6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Universal rules for knowing what to do or not to do
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...
Published on April 7 2004 by Michael JR Jose
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Explains, shows the consequences but little argument
I read this book after a few different sources mentioned it as a book that deals with moral relativism. After reading the book, I don't know if I can honestly agree with many of the other reviewers. I have read two other books by C.S. Lewis, "Mere Christianity," and, "The Screwtape Letters," so I think I have some idea what his approach is. I can only...
Published on Jun 17 2001 by Bruce H
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5.0 out of 5 stars Lewis and the Unabomber,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)Those who read this book, might also want to read Alston Chase's Harvard and the Unabomber. There Chase traces Ted Kaczynski's hatred of technology to two factors, one of which was the education he received at Harvard between 1958 and 1962.
At that time, the sorts of ideas that Lewis blasts in The Abolition of Man were beginning to take over Ivy League campuses. In a effort to counter them, aging humanities professors managed to add 'Great Books' to the required courses. They also warned of the dangers if the technocrats (value-free science) took control of society. To counter them, the technocrats blasted books by "dead white men."
Ironically, while both Lewis and Kaczynski hated what the technocrats were doing when they regarded human ideas such as truth, goodness and beauty as meaningless, only Lewis offered constructive answers. Kaczynski could only hate the evil and, in the end, become as evil as what he hated.
Lewis was also influenced in this area by Arthur Balfour's Theism and Humanism, which argues that a healthy humanism benefits from a belief in God. As some have put it, if God is dead then all that matters in man must die--truth, beauty and goodness.
5.0 out of 5 stars Habermas repeats this argument in Future of Human Nature,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)I read this on the advice of one friend and was encouraged by another. It starts out in a very surprising way. But of course! Considering this would be written to be published in 1944 a perspective of this sort on values surprises me only to the extent that it has a target at all. I at first thought the real target must be G.E. Moore but he specifically mentions Nietzsche later in the text. (This resulted in a reading of Moore's "The Refutation of Idealism" leading to a review of some of Berkeley's work...) I found his discussion of the non-dulce character of death (p. 22) interesting in light of what he would later write in "A Grief Observed." (Did anyone ever figure out who he meant by Gaius and Titius?) I also read a BMR review of The Future of Human Nature by Jurgen Habermas, and noticed that the basic form of most of Habermas' argument followed that of C.S. Lewis in this book. While Habermas (in translation) is concerned with the relationship hypothetical "programmers" would have with the "objects" of their efforts, Lewis refers to the "conditioners" but the reasoning is the same. I suppose this reflects the change from using behaviorism as the tool of control to our more contemporary set of computer metaphors. Notice also that Lewis uses the expression "post-humanity" p. 75. This is revisited in Fukuyama's book "Our Posthuman Future".
4.0 out of 5 stars Too close to home,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)The Abolition of Man is curious. It begins from a mere germ of an idea, inferred from an unchallenged source, and then slowly balloons until it is a diatribe against eugenics, modern education, moral relativism, egoism, secularism, scientism, Nietzche, Darwin, and Jeremy Bentham.
It's a rather audacious trajectory, and would be ludicrous if it weren't so... accurate. As the saying goes: "I'm not paranoid if they're really out to get me." Lewis makes some bold statements here, extrapolating from a relatively subtle implication in a textbook to a metaphysical humanist conspiracy. But Lewis understands Natural Law, and understand the penalties of disobedience. Consequently, the picture he paints of the evolutionary abolition of anything recognizably human in man is disturbing and all too believable.
Anyone familiar with today's college campus, or today's journalist, will realize the total victory of relativism (unless, of course, he is a relativist). Conditional eugenics, so thoroughly disgraced by the Nazis and the New Deal, is replaced by Genetic eugenics, praised and lauded ala the human genome project. Anyone who sits back and wonders what we'll do "once we crack the code," ought to read The Abolition of Man for his answer... or "Dumbing Us Down" for confirmation.
4.0 out of 5 stars Read more carefully [...],
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)This book will not be easy for everyone, but it will be rewarding to engage with it, even if you disagree with Lewis' thinking. The series of lectures known as _The Abolition of Man_ (TAoM), which are presented here as essays, are not intended to be thorough or in-depth refutations of the positions which Lewis takes issue with. So people who complain that he doesn't successfully refute things like emotivism in this work are right - but he didn't intend to launch into that in depth. These lectures were meant to paint a portrait, to explore a perspective, and to breathe a few whispers of supporting argumentation within the space afforded. Judge his work according to what he intended to accomplish by it, and don't posh-posh it because you demand more - or less - from it than what he expected to offer by it.
Many people seem to think that Lewis' is arguing, in the first section, against "Moral Relativism" (MR). While MR is an aspect of what Lewis is here concerned with, it is not what he directly addresses. Morality, popularly used, merely refers to "rules for behavior," whereas what Lewis is talking about is not directly behavior, nor rules for it, although there are behavioral implications to what he is talking about.
