Yup, we’ve got that one

And more than one million more. Become a member today and read free for two weeks.

Read free for two weeks

Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man remains one of C. S. Lewis's most controversial works. Lewis sets out to persuade his audience of the ongoing importance and relevance of universal objective values, such as courage and honor, and the foundational necessity of natural law. He also makes a cogent case that a retreat from these pillars of our educational system, even if in the name of "scientism," would be catastrophic. National Review lists it as number seven on their "100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century."

Topics: Morality, Ethics, Christianity, Courage, Devotion, Politics, Spirituality , Anthropology, Literary Studies, Philosophical, Contemplative, Essays, British Author, 20th Century, and Male Author

Published: HarperCollins on
ISBN: 9780061949135
List price: $9.99
Read on Scribd mobile: iPhone, iPad and Android.
Availability for The Abolition of Man
With a 30 day free trial you can read online for free
  1. This book can be read on up to 6 mobile devices.
Building on a common perception of modernism as a social force that debunks the ideas of traditional values, Lewis argues that traditional values are objective values (Tao). His understanding of science is as profoundly wrong as his understanding of Tao. Still, he speaks truly when he says that the ability to conquer or own nature will place us in the hands of those with the power. He then tries to apply logical consistency to that and show that the fate of these supermen is just appetite. On the other hand, maybe traditional interpretations of natural law are flawed and science is bringing us closer to an understanding of the Tao.more
The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1947) is unlike anything else I have read by C.S. Lewis. I am familiar with his work in apologetics and fiction. I know that vocationally his speciality was medieval English language, which is not among my interests vocationally or avocationally. I picked up The Abolition of Man presuming it to be primarily apologetic but after reading it I have concluded that is a broadly work of ethics, and particularly a critique of a change in ethics he perceived in the period shortly after World War II, a change which is continuing today.The Abolition of Man is the published collection of the Fifteenth Riddell Memorial Lectures Lewis gave at the University of Durham. They are titled Men Without Chests, The Way and The Abolition of Man. In them Lewis asserts that there is a movement within society, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, sometimes incidental and unseen and other times being very intentional, with the object, either directly or inadvertently, to pull humanity away from what he considers to be its near-eternal and transcendent moorings. The vagueness of my attempt to describe as his project is that his primary intent is to alert his readers of what is going on, and then trusting them to understand how to respond to the changes in society as they recognize them.In Men Without Chests he sets our vision on seeing a movement away from the idea that anything can be known objectively, so that everything we see and interact with, the previously objective, now becomes subjective. This is an idea that I think is particularly relevant in our time, i.e. “It may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” In The Way he then demonstrates how there has long been a number of things that have been held as true, across both cultures and eras, and these truths have determined the values to which both individuals and their societies held to. Regarding the existence and purpose of a relatively universal moral law he writes, “It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.” (56)The consequence of denying any objective and universal moral law is not good. In The Abolition of Man he writes, “My point is that those who stand outside all judgments of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.” (78) Such persons, when in positions of power within society, will be guided by their own, independent sense of rationalism, so that “Their extreme rationalism, by ‘seeing through’ all ‘rational’ motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behavior.” (79) And the end result will be humankind’s inexorable self-destruction.Lewis gave these lectures more than 60 years ago but their themes continue to resonate today. He invites us to think critically about the issues of our day and the consequences of our actions, not merely for our good, but for the greater good. For what has always been the greater good.more
In “Men Without Chests”, the first of three lectures that comprise his important defense of objective values, The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (1943), C.S. Lewis takes as his departure a remark by two authors of an English textbook. The authors advert to a famous story about Coleridge at the waterfall. Two tourists were present. One referred to the waterfall as “sublime”. The other used the adjective “pretty”. Coleridge endorsed the first opinion. However, the authors of the textbook made a claim that Lewis is at pains to rebut.“When the man said This is sublime he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall….Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings….This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something; and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.”In other words, the authors of the textbook reduce predicates of value to the speaker’s emotions and, at the same time, deride the value statements as “unimportant”. Lewis takes exception with the claim that value is entirely subjective, proposing instead “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”In the case of the tourist praising the waterfall as “sublime”, Lewis claims that Coleridge could endorse this claim because he could reasonably believe that the waterfall merited such a description, that the word “sublime” was “ordinate to” the phenomenon (to borrow St. Augustine’s description of virtue as ordo amoris).The central task of education is, as Aristotle and Plato contended, to make a student “like or dislike what he ought”. In other words, some sentiments are just and ordinate, and it is the task of the educator to treat pupils the way that grown birds teach young birds to fly in order to teach them virtue. Reason in man must rule the appetites by means of the “spirited element”. If we deny the validity of all predicates of value, then we will produce “Men without Chests”. Even if virtue could be theoretically grounded without an appeal to objectivity, it would still not suffice to make a man virtuous. For this, trained emotions—that is to say, just and proper sentiments—are essential in keeping the appetites in their place. Resort to pure reason or pure emotion cannot tell us what we should or should not do. There must be objective values—absolute, universal, apart from man—that we either internalize or activate. This is what we mean by character or by what Lewis calls the “Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment”. In the second lecture, “The Way”, Lewis argues plausibly that once one denies the existence of objective values, it is impossible to construct a coherent theory of morality. What he terms “Natural Law” or the Tao is the “sole source of all value judgments” and any attempt to “refute it and raise a new system of value is self-contradictory.” Any attempt to create a new system of value becomes mere ideology, because most of those who would debunk traditional values have in mind “background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process”. In the final lecture, “The Abolition of Man”, Lewis explores the implications of moral relativism and the de facto exaltation of applied science (the conquest of nature) as the greatest good for mankind. If the subjectivists succeed in debunking all traditional values (natural law), then the state will become simply a “conditioner” and the question arises how “the motivators, the creators of motives” will themselves be motivated. “It is not that they are bad men…. They are not men at all: they are artifacts.” In the end, Lewis concludes that a “dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary” to construct a “rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”I am in broad agreement with the claims that Lewis makes in this prescient and important book. If the sublime, for instance, does not reside in the object itself, at least in a way that is ordinate or appropriate to the object, then one is reduced to “the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feelings, without one trace of truth or falsehood.”In identifying what is Good and Beautiful, philosophers from Plato to the present day have conceded that these have some sort of objective existence and do not hold, with David Hume to cite one prominent instance, that these exist only in the subject’s mind and therefore cannot be true or false. I believe with Lewis that objective values are precisely what allow us to appreciate what is objectively worthy of our appreciation. When I first read The Abolition of Man many years ago, I read it along with Mere Christianity and G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. I did so, because I felt that there is an important relationship between moral objectivity and the idea that God has created us in His image. If God does not exist, then objects are merely material, and spirituality is purely subjective. An objective moral law, in other words, presupposes the existence of an objective moral lawgiver, a conviction that both Lewis and Chesterton held. In addition to advancing a truly compelling argument in favor of what he calls the Tao, Lewis also expresses himself with wit, grace, mordancy, elegance and originality. In rereading the book, I found myself marking innumerable passages to memorize in the near future. One of these is as follows: “We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible.”more
In "Men without Chests", Lewis argues that the "pressing educational need" is to awaken students from the "slumber of cold vulgarity". He rails against the efforts of grammarians who are "guarding" the youth from "weak excess of sensibility" by fortifying the minds of young people against emotion. [24]."When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been trained in 'ordinate affections' or 'just sentiments' will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science." [Citing Eth. Nic. 1095., at 26]"In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praised to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart." [at 27, citing Plato's Republic, 402 A.]Lewis compares this, as does Wordsworth, to the Hindu Rta, the cosmic order reflected in moral virtues, righteousness with satya or truth. As Plato said that Good was "beyond existence", and Wordsworth said by virtue the stars were strong, and the Indian masters say the gods themselves are born of the Rta and obey it. The Chinese speak of The Tao, the reality beyond all predicates, Nature, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, and the Way which every man should treat in imitation. "In ritual, it is harmony with Nature that is prized", quoting