Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Week 7 - Essay 6 - Subjective vs. Objective

Henry writes: "no education avails for the intelligence that doesn’t stir in it some subjective passion, and... almost anything that does so act is largely educative"[1] - Agree? Is our present education system geared to stirring or rewarding subjective passion?

Good question Dr. Phil.

Breaking this down into more understandable terms that I, the simple man, can understand, James is saying (correct me if I am wrong): All education, taking the opportunity to manifest as useful or helpful, stirs in the intellect some passion that is not necessarily rational or fact based. On the other hand, anything that acts in such a manner is, for the most part, educational regardless of its size and purview.

Taking the second question first: No. Our current education system is not, with some exceptions, geared to stirring or rewarding subjective passions. Theater, arts and music may be the exception. To the contrary, it rewards objective passions. Tests and quizzes, at least at the undergraduate level, test instructional learning objectives rather than subjective ones. The classroom is geared to completing a unit of instruction that can be measured quantitatively for the purpose of practical application in a specific field. Theater arts and music often test subjectively by asking for new ideas and encouraging creativity.  

I don’t think this is necessarily a bad thing in either direction. Creativity in theater, arts and music doesn’t have to be logic and fact based. Creative thinking in science must be logic and fact based, at least in its final rendering.

James, while speaking of London, gives an example of the very thing he speaks of in A Small Boy and Others, when he states that “It is not to be denied that the heart tends to grow hard in her company; but she is a capital antidote to the morbid, and to live with her successfully is an education of the temper, a consecration of one’s private philosophy.” “She may take away reparations, but she forms character. She teaches her victims not to ‘mind’, and the great danger for them is perhaps that they shall learn the lesson too well.”[2]

[1] Henry James, A Small Boy and Others ( Independently published, 2017), 25.
[2] Henry James, English Hours (London: Tauris Parke Paperbacks, 2011), 15.

1 comment:

  1. That word "passion" does keep coming up, with Henry. (See Joshua's post below.) "Subjective" I associate more with William, whose pragmatism was largely concerned with validating the personal and idiosyncratic against the objective and impersonal... or as he also said, "experience against philosophy." He wouldn't have called that irrational or counterfactual, just volitional and (again) personal. When Henry later said, on reading Pragmatism, that he'd been a pragmatist but didn't know it, I think he was picking up on this aspect of his brother's thought in particular.

    You're right, our current system of education is geared to measurable metrics and objective data streams. "Subjective passions" are hard to chart and apply to public policy, but that's precisely what gets a creative person's juices flowing and gets him out of bed and to his work each day. I'd like to see us rewarding subjective passion not only in dance, theater, music & the arts, but across the board. Lots of creative people who don't dance or compose music or paint pictures are ill-served by a system that only cares about quantifiable performance.

    As for London: I keep thinking of the famous Samuel Johnson quote, "When you're tired of London you're tired of life." London was one of his subjective passions. I think if I went there often enough it might become one of mine. Rye, Sussex too.