This is a guest post from a friend of mine, Kelsey Crichton. She wrote this for one of her university classes. I found it to be brilliant, and asked if I could share it all with you, to which question she replied in the affirmative. Enjoy!
With a plate of scrambled eggs and bacon in my left hand, a breakfast burrito in my right, and a dish of chocolate chip pancakes on my head, I headed to the middle booth by the window. I expected to find bright eyes at the sight of hot breakfast, but not one of my three regular customers seemed particularly chipper this fresh Saturday morning. I set their plates before them.
“Absurdity,” said Aristotle. “If it were up to you, Jean, society would fall apart completely!”
“I agree,” said Immanuel Kant, “A child must be taught his duty to society through—”
“Society!” cried Rousseau. He shook his head and rolled his eyes smugly. “Society must be taught by the child! Children are born with no morals or, in your words, Ari—‘ethics.’ Society is what corrupts the human soul. It is when a child enters into society that he gets all these ridiculous ideas and vulgar desires that cause him to turn into a monster, harming himself and others. If you want a child to become a good man, you must protect him from being snagged by society’s clutches and allow him to learn on his own. Well-regulated freedom—that’s all a child needs, not commands and discipline. Commands are for the enslaved, and discipline for the wicked.” (Emile, Rousseau)
“Rubbish!” Kant replied, spewing eggs all over the table. Rousseau angrily grabbed a napkin and wiped his cheek.
“Sorry.” Lowering his voice, Kant continued, “If you leave a child to himself, he will not know his duty to his fellow human beings! A child is born with a desire to please himself and get what he wants. He must be taught through maxims and strict regimens before he may move forward to more substantial educational instruction. Obedience must be forced upon him, or else there is no hope for a civilized member of the state.” (Kant, On Education)
“And what of that more substantial education?” sparked Aristotle, reaching for the maple syrup. “Really, Jean, you can’t expect that a child left to himself will learn mathematics, how to read and write, or even the more coarse disciplines, such as music and drawing! Give children freedom to roam their own minds and ideas and you’ll have a community full of beliefs and passions so different that the state will have no unity whatsoever!” (Politics, Aristotle)
“Listen to the two of you!” said Rousseau with a huff. “You’re so brainwashed by society’s ideas that you can’t even see the true nature of things, nor the way real education works, yet the world embraced your writings like they were gold! You might as well get all your ideas from the waitress!”
The three men looked at me, all four of us realizing that I had been standing there much too long. I felt rude, but then again, they weren’t very polite themselves; and their tips were always lousy. I might as well give my two cents, thought I.
“Hmm. Well, since you asked…” I took a deep breath. “You’re all right. Society has a tendency toward evil. And, in order to change the whole, you must change the individual parts that make up the whole. I guess the question is how to change the man. I’m sorry to be blunt, Monsieur Rousseau, but your argument falls flat when you wonder at the origin of evil. You say that men are born without morals, as though there is neutral ground, but then where does evil originate? Society? But society is made up of men—men who should have been neutral when they first came together. Who did the first evil act? Why did he do it, if at first his companions and he were morally neutral? So then, the individual parts of society must already be corrupt for the whole to be perverted. How, then, do we train a selfish being to be good? Kant, you say that the child should be taught maxims, as though that is the end all. You seem to believe that upon realizing his duty, a child will live in obedience and morality for the soul purpose of society’s good. But do people do wicked things because they are oblivious to their duty and responsibilities to those around them? Or do all human beings do wrong because they simply weren’t trained to do right? As for you, Aristotle, I see your concern for a unified state. It is very practical for a society to train their people to believe the same core beliefs, because where there is unity there is no strife. But if everyone is kept within an intellectual box, never to go outside the lines of the state’s set ideas, is there any betterment of a society?
“ No, let children think differently. Teach them to think outside the box and creative ideas will spark progress in all areas of the state. So then, perhaps there is room for what Rousseau has called, ‘regulated freedom.’ Yet, as Kant says, there is also a place for discipline, because children are born with a natural bent toward evil. Punish their wrongdoing, and teach them the right path. One thing I didn’t hear any of you mention was love. Love the child. The truth is that we are not talking about machines here; we are talking about human beings with feelings, hopes, fears, and difficulties. Let them know that they are cared for, and teach them to care for others. If you can accomplish that, well then…”
The three men looked at me, and then at each other. They smiled, Rousseau laughed a little, and Kant took a bite of his burrito.
“Jean, you haven’t eaten a bite of your food,” said Aristotle, “Your eggs are probably cold as a politician’s handshake.”
“I need the salt.” Kant passed it to him.
I blinked, and walked away, wondering which of those men were raised to like eggs, bacon or pancakes.