What he _does_ address is the problem evidenced in the grammar textbook he quotes from, that students are being taught to think of their own sentiments/value judgments as 'merely' their own emotions having nothing to do with the objects or events upon which they are passing judgment. Once, he says, you teach a student in one instance to sunder their evaluation of a thing from the thing itself (i.e., to teach that when I say that a waterfall is sublime, I'm not saying anything about the waterfall, but only about my own emotions: I'm really saying "I am having sublime feelings," not "the waterfall is such that the most proper response from me is to feel that it is sublime"), the result is that you train the student to snap any perceived link of the correspondence between their sentiments/value judgments and the world. Lewis is claiming that there are qualities intrinsic to objects and events themselves that ought to call forth proper responses in us. Furthermore, he claims that the correspondence between our sentiments/value judgments are more or less true by virtue of their conformity to an Order that roots reality, and Order which, in relation to proper sentiments/value judgments, we perceive intuitively and kinesthetically, if at all (he calls this Order "the Tao" for convenience, and demonstrates that ancient civilized cultures were quite familiar with such an experience and understanding of the world). This Tao is what we try to articulate in all of our moral principles (our moral principles, therefore, may be provisional - if we discover that the Tao is better articulated by a competing principle, we are not abandoning the Tao by discarding our old principle to embrace the one we have just come across. We are simply claiming, then, that our older principle was an inferior articulation of the Tao, and thus corresponded less perfectly with it). This is a much subtler point than what I understand many to have in mind when they rail against MR.
The final section of the book was an interesting and haunting perspective on where Lewis sees these new habits can lead if left unchecked. For any interesting related reads on education, morality and such, feel free to fire me off suggestions and/or to pick my brain, if you think it's worth picking.
5.0 out of 5 stars The dangers of moral relativism,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)In this short book, CS Lewis takes public education for his subject, though the scope of the work goes well into the philosophical and ethical realms. The master Christian apologist is here arguing against what he sees to be the evils of moral relativism. His essay "Men Without Chests," reminiscent of TS Eliot, speaks of just what would happen if we were to lose all sense of good and bad, and chose instead to attempt to see everything in a purely 'objective' way, without regard for what has been established as right and wrong.
The rest of the book develops and plays upon this idea, and Lewis examines the possibilities of a civilization who abandons "The Tao" (the name Lewis gives to a widely accepted system of moral values) and tries instead to mold its citizens into whatever form its leaders should decide. Of course, this is exactly what Lewis warns again in his Science Fiction novel That Hideous Strength, and what is also seen in the book 1984.
To me, the highlight of this book was the appendix. Superbly compiled, it is Lewis's definition of "The Tao," and features a number of moral values (such as one's obligation to society and duty to parents). The best part of this, though, is that Lewis quotes from an enormous range of sources, citing everything from Plato to Beowulf to the Bible to Egyptian writings to show that these are values which have been widely accepted throughout history. This is his basis for calling "The Tao" the ultimate system of moral values, and his justification through widespread acceptance is very good indeed.
4.0 out of 5 stars Interesting gathering of ideas, concepts, and theories.,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)I'll admit that some of Lewis's comments left me in the dust, but I did appreciate how well grounded some of his arguments were. If there is not some common shared moral or ethical viewpoint in the mass of humanity, then all will be lost and undoing the teaching of the past is undoubtedly a BIG mistake. If we do dismantle the teaching of the past and build something knew, just what foundation will it be built upon if the moral or ethical foundation is as small and individualized as grains of sand? Certainly some will jump all over this essay published as book (actually it reads more like lecture notes than an actual book or essay), but I found little fault with it other than the parenthetical one mentioned above. Highly recommended.
5.0 out of 5 stars The intellectual bankruptcy of ethical relativism.,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)The book contains three closely related essays on ethical relativism. As different as Eastern philosophy (Chinese and Indian) may be from Western philosophy (Greco-Roman and Judeo-Christian), all seriously reasoned and internally consistent systems of ethics (i.e., morality) accept the true existence of an absolute Good. In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, a thinker deeply versed in philosophy, philology, and ancient literature, calls this universal ethical reference system 'the Tao' (borrowing a generalization from Confucius). He exposes the logical self-contradictions and the human negation of modern dogmas of moral relativism.
From 'Men without Chests': "The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defense against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of [students] we only make them easier prey to the propagandist ... a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head."
From 'The Way': "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. If a man's mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut."
From 'The Abolition of Man': "It is not that [propagandists of ethical relativism] are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside of the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artifacts. Man's final conquest has proven to be the abolition of Man."
We accept relativism in modern physics because reason has led us to it. But popularized ideas of relativism in ethics, while sometimes transparently parading as 'intellectualism' (this label attempts to discourage critical examination), must take a course which leads far from consistent logic, and which ultimately turns against itself. This book is an outstanding offering from the wonderful mind of C.S. Lewis.
5.0 out of 5 stars Years Ahead of the Trends,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)In The Abolition of Man C.S. Lewis was well ahead of his times. He foresaw the development of postmodernism and deconstructionism.
