The aims of training young boys
Maybe reflection on the title of his book, ‘Refinement of character’, will produce a swift result, the import being that he trusted in the possibility of refining and purifying morals from the evils and wickedness attached to them. To this end we see him determining ‘that the art of character forming which is concerned with the betterment of the actions of the human being as human, this is the most excellent of the arts.
This trust is emphasized by the fact that in many places in his book he considers that his remarks about young boys are equally suitable for adults.It is not easy for the adult to change his character, with which he has grown up and been nurtured, except according to special conditions; unless indeed he himself grasps the extent to which his morals are corrupt, and forms the purpose of changing them.
This sort of man it is hoped will abstain from his (evil) morals gradually and have recourse to the exemplary way by repentance and by keeping company with the good and the wise by the pursuit of philosophy.
The reason behind his emphasis on the possibility of refining character and purifying souls, and freeing the self from evil habits and the like, stems from his opinion about people, which is that they are either good by nature or good by reason of the law and learning. Despite this, people differ in receptivity to training as regards eagerness for it, and their share of virtuous morality and fine dispositions. Hence, they are not all in one single rank as regards acceptance of virtuous morality; and if they differ, then this difference and disparity between them, which is beyond reckoning, merits the greatest concern with training and habituation of young men to approved actions. For neglect of training will cause every human being to remain in the condition he was in during childhood. Put in another way, Miskawayh considers that humanity is in constant need of adapting what he was brought up to and became accustomed to in childhood, and also what suits him naturally. If he does not do this, he falls into the place of the wretched, and his link with God is severed. This wretchedness is confirmed if he continues in four characteristics:
- Laziness, idleness, and wasting his life without work, with no human benefit;
- Stupidity and ignorance, caused by failure to investigate and exercise the soul with the teachings spoken by wise men;
- Insolence, which results from neglect of the soul when it pursues desires and is unrestrained and seeks to commit sins and evil deeds;
- The preoccupation which arises from persistence in ugly deeds.
For each one of these kinds of wretchedness or illnesses there is a treatment, with which theintelligent man can heal himself, if he tries to set himself free. So the manners spoken of by Miskawayh to train young men and boys can bring about benefits which revert to the person so trained.
From another angle, training (or education) can be regarded as realizing specified aims, equally whether this be from the viewpoint of the one who assumes responsibility for it, or of the one subjected to it. To clarify this, we can present Miskawayh’s own explanations, to extract from them the aims that can be directed to this business of training. Miskawayh says:
“These good manners, which are useful to boys, are likewise useful to older people; but they are more useful to the young, because they habituate them to the love of virtues and so they grow up accordingly. Then it is not hard for them to avoid evils, and later it is easy for them to follow all the prescriptions of wisdom and the regulations of the Law(Shari’a) and Tradition(Sunna). They become accustomed to keep themselves from the temptations of wicked pleasures; they restrain them from indulging in any of those pleasures or thinking too much about them. They make them desire the high rank of philosophy and promote them to the high matters described at the beginning of this work, such as seeking proximity to God the Most High, and being near to the angels. They will also be favored in this world, with a pleasant life, and affine reputation. Their enemies will be few, many will praise them and seek their friendship, especially the virtuous.”
From this text, which is repeated in various forms in the Tahdhib, we can deduce more than one aim for refining and training in Miskawayh’s view. Indeed, it can be said that these aims include some which are temporal, for this earthly life, and some which are concerned with the time after death, with the eternal abode. Each is interconnected.
That which is connected with training and avoidance of evils, and exercise of the soul, and following what the Law and Tradition define, and what wisdom prescribes: all this together leads to a goodly condition in this world, and a pleasant life, and a fine reputation; this is clarified in what actually happens, by way of having few enemies and many who praise him and seek his friend ship and company. Thus, the practical aim attached to this earthly life, and resulting from the refinement of character, is bringing about the human being’s adaptation to those around him: and this is exemplified in his conduct and his relationships with them. If he conforms with this, continues in it, and his knowledge becomes true and his action correct, ‘sufficiency lies not in the knowledge of virtues, but in acting with them’, as Miskawayh continually determines. When the human being really acts in accordance with his knowledge, this demonstrates that he has reached the rank of the wise, or what can be expressed as the highest point of perfection in humanity.The human being’s personal effort in seeking knowledge, and in his work and his conduct, leads him to be: ‘the happy, the perfect, seeking to come close to God the Most High, the loving, the obedient, and worthy of his friendship and love’.
