Title: The Abolition of Man
Author: C. S. Lewis
Genre: Philosophy
Pages: 113
Rating: 4 of 5

This was the last required reading for my C. S. Lewis class (I have one more optional book that I will probably read), so we’re coming to the end of the C. S. Lewis review series.

This is one of Lewis’s shortest books, but it is dense. I know I didn’t catch everything that was going on in this first reading so I’m not completely confident of my understanding (or rating), but I’ ll try to give a basic overview anyway. The book’s subtitle is Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools, but that is a completely inadequate description of the content. To be sure, Lewis begins by excoriating an English textbook for advocating a certain philosophy in which “all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker and…all such statements are unimportant,” but that is just the jumping-off point.

His criticism of the English book quickly turns into a defense for the existence of a universal, objective moral standard which he refers to as the Tao and defines as “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 kind of things we are.” He spends the rest of the book arguing for its existence and explaining the dehumanization that he believes would occur should humanity ever succeed in completely eliminating/forsaking it (a scenario which he plays out in the N.I.C.E. institute in That Hideous Strength).

I didn’t find all of his reasoning completely convincing on a first reading, and I think that (as is usually the case with such attempts) this attempt to follow the topic “to its logical conclusion” end up overblown and needlessly apocalyptic. However, there was a lot to think about here in regard to evidence for the existence of objective truth and morality (which he does not explicitly try to tie to Christian morality alone). Not my favorite Lewis book, but a good example of him at his most philosophical.

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4 thoughts on “Forsaking the Tao

  1. I just glanced through your blog and thought, “This dude must LOVE C.S. Lewis,” haha. Makes sense that you’re taking a class. (I’m totally jealous!) I love this book and have read it a few times, but I still don’t follow its logic perfectly. One of the most useful ideas for me is how he suggests the need for “a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the ‘natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view.” Anyway, glad to hear you’re generally enjoying Lewis.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Your first assessment was right…I do love C. S.Lewis :). By the time I was out of elementary school I’d read most of his fiction, and since then I have read a pretty good chunk of everything else he has written. The class I’m taking was just a good excuse to re-read (“Abolition of Man” was the only new one for me) and discuss at a post-grad level.

      I think some of the guys in my class have been really struggling with the whole “naturally philosophy” side of Lewis since they’re more used to doing systematic theology using biblical exegesis and the historical-grammatical approach – very different tools from what Lewis generally employs.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yay, another Lewis fan! 🙂 I was actually thinking he meant more practical science, in the context of that passage; but I imagine he does approach theology quite differently, with his atheistic background and focus on philosophy for “the common man”! How interesting. I haven’t studied his overarching methods, being very much the undergraduate English major. Are you studying theology?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Yes, my degree is in theology: a three year M.Div degree that I managed to cram into five years…the class I’m taking is just an audit for my own enjoyment/improvement.

        I’ll take your word for it that he’s referring to practical science in context…I’m not familiar enough with “Abolition of Man” to recognize quotes yet 🙂 . Most of my exposure to his ideas in that vein are from his Space Trilogy.

        My mind jumped to natural theology because that’s been a topic of ongoing debate in the class I’m auditing. With Lewis’s Medieval English background he tends to talk more like Thomas Aquinas (natural theology, reason, logic, etc.) or Dante (analogy, imagination, etc.) than modern systematic theologians (exegesis, word studies, historical background, etc.) and some of my classmates aren’t very comfortable with it. Personally, I find his approach refreshing; some of his tools might not be as precise, but they unearth different insights and points of view that can be every bit as valuable.

        What area of English are you focused on? Does it let you pull in a lot of Lewis stuff?

        Like

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