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Guilt and Shame in Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Robinson Crusoe

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Guilt and Shame in Some Thoughts Concerning Education and Robinson Crusoe

In Seventeenth and Eighteenth Century England, a major transition was occurring; attitudes were shifting towards a more sensibility-based perspective, in which the "warrior" mentality of earlier times was falling out of fashion, in favor of sensitive "gentlemen." Such gentlemen were expected to be morally sound, well-educated, "enlightened." Yet, despite all this, men were still expected to be masculine to be able to take control of a situation or solve a particular problem. John Locke postulated that all of this could be encouraged in young men via their education. Sadly, he found that no educational program at the time was up to the task. He argued that one of the foremost goals of education should be responsible self-government, or the ability to determine properly what to do and what not to do without an external authority commanding it. This ideal became very en vogue among sensible folk at this time many Englishmen (as well as other Europeans) wanted to be so morally upright that they need only answer to themselves. Locke, of course, had some thoughts on this, and those thoughts revolved chiefly around (of all things) shame.

Some Thoughts Concerning Education was first published by Locke in 1693. The ideas it advocated were progressive, even by today's standards. One point he makes very clear is that physical rewards and punishments (as a system of encouraging morally-correct behavior) are ineffective in raising children to be responsible, moral adults (38 - 39). As an alternative, he suggested the following:

Esteem and disgrace are, of all others, the most powerful incentives to the mind, when once it is brought to relish ...

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...other is standing nearby with a scornful eye, but true self-governance is about much more than that. Locke knew this to be true, and I think it's obvious that Defoe agreed emphatically enough to base one of the most successful novels in history on very similar views.

Works Cited

Bredvold, Louis I. The Natural History of Sensibility. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1962

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe. New York: Bantam Books, 1991 ("Defoe")

Defoe, Daniel. Robinson Crusoe, Norton Critical Edition. New York: W. W. Norton and Company, Inc., 1975 ("Norton")

Locke, John. Some Thoughts Concerning Education, The Works of John Locke, vol. 9. London: 1823

Moore, C. Backgrounds of English Literature 1700-1760. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1953

Yolton, John W. John Locke and Education. New York: Random House, Inc., 1971
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