In this graceful work, C. S. Lewis reflects on society and nature and the challenges of how best to educate our children. He eloquently argues that we need as a society to underpin reading and writing with lessons on morality and in the process both educate and re-educate ourselves. In the words of Walter Hooper, "If someone were to come to me and say that, with the exception of the Bible, everyone on earth was going to be required to read one and the same book, and then ask what it should be, I would with no hesitation say The Abolition of Man. It is the most perfectly reasoned defense of Natural Law (Morality) I have ever seen, or believe to exist. If any book is able to save us from future excesses of folly and evil, it is this book." This beautiful paperback edition is sure to attract new readers to this classic book.
INTRODUCTION This famous 50-page survey of Natural Law thinking is one of Professor Lewis's tougher but more important works and with the current revival of NL thinking it should rise again. As moral philosophy (of the realist-objectivist school), via ancient literature, it is unusual and original. It is certainly not a work of theology. Confucius, Hindu 'Laws of Manu', and ancient Babylonians are quoted on a par with the Old and New Testament. (Catholics may sail through; but antinominianists will struggle against a non-theist exposition of the universal Law. In this case take Rom. ch. 1-3, and a bracing meditation on the concept of General Revelation as a tonic.) Although its terseness makes it unsuitable for beginners, it would be possible to work up to it; either via Lewis's 'Mere Christianity', Book I, and Book III, parts 1-5 (a total of about 40 pages); and then the two essays from his book 'Christian Reflections', entitled 'On Ethics' and 'The Poison of Subjectivism' (total 25 pages). Or read Plato's 'Republic', Bks. 1-4, avoiding the old Jowett translation. (Kantians could limber up with 'Plato's Modern Enemies and the Theory of Natural Law', by John Wild.) SYNOPSIS: Chapter 1: Men Without Chests The first 7 pages are discursive and, read once, may be skipped thereafter (rather like Book 1 of Plato's 'Republic'). They famously and confusingly deal with the link between objective aesthetics and emotive reactions to 'Nature'. It is not for Philosophy 101 students, reactions ranging from: 'What--who cares?--it's only opinion', to 'How is this relevant?'. Read the 'Republic', Bks. 1-4 until mastered. The dogs of war are unleashed in the next 6 pages, from the paragraph opening: 'Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it...' We then race through Coleridge and Shelley's 'just' and 'ordinate' reaction to beauty in Nature; Augustine's on 'virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections'; Aristotle and Plato on education (beauty and ethics); Rta and satya in early Hinduism; Tao (pronounced "Dao") in the Analects; and the Law (of the Lord) of the Hebrews. [Compare ancient Egyptian Maat.]. This is the universal 'doctrine of objective value'. To not know it is to invite the separation of fact and value, as all sentiments (emotional habits) are made purely subjective and even non-rational. Plato's tripartite model of Man: the Rational element rules the Appetites via the Sentiments (Spirited Element): 'The head rules the belly through the chest...The Chest--Magnanimity-- Sentiment--these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.' To deny this model is to produce Men Without Chests. Chapter 2: The Way Even Subjectivists have objective values. The fact that they act at all, even to propagate their own point of view, proves that they hold some real values. Calling values 'progressive' is subterfuge: progressing to what, and why? Modern ideologies isolate an element of morality, exaggerate its importance, and suppress others. Eg, communist States supposedly feed everyone fairly-but crush individuality, freedom, truth, and creativity if it helps. We cannot get a moral basis for human action from reasoning with facts alone--no deducing an 'ought' from an 'is'. This does not debunk moral reasoning: it merely proves that there must be Moral Axioms to start from, as there axioms in logic. Plato and the Stoics called this basic morality Natural Law, the other cultures by their synonyms. Lewis chooses the term the 'Tao' for brevity and neutrality. Scientific objections: morality is Instinct--but if two instincts clash how will you know which to obey? There is no Master instinct. The great civilizations all agree in this: so much for sociological relativism. Moral progress within the tradition of the Tao is possible: Paul the Pharisee, 'perfect as touching the Law', yet he saw its limits. Chapter 3: The Abolition of Man The 'Brave New World' scenario: if we cede final and total socio-psychological control to technocrat master-politicians even the few at the top will have to act according to some moral principles. But they also must be the ultimate Supermen, incapable of making mistakes, and guaranteeing happiness for the brainwashed ant-minions: '...the magician's bargain: to give up our soul, get power in return.' But to give up your soul is to lose yourself. And so losing free will in society results in the Abolition of Man. Appendix: Illustrations of the Tao Select quotations on the basic morality of ancient Babylon, Egypt, Israel, Greece, Rome, India, Anglo-Saxon, etc. 1. The Law of General Beneficence, negative and positive. Do not murder. Love thy neighbour. (Hebrew) 2. The Law of Special Beneficence If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he has denied the faith. (Christian) 3. Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. (Hindu) 4. Duties to Children and Posterity The Master said, Respect the young. (Chinese) 5. The Law of Justice: sexual; honesty; in court Has he approached his neighbour's wife? [sinfully]; To wrong, to rob, to cause to be robbed; Whoso takes no bribe [in the judiciary]...well pleasing is this... (Babylonian) 6. The Law of Good Faith and Veracity The foundation of justice is good faith. (Roman) 7. The Law of Mercy I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked. (Egyptian) 8. The Law of Magnanimity (self-sacrifice) To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile. (Pharaoh Senusert III, Egypt.)Read more ›
