether a criminal is indeed conscience-stricken, Kant is perfectly content to point to a logic underlying social practice and to affirm its strength even when persons do not behave virtuously. The very fact that even the merely prudential man wants to be seen as honest suggests the fundamental importance of honesty in general; the very fact that someone is contrite and wants to appear contrite reveals the basic appeal of morality.

  43. To hear Kant tell it, he never intended to write three critiques. Indeed, he says that he had not appreciated the importance of the aesthetic judgment until some time after he had produced the First Critique, with its account of the extent and the limits of our knowledge of objects in the physical world, and the Second, with its presentation of the claims of morality, the human capacity that Kant identified with our ability to will to act in a fashion that commands our respect. The Third Critique thus joined the Second as a previously-unanticipated investigation. For, Kant says, he did not identify pure reason, practical reason, and aesthetic judgment as the crucial human faculties and then set out to produce companion volumes on each. Instead, he claimed to have discovered the distinctiveness of the various faculties and the importance of capturing that distinctiveness in ways that pantheistic providentialism, for all its efforts at linearity, never could. For him, the very line of argument that had denied the objective reality of the categories applied to noumena (in the theoretical reason of the First Critique) itself opened on to a demonstration of their reality in practical cognition (understood as the freedom of the human will). The various faculties needed to be seen as distinctive so as to reveal their harmonious working—and particularly so as to demonstrate the actuality of such an unseen force as moral judgment, with its frequent repudiation of what is and its opinions on what is not, or omissions.

  44. Taken together, the critiques suggest why Kant would have outlined a pedagogy that differed rather substantially from most of the approaches that represented the state of the art at the end of the eighteenth century. Kant shared a commitment to the idea of human progress with his contemporaries, but his analysis of the operations of reason in three different and distinctive domains enabled him to challenge simple progressivist programs and to claim, instead, that a checking of forward momentum in one arena (the speculative reason that he analyzed in the Critique of Pure Reason) might yield progress in another (the moral exercise of the will that he described in the Critique of Practical Reason).

  45. Kant's Critique of Practical Reason and the Lectures on Pedagogy that his Konigsberg colleague Friedrich Theodor Rink edited and published in 1803 are remarkably interrelated. In preparing his edition of the Lectures, Rink assembled various “individual scraps of paper” (434) on which Kant had written notes for his lectures; and he repeated passages if he encountered the same basic scrap in two different places in the overall scheme. The text is, then, so redundantly and repetitively Kant's as to count as an imperfect one. Yet it has great importance, because it gives an indication of Kant's thinking over a period of ten years that overlaps with his publication of the first two critiques. Kant lectured on pedagogy first in the winter of 1776-77 and finally in the winter of 1786-87 (and also gave the course of lectures in the summer of 1780 and the winter of 1783-84). In the lectures on pedagogy, Kant takes a number of cues from Rousseau. He attends to the physical well-being of infants and young children and echoes Rousseau's advice about the wisdom that mothers show when they breast-feed their infants and avoid restraining children with swaddling clothes and leading strings that might damage a child's developing chest in the process of keeping her well within sight of a parent or servant.

  46. Yet Kant differs from Rousseau in at least one crucial regard: he spends a great deal less time than Rousseau in discussing the importance of a child's actions in the world. Rousseau depicts the child in Emile as something like a basic research scientist who learns how to interact with the world experimentally. Kant, by contrast, announces at the outset of his lectures on pedagogy that “one generation educates the next” (9:442; p. 437). Thus, while Rousseau's fictional philosophy represents Emile as being protected from the education of civilization by the tutor who runs interference and shields Emile from society in his early years, Kant never engages in such a thought experiment. Instead, while he contrasts the way in which animals can rely on their instincts and thus need no education in order to perform the various activities that sustain them in life, he draws a parallel between humans and birds. Birds, he says, do not sing their particular songs by instinct, because they are so completely canaries or sparrows that they inevitably sing the song given to them biologically. And he goes far enough down this path to describe testing to see what happens to a bird's song if the eggs or young of one species are exchanged for those of another: “If one brings the young sparrows into a room, where they cannot hear the sparrows outside, they learn the canaries' song, and one gets singing sparrows” (Kant, Ped 9:443; p. 439).

  47. With such an example, Kant acknowledges an issue that Rousseau's carefully-staged educational discussions had confronted only indirectly. An educational process that acknowledges the importance of what other, older people know does not merely speed up the process of individual learning. Rather, Kant is first acknowledging the extent to which the relative incapacity of humans at birth creates an opening for culture—for the passage of information between one generation and another—simply because an infant or young child is unable to make the kind of choices that animals instinctively make. Indeed, the implicit thought is that, without this most basic sense of culture, the world would be one in which parents required their children to treat themselves as test subjects. The physical existence of children would be threatened by their independence, because they would be unassisted by any previous evaluations of the physical world. What would be lost in the process is the ability to benefit from other people's experience, to accept someone else's word for it that nightshade is poisonous and, hence, to be avoided, or that gravity causes bodies to fall to earth rather than to float in air so that one will know enough to exercise caution on a precipice.

