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IN WHAT SENSE ARE THOUGHT AND FEELING
PRINCIPAL J. M. B. SILL, STATE NORMAL SCHOOL.
Teachers of the present generation owe to Professor William H. Payne, of the University of Michigan, a debt of gratitude which I am sure they will one day be ready to acknowledge with sincerity and practical unanimity. To him, more than any other American writer of our time, is due the honor of breaking the yoke of our thralldom to certain venerable but empty formulas and to certain modern but equally empty educational catch-words and campaign phrases that have passed current, not because they are either true or valuable, but, rather, because no one with sufficient clearness of insight and courage of his own opinions has ventured to attack them.
He has aided powerfully in vivifying and stimulating the prevailing spirit of inquiry that refuses to rest satisfied with the mere ex cathedra dictum of any one, however famous his name and however great his authority-a spirit that, in the very nature of things, cannot be a respecter of persons. His example is inspiring and happily contagious. It is refreshing and invigorating to observe his prompt and fearless methods of dealing with alleged principles and laws that have heretofore escaped searching criticism and exhaustive discussion. We admire and applaud the gallant temerity with which he dashes down upon cherished pedagogical fallacies and overwhelms them as with a cataclysm, and leaves them lifeless and dismembered, to be tossed about and finally to sink out of sight in the turbulent deluge: “rari nantes in gurgite vasto.”
Not that he is always in the right. No mortal man is infallible. Now and then some bold rescuer puts out in a life-boat and, with infinite effort, succeeds in saving some long cherished but half-drowned principle from the tempestuous flood, breathes into it the renewing breath of life, and sets it upon its feet again apparently as good as new; as did Dr. Hinsdale in the case of the "favorite Pestalozzian principle” which had been eviscerated and left for dead. It will, however, be well enough to wait awhile to see whether or not this is a case of real resuscitation or only some galvanic mimicry of life; for it is certainly true that when Professor Payne sets about the destruction of a so-called pedagogical principle the chances are a hundred to one that he will leave it dead beyond all hope of permanent resurrection.
This introduction is not so far off from the topic which I have chosen for the hour as it may, at first, seem. The law of “mutual exclusion of thought and feeling” which I shall attempt to discuss briefly is one to which Professor Payne attaches weight and importance. I hold a different view which I shall endeavor to establish. In reference to this law I may say in all candor that I think he is in error; and it is within my knowledge that his utterance on this subject has caused considerable confusion. In dealing with this matter and with other topics which are closely connected with it I wish to follow the excellent pattern of great frankness and plain speaking which he has set us in his valuable essays. I hope to do this courteously and without offense. To this end I want it understood, once for all, that I have a high appreciation of his services to the profession and to the cause which the profession represents and profound respect for his judgment in general. Indeed, it is his eminence as an educator and the faith with which his words are received that make any errors into which he may have fallen especially dangerous, and the duty of calling attention to them, both urgent and imperative.
In the introduction to his Elements of Pedagogy, Dr. Emerson E. White, referring to his seven Principles of Teaching, expresses himself as follows:
“Great care has been taken to point out limitations when such exist, and this has seemed the more necessary since such limitations are so frequently ignored. One of the most misleading errors in present pedagogic discussion is the sweeping assumption that maxims which have a limited application are universal principles of teaching. The pointing out of these limitations may, in some instances, seem to sacrifice strength of staternent, but the truth is better for guidance than a doubtful epigram.'
Doubtless, as Dr. White suggests, this error sometimes arises from an overmastering desire to be terse, trenchant, and epigrammatical in style. Doubtless it is often born of a contest between vanity and good judgment, in which vanity is the winner. It may also arise from an honest misunderstanding or from failure to recognize and record the necessary limitations. But we sometimes find it where we have a right to expect great breadth of view and a statement of the whole truth, cautiously and conscientiously made. In such cases we ought to exercise extraordinary care in seeing to it that the fault is not our own—that we have neither misunderstood nor misinterpreted the words of the writer. But on the other hand, it may also be truly said that we have a good right to expect that even writers on pedagogic topics will use familiar words in their ordinary sense and collate them in such a manner that the average reader may, if he will, get a reasonably clear understanding of their meaning. If such writers deal too much in verbal mysteries, the fault is their own and those who criticise are not answerable for anything that lies beyond a strict and reasonable interpretation. In the statement of fundamental laws and first truths no one is privileged to be obscure or mysterious, and those who formulate them must be responsible for whatever they actually say without reference to what they may have intended to say.
