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Carl Wilhelm Frölich’s «On Man and his Circumstances»

A Translation of «Über den Menschen und seine Verhältnisse»

Series:

Edward T. Larkin

This book includes both the original German version and, for the first time, an English translation of Carl Wilhelm Frölich’s important essay of 1792, which Georg Foster praised as «one of the rarest creations of our time, the work of a young, right-thinking and sensitive man.» Published anonymously, Frölich’s treatise consists of ten Platonic-like dialogues between Erast and Philemon, the central interlocutor, and four interspersed reflections. In response to Erast’s opening question – «What! I should not educate my children for the state? Does a teacher have a higher, nobler purpose?» – Frölich/Philemon addresses the major concerns of the late eighteenth century from the vantage point of materialist ethics: the path toward happiness, natural and conventional feelings, truth and propriety, human freedom, active and passive education, nature and morality, virtue and justice, legislation and social behavior, reason and religion, and the requirements of a good teacher. Underlying all of these concerns is Frölich’s belief that social circumstances significantly determine individual happiness. If humanity is to become happier, these circumstances must be changed via pupil-oriented education and opposition to private property with its dehumanizing profit system. Frölich represents a unique voice in the conversation on human perfectibility in eighteenth-century German intellectual history.

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Dialogue 5

Extract

Erast. Philemon. ERAST: You have often mentioned the harm of a passive educa- tion to me. But I don’t know how someone who is being educated could avoid being passive, simply because he is in a learning situation. PHILEMON: Indeed, someone who is being educated must be receptive to what he is being taught, and to that extent he admit- tedly acts passively. But this does not prevent young people from participating in the development of the means of their own education, perhaps without even realizing it. ERAST: It surprises me that advantages of this kind of education have not been noticed a long time ago, if that is indeed possible. The benefit to the student must be indeed very great if each of his accomplishments is a natural conse- quence of his own free powers. PHILEMON: This kind of education has long been recognized, but not every teacher has been receptive to its truth. That is why this method has been seen as ineffective in the scientific world. But this is precisely the great secret; it will bring people to the point where they will see the truth as truth. How else would we be able to explain the fact that so many people, who really possess the truth, act contrary to the truth, if it were not at least in part because the truth was merely imprinted onto their memory even as they did not understand its inner substance. Thus, many 88 Dialog fünf die als Buch...

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