the Analects of Confucius. In the Psalms, the Jews praise the Law as being 'true'. Psalm cxix:151. The word is emeth, truth, emphasizing its reliability and trustworthiness -- it does not change and "holds water". [28] Lewis refers to this Tao, as the "doctrine of objective value" -- the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.Like a man who finds that he is colorblind or has a defect, Lewis admits "I myself do not enjoy the company of small children". [29]"No emotion is, in itself, a judgement: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. They can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should obey it." [30]Lewis advocates educating within the Tao, "to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate". Those outside the Tao, regard all sentiments as non-rational, "mere mists between us and the real objects". [31]As Plato told it long ago, Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. The head rules the belly through the chest--the seat of Magnanimity -- of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. [Citing Republic, 442 B.C., and Alanus, De Planctu Naturae Prosa, iii]. [34] Lewis highlights the tragi-comedy of our situation -- "we clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible". The periodicals demanding more of cour civilization in the way of dynamism, sacrifice, or creativity. Yet, "In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful." [35]In "The Way", Lewis disposes of instincts, and "innovation", as sources of values, showing how they are wanting. Lewis holds to the Tao as the only possible source of value judgments. [56] And there can be no rebellion by the branches against the tree. He does admit there are contradictions and absurdities--for example, from lumping together the moralities of the world--and resolves them in applied literary and linguistic criticism. He returns to the absolute. To a corrupted man, outside the Tao, the starting point remains invisible. He cannot see what is being discussed."An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy." [60] In the final Chapter, Lewis considers the rejection of the concept of "values" altogether: "The Abolition of Man". He asks "In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?" [67]Lewis looks at three technologies by way of specific examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and contraception. He finds man is as much the subject as the possessor -- a target of bombs and propaganda, and eugenic preferences. "What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument". [69] Power won by man is a power over men, and we are then weaker as well as stronger. This is what our "conquest" over Nature really means. Finally, "Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man". [72] Lewis imagines a "new Natural Philosophy". He admits hardly knowing what he is asking for--a regenerating science, that he believes is underlying all civilizations which are all really One, reflected in Natural Law. One of the significant, wonderfully illustrative and useful parts, of this little book, is the hand collected list of examples of this "law" with which Lewis concludes the book. The Appendix provides corroborative "testimonies" arising from different times and places on the planet. It is submitted that ancient Sumerian and Egyptian priests, Chinese sages, Hebrew prophets, Roman jurists, Hindu moralists, Christian saints, all say essentially the same thing. We are left with de facto universal morality.more
In this slim volume of three essays, C. S. Lewis makes the argument for what he calls the Tao, "the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of thing we are" (31). Basically (and I know I am really simplifying this) it boils down to this: you cannot condemn "traditional morality" on the grounds that there are no absolutes, because condemning something is an absolute statement.So there are absolutes. Though many are generally agreed upon, others are up for discussion. Lewis writes that though he is a Theist and a Christian, he is not here making an argument for his belief system. Indeed, in the Appendices at the end he quotes from a multitude of sources, religious and secular, from ancient times to modern, demonstrating the remarkable similarities in human society regarding the Tao. This lines up with Scripture, interestingly enough (see Romans 2:12–15).Lewis also goes into an interesting discussion about how Man is supposedly conquering Nature through scientific advances. But these advances aren't really Man conquering Nature; they are men exercising power over other men. For example, the technology of contraceptives could be denied to some people by the contraceptive makers. It isn't Nature that is being controlled here, but people.Eventually we may get to the point where the group exercising the control (the "Conditioners") decides to make Man "better" — but of course they have to have an absolute value system to make a value judgment that one thing is better than another. Using different words like "primal" or "deep-rooted" or whatever instead of "better" doesn't solve the problem of using the Tao to make value judgments. So the Conditioners will make future man something different and thereby exercise a far greater control than ever of one generation over another. This is the abolition of Man.Some quotes:For every pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. (27)The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it. (31–2)It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. (35)Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey "people." People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. (49)This thing which I have called the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. (55)The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in. (56)An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man's mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. (59)Lewis is one of those authors who make me feel simultaneously intelligent and in dire need of more education. He has the trick of making his reader understand a thing as if clearly seeing something heretofore only dimly perceived. It is as if I am discovering something I always knew... and then realizing how dimly and vaguely I knew it, and how inadequate is all my articulation of it. Excellent.more
