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The five characters of human nature

human nature

The peculiarity of man’s nature for Comenius is what distinguishes him from animals. Man was created by God in his own image; he is, therefore, the “most complete and excellent of all” creature , endowed with certain privileges. The privileges which properly constitute human nature are five in number.

Man is endowed with reason; he is capable of “making the difference between things” (and therefore of analyzing), of giving a name to these things, of understanding their constitution (DM V, 4 to 12). Comenius marvels at the capacities of the human mind: “  man, he says for example, is born capable of acquiring knowledge of all kinds of things” (ibid., V, 4); there can be no limit to his mind: “he rises as well in both as he descends into the abyss” (ibid. V, 4). This taking possession of the world by knowledge is possible thanks to the senses with which man is endowed; the sense organs are the “secret agents and spies” of the mind.”A man provided with senses and reason can understand everything that exists in the world” (ibid. V, 6). Going hand in hand with this possibility of knowing, “the desire to know is innate in man”; and this desire to know is “natural”, given to man by God. And, for Comenius, it is a remarkable fact that even people with little education admire scholars.

Man has one hand, “to carry out whatever his intelligence has discovered” (Pamp. III, 7), which enables him to act on the outside world in order to transform it and make all things serve for his benefit ( DM IV, 4). (We will come back to this subject by speaking of the “operative faculty”).

Man also has a language which enables him to communicate with his fellows and to express his thoughts and feelings (cf. MLN I, 2); he has an articulate language whose possibilities are far superior to the possibilities of expression of animals.

He is capable of moral conduct, that is to say that his reason shows him what to do or not to do and that his free will is decided accordingly: he is able to regulate his impulses interior and its exterior actions (DM. V, 133 to 17). Man has from his birth “a kind of seed of virtue”, since he “loves virtues in others (because even non-virtuous men admire virtues in others) although they do not imitate them, they do not imitate them. imagining that they could not overcome their bad habits ”(ibid. V, 14). When he talks about what we call “morality”, Comenius expands his ideas and vocabulary in an amazing way. Thus, in La grande didactique,he speaks of the sense of harmony possessed by man, (in the section which is devoted to the moral sense). And this sense of harmony includes aesthetic sense, gastronomic taste, as well as self-control, respect for others, a sense of proportion that you have to know how to observe in everything you do; in short, you have to know how to avoid any excess; he writes, for example: “not to make himself a slave to any creature, not even to his own body; use different things without fear, but know where, when, how and to what extent ”(ibid. IV, 4).Harmony qualifies everything that is well regulated, the running of a clock as well as the proper functioning of the human body. The moral man establishes a wise balance between his desires and his inclinations thanks to his reason which the will obeys (ibid. V, 15).

Man, finally, is capable of conceiving that there is a God, and of being linked to him by piety or religion. Without a doubt ; but there is a delicate point: the way in which we are going to conceive of piety; that of Comenius is very beautiful, because it goes to the essential and does not stop at the particular rites of a specific religion. Piety or religion, for him, is “an interior attitude of respect which strongly links the soul of man to his supreme good” (ibid. IV, 6).

8We see at what level our philosopher is located: he does not choose as distinctive of human nature, moral traits (innocence, spontaneity, perversity, indiscipline) as we have seen a contemporary author do, nor traits specific to a culture: (respect for social taboos, property, etc.) as ethnologists are inclined to do; he chooses traits that give a structure specific to our species because they make possible a series of acts or behaviors; but these acts or these behaviors are not determined in their expression: man can communicate through language, but he can do so in such and such a language; the moral sense which is peculiar to human nature, and therefore common to all men, consists in”Knowingly regulate one’s impulses and actions, both interior and exterior” (DM IV, 4 and 6), and not to be attached to such a system of property or government, to distinguish himself by such quality (or by such and such a defect) rather than by such another.

9The distinction between the end itself, which is to “train man” and the specific means available at a given time, can be very important in its application to education. Let us show it on a single example, that of language. The goal is to get each child to express themselves with clarity, ease and even elegance if possible. This can only be done, of course, by using a given idiom. In 17th century colleges century (which were supposed to provide basic education, let us not forget), this idiom was Latin. The objective of the colleges was to make the pupils masters of the Latin language and even to make them acquire perfect eloquence. All efforts were directed in this direction; they professed a real cult for the beautiful language, that of Cicero having the preferences of the regents. Language no doubt conveyed a culture, but the emphasis was on the means rather than the end.

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