Teachers have already suffered enough and more than enough of befogging, and mystifying with generalities that dazzle and glitter but, in the end, cruelly mislead. We are fully justified in being righteously impatient of any additions to the products of this most mischievous practice.
These prefacing words bring me to the subject of my paper. “ To what extent are thought and feeling mutually exclusive?” Reference is here made to a psychological law which is to be found stated on page 20 of Contributions to the Science of Education. The context throws some light upon its meaning and intent and also indicates the esteer in which it is held by the essayist. Therefore it seems best to quote the entire paragraph with which it stands connected.
“ From the time of Socrates to the present day the acutest intellects of the race have been employed in the study of mental phenomena; and it is inconceivable that from all this wealth of effort we inherit po first truths upon which we may base a science of mental training. Most assuredly we have such truths, and the first task of the educational philosopher, as it seems to me, is to select certain great psychological laws and apply them deductively to the processes of mental culture. I feel gure that careful deductions from three well established laws would rationalize nearly every process of the school-room.”
An asterisk used in connection with the word laws as quoted above, solicits attention to a foot-note containing the three laws to which the writer refers; thus:
First—“The descent of the mind from aggregates to elements."
Whoever will carefully read this quotation will promptly acquit me of any charge of exaggeration in saying that the writer attaches much weight and great importance to these three laws.
The processes of the school-room are multiplex and bewilderingly various. They touch the child not only as a spiritual being exhibiting all the complex phenomena of thinking, willing, and feeling; but also on the side of his physical nature. They comprise not only instruction and guidance in mental progress but also disciplinary training in all that goes to make up the future useful member of society, the happy, upright, law-abiding man and the worthy heir of a glorious immortality. Certainly, to rationalize nearly all the present irrational processes connected with this great work is a tremendous task, but encouragement is here offered that all this shall be accomplished by mere careful deductions from the three laws quoted above. This is indeed something like the touch of a magician's wand, for it will be observed that no efficient cause is mentioned in connection with this marvelous result except the deductions. If the writer had in his mind any provision for the administration of such deduced rules, he has neglected to make any mention of it. It will also be observed that he speaks of these as well established laws and mentions them in intimate and suggestive connection with first truths, and he certainly seems by implicatiou to dignify them by the title of “great psychological laws." It is then evident that, in his opinion, the three laws are full of present and potential value.
To the first and the third of these laws it is not within the scope of my present purpose to give any extended notice, but since the writer has made them the possible foundation of a great and beneficent revolution which shall “rationalize nearly every process of the school-room,” I will, in passing, say of them that the first is undoubtedly sound pedagogical doctrine. It indi. cates and outlines a really fundamental law, and is, moreover, useful for guidance and pregnant with suggestions of fruitful deductions.
The third is equally in harmony with the truth, but is by no means equally valuable, because, as was shown in a paper read before this association at its
last meeting held a year ago, it is plainly involved in the first and is a repetition of it under another form rather than the expression of an independent and co-ordinate principle. To descend from aggregates to elements is to progress from the confused to the definite. Indeed, Sir William Hamilton, as quoted by the author in another essay, puts these two laws as balancing and equivalent parts in a compound proposition, thus: “The first procedure of the mind in the elaboration of its knowledge is always analytical. It descends from the whole to its parts, from the vague to the definite.” But while this duplication of a principle under differing forms, without notice, tends to unnecessary confusion and is therefore useful only as an illustrative example of faulty practice in teaching, the two laws, fused into one and taken together, express a fundamental truth and are useful and valuable. This leaves, as the basis for the rationalization of “nearly every process of the school-room,” two laws, one made up from the consolidation of the first and its double, the third ; and the other, the original second, viz.: the law of mutual exclusion, and one of these, the consolidated first and third, is freely admitted to be true and valid.
How is it with number two, the law of the mutual exclusion of thought and feeling? It certainly ought to be handled carefully, for if anything serious should happen to it, the sub-structure for the half promised educational millennium would practically be reduced to a single pillar. For the sake of convenience let us, without in any degree altering its meaning, put it into the form of an equivalent proposition, thus: Thought and feeling are mutually exclusive."
