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Durham University

Institute of Advanced Study

Past Events

CANCELLED - IAS Fellows' Seminar - The Politics of Cognition: Thinking through the Evidence for Liberalism, Evolution and Education in Victorian Britain

7th March 2016, 13:00 to 14:00, IAS Seminar Room, Palace Green, Dr Matthew Eddy (Durham University)

In 1872 the liberal Member of Parliament Sir John Lubbock stood before the House of Commons and argued for a national curriculum that treated education as a form of cognitive therapy. The minds of the working-class masses, in his view, could be educated away from violence via the cognitive and behavioural modifications afforded by literacy. The occasion of his speech was a debate over the nation’s newly minted universal education system. Rather than being taught solely what to think, Lubbock argued that children must also be taught how to think. In making this argument, he synthesised several core principles of liberalism and evolution in a manner that was politically expedient. This paper investigates the forms of political and scientific evidence that made such a synthesis possible. Particular emphasis will be paid to the relationships between liberalism and evolution, childhood and cognition, and governance and education. Pursuing these relationships will shed light on the emerging science of childhood and how it interacted with questions of governance, particularly those asked by politicians interested in the state’s ability to shape the minds of its youngest and poorest citizens.


The aim of these seminars is to develop new thinking on the big issues that are of current concern/interest for the Fellows . Each Fellow is asked to present a core idea that informs their current work, or a problem that they are tackling, that could benefit from cross-disciplinary thinking. These seminars are informal and designed to encourage discussion.

Contact for more information about this event.