C.S. Lewis has done what most christian writers cannot do: unbiasedly write a fantastic critique of man's current state of nature. While there are some christian themes in this book, Lewis has most steered away from it, offering a truly intelligent and quite true critique on man's nature. I am not much for political writings but this is one hell of a book. It's short, sweet and to the point; and what a good point it is.more
Definitely the most controversial C.S. Lewis title I have read to date. He argues against relative morality and in favor of absolute morality with no stops in between. Compelling arguments, though debatable. Most interesting part of the book (for me) was the appendix with "illustrations of the Tao," which included teachings from ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Native American, and Chinese manuscripts.more
I didn't think it was an easy read. But the main point was drove home in the last lecture when he said, "You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see.”The whole point about seeing something is because there is an object that can be seen. If everything is all relative, that very statement itself is a belief. By that statement, you are "seeing" something. Even an atheist believes in "there is no god."more
I am constantly amazed at how our society continually ignores the so-obvious truth. Lewis clearly addresses the modern problem. Perhaps the problem isn't unique to these times but, certainly, our way is different than any time before us. Past societies recognized sin and selfishness and regretted them. We recognize sin and selfishness and embrace them. (Contrary to what some may say, we don't ignore them. Instead, we rejoice in them.)more
I find this a challenging and helpful book. I love the concept "Men without chests" where Lewis writes of castrating me and then bidding them to be fruitful, in the context of removing our foundations for morality and then insisting that we act morally - this seems to be at the heart of many of the issues that we face at the start of the 21st century.more
Not at all what I have expected, mainly because this book is no apology for Christianity, but rather for the more numinous and vague existence of a generally common morality. That being said, Lewis is quite convincing that morality (the Tao is his term) is more than human conventions, and he is also convincing that it matters, and matters very much.more
The Abolition of Man is a simply splendid work, a juicy pamphlet with all the concentration of thought and provocative conclusions that Lewis can produce. A serious look at what was fundamentally wrong with the education of his day, this critique is still incredibly pertinent now. Lewis tackles the very basic issue of absolute values, employing logical arguments with great success to show just how untenable, desperate, and morally degrading the views of relativists are. This is an excellent work that any Christian should read, and to which I would readily refer a skeptic. Lewis' literary, philosophical, and theological strengths are apparent in this fine work. Highly recommended.more
This book is a very brief and powerful defense of a philosophical concept known as Natural Law.This book takes as its point of departure some philosophical ideas embedded in a British high-school textbook of Grammar or Literature. The ideas discussed in the beginning appear to derive from logical positivism, and have the character of statements made by A. J. Ayer, one of the members of the Vienna Circle, the original society of logical positivists.The argument Lewis uses against these ideas, and against moral relativism appear to derive from Aristottle's Nicomachen Ethics.He makes the point that science should endevour to keep insights from introspection when trying to understand the instincts of animals. I think that we do see some hint of this in some writings of Carl Sagan, particularly in one place where he asks whether when a moth is overcome by phermones whether he falls a little in love with the female moth. Though Sagan's application of this kind of thought is inconsistent.Lewis also asks that scientists keep in mind that what is produced by analysis is an abstraction and that this abstraction must always be refined. I believe that this is explicitly understood in current understandings of scientific epistemology.The ideas presented here particularly those about the Natural Law are very similar to those introduced in the opening chapters of Mere Christianity. Also in Mere Christianity he mentions the similarities between moral codes of various countries and eras and mentions an appendix that collects some examples of this. That appendix is included in this book.In That Hideous Strength, Lewis says that it is a fictional exploration of ideas that are presented straightforwardly in this book.One might also compare A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.more
