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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 Jun 9, 2009
ISBN: 9780061949135
List price: $7.99
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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.read more
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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.read more
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.read more
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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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
Is this review helpful? Yes | NoThank you for your feedback.
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.
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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.
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