Chapter XXII: The Individual and the World - 1. Mind as Purely Individual

We have been concerned with the influences which have effected a division between work and leisure, knowing and doing, man and nature. These influences have resulted in splitting up the subject matter of education into separate studies. They have also found formulation in various philosophies which have opposed to each other body and mind, theoretical knowledge and practice, physical mechanism and ideal purpose. Upon the philosophical side, these various dualisms culminate in a sharp demarcation of individual minds from the world, and hence from one another. While the connection of this philosophical position with educational procedure is not so obvious as is that of the points considered in the last three chapters, there are certain educational considerations which correspond to it; such as the antithesis supposed to exist between subject matter (the counterpart of the world) and method (the counterpart of mind); such as the tendency to treat interest as something purely private, without intrinsic connection with the material studied. Aside from incidental educational bearings, it will be shown in this chapter that the dualistic philosophy of mind and the world implies an erroneous conception of the relationship between knowledge and social interests, and between individuality or freedom, and social control and authority.

The identification of the mind with the individual self and of the latter with a private psychic consciousness is comparatively modern. In both the Greek and medieval periods, the rule was to regard the individual as a channel through which a universal and divine intelligence operated. The individual was in no true sense the knower; the knower was the 'Reason' which operated through him. The individual interfered at his peril, and only to the detriment of the truth. In the degree in which the individual rather than reason 'knew,' conceit, error, and opinion were substituted for true knowledge. In Greek life, observation was acute and alert; and thinking was free almost to the point of irresponsible speculations. Accordingly the consequences of the theory were only such as were consequent upon the lack of an experimental method. Without such a method individuals could not engage in knowing, and be checked up by the results of the inquiries of others. Without such liability to test by others, the minds of men could not be intellectually responsible; results were to be accepted because of their æsthetic consistency, agreeable quality, or the prestige of their authors. In the barbarian period, individuals were in a still more humble attitude to truth; important knowledge was supposed to be divinely revealed, and nothing remained for the minds of individuals except to work it over after it had been received on authority. Aside from the more consciously philosophic aspects of these movements, it never occurs to any one to identify mind and the personal self wherever beliefs are transmitted by custom.

In the medieval period there was a religious individualism. The deepest concern of life was the salvation of the individual soul. In the later middle ages, this latent individualism found conscious formulation in the nominalistic philosophies, which treated the structure of knowledge as something built up within the individual through his own acts, and mental states. With the rise of economic and political individualism after the sixteenth century, and with the development of protestantism, the times were ripe for an emphasis upon the rights and duties of the individual in achieving knowledge for himself. This led to the view that knowledge is won wholly through personal and private experiences. As a consequence, mind, the source and possessor of knowledge, was thought of as wholly individual. Thus upon the educational side, we find educational reformers, like Montaigne, Bacon, Locke, henceforth vehemently denouncing all learning which is acquired on hearsay, and asserting that even if beliefs happen to be true, they do not constitute knowledge unless they have grown up in and been tested by personal experience. The reaction against authority in all spheres of life, and the intensity of the struggle, against great odds, for freedom of action and inquiry, led to such an emphasis upon personal observations and ideas as in effect to isolate mind, and set it apart from the world to be known.

This isolation is reflected in the great development of that branch of philosophy known as epistemology—the theory of knowledge. The identification of mind with the self, and the setting up of the self as something independent and self-sufficient, created such a gulf between the knowing mind and the world that it became a question how knowledge was possible at all. Given a subject—the knower—and an object—the thing to be known—wholly separate from one another, it is necessary to frame a theory to explain how they get into connection with each other so that valid knowledge may result. This problem, with the allied one of the possibility of the world acting upon the mind and the mind acting upon the world, became almost the exclusive preoccupation of philosophic thought. The theories that we cannot know the world as it really is but only the impressions made upon the mind, or that there is no world beyond the individual mind, or that knowledge is only a certain association of the mind's own states, were products of this preoccupation. We are not directly concerned with their truth; but the fact that such desperate solutions were widely accepted is evidence of the extent to which mind had been set over the world of realities. The increasing use of the term 'consciousness' as an equivalent for mind, in the supposition that there is an inner world of conscious states and processes, independent of any relationship to nature and society, an inner world more truly and immediately known than anything else, is evidence of the same fact. In short, practical individualism, or struggle for greater freedom of thought in action, was translated into philosophic subjectivism.