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The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
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Motives, or Rewards and Punishments

By Dorothea Beale, Principal of the Cheltenham Ladies' College.
Volume 1, 1890/91, pg. 330


Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world or even out of it, which can be called good without qualification, except a good will. Intelligence, wit, judgment, these gifts of nature may also become bad or mischevious, if the will which is to make use of them, and which, therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good.

Thus, a good will appears to constitute the indispensable condition of being even worthy of happiness. Moderation is the affections and passions, self-control, and calm deliberation are not only good in many respects, but even seem to constitute part of the intrinsic worth of a person; but they are far from deserving to be called good without qualification; for without the principles of a good will they may become extremely bad, and the coolness of a villain not only makes him far more dangerous, but also directly makes him more abominable in our eyes than he would have been without it. -- Kant's Ethics, translated by Nettleship.

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We all feel that these words of Kant are true. We know that the end of education is to make our children will that which is good; but the word good has to express more than one idea, and inadequate words are apt to confuse our thoughts.

Action may be good in regard to the end accomplished, whilst not good in regard to the doer. Thus the parent or teacher who is content with the former may be fatally wrong in regard to the latter. All moral education has to do, not with acts, but with motives.

     'Tis not what man does which exalts him,
          But what man would do.

And the difference between the education of man and the animal is that we appeal to a higher motive power. We are not content to obtain good acts in the objective sense; we desire that the child should will the good. it is not often that the educational system of Dame Partlett is expressed in all its simplicity.

     To those who never told a lie
     She gave a cheesecake and a pie;
     And those who went to church on Sunday
     Were sure to have a bun on Monday.

We know that virtue cannot be rewarded thus; it ceases to be virtue if it looks for material gain. The man who does a charitable act that he may get some return, or be admired, is not charitable, and to make these external things the habitual motives of a child's action would be to starve his spiritual life.

Ought we, then, from the first to abolish rewards and punishments? Shall we never pat baby when he is naughty? Shall we not keep Tommy in when he has done mischief? Shall we abolish prizes in all forms? Shall we never praise?

We feel at once there must be some lurking fallacy, if we are led to such a conclusion, and our belief in a wise Ruler of the world in which we find that there are rewards and punishments makes us ready to deny it. Penalties do follow acts against the law of God. The rod is not excluded by the Father of men. Punishments and rewards, suffering and sickness, have their place, but the punishments and rewards of acts objectively and subjectively good or evil are of different kinds, and it is because things incommensurable are compared, that the invectives against Christian teaching are accepted as true. I think the difficulty we feel arises from our not recognising that there are different orders of motives (I wish we had more than one word for motive) appropriate to different stages of human development; law must come before liberty, and the highest motives cannot come into full operation until the highest stage of development is reached. Also we must see that the subordinate motives have their work in the process of development, and their proper function throughout life.

Think of the old Greek conception of man as a "trinity" (I can find no other word.) There is the unconscious functional life by which we are allied to the vegetable kingdom. There is the instinctive, the mere animal life. There is the higher life of the true man who has dominion over the world of space and time; who belongs to the eternal world, the world not of things, nor mere conceptions, but of ideas; who lives and would die for the things of the eternal world -- truth, holiness, goodness.

Thus there is the body, the medium of sensation; there is the psychical, the animal nature, which appropriates and delights in sensation, which is moved by passing good and evil; there is the higher spiritual being, whose glory can be manifested only when enduring unmoved the severest forms of suffering. Read Plato's wonderful description of the perfect man. ["Republic" Ilk. Il, page 232. Jowett ] "By the side of the unjust man let us place the just man in his nobleness and simplicity, being, as Aeschlus says, and not seeming. There must be no seeming, for if he seem to be just he will be honoured and rewarded, and then we shall not know whether he is just for the sake of justice or for the sake of honours and rewards; therefore, let him be clothed in justice only, and have no other covering. Let him be the best of men, and be esteemed to be the worst. Let him continue thus to the hour of death; being just and seeming to be unjust. Then when both have reached the uttermost extreme, the one of justice and the other of injustice, let judgment be given which of them is the happier of the two."

I suppose we all recognise that this perfect man is not born perfect. It would be out of place here to discuss how far the perfect man of Christian faith was subject to the laws of human development, but we read that even he became perfect through suffering. We see in men the process of moral evolution going on side by side with physical and intellectual evolution, and with that evolution the motives appropriate to each stage of development should be called into operation. Indeed, even the plant-life -- which seems a symbol, a sacrament of the human life -- has three stages. There is the first, during which the plant covers itself with leaves, whose life is identified with that of the plant, and these are less dependent upon air and sunlight than the more delicate flower. The flowers are leaves quickened and trasnfigured by the glow of the summer sun; these are sensitive to and dependent upon the influences outside the plant-life far more than the leaves. But not until the beauty of the flower fades, and the seed is ripened in the heart of the flower, can it fall from the parent-tree, and yet not die, but live an independent life when it falls, instead of merely decaying as the leaf or the flower would have done. Similarly there seem three periods in human life. In the earliest stage of the child's existence, ere thought is, and the instinctive appetitive life is all, how vain to appeal to those motives which move the spirit. A story is told of a moral philosopher who refused a baby the food he cried for. As well might he have demanded that the child should speak, as that he should think. The child during this first stage of its life must be guided to seek the good and avoid the evil by pleasure and pain. It needs to be ruled from the outside through the instincts, by the Reason manifested in Nature. The child is as yet non-moral; it is incapable, like the lower animals, of being immoral. There is a time in the child's life in which Dame Partlett's regime is not demoralising, because the child is not yet moralised; only that is before the age of church-going, and before the child knows the meaning of a lie. Material rewards and punishments are appropriate now. The greedy child is denied the food he has snatched; the passionate child, who slaps his nurse, receives a slap in return; the little thief has his toys taken from him.

