📚🤔Justin’s Comments on William Godwin’s The Enquirer, Part I, Essay X📖📝


Godwin says family life is the most important subject in private life.

Godwin says people have “ill humours” and things like that, and asks if people should “spend these upon his fellow beings” or “suffer them to subside of themselves?”

Godwin says that excessive closeness/familiarity with other people is “the bane of social happiness.”

Godwin says people fool themselves a ton, making excuses and passing off errors as virtues.

Godwin says there are people who like trashing other people’s views and think its righteous/effective to do so. (Godwin seems to favor kindness/reason/calm explanation instead).

J’s Comment: People think that defeating somebody in a debate (that lasts at most an hour or two)is what discussion is. The idea that there could be a long, sustained, calm, pleasant exchange of views in which both people benefit is foreign to most people. That kind of exchange is not something that they really have in their repertoire.

Godwin says the children are frequently rebuked and talk to in harsh tones. He says this is due to an excess of familiarity. He says that people think this is virtuous, but that there was “no atom of virtue or benevolence” in the conduct. Godwin points out that kids can’t resist and are victims.

Godwin says the children are individual beings with powers of reasoning and are entitled to an amount of independence and discretion.

J’s Comment: Lots of people will treat their child as having some discretion in certain areas much of the time, but then revoke or violate that discretion at their whim. For example, they will act as if their children have property until they decide to take it away. Or they will act as if the children can decide how to use their time, including playing video games, until they decide that the child should be doing something else. The children aren’t subjected to a complete authoritarian regime – at least, not typically. Children typically aren’t following a rigid schedule in all their activities. But the situation they find themselves in is very much a rule of man situation, not a rule of law situation. Their parents have and exercise enormous arbitrary authority over the details of the children’s lives.

Godwin counts children as people. “The most fundamental of all the principles of morality is the consideration and deference that man owes to man; nor is the helplessness of childhood by any means unentitled to the benefit of this principle.” Godwin says that neglecting this principle of morality is the source of various evils that mankind faces.

Godwin says that people are harsh to children in order to teach the children their errors. But this doesn’t actually work. The lesson children learn is that they have to deal with stuff besides the actual consequences of their errors, and that people will use force when reason fails to persuade. Godwin says that the result of the harshness is to cause people to hate the lessons that occasioned their pain.

Godwin says that in order to understand the true means of convincing someone of error, we should imagine how we would act towards child we don’t know very well. And Godwin says that in that scenario people will generally recognize that harsh tones and nasty looks don’t correct error.

J’s Comment: Lots of times in TCS/FI community, people encounter the suggestion of imagining how they would react if there were a change to the situation. And that is exactly what Godwin is doing. He is suggesting that people hypotheticalize about a different situation and then consider how they would react differently to that situation. It is interesting that lots of people would treat the child of a stranger with more kindness and care then they would treat their own child, despite saying they love their child.

Godwin continues on the theme of how people would treat a child they don’t know well:

he would treat the child in this respect as he would an adult of either sex. He would know that to inspire hatred to himself and distaste of his lessons, was not the most promising road to instruction. He would endeavour to do justice to his views of the subject in discussion; he would communicate his ideas with all practicable perspicuity; but he would communicate them with every mark of conciliation and friendly attention.

J’s Comment: people are often somewhat harsh to children they don’t know very well, although they are often not as harsh as they would be to their own children.

People feel a special obligation to correct the mistakes of their children that they don’t feel towards other people’s children. And to a large extent that’s reasonable, because they do in fact have a unique responsibility towards their own children in terms of helping them figure out life. Because of what people think morality is, when they take on a role that involves some sort of exercise of moral authority, they tend to be harsh.

People do not see morality is something which can help one flourish and lead a happy, joyous, fulfilled, productive existence. So this is an interesting relationship between a mistaken conception of morality and the methodology of parenting/education.

People try and do what they think is virtuous and right. People often hurt their children even when they feel bad doing so. I’ve always thought the idea encapsulated in the expression “this hurts me more than it hurts you” was perverse, nasty, and cruel, especially given the power imbalance context in the situations where it is typically said. But the parent is frequently experiencing some suffering while harming their child, and yet continuing the harm because the parent thinks it is the right thing to do. That is a tragedy.

BTW I think Godwin is really optimistic here. Lots of people have unconsidered views, and when asked why they think those views, they don’t really have an answer and sort of drop the discussion. And that’s with their adult friends and whatnot. Most people will take a child even less seriously as a discussion partner and put even less effort in than they would normally. But I do think Godwin is right that people would be less hostile and mean towards children they don’t know well. BTW Godwin notes right after the above-quoted section that people can be angry and mean towards adults as well.

Godwin says:

The ill humour which is so prevalent through all the different walks of life, is the result of familiarity, and consequently of cohabitation. If we did not see each other too frequently, we should accustom ourselves to act reasonably and with urbanity. But, according to a well known maxim, familiarity breeds contempt.

J’s Comment: I would say that the issue is less familiarity per se, than it is having a bunch of unresolved conflicts with people that you see often combined with the lack of rational problem-solving methods. Conflicts often come about due to sharing of resources. So sharing less and getting better at reason would be two generic ways for improving the issue Godwin complains about. And regarding less sharing, Godwin mentions that maybe we should do away with cohabitation!

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 “J’s Comment” it’s my own thoughts, questions, and commentary on the stuff just quoted or discussed.

📚🤔Justin’s Comments on William Godwin’s The Enquirer, Part I, Essay IX📖📝

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.

Godwin says:

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:
1. Liberty.
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.