Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Like Taking the Light from the Eye

The solitary man is not the man of nature....Nature has bestowed on man no particular instinct, but she has given him reason as the foundation of arts, which make up for the want of instinct. By his reason man subdues the other animals and makes the whole earth serve his needs. But reason cannot effect any of this without the help of society; the civil state only adds the necessary order to natural society. If man is made for society, it follows that he cannot be raised well for himself unless he is also raised for others....To take a man from society and require him to exercise his natural faculties is like taking the light from the eye and then requiring it to exercise its functions.

Hyacinthe Sigismond Gerdil, The Anti-Emile, Frank, tr. St. Augustine's Press (South Bend, IN: 2011), p. 12.

Gerdil (1718-1802) published this work on education originally in 1763 (its original title was Reflection on the Theory and Practice of Education against the Principles of Rousseau; the title it is usually given, The Anti-Emile, is a popular designation that attached to the book). He had just recently finished a stint as tutor of the young Prince of Piedmont, and before that had taught at university. He would later go on to become a bishop and cardinal, and narrowly avoided becoming Pope in 1800 -- he might have received enough votes, but it was common practice at that time to let the Catholic nations have a veto, and Austria thought he was too old. His writings are very extensive and diverse; he was a major defender of Malebranchean philosophy, so I've been intending to get around to looking more closely at his oeuvre for a while.

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