His answer was not restricted to the wisdom of Western Culture. Rather he drew on cultures across the spectrum of time to demonstrate the existence of a Tao--a unifying body of moral knowledge.
Personally, I am going to require this for reading in a doctoral seminar.
5.0 out of 5 stars As long as the limitations of the book are kept in view.,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)This book has been recently described as not being about general education, but ('rather') about broad politics, religion and philosophy.
It is quite true that politics and philosophy (not religion, though) are central topics of the book. However, Lewis' point in these three lectures (delivered to educators and collected for this book) is that general education often _does_ involve tacit and very powerful philosophical presuppositions that have a direct and practical bearing on politics--and religion, for what it's worth. The 'religious' angle can be easily inferred from TAoM, but Lewis specifically avers from hanging any such weight on his argument. A close read of what he does, will show that Lewis doesn't even argue in favor of the existence of an objective moral standard. He does argue (and powerfully, I think) that the belief in such a standard is a necessity for a healthy society (with healthier individuals)--but that is not the same as arguing for the existence of such a standard. (Lewis restricts any argument in that direction to the simple inclusion of an appendix that illustrates some commonality of ethical principles across society. Even here, he doesn't try to hang much philosophical or religious weight on such commonalities, though. Personally, I am sorry that Lewis never devoted full attention to a rigorous examination of the theistic Argument from Morality. Possibly, this was because he believed it wouldn't serve properly as a primary argument (his use of the AfM in _Miracles: A Preliminary Study_ seems to indicate this). However, it would be misleading to market TAoM as the AfM we might wish Lewis to have written. At best, it can only serve as a tantalizing glimpse, perhaps an opening set of chapters, for such a work.)
As for what this all has to do with public education: Lewis clearly demonstrates in his first lecture, that _other_ people, who _had been_ writing schoolbooks on literature, had already been advancing the philosophy of ethical relativism (perhaps without quite realizing it, as Lewis allows); indeed, in some cases (as he ironically notes) the ostensible 'lesson' in critical appreciation of English literature consisted really of nothing else than training in philosophical relativism. This was already the situation within the British educational system; Lewis (as a respected professor of English literature) is calling attention to the fact, and (as a philosopher) is calling attention to the logical implications. At many different levels, they are implications still worth considering, today.
This, btw, is why Lewis does not report the names of the three authors and two books which he chooses for his examples: he isn't sure whether they consciously intended to make the points he is deriving from them, and doesn't want to vilify them publicly (he says as much on the first pages). Originally he was speaking to other assembled educators who would presumably be familiar with the books in question; thus keeping it 'in the family'. Lewis quite obviously has no problem whatsoever naming names and quoting specific sources, when he believes the scholars he is quoting consciously meant the notions he is attacking. Dr. I. A. Richards (whom he has a healthy respect for in other regards) and Dr. C. H. Waddington are both quoted, and their positions criticized, in this fashion. 'Gaius', 'Titius' and 'Orbilius' are presented as examples of a principle, not as scholars writing with authority (like Richards and Waddington) on the subject in question.
It is true that Lewis speculates, on several levels, about what the intentions of the pseudo-3 might be. But this is legitimate insofar as he is presenting examples of a type, not presenting individuals. This, again, is why he chose to present them pseudonymously; he does not speculate similarly about Richards or Waddington (nor does he present them pseudonymously--this shows he is, as he claims, trying to protect the pseudo-3, while still making use of the examples.)
...P>Much of the bulk of the book ... is devoted to a response to 'serious emotivism'. Nor is Lewis utterly negative about the subject: he specially emphasizes the necessary value of trained emotions, even over against a merely intellectual grasp of ethics (better, he says, to play cards against an ethical sceptic raised to believe 'a gentleman doesn't cheat',than to play against an irreproachable moral philosopher raised among cardsharps! |g|) What he does stress, however, is that emotions are not ethical justifications, nor a substitute for them. Put more shortly, he argues that a person's emotions should be based upon his ethics, and not his ethics upon his emotions. (And he distinguishes this from arguing that ethics are _not_ only a representation of our emotions.)
4.0 out of 5 stars Good point, but a bit awkward,
This review is from: The Abolition Of Man (Paperback)I am not a Christian, but I find C.S. Lewis to be one of the most rational Christians I have ever read. This is the second book I've read by him, not counting the Narnia books, and I have a sort of conditional love for his work. Here Prof Lewis takes a little story about false values accidentally impressed upon students in public schools, and takes it to a far-spanning level. He goes on to explain that values only work if they are expansions of past values, because human values are all traced back to the primordial Tao. Not every example he makes works. For example, he mentions Nietzsche's morality as an innovation without grounds, when, first of all, Nietzsche DID NOT ADVOCATE MASTER MORALITY, but rather encouraged personal morality; and Nietzsche's ideas all have solid ground in ancient Greek philosophy. Nevertheless, Prof Lewis advocates a fair system, where new ideas are acceptable, but we never forget our roots. After all, without this book, we might end up like in Brave New World. That would be bad!
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The Abolition Of Man by C S Lewis (Paperback - Mar 8 2001)
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