Myth and the Imagination
Before his conversion, Lewis was divided into two selves: one that was committed to reason and a materialist view of life. The other self was in love with myth. He had difficulty in reconciling these two aspects of his life. Though Lewis loved myth, he did not believe it was true, “even if they were beautiful,” “breathed through silver” (Jacobs, 143). Lewis believed myth was only fantasy; not real. However, he thought myth and story were important for the development of the learner. Lewis’s view of myth was a hindrance to his coming to faith in Christ. Two of his friends, Tolkien and Dyson, helped him to see Christianity as a True Myth. After his conversion, Lewis was able to integrate his reason and his imagination. He believed that imagination connects us with reality. Lewis observed, “It is only while receiving the myth as a story that you experience the principle concretely… What flows into you from the myth is not truth but reality (truth is always about something, but reality is that about which truth is)… myth is the isthmus which connects the peninsula world of thought with that vast reality we really belong to” (Lewis, Myth Became Fact, 265). Lewis believed reason to be the “organ of truth” and imagination the “organ of meaning.”
“The importance of myth to education,” Hudson observes, “ is inseparably linked to Lewis’s understanding of the overarching importance of story” (Hudson). In An Experiment in Criticism, Lewis asks, “What then is the good of---what is even the defense for---occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person?” (137). Lewis answered that myth enhances our vision. It helps us to become more than we are. It expands our sight. Lewis wrote:
“My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through the eyes of others. Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough… Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege of individuality… But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and I am never more myself than when I do” (140-141).
The Abolition of Man
Lewis’s philosophy of education is clearly articulated in The Abolition of Man. This book was a response to a grammar book for children. Lewis attacked this book because it taught that truth and values are subjective. Lewis called this book the Green Book because he did not want to humiliate its authors. Lewis believed that the education encouraged in the Green Book would lead to the abolition of humans. It would create “men without chests.” What did Lewis mean by this idea? He was referring to the training of the emotions. Unlike the authors of the Green Book, Lewis believed truth and values to be objective. Trained emotions will help the student to affirm the good and to reject evil. The training of the chest was taught by both Plato and Aristotle. Lewis wrote, “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 are really pleasant, likable, disgusting, and hateful” (Lewis, Abolition, 16).
Lewis quoted Plato approvingly:
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 the earliest years and would give delighted praise to beauty, receiving it into his soul and being nourished by it, so he becomes a man of gentle heart. All this is before he is of an age to reason; so that when reason at length comes to him, then, bred as he has been, he will hold out his hand in welcome and recognize her because of the affinity he bears to her” (Lewis, Abolition, 16-17).
A true education affirms the objectivity of truth and values. It helps the student to affirm the truth, the good in his own heart. Not only must the mind be developed, but the will and the emotions too must be properly trained to such an extent that they delight in truth, goodness, and beauty. Lewis states, “The head rules the belly through the chest… of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiment” (Lewis, Abolition, 24-25). Without the training of the chest, we will be caught in the flood of the passions. Without ultimate truth and values, we have no guidance for decision making. Without objective truth and values, there is no meaning to our existence (Hudson).
Lewis thought the teaching of relativism would lead to destruction. Much of modern education ridicules the idea of ultimate truth and values. Instead, they teach all values are culturally bound. There are no universal standards to guide us. As the book of Judges describes, each is to do what is right in his own eyes.
Lewis referred to objective values and truth as the Tao. Other people refer to it as the natural law or eternal law. He believed the Tao was universal, present in all cultures. He also thought there was no standard for judging between right and wrong without the Tao. Lewis wrote, “Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else” (Lewis, Abolition, 48). In addition, Lewis noted, “without the Tao, and the values it promotes, society must jettison it completely and create its own system” (Hudson). Lewis believed this would lead to a few people controlling the rest of the population.
The Aims of Education
What should be the aims of education according to Lewis? Lewis thought of education in hierarchical terms. At the highest level was learning; the next level was education and at the lowest level was training. He believed that the chief business of the student was learning. He thought learning was the search for knowledge for its own sake. Lewis also believed education was at a level below learning. He did not think learning and education were the same thing. Education was something done within a institution and was directed by that institution. Training was at the lowest level. Vocational training, Lewis wrote, “aims at not making a good man but a good banker, a good electrician … or a good surgeon.” Lewis definitely thought we have a need for these people and the services they provide. But the problem, as he saw it, is that learning will suffer in the emphasis on training. “If education,” observed Lewis, is beaten by training, civilization dies [for] the lesson of history [is that] civilization is a rarity, attained with difficulty and easily lost” (Lewis, quoted by Dunn). Lewis noted that the aim of education was for humans to grow in their humanity. This required the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty. Lewis thought the aim of education was truth. Lewis did not think Christian scholars should make the search for truth to come out to edifying conclusions. In other words, he did not think they should doctor the truth. Lewis quoted Bacon affirmatively where he says that we are not to “offer the unclean sacrifice of a lie” to the author of truth. Lewis also accepted and argued for the objectivity of truth and values. He argued for this brilliantly in The Abolition of Man. Lewis believed learning and teaching was a Christian calling. At first, Lewis saw a conflict between the life of reason and the life of imagination. After his conversion, he reconciled them. An example of this reconciliation is The Chronicles of Narnia. He created a new world that agreed with the great truths of Christianity. Liberal Arts education can be renewed today, if like Lewis, we commit ourselves to the pursuit of truth, goodness, and beauty.