I just finished reading this book for the fifth time; it is quickly becoming my favorite. Lewis traces how mankind will by means of poor education, faulty logic, and scientific/technological advances ultimately destroy itself, though certainly not in an apocalyptic fashion. Lewis details how an improper education denies mankind that which makes us human, our virtue, our "Chests." By our heads we are mere intellect and spirit, and by our bodies we are mere animal and appetite; but where these two meet, the chest, is where we find our humanity. "The Tao," which Lewis attributes an entire chapter to, is the undeniable universal laws govern and have always governed the lives of all humans (he offers evidence of the Tao from nearly every ancient religion/moral code at the end of the book). The Tao offers us the transparent window or lens with which we are able to experience this world. Those who try to step outside the Tao to criticize it, like those who accuse morality as being the construct of a power-hungry priestly ascetic caste (sound like Nietzsche?)and insist that the burden of proof lie with the accused (morality), speak utter nonsense. Thinkers like Marx and Nietzsche (whose philosophy was so paradoxical it drove him insane, he renounced all philosophy before him, including the ancient Greeks, and used logic to disprove logic), who reject the Tao, reject humanity. (I do no justice to Lewis's arguments; read the book.) From this point we examine how mankind's conquest of Nature is really only the conquest of some men by other men. We are like the magician who surrenders more and more to Nature in return for power until he surrenders himself. We believe we are progressing, becoming more powerful, but we are not. We fail to factor in time to our equations, and fail to forsee its consequences. For example we are able to control posterity by means of contraceptives and abortion, something man has been unable to do in all of history, until now. We do not understand our own limits. We build too high on too shallow of a foundation, and our own building comes crashing down upon us. Like Marx's notion that elements within bourgeoisie society are responsible for its destruction, Freud's notion that we all have a "death drive," Nietzsche's idea of a "will to nothingness," Derrida's wish to "transcend man and mankind," and Binswanger's observation that the artists who transcend their own captivity are eventually going to experience a lethal fall, Lewis understands that, from his beginnings, Man has sought his own destruction. But before now we had not the means, the leaders, or the ignorance to go through with it.Read more ›
This book shows Lewis at his best and at his worst. At his best, he is a sharp social critic, a lucid expositor, and a man with an uncanny ability to get right down to the heart of the spiritual perplexities and self-deceptions that vex us in our daily lives, and open them up to the light of reason. I'm one of many people who owe a deep debt to this man, and I revere him as much as any one of the 5-star reviewers here. But Lewis, as a writer, had serious faults as well. Though he was a generous reader, he was not a generous arguer: his idea of a good argument was to seize upon some poor schmo who epitomized some (then) current silliness and beat him senseless (with wonderfully powerful, clear, simple prose.) The spectacle is always fun, but it sometimes feels like watching Muhammed Ali boxing Peewee Herman -- you've always wanted to see it, but you have an uneasy feeling that what you're watching is not real boxing. So to read this book properly, you need to understand two things. First, it is not a work of academic philosophy, and it won't stand up as such. That is to say, Lewis did not go out and look for the primary exponents of moral relativism of his time and wrestle them to the ground. He doesn't "survey the literature." He doesn't take on the important relativist philosophers. Instead he seizes this poor anonymous English textbook-writer by the collar and thrashes him soundly, and then goes on to pile up a sort of "everyone says so, so it must be true" defense of traditional moralities. Academic philosophers will no doubt recoil from this book in horror. It is not their sort of book, and it doesn't play by their rules. Lewis is speaking to a different audience, and he has a different goal in mind. He's not speaking to people who have read lots of difficult philosophy: he's speaking to people who have picked up little bits of fashionable modernist dicta and have fashioned a pseudo-philosophy out of them. He wants to demolish -- not serious, reasoned relativism, but popular, stupid relativism. The person who says that "Einstein proved all things are relative, so there can't be any such thing as absolute right or wrong" -- that's the person Lewis wanted to drop on the mat. And he succeeds in that brilliantly. The second thing you need to understand, to read this book properly, is that it is attempting to recreate some of Lewis's own journey out of relativism. And here we get to another of Lewis's faults: he wrote too fast. His pile of examples of universal morality could be mistaken for an attempt to prove that there are universal moral principles and all thoughtful moral people have always known it and stuck to them. As such, it would stand as one of the shoddiest jobs of argument ever presented. But that's not really what he's up to, though he really ought to have explained what he was doing more carefully. What he is doing is presenting, in a few pages, the experience he himself had of years of voracious reading in various traditions -- the experience of discovering that the surprising thing about the moral principles of various civilizations is not how various they are, but how similar they are. It's not an argument, really: it's just a distillation of experience. Which is why to point out glaring omissions (where is Buddhism? What about Wittgenstein? What about the 19th-Century and the Modern theologians?) is to miss the point of this book. If you want to go find the real arguments, go read the philosophers -- you'll find that many of the serious philosophical questions about the nature of morality were not addressed, let alone settled, in this book. This book is, in fact -- though Lewis would have hated the idea -- an extremely personal one. In it you can see Lewis recreating his own progress out of nihilism and relativism. And for those whose early paths resemble his, this book can be -- as I can testify -- wonderfully illuminating, even liberating. So don't take this book for what it is not -- a philosophical treatise, or a definitive answer to relativism. Instead, take it what it is -- a popular answer to popular "philosophy," and a report on how one man worked his way out of some of his own foolishness by clear thinking and wide reading. Lewis chose in this book to engage people where they actually live, rather than where they wish they lived: he knew that the philosophies we actually live by are much cruder than those carefully thought out and argued by professional philosophers.Read more ›