Friday, May 30, 2008

Thoughts on Charlotte Mason's Philosophical Context

I think Charlotte Mason was a kind of Thomist. That is, I think that her philosophy is mostly informed by classical Realism, in the tradition of Aristotle and Aquinas. There are probably divergences, but this seems to be the most fruitful starting point for considering her philosophy of education.

The article I linked to above is by Jonathan Dolhenty, who says:

... there is one philosophy that has stood the test of time, been accepted by virtually all ordinary men, and forms a rational foundation for truth and morality. This philosophy is called the philosophy of Common Sense, Critically Examined and Expanded. It is not ordinary common sense opinion, but common sense opinion subjected to rigorous examination and criticism. It is an authentic philosophy of Realism, based on demonstrated principles of objective truth and using objective evidence as its sole criterion of truth....

Realistic Philosophy is not a closed system of thought, as many critics have mistakenly supposed. It is a genuine open system of investigation, a comprehensive and continually developing world-view, capable of using new knowledge from the natural and social sciences to expand our intellectual horizon and provide practical solutions to the many problems we face today.
This is how Charlotte Mason tended to approach the subject of education, which as Maritain points out is inextricably related to one's philosophy:

The educational task is both greater and more mysterious and, in a sense, humbler than many imagine. If the aim of education is the helping and guiding of man towards his own human achievement, education cannot escape the problems and entanglements of philosophy, for it supposes by its very nature a philosophy of man, and from the outset it is obliged to answer the question: "What is man?"
Charlotte Mason tended to ask: What is the child? and her answer was "A person". To answer the question "And what then?" she often referred to Our Lord's words on children (Matthew 18):
At that time the disciples approached Jesus and said, "Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?"He called a child over, placed it in their midst,and said, "Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.
Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
And whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me."Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.
These were the core positive and negative injunctions of her views on education, and she extended it outwards from there to a thorough method of education.

I see Platonic influences on her thought, too, and of course Augustine was a Platonist and I know Augustine's thought was important to her thinking. But probably more details will have to wait for another occasion. Part of her philosophy you can deduce negatively, by noting her criticisms of the thinkers of her time, such as Locke and Rousseau, Spencer, and Herbart among others.

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