Since in Miskawayh’s opinion, and as he says, also in Aristotle’s, God is ‘the Wise, theHappy, the Perfect in wisdom; He is loved only by the happy and the wise, for a being is only happy with its like’. Hence, whoever approaches God and so earnestly seeks His favor, ‘God loves him and brings him close to Him, and he will be worthy of His friendship’. Whoever approaches God, and God brings him close, becomes in this way supremely happy, with a happiness that cannot be surpassed.
This is the final aim of man’s journey through life, the conclusion of his work and his
service here; and his striving to purify his character, as Miskawayh prescribed, and presented to others who desired his knowledge, in the hope of being helped to realize it.
By this definition of the final aim, there must perforce be the means enabling it to be reached; and consequently leading questions can be put, concerning the method of the upbringing of human beings in the way which helps them to fulfil this aim; and following on what Miskawayh said, the reply to this requires concern for the training and refining of souls; thence it is possible to begin by acquaintance with the souls of the young men and boys, and the factors influencing them, or what we could call in today’s language ‘Human nature and the factors influencing its formation’.
Humanity in general, Miskawayh considers, is the noblest of all existing beings on the earth which we inhabit.38 The soul of the boy is ready to receive virtue, because it is ‘simple, not yet impressed with any form, nor has it any opinion nor determination turning it from one thing to another’.39Also because the soul of the boy is ready to accept training; so there must be concern for the boy, and he must be cared for, and not left to one who cannot do this training well or who does not have fine characteristics and excellent habits. Miskawayh remarks that these opinions are taken from Aristotle, but he very soon turns in another direction to present the boy’s soul and its faculties in a picture that agrees with what Plato had earlier said in the Republic. This is that the soul, as has been said, is divided into three faculties, the appetitive, the irascible, and the rational. These faculties appear gradually, as the boy grows, until he reaches his perfection and is then called rational. And diffidence is the sign of this intelligence, and the indication that the boy has reached the stage of discernment, and consequently training, sincediffidence means his fear of doing anything unseemly.
Also Miskawayh presents the means or the way by which it is possible to recognize ordeduce when the boy has reached this state: which is, that by careful scrutiny of the boy his intelligence can be deduced. This is that when the inquirer looks at him and finds he has lowered eyes, does not stare, and his face is not insolent, this is among the signs of his nobility and his fear of doing anything unseemly, and his preference for the good, and attaining reason.So his soul is ready for training, fit to be taken care of, and must not be neglected. Miskawayh’s experience in this field, with his Greek culture, is his guide and the source of his ideas.
The social environment in which the boy grows up plays an evident role in the formation of the boy’s soul, or what can be called the business of bringing him up. That is because the boy’s soul is simple, and as yet without imprint, and is ready and receptive to training, fit to be taken care of; when it finds itself in a bad social milieu, this leads to its being influenced by those around, and consequently its corruption: the soul accepts what it grows up with and is accustomed to, and hence comes the concern to watch over young men and boys in particular.41
The basic responsibility for this falls upon the parents.
The aim in watching over the family here, and training the parents, is to reform the soulof the boy; for when he mixes with his peers and plays with those of his own age-group, he is influenced by them. In his early life, as Miskawayh remarks, he will be bad in his actions, relating what he has neither heard nor seen, passing on false tales. He may even stretch out his hand to other people’s possessions, or may transmit stories which he hears, and may be over- inquisitive. Because of all this, there must be a concern for training and refinement as long as he is a child, for children usually take more swiftly to learning and training. Their characters appear in them from the very earliest stage, and they cannot hide them nor dissimulate as an adult can who has developed to the point where he knows his own defects and so conceals them by carrying out actions which in fact are contrary to his nature. This being so, it is easy to recognize evil character among young men and boys and to work to set them free from it, and habituatethem to virtuous morals since it is possible for them to receive these swiftly.