Writing immediately after WWII, Lewis expresses his observations and concerns about the future of education, specifically the secularization of education. A half century later, it is interesting to see how much or how little of his fears came to pass. Similarly, several of his points are still very much in the forefront of the culture wars in the United States today.more
Read all 14 reviews

Reviews

Building on a common perception of modernism as a social force that debunks the ideas of traditional values, Lewis argues that traditional values are objective values (Tao). His understanding of science is as profoundly wrong as his understanding of Tao. Still, he speaks truly when he says that the ability to conquer or own nature will place us in the hands of those with the power. He then tries to apply logical consistency to that and show that the fate of these supermen is just appetite. On the other hand, maybe traditional interpretations of natural law are flawed and science is bringing us closer to an understanding of the Tao.more
The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1947) is unlike anything else I have read by C.S. Lewis. I am familiar with his work in apologetics and fiction. I know that vocationally his speciality was medieval English language, which is not among my interests vocationally or avocationally. I picked up The Abolition of Man presuming it to be primarily apologetic but after reading it I have concluded that is a broadly work of ethics, and particularly a critique of a change in ethics he perceived in the period shortly after World War II, a change which is continuing today.The Abolition of Man is the published collection of the Fifteenth Riddell Memorial Lectures Lewis gave at the University of Durham. They are titled Men Without Chests, The Way and The Abolition of Man. In them Lewis asserts that there is a movement within society, sometimes subtle and sometimes not, sometimes incidental and unseen and other times being very intentional, with the object, either directly or inadvertently, to pull humanity away from what he considers to be its near-eternal and transcendent moorings. The vagueness of my attempt to describe as his project is that his primary intent is to alert his readers of what is going on, and then trusting them to understand how to respond to the changes in society as they recognize them.In Men Without Chests he sets our vision on seeing a movement away from the idea that anything can be known objectively, so that everything we see and interact with, the previously objective, now becomes subjective. This is an idea that I think is particularly relevant in our time, i.e. “It may be true for you but it’s not true for me.” In The Way he then demonstrates how there has long been a number of things that have been held as true, across both cultures and eras, and these truths have determined the values to which both individuals and their societies held to. Regarding the existence and purpose of a relatively universal moral law he writes, “It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory.” (56)The consequence of denying any objective and universal moral law is not good. In The Abolition of Man he writes, “My point is that those who stand outside all judgments of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.” (78) Such persons, when in positions of power within society, will be guided by their own, independent sense of rationalism, so that “Their extreme rationalism, by ‘seeing through’ all ‘rational’ motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behavior.” (79) And the end result will be humankind’s inexorable self-destruction.Lewis gave these lectures more than 60 years ago but their themes continue to resonate today. He invites us to think critically about the issues of our day and the consequences of our actions, not merely for our good, but for the greater good. For what has always been the greater good.more
In “Men Without Chests”, the first of three lectures that comprise his important defense of objective values, The Abolition of Man: Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools (1943), C.S. Lewis takes as his departure a remark by two authors of an English textbook. The authors advert to a famous story about Coleridge at the waterfall. Two tourists were present. One referred to the waterfall as “sublime”. The other used the adjective “pretty”. Coleridge endorsed the first opinion. However, the authors of the textbook made a claim that Lewis is at pains to rebut.“When the man said This is sublime he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall….Actually…he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings….This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something; and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.”In other words, the authors of the textbook reduce predicates of value to the speaker’s emotions and, at the same time, deride the value statements as “unimportant”. Lewis takes exception with the claim that value is entirely subjective, proposing instead “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.”In the case of the tourist praising the waterfall as “sublime”, Lewis claims that Coleridge could endorse this claim because he could reasonably believe that the waterfall merited such a description, that the word “sublime” was “ordinate to” the phenomenon (to borrow St. Augustine’s description of virtue as ordo amoris).The central task of education is, as Aristotle and Plato contended, to make a student “like or dislike what he ought”. In other words, some sentiments are just and ordinate, and it is the task of the educator to treat pupils the way that grown birds teach young birds to fly in order to teach them virtue. Reason in man must rule the appetites