  48. Indeed, Kant's account of education is thoroughly bound up with moral judgment, as instanced by an individual's willingness to hold herself accountable to herself for her promises and to pass judgment on herself for defaulting on them. Moreover, this account of the moral faculty produces a strange effect on his account of education. He depicts educational progress—indeed, the progress of individual humans and humanity at large—as resting on a recognition of the faculty of practical reason as virtually innate. Whereas many educationalists attempted to use stories to convey moral lessons, and others developed elaborately progressive curricula, Kant's discussions of education scarcely touch on such matters. Novels shouldn't be used in education, Kant thought, because they have too many moving parts and overload the memory. But catechisms should. Thus, we see Kant in The Metaphysics of Morals producing an example of an interchange between the teacher who “elicits from his pupil's reason, by questioning, what he wants to teach him” in a Fragment of a moral catechism—of which it can be said that the most plausible parts are the notations indicating that the pupil “is silent” in the face of such questions as “What is your greatest, in fact your whole, desire in life?” (6:480-481, p. 593).

  49. Kant has a particularly urgent need to rely on examples. With an account of moral judgment that stresses its independence from external determination in the form of prudential calculations (that produce such things as the merchant's maxim that “honesty is the best policy”) and incentives (that make things like public recognition a spur to good actions), Kant's account of morality runs the risk of looking sublime by virtue of its distance from the actual world. When he insists that “the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me” “fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence” (CPrR 5:162, p. 269), he draws lines of connection between a consciousness of one's place in the external world and “worlds upon worlds and systems of systems” and, on the other hand, an infinity within “my invisible self, my personality” that is only discoverable by the understanding and that connects the person to the world by acts of internal moral legislation. The risk of such description is that it sounds as though it has a hard time dealing with the business of living in an ordinary world. And thus he takes comfort in relating various cases in which he says that a child could pass a correct verdict. One might, he says, tell a ten-year-old child

    the story of an honest man whom someone wants to induce to join the calumniators of an innocent but otherwise powerless person (say, Anne Boleyn, accused by Henry VII of England). He is offered gain, that is, great gifts of high rank; he rejects them. This will produce mere approval and applause in the listener's soul, because it is gain. Now threats of loss begin. Among these calumniators are his best friends, who now refuse him their friendship; close relatives, who threaten to disinherit him (he is not wealthy); powerful people, who can pursue and hurt him in all places and circumstances; a prince who threatens him with loss of freedom and even of life itself. But, so that the measure of suffering may be full and he may also feel the pain that only a morally good heart can feel very deeply, represent his family, threatened with extreme distress and poverty, as imploring him to yield and himself, though upright, yet with a heart not hard or insensible either to compassion or to his own distress; represent him at a moment when he wishes that he had never lived to see the day that exposed him to such unutterable pain and yet remains firm in his resolution to be truthful, without wavering or even doubting; then my young listener will be raised step by step from mere approval to admiration, from that to amazement, and finally to the greatest veneration and a lively wish that he himself could be such a man (though certainly not in such circumstances); and yet virtue is here worth so much only because it costs so much, not because it brings any profit. (CPrR 5:156-157, p. 264)

    Rousseau might well have imagined such a child responding to the same story very differently. But Kant takes the human interest in virtue to be so much the cornerstone of reason that he proposes a combination of contemporary and historical gossip as the ideal teaching tool. When people socialize, he observes, “their entertainment includes” story-telling, jesting, and arguing, and they particularly like arguing about the moral worth of this or that action by which the character of some person is to be made out” (CPrR 5:153, p. 262). Moreover, he goes on to marvel at the fact that educators of young people have not made better use of “this propensity of reason to enter with pleasure upon even the most subtle examination of the practical questions put to them” (263).

  50. Bentham may have modeled the possibility of progress by suggesting the appeal of the best available answer and the best available actor, but for Kant the truly sublime achievement in education is the one in which a student uncovers a certainty about her moral judgments that is an accomplishment by virtue of its seeming never to have needed to be learned. He even proposes that cases be put to students as part of “a game of judgment in which children can compete with one another” (CPrR 5:155, p. 263). Education thus becomes gossip methodized—as it becomes the occasion for uncovering a moral sense so strong that a child can profit even from negative examples and from cultivating her confidence that she can pass a negative judgment on what she sees. Kant's version of education, then, focuses squarely on the supersensible nature of moral judgment. Even if one is mistaken in the judgment one passes on another person's actions, the education of moral judgment saves appearances by uncovering the importance of the fact that we make evaluations of them.


1. Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1984), p. 67. I am characterizing the large argument of Bourdieu’s book, but the first chapter, “The Aristocracy of Culture,” in which he describes the reproduction of class distinction by means of the exercise of taste, and “Postscript: Towards a ‘Vulgar’ Critique of ‘Pure’ Critiques” are of particular interest to anyone interested in sorting out the relationship between education and aesthetic experience.

2. Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, trans. Richard Nice (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), pp. 5-8. Bourdieu is here positioning himself against Levi-Strauss’s objectivism as well as against the phenomenological approach of Marcel Mauss that Levi-Strauss strongly criticizes.

3. I use the term “social” here in its distinction from “sociable,” because Bentham aims particularly to capture the value of behavior to social groups seen as wholes rather than as collections of persons and personalities.

4. Joseph Priestley, The History and Present State of Electricity (London: J. Johnson and C. Rivington, 1794), ii. Quoted in Steven Johnson, The Invention of Air:A Story of Science, Faith, Revolution, and the Birth of America (New York: Penguin Books, 2008), Kindle location 449-53.

5. Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason in Practical Philosophy, trans. and ed. Mary J. Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 5:99, p. 218. Hereafter I shall refer to this critique as CPrR. The Cambridge edition indicates the pagination of Kant’s Gesammelte Schriften in the margins of pages, and I follow their lead in providing information about that standard pagination for readers using an edition other than the Cambridge edition of the Practical Philosophy.

6. The description I have given here sounds suspiciously like a description of Wordsworth’s “Tintern Abbey.” My guess is that there is a stronger connection than has yet been identified between that poem and intellectual currents that I’m trying to sketch in this essay.

7. Alan Richardson has a particularly effective account of Barbauld in Literature, Education, and Romanticism: Reading as Social Practice 1780-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 128-30.

8. Jacqueline Rose, The Case of Peter Pan, or The Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1993).

9. Anne Janowitz, Women Romantic Poets: Anna Laetitia Barbauld and Mary Robinson (Horndon, Tavistock: Northcote House Publishers, 2004), pp. 47-48. For our purposes, M.H. Abrams provides a particularly useful account of the chiliastic aspects of Priestley’s work when he writes that: "the Unitarian leaders Richard Price and Joseph Priestley (who combined the careers of chemist and preacher) led a chorus of prophets who invested the political events in France with the explosive power of the great Western myth of apocalypse, and so expanded a local phenomenon into the perfervid expectation that man everywhere was at the threshold of an earthly paradise restored,” M.H. Abrams, Natural Supernaturalism (New York: W.W. Norton, 1971), p. 331.

10. William Wordsworth, The Prelude: 1799, 1805, 1850, ed. Jonathan Wordsworth, M.H. Abrams, and Stephen Gill (New York: W.W. Norton, 1979), I:301-302 (1850).

11. In the Introduction to Political Liberalism, John Rawls describes himself as developing his theory of political liberalism in response to a “serious problem,” namely that “a modern democratic society is characterized not simply by a pluralism of comprehensive religious, philosophical, and moral doctrines but by a pluralism of incompatible yet reasonable comprehensive doctrines.” Rawls, Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993), xvi.

12. J.J.C. Smart and Bernard Williams, Utilitarianism: For and Against (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973). One might not want to put much emphasis on Williams’s sensitivity to the lexicon of utilitarianism and his sense of its overlap with a religious vocabulary, but I think that his depiction of utilitarianism as a trivialization of individual decisions in the name of higher, or more remote, ends harmonizes with Kant’s argument that natural religion leaves human decisions little freedom or scope. Ironically, Bentham, utilitarian though he surely is, presses the same general line of argument in his arguments against religion.

13. Jeremy Bentham, The Influence of Natural Religion on the Temporal Happiness of Mankind (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 2003). This long essay was published under a pseudonym (Philip Beauchamp) and the editors of the Bowring edition of Bentham’s works omitted it and all his discussions of religion. The most reliable testimony to the essay’s authorship is that John Stuart Mill refers to it and its specific arguments as Bentham’s in his writing on religion, and particularly in his “On Religion.”

Works Cited

Abrams. M.H. Natural Supernaturalism: Tradition and Revolution in Romantic Literature New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1971.

Aries, Philippe. Centuries of Childhood: a Social History of Family Life. Trans. Robert Baldick. New York: Knopf, 1962.

Barbauld, Anna Laetitia. “On Education.” (1773) The Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld. With a Memoir. By Lucy Aikin. Vol. II. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825. Anna Laetitia Barbauld Prose Works. Eds. Zach Weir and Laura Mandell. Last Updated February 2005. 28 July 2008.

---. “Remarks on Mr. Gilbert Wakefield's Enquiry Into the Expediency and Propriety of Public or Social Worship.” (1792). The Works of Anna Laetitia Barbauld. With a Memoir. By Lucy Aikin. Vol. II. London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown, and Green, 1825. Anna Laetitia Barbauld Prose Works. Eds. Zach Weir and Laura Mandell. Last Updated February 2005. 28 July 2008.

---. Selected Poetry and Prose. Ed. William McCarthy and Elizabeth Kraft. Peterborough, Ontario: Broadview Press, 2002.

Bolla, Peter de. The Discourse of the Sublime: History, Aesthetics and the Subject. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

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