Justin’s Comments on William Godwin’s The Enquirer, Part I, Essay IX: OF THE COMMUNICATION OF KNOWLEDGE
NOTE: I have made a 📺👀 video of my writing of this post. It has many tangents I didn’t put in the post.
In what manner would reason, independently of the received modes and practices of the world, teach us to communicate knowledge?
Justin’s Comment: I think Godwin is asking us to mentally set aside the existing education paradigm and analyze, from first principles, what reason would teach us about communicating knowledge.
Godwin says liberty is super important, and that if he’s communicating knowledge, he wants to do it with no violation of the liberty of the person he’s teaching (or as little as possible violation of liberty).
Godwin says there’s two ways of recommending some area of knowledge:
You can talk about why its good, and you can try and manipulate people into pursuing it by offering approval or disapproval.
Godwin says that intrinsic motivation for doing something, which “which arise from the inherent nature of the thing recommended” are unquestionably better than extrinsic motivations. By extrinsic motivation he seems to have in mind something like a teacher manipulating and pressuring you with praise/disapproval.
Godwin says if something is good, you can show its good! If you can’t show its good, maybe you don’t know much about it. People should be able to judge the value of things that they’re going to have to spend time on themselves.
J’s Comment: famous Godwin argument/point that Elliot has mentioned. If you think something is good but can’t explain why, maybe don’t be so sure of yourself!
Godwin asks if children should learn stuff before they know why its valuable.
J’s Comment: People think that kids don’t know much. And kids are ignorant, but they know what they’re interested in, what they like, what their values are. And if someone trying to sell a kid on the value of an activity fails to do so, then that means the person doing the selling failed to fully explain to the kid why the activity was relevant to the kid’s values.
Godwin says that learning individual things doesn’t matter so much as having a “mind well regulated, active, and prepared to learn”.
Godwin says it should be possible to find things that will inspire “habits of industry and observation”, which you need to develop a well-regulated mind. Godwin also says study with desire is a real activity, and without desire its a “semblance and mockery” of activity.
Godwin says the best way to educate is when the pupil is learning stuff they are interested in the whole time. Godwin says the best motive to learn is understanding the value of the thing you are learning. The worst motive is fear. And he also says there’s an in-between motive “which is desire … springing … from the accidental attractions which the teacher may have annexed to it.”
Godwin says current model of education is preceptor-led. OTOH the approach he’s discussing here is pupil-led. “If I learn nothing but what I desire to learn, what should hinder me from being my own preceptor?”
Godwin says there’s two objects of a system of instructing:
1. give pupil a motive to learn
2. help with problems in acquiring knowledge
J’s Comment: I think there is a relationship between objects one and two. I don’t think the issues of motivation and problems in acquiring knowledge are totally separate.
This is because I think that part of the problem people have with acquiring knowledge is bad methods they’ve internalized from school, where motivation didn’t matter. And where they could get by with cramming for exams instead of developing good methods.
If their learning had been something that was about real problems pursued on their own initiative, they would have developed better methods of learning.
Godwin says of pupil-led learning method:
It is sufficiently competent to answer the purposes of [helping with problems in acquiring knowledge].
J’s Comment: I wonder if Godwin thinks pupil-led learning is good enough on this issue and so its fine, or if he thinks teacher-led might have some advantages here.
Godwin says nothing helps with instruction difficulties like a genuinely excited pupil who is being helped with his problems learning.
Godwin says his approach would totally change education. There’d be no more teachers or pupils. ““The boy, like the man, studies, because he desires it.” Kids would pursue stuff on their own initiative, and be happy to ask more knowledgeable people for help. Godwin says the fact that kids consult adults for help more often than the reverse is not based on anything essential. And on the phenomena of kids consulting adults more, Godwin says ” [m]uch even of this would be removed, if we remembered that the most inferior judge may often, by the varieties of his apprehension, give valuable information to the most enlightened.”
J’s Comment: I did not understand the last sentence of this passage (I have provided more for context):
That the boy is accustomed almost always to consult the man, and not the man the boy, is to be regarded rather as an accident, than any thing essential. Much even of this would be removed, if we remembered that the most inferior judge may often, by the varieties of his apprehension, give valuable information to the most enlightened. The boy however should be consulted by the man unaffectedly, not according to any preconcerted scheme, or for the purpose of persuading him that he is what he is not.
Godwin says there’s three big advantages to his proposed education method:
2. “judgment would be strengthened by continual exercise.” Godwin says kids would no longer learn their lessons like parrots, and would consider for themselves whether they understood what they read. Godwin says sometimes students might overreach and get ahead of themselves, but “then the nature of the thing would speedily recall them, and induce them to return to examine the tracts which before had been overlooked. ” (J’s Comment: So he seems to think this risk of overreaching isn’t a big deal.)
3. Studying for yourself is the “true method of acquiring habits of activity.” Godwin says the normal method of being led around by someone else in learning is kinda similar to being a horse getting led around — you’re not active. He says you should let kids explore stuff for themselves, and ask you questions before you offer information.
J’s Comment: I looked up “active” in an old timey English Dictionary and it said:
That has the power or quality of acting; that contains the principle of action, independent of any visible external force; as, attraction is an active power: or it may be defined, that communicates action or motion, opposed to passive, that receives action; as, the active powers of the mind.
So it seems to kind of connote living or something like that (as opposed to the modern use of “active” which is more about physical stuff.)
Godwin says another advantage to his system is it will produce a love of literature, cuz right now, people have bad memories of their studies and hate the subjects they learned about. And that’s something they have to struggle to get over.
Godwin says some teachers might be worried about whether they could make their subjects of interest to students under the new system. Godwin says teachers have it pretty awful in the current system too. “He is regarded as a tyrant by those under his jurisdiction, and he is a tyrant.” (J’s Comment: Indeed)
†Justin’s Comments Boilerplate: All quotes are Godwin quotes from this Essay unless otherwise noted. When I say something like “Godwin says” or “Godwin implies” it’s an attempt at a paraphrase of material I have not quoted. When I say “Godwin is saying” I’m trying to paraphrase the immediately preceding quoted material. When I say “J’s Comment” it’s my own thoughts, questions, and commentary on the stuff just quoted or discussed.