by means of the “spirited element”. If we deny the validity of all predicates of value, then we will produce “Men without Chests”. Even if virtue could be theoretically grounded without an appeal to objectivity, it would still not suffice to make a man virtuous. For this, trained emotions—that is to say, just and proper sentiments—are essential in keeping the appetites in their place. Resort to pure reason or pure emotion cannot tell us what we should or should not do. There must be objective values—absolute, universal, apart from man—that we either internalize or activate. This is what we mean by character or by what Lewis calls the “Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment”. In the second lecture, “The Way”, Lewis argues plausibly that once one denies the existence of objective values, it is impossible to construct a coherent theory of morality. What he terms “Natural Law” or the Tao is the “sole source of all value judgments” and any attempt to “refute it and raise a new system of value is self-contradictory.” Any attempt to create a new system of value becomes mere ideology, because most of those who would debunk traditional values have in mind “background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process”. In the final lecture, “The Abolition of Man”, Lewis explores the implications of moral relativism and the de facto exaltation of applied science (the conquest of nature) as the greatest good for mankind. If the subjectivists succeed in debunking all traditional values (natural law), then the state will become simply a “conditioner” and the question arises how “the motivators, the creators of motives” will themselves be motivated. “It is not that they are bad men…. They are not men at all: they are artifacts.” In the end, Lewis concludes that a “dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary” to construct a “rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.”I am in broad agreement with the claims that Lewis makes in this prescient and important book. If the sublime, for instance, does not reside in the object itself, at least in a way that is ordinate or appropriate to the object, then one is reduced to “the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feelings, without one trace of truth or falsehood.”In identifying what is Good and Beautiful, philosophers from Plato to the present day have conceded that these have some sort of objective existence and do not hold, with David Hume to cite one prominent instance, that these exist only in the subject’s mind and therefore cannot be true or false. I believe with Lewis that objective values are precisely what allow us to appreciate what is objectively worthy of our appreciation. When I first read The Abolition of Man many years ago, I read it along with Mere Christianity and G.K. Chesterton’s The Everlasting Man. I did so, because I felt that there is an important relationship between moral objectivity and the idea that God has created us in His image. If God does not exist, then objects are merely material, and spirituality is purely subjective. An objective moral law, in other words, presupposes the existence of an objective moral lawgiver, a conviction that both Lewis and Chesterton held. In addition to advancing a truly compelling argument in favor of what he calls the Tao, Lewis also expresses himself with wit, grace, mordancy, elegance and originality. In rereading the book, I found myself marking innumerable passages to memorize in the near future. One of these is as follows: “We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible.”more
In "Men without Chests", Lewis argues that the "pressing educational need" is to awaken students from the "slumber of cold vulgarity". He rails against the efforts of grammarians who are "guarding" the youth from "weak excess of sensibility" by fortifying the minds of young people against emotion. [24]."When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been trained in 'ordinate affections' or 'just sentiments' will easily find the first principles in Ethics: but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science." [Citing Eth. Nic. 1095., at 26]"In the Republic, the well-nurtured youth is one 'who would see most clearly whatever was amiss in ill-made works of man or ill-grown works of nature, and with a just distaste would blame and hate the ugly even from his earliest years and would give delighted praised to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so that he becomes a man of gentle heart." [at 27, citing Plato's Republic, 402 A.]Lewis compares this, as does Wordsworth, to the Hindu Rta, the cosmic order reflected in moral virtues, righteousness with satya or truth. As Plato said that Good was "beyond existence", and Wordsworth said by virtue the stars were strong, and the Indian masters say the gods themselves are born of the Rta and obey it. The Chinese speak of The Tao, the reality beyond all predicates, Nature, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, and the Way which every man should treat in imitation. "In ritual, it is harmony with Nature that is prized", quoting the Analects of Confucius. In the Psalms, the Jews praise the Law as being 'true'. Psalm cxix:151. The word is emeth, truth, emphasizing its reliability and trustworthiness -- it does not change and "holds water". [28] Lewis refers to this Tao, as the "doctrine of objective value" -- the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false.Like a man who finds that he is colorblind or has a defect, Lewis admits "I myself do not enjoy the company of small children". [29]"No emotion is, in itself, a judgement: in that sense all emotions and sentiments