There is the next stage, when the child is moved most by the desire of love and sympathy, and the fear of shame and disgrace. Now the desire to please mother is appealed to as the right motive; and even in religion we should rather tell the child of the Father who loves him, of the Lord who suffers little children to come unto Him, than appeal to the conscience as judge. He has not the knowledge, nor the power of thought, which would enable him to stand alone; he has to enter into the judgments of others before he can form his own. So we surround him with good influences, and express our sorrow and disappointment when he does wrong, our gladness when he does right. Our conscience must supplement his, our voice reinforce the tones, and yet only partly heard, which come from the unseen world.

But an external conscience can never take the place of the ever-present Guide; we are not truly perfect as long as we call any master upon earth; as long as the true judge dwells not in the inner courts of the soul; as long as the will of God comes to us as a law, and the love of God is not ours in a double sense, so long we only half understand the words "The kingdom of God is within you."

Lastly, there is the ultimate stage. Then pleasure and pain in its lowest sense no longer rule his acts. The old Greek stories of the choice of Achilles and Hercules and Prometheus come home to him then, and so far from seeking ease or pleasure, the full-grown soul rejoices in labours, in self-sacrifice. He not only renounces the lower rewards, but that which is the greatest of earthly joys -- the sense of sympathy, of being beloved; he "hates father and mother," and the child who had been so much to us, seems as it were alienated by the higher love; we seek him sorrowing. But we are wrong; the soul must in its maturity abide alone in the Father's house, there hearing and asking questions. The child once conscious of his divine parentage will be subject in outward relations, but he will own a higher allegiance, he will call no man father upon earth. Then, all that parents and teachers can do for him, will be to strengthen him by affectionate sympathy, to refrain from calling him away from what seems to him his duty, to dare to say "My child, do what seems to you right."

Ah, how hard to say this in faith, when we think him wrong! And he may be wrong, he may have misunderstood the voice which has come to him through conscience, the ear of the soul; yet even so, if he obeys, there will be no soul-degrading error; and through trying, even in a mistaken way, to do what seems to him God's will, he will, like Abraham, be led on to a higher truth, which could never otherwise have been fully brought home to him.

We know that obedience to conscience is the supreme duty; let us never put hindrances in the way of our child's way, never tempt him by anything we do or say to be unfaithful. "The weapons of our warfare are not carnal"; our maturer thought, our experience, may help him in arriving at right conclusions; there is an obedience that we may rightly ask in external things, but ever must we recognise that not our conscience but his is the ultimate judge, and that he must by all means that God has given, open his soul to the light, that the Spirit of truth may dwell with him; and we must bid him obey, whatever it may cost us to do so. Let us never tempt him to sell his birthright for a mess of pottage, or persuade him that he can feed on the stones of the desert. If the Spirit of God lead him, he will come safely through all temptations, and angels will minister to him; he will know the joy of sympathy with God who is love, the gladness of a conscience which reflects the light of heaven, the strength which comes from suffering for righteousness; sake, the peace which passeth understanding.

To sum up. There is a place for the self-regarding instincts, a work for them to do. By means of these the bodily powers are kept in full play, good habits are acquired, and the mental power developed. In the nursery and in the school children may rightly receive such rewards as follow industry and prudence in the larger world -- and the fear of punishment may offer useful checks and help them to master the selfish instincts; as in the larger world of life, the law is not made for the righteous man, it is made for the imperfect, and that is not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural. These instincts are not, however, the supreme rule of human action, nor even of the lower animals; and we have outlived the so-called philosophy of the last century, which reduced virtue to refined selfishness.

There are the social affections, which move by us the power of sympathy; these have their appropriate function and their appropriate reward; these lift men out of a selfish state into a spiritual atmosphere; these build up communities, teach the meaning of justice, and make men conscious of the joys of friendship, of being beloved -- which is the sunshine of life. This is felt to be incomparably above material gain, as shame, disgrace is infinitely worse than poverty or want. The appropriate reward which these win is "honour, love, obedience, troops of friends." But virtue is something more than the desire to win the approbation of others; we can no more evolve virtue out of universal selfishness, as is the fashion now, than out of individual selfishness, as did the philosopher of the 18th century.

There is a higher motive and a higher reward for the perfect man. Material things are valued by him, not for their own sakes, but only as meas. The sympathy and love of others is an accessory of his own happiness, but he knows that "it is more blessed to give than to receive," he knows the "passion" of the love of God, he will do good, "hoping for nothing again"; his reward is the consciousness of sympathy with the All-good, he is truly the child of God, he "enters into the joy of the Lord." This was the supreme motive power which was given us by Christ, "that ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven," "Be ye perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect."

If the thought that "godlikeness" is the supreme good, underlies our teaching from the first, though it can only be gradually unfolded, we may hope that our children will never become victims of the irrational greed of gain, never live by the judgment of the world, but "being transformed by the renewing of their mind, may know what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God."



Typed by "PT," Oct 2015