Thursday, April 11, 2013

C.S. Lewis and The Abolition of Man

C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man Or Reflections on Education with Special Reference to the Teaching of English in the Upper Forms of Schools, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996.

David Naugle, "Education and the Abolition of Man." Naugle has written an excellent article applying Lewis' thought to modern education.

The Abolition of man was first given as The University of Durham Riddell Memorial Lectures. It provided him the opportunity to express concerns he had about education in his day. Lewis was concern with the growing popularity of relativism and the arguments against objective truth. These dangers have increased in our own day. In these lectures Lewis argues that there is a universal moral law, the Tao, and that education should cultivate "true and just sentiment" toward this law.

Lewis gave three lectures. The first lecture addressed the "widespread modern assumption that value judjments do not reflect any objective reality." Lewis was responding to an English grammar book in which the authors say, we often "appear to be saying something very important about something and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings." Lewis believed that until quite recently people believed in a universal moral law and their was a right and wrong way to respond to it. These right sentiments must be cultivated in the young. He quotes from Augustine, Plato, Aristotle and others to prove this point. Lewis observes, "Aristotle says the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought." Plato says, "The little human animal will not at first have the right responses. It must be trained to feel pleasure, liking, disgust, and hatred at those things which really are pleasant, likeable, disgusting, and hateful."

In part two Lewis speaking of this grammar book: "The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it." Lewis says the new position is outside of the Tao. Lewis shows how they are not creating any new values but just picking some values out of the Tao and rejecting others. Lewis says this about the Tao: "This thing which I have called for convenience 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 judgements. If it is rejected, all  value is restrained."

In the third lecture Lewis speaks of the abolition of man. In the attempt to conquer nature he will conquer man. Lewis says, "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." These conditioners who have stepped outside of the moral law will be a law to themselves. Instead of being guided by moral law, they will be controlled by their own wants and desires. Lewis says, "I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who has stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently."

I want to close with two of my favorite quotes from the book:
"In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing them were prescribed by the Tao . . . They handed on what they received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which overarched him and them alike. It was old birds teaching young birds to fly." In other words, they humanized them.

The second quote concerns the irony of modern education: "And all the time--- such is the tragi-comedy of our situation---we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. . . . 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 geldings be fruitful." Modern educators ridiculed the virtues but want virtuous students and citizens.

The Abolition of Man is even more applicable to our day than it was Lewis' day. What would he say today if he was still alive?

No comments:

Post a Comment