are alogical. They can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should obey it." [30]Lewis advocates educating within the Tao, "to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate". Those outside the Tao, regard all sentiments as non-rational, "mere mists between us and the real objects". [31]As Plato told it long ago, Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the 'spirited element'. The head rules the belly through the chest--the seat of Magnanimity -- of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. [Citing Republic, 442 B.C., and Alanus, De Planctu Naturae Prosa, iii]. [34] Lewis highlights the tragi-comedy of our situation -- "we clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible". The periodicals demanding more of cour civilization in the way of dynamism, sacrifice, or creativity. Yet, "In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the gelding be fruitful." [35]In "The Way", Lewis disposes of instincts, and "innovation", as sources of values, showing how they are wanting. Lewis holds to the Tao as the only possible source of value judgments. [56] And there can be no rebellion by the branches against the tree. He does admit there are contradictions and absurdities--for example, from lumping together the moralities of the world--and resolves them in applied literary and linguistic criticism. He returns to the absolute. To a corrupted man, outside the Tao, the starting point remains invisible. He cannot see what is being discussed."An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy." [60] In the final Chapter, Lewis considers the rejection of the concept of "values" altogether: "The Abolition of Man". He asks "In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?" [67]Lewis looks at three technologies by way of specific examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and contraception. He finds man is as much the subject as the possessor -- a target of bombs and propaganda, and eugenic preferences. "What we call Man's power over Nature turns out to be a power exercised by some men over other men with Nature as its instrument". [69] Power won by man is a power over men, and we are then weaker as well as stronger. This is what our "conquest" over Nature really means. Finally, "Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man". [72] Lewis imagines a "new Natural Philosophy". He admits hardly knowing what he is asking for--a regenerating science, that he believes is underlying all civilizations which are all really One, reflected in Natural Law. One of the significant, wonderfully illustrative and useful parts, of this little book, is the hand collected list of examples of this "law" with which Lewis concludes the book. The Appendix provides corroborative "testimonies" arising from different times and places on the planet. It is submitted that ancient Sumerian and Egyptian priests, Chinese sages, Hebrew prophets, Roman jurists, Hindu moralists, Christian saints, all say essentially the same thing. We are left with de facto universal morality.more
In this slim volume of three essays, C. S. Lewis makes the argument for what he calls the Tao, "the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of thing we are" (31). Basically (and I know I am really simplifying this) it boils down to this: you cannot condemn "traditional morality" on the grounds that there are no absolutes, because condemning something is an absolute statement.So there are absolutes. Though many are generally agreed upon, others are up for discussion. Lewis writes that though he is a Theist and a Christian, he is not here making an argument for his belief system. Indeed, in the Appendices at the end he quotes from a multitude of sources, religious and secular, from ancient times to modern, demonstrating the remarkable similarities in human society regarding the Tao. This lines up with Scripture, interestingly enough (see Romans 2:12–15).Lewis also goes into an interesting discussion about how Man is supposedly conquering Nature through scientific advances. But these advances aren't really Man conquering Nature; they are men exercising power over other men. For example, the technology of contraceptives could be denied to some people by the contraceptive makers. It isn't Nature that is being controlled here, but people.Eventually we may get to the point where the group exercising the control (the "Conditioners") decides to make Man "better" — but of course they have to have an absolute value system to make a value judgment that one thing is better than another. Using different words like "primal" or "deep-rooted" or whatever instead of "better" doesn't solve the problem of using the Tao to make value judgments. So the Conditioners will make future man something different and thereby exercise a far greater control than ever of one generation over another. This is the abolition of Man.Some quotes:For every pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. (27)The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it. (31–2)It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. (35)Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey "people." People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. (49)This thing which I have called the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. (55)The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in. (56)An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man's mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. (59)Lewis is one of those authors who make me feel simultaneously intelligent and in dire need of more education. He has the trick of making his reader understand a thing as if clearly seeing something heretofore only dimly perceived. It is as if I am discovering something I always knew... and then realizing how dimly and vaguely I knew it, and how inadequate is all my articulation of it. Excellent.more