My first objection is of minor importance and perhaps would not have been made at all if a re-perusal of the paragraph quoted from the contributions had not thrown the writer hereof into a state of mind somewhat controversial and litigious. But there is a serious objection that lies against any form of expression which gives the slightest color of tolerance towards the prevailing fallacy that the soul is a thing of parts split up into divisions each of which performs its functions independently of the others. There is an objection that is valid and that ought to be strenuously urged against the employment of terms that unnecessarily suggest in the remotest way, that the soul is anything but an indivisible unit capable of exerting itself, as a unit, in three constantly intricating lines, viz., of thought, of feeling or sensibility, and of will. There is special and urgent objection to any choice or use of words that, in a case like this, give even a seeming warrant for a concept of mechanical exclusion; as those who fill a coach to its utmost capacity mechanically exclude those who would otherwise enter it; or, as the contents of a gallon measure mechanically exclude, in a degree proportionate to their bulk, other matter which we seek to pour into it. It is perhaps well to say that this objection is made with the knowledge that other eminent writers on psychological topics, notably Mr. Bain, express a similar thought by the same verbal forms.
This objection being dismissed with the foregoing protest, and the objectionable form of expression being agreed to so far as this discussion is concerned, it is next in order to say that the meaning of the law as stated is sufficiently clear. Whether the writer meant more or less than appears in the text is not important. This is not the affair of the reader and he need not concern himself about it; but he may know something that is vastly more to the point. He may know exactly and precisely what meaning the words actually and rightfully convey. There is neither qualification nor any kind of limitation. It is the expression of a supposed "great psychological law” broadly and squarely stated. “Thought and feeling are mutually exclusive."
This is true only to a certain extent and under certain necessary limitations. Let us give a moment's attention to these required limitations. The first one, necessary to make the law correspond with the facts, may be stated as follows: Feeling is antagonistic to thought whenever the line of the direction of its force differs from the line on which thought is moving. In other words thought and feeling are in opposition and may be said to be mutually exclusive whenever they are out of harmony with each other, and the degree of exclusion is greater in proportion as the lack of harmony becomes more thorough and pronounced. Thus if the mind is employed in a process of delicate discrimination or identification, a feeling of discomfort or actual pain, an emotion of anger, a sense of injury, interest in a new object of either consciousness or perception, or any feeling that goes in another direction or towards another end, is sure to antagonize the intellectual act, to weaken the power of thought and finally, if the intruding feeling grow intense enough, to drive it to the wall. On the other hand over-mastering thought may be exclusive of feeling. Intense and strenuous application of the thought power in a new direction to any elected end is often resorted to as a remedy against grief, depression, disappointment, or any other painful emotion.
But we must not fail to notice that this doctrine of mutual exclusion under the conditions named is not peculiar to thought and feeling, for thought is still more rigidly exclusive of thought tending in a different direction. Who has not been conscious of sharp contests for supremacy between two antagonizing lines of thought?
In the same sense, and in a marked degree, feeling is exclusive of feeling, and too much thought in the form of consideration as to what ought to be done and too nice discrimination in such consideration, is often fatal to prompt and energetic exercise of the will. Now it is plain that this phenomenon of incompatibility between thought and divergent feeling, between feeling and divergent feeling, between thought and divergent thought, etc., are of one kind and cannot be grouped under the narrow law of exclusion as stated by Professor Payne. They must and do go together, and fall under & common law vastly more comprehensive and broad enough to take in all these instances of incompatibility, a law that I shall not at the present moment attempt to formulate.
Next comes a second necessary limitation to the law as stated. This limitation Mr. Bain is always careful to preserve and prescribe. It is as follows: Feeling whenever it becomes excessive, tumultuous and over-mastering ex. cludes thought, and, to a considerable extent, the converse is true. This is especially obvious when thought and feeling are (as described in the preceding paragraph) moving upon divergent lines. Perhaps it is also true where these two great capabilities of the soul are working in harmony. There is most excellent authority for this view though personally, I suppose, I may be permitted to entertain doubts. Granting its truth for present purposes, in such cases of coincident and harmonious thought and feeling, I call especial attention to the care with which good authorities keep this limitation in sight. Mr. Bain says: “The engraining efficiency of the pleasurable mo