Today, I’m looking at Chapter 11 of Charlotte Mason’s Volume 3: School Education. I know it’s been a couple of weeks, but I really do intend to get through the entire book! Actually, I think slow reading has its benefits, but that is another post for another day. (Possibly, it’s a post I already wrote.)
Here in Part 1, we’ll discuss her theories. In Part 2, we’ll discuss practice. A lot of Mason’s chapters utilize this pattern, where she explains her idea, and then fleshes it out in practice in the latter portion. We’re just following her lead.
Charlotte explains that, as a general rule, we have accepted the laws of cause and effect (or what I like to call the laws of sowing and reaping). So, for instance, we know that if a man goes to work, he will, in due season, receive his paycheck. We acknowledge that, generally speaking, those who work harder and longer earn greater reward. In the moral realm we accept this principle also. There are blessings which attend righteousness, and there are curses which attend wickedness. These blessings and curses may be tangible or intangible, but regardless, they are real.
Charlotte then tells us that somehow we abandon this law of sowing and reaping when it comes to the intellectual life. As an example, Charlotte reminds us that we generally believe this:
Every man is free to his own opinion, however casually formed.
We allow a man of sloppy thinking to disregard the thoughts of those who have put forth great effort because they have a “right to their opinion.”
On the one hand, they do have a right to their opinion. On the other hand, we would all do well to recognize that refined thinking is superior to sloppy thinking, that taking great care is superior to taking little care — in other words, that some opinions really do have greater value than others. We would also do well to see this in ourselves and judge which of our opinions have been made with care, and which we ought to be silent about because we really haven’t knowledge enough to hold it with authority.
Charlotte tells us that this double-standard between the laws which we acknowledge govern the physical and moral realm, but which we refuse to recognize in the intellectual realm, is actually a sign of “duality.” In other words, we have divorced ourselves from ourselves, separating flesh from spirit, forgetting that man is one.
I have always appreciated that Charlotte uses Christ’s resurrection as her proof that man is one. Think about it: if it were appropriate to separate flesh from spirit, Jesus would be floating around as a spirit instead of walking in an incorruptible body. As it is, we see that body and flesh are properly united. This is why II Corinthians 5 says that we groan not to be body-less, but to have that immortal body which has been prepared for us; being spirit only is equivalent to nakedness, and not a desirable state of being.
Building on these ideas, Charlotte offers us three facts:
- We mistakenly regard everything as an open question. We forget the “three fixed points of thought:” God, Self, and the World:
[W]hen we learn to realise that — God is, Self is, the World is, with all that these existences imply, quite untouched by any thinking of ours, unprovable, and self-proven, — why, we are at once put into a more humble attitude of mind. We recognise that above us, about us, within us, there are ‘more things … than are dreamt of in our philosophy.’ We realise ourselves as persons, we have a local habitation, and we live and move and have our being in and under a supreme authority.
- Reason has its limitations. This section reminded me of a place in the book Life of Pi in which Pi Patel describes
[a] number of my fellow religious-studies students [as] muddled agnostics who didn’t know which way was up, who were in the thrall of reason, that fool’s gold for the bright.
I don’t know that I’d go so far as Patel, but certainly we elevate reason above and beyond its rightful place. As an example, she reminds us that often we can “sleep on” a problem. We struggle and struggle during the day, but to no avail. We cannot figure it out. We sleep, and our mind works upon the problem through no direct effort of our own. When we arise in the morning, we know the answer we were looking for. It cannot be said here that reason solved the problem. Charlotte reminds us that so much which passes for reason is really “intuitive or reflexive.” This isn’t bad — rather she says this points to the limits of reason.
Another limit of reason is moral in nature. Charlotte tells us that the nature of reason is such that it
brings logical proof of any idea we entertain. — We, personally, might or might not be trusted to come to a morally right conclusion from any premise we entertain. But the reasoning power, acting in a more or less mechanical and involuntary manner, does not necessarily work towards the morally right conclusion. All that reason does for us is to prove, logically, any idea we choose to entertain.
This is why we say, for instance, that all things must be made subject to Scripture. We must reason using Scripture. Reason on its own merely attempts to make sense of whatever is at hand; it does not inherently have access to that knowledge which is revealed by God.
We tend to ignore the spiritual, revelatory nature of knowledge. When we learn something, we think it is our discovery, our great achievement. We fail to see that “God is bringing us up in knowledge.” Joseph Pieper was my first introduction to the idea that knowledge is revealed and I highly recommend his book Leisure: the Basis of Culture (especially the first half).
Warning: some may dismiss these ideas as impractical. Charlotte assures us that there is “nothing so practical as a great idea.”
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