C.S. Lewis has done what most christian writers cannot do: unbiasedly write a fantastic critique of man's current state of nature. While there are some christian themes in this book, Lewis has most steered away from it, offering a truly intelligent and quite true critique on man's nature. I am not much for political writings but this is one hell of a book. It's short, sweet and to the point; and what a good point it is.more
Definitely the most controversial C.S. Lewis title I have read to date. He argues against relative morality and in favor of absolute morality with no stops in between. Compelling arguments, though debatable. Most interesting part of the book (for me) was the appendix with "illustrations of the Tao," which included teachings from ancient Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Native American, and Chinese manuscripts.more
I didn't think it was an easy read. But the main point was drove home in the last lecture when he said, "You cannot go on seeing through things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. . . . If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To see through all things is the same as not to see.”The whole point about seeing something is because there is an object that can be seen. If everything is all relative, that very statement itself is a belief. By that statement, you are "seeing" something. Even an atheist believes in "there is no god."more
I am constantly amazed at how our society continually ignores the so-obvious truth. Lewis clearly addresses the modern problem. Perhaps the problem isn't unique to these times but, certainly, our way is different than any time before us. Past societies recognized sin and selfishness and regretted them. We recognize sin and selfishness and embrace them. (Contrary to what some may say, we don't ignore them. Instead, we rejoice in them.)more
I find this a challenging and helpful book. I love the concept "Men without chests" where Lewis writes of castrating me and then bidding them to be fruitful, in the context of removing our foundations for morality and then insisting that we act morally - this seems to be at the heart of many of the issues that we face at the start of the 21st century.more
Not at all what I have expected, mainly because this book is no apology for Christianity, but rather for the more numinous and vague existence of a generally common morality. That being said, Lewis is quite convincing that morality (the Tao is his term) is more than human conventions, and he is also convincing that it matters, and matters very much.more
The Abolition of Man is a simply splendid work, a juicy pamphlet with all the concentration of thought and provocative conclusions that Lewis can produce. A serious look at what was fundamentally wrong with the education of his day, this critique is still incredibly pertinent now. Lewis tackles the very basic issue of absolute values, employing logical arguments with great success to show just how untenable, desperate, and morally degrading the views of relativists are. This is an excellent work that any Christian should read, and to which I would readily refer a skeptic. Lewis' literary, philosophical, and theological strengths are apparent in this fine work. Highly recommended.more
This book is a very brief and powerful defense of a philosophical concept known as Natural Law.This book takes as its point of departure some philosophical ideas embedded in a British high-school textbook of Grammar or Literature. The ideas discussed in the beginning appear to derive from logical positivism, and have the character of statements made by A. J. Ayer, one of the members of the Vienna Circle, the original society of logical positivists.The argument Lewis uses against these ideas, and against moral relativism appear to derive from Aristottle's Nicomachen Ethics.He makes the point that science should endevour to keep insights from introspection when trying to understand the instincts of animals. I think that we do see some hint of this in some writings of Carl Sagan, particularly in one place where he asks whether when a moth is overcome by phermones whether he falls a little in love with the female moth. Though Sagan's application of this kind of thought is inconsistent.Lewis also asks that scientists keep in mind that what is produced by analysis is an abstraction and that this abstraction must always be refined. I believe that this is explicitly understood in current understandings of scientific epistemology.The ideas presented here particularly those about the Natural Law are very similar to those introduced in the opening chapters of Mere Christianity. Also in Mere Christianity he mentions the similarities between moral codes of various countries and eras and mentions an appendix that collects some examples of this. That appendix is included in this book.In That Hideous Strength, Lewis says that it is a fictional exploration of ideas that are presented straightforwardly in this book.One might also compare A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess.more
Writing immediately after WWII, Lewis expresses his observations and concerns about the future of education, specifically the secularization of education. A half century later, it is interesting to see how much or how little of his fears came to pass. Similarly, several of his points are still very much in the forefront of the culture wars in the United States today.more
Load more
scribd