Excerpts from “The Abolition of Man”

One of my goals for the New Year is to reread the C.S. Lewis shelf in my library. These gems on paper were formative to my former as a man, as a thinker, and as a Christian. They continue to shadow almost everything I write and I shudder to think how shallow and inconsequential would be the whole of my life without the influence of Lewis in my life. Presently, I am reading my copy of THE ABOLITION OF MAN. It is falling apart. I have read it so often the first 30 pages are no longer attached to the spine and have to be lifted and turned one page at a time. But they are still filled with wisdom to ponder and seem, if possible, even more relevant to our time than when they were first written some 74 years ago (first published in 1947). [Thanks to Milly Soto, who first gave me a copy of this book. Always grateful for you.]

In the first of three lectures given and eventually collected and published in this slim volume, Lewis writes about the role of our primary schools (in Britian, but also relevant for America) in educating and shaping the moral development of children. Here’s a synopsis of how the book came to be and what it is about, followed by a collection of quotes from the first chapter, Men Without Chests.

In 1943, he delivered the three philosophy lectures contained in The Abolition of Man at King’s College, Newcastle. In doing so, Lewis sought to critique an English textbook written by Gaius and Titius (and, by extension, the ideologies and methodologies commonly used to teach English at the time). He believed that following such curricula, which denied that things have objective value, would result inMen Without Chests—students who lack “right sentiments,” or emotions that are properly aligned with reason. Thus, according to Lewis, these “Men Without Chests” would be dehumanized and lack the ability to recognize or embody proper morality as outlined in the Tao. This emphasis on upholding morality and the unique qualities of humanity extends to Lewis’s other writing, as he heavily incorporated aspects of the Christian value system into both his fiction and nonfiction works. In particular, Lewis’s Space Trilogy focuses on what he viewed as a troubling trend of dehumanization in science fiction literature.  (Source Link)

Quotes from Chapter 1

“The task of the modern educatior is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.” (p. 24)

Defining the Tao:

“It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road. It is the Way in which the universe goes on, the Way in which things everlastingly emerge, stilly and tranquilly, into space and time. It is also the Way which every man should tread in imitation of that cosmic and supercosmic progression, conforming all activities to that great exemplar.” (p. 28)

“It is 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 king of things we are.” (p. 29)

Why this is important:

“The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.”  (p. 30)

On the problem of our educational system:

“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 emand 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.” (p. 35)

Finally:

I am preparing an index with some additional footnotes for the book that should be available for FREE download by the end of the month.


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