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The Abolition of Man (1944)

by C. S. Lewis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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6,710651,433 (4.04)1 / 61
Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man remains one of C. S. Lewis's most controversial works. Lewis sets out to persuade his audience of the ongoing importance and relevance of universal objective values, such as courage and honor, and the foundational necessity of natural law. He also makes a cogent case that a retreat from these pillars of our educational system, even if in the name of "scientism," would be catastrophic. National Review lists it as number seven on their "100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century.".… (more)
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 Philosophy and Theory: C S Lewis8 unread / 8zentimental, January 2008

» See also 61 mentions

English (62)  Spanish (1)  Dutch (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 62 (next | show all)
Sharp insight from the always-relevant author. Essential reading. ( )
  trrpatton | Mar 20, 2024 |
Hard to understand at times, but a truly prescient and insightful book. ( )
  Avocat1227 | Jan 1, 2024 |
From Goodreads:

It has been called one of the most important works of philosophy in the 20th century. Such praise is probably not overstated. In this little book which is really a collection of three lectures, Lewis is clear, provocative, and prescient. Any confusion one may have with the book likely originates on the side of the reader and not in Lewis' writing. Firstly, this is not a work of Christian apologetics, a subject by which most Christians are first introduced to Lewis. A helpful way to think of Abolition of Man is as the pre-argument before Mere Christianity. Lewis wants to prove the case for Christianity, but first he must make the case for objectivity and being human.

The three chapters in Abolition of Man correspond to the three lectures he delivered in the early years of World War II. If Lewis sounds apocalyptic, one must remember the time he was writing in. The world really did seem to be falling apart at the seams.

In "Men Without Chests," Lewis identifies his primary antagonist: the poison of subjectivism. In this case, he finds it in grammar book for children. In the book, the authors assume that there is no correspondence between the subject and the object. "This waterfall is sublime" is not a value statement about the waterfall, since no such assessment of value exists. "This waterfall is sublime" is only a statement about the subject's internal sentiments about the waterfall. For Lewis, this a violation of basic logic and, more so, the very idea of objective reality, which he calls the Tao.

Again, Christians might balk at Lewis' use of a Eastern term like the Tao to describe the moral ecosystem of Creation. But Lewis does so not because he considers Eastern religion to be on par with Christianity but because it proves his larger point: recognition of an objective, moral ecosystem in which value statements are not only possible but necessary, is a universal human truth crossing all times and all cultures.

What he means by men without chests is in describing the human person within the Tao. Using ancient philosophical categories, Lewis lays out the three parts of the human person: the head (representing the intellect), the belly (representing the appetites or passions), and the chest. What makes man, Lewis argues, is this this part by which the mind stabilizes the appetites according to the Tao. By destroying man's contact to the Tao, the subjectivists have torn at the very nature of man. Since objects don't actually merit our value statements, there is no reason to regulate our emotions accordingly. They have made men without chests.

"The Way" is the chapter in which Lewis makes his case for the Tao as an objective moral ecosystem universally recognized by mankind. Another name for it might be natural law, and Lewis describes it as "the shoe that fits the foot." It is the grain of the universe by which all things either go along or go against. It is the norm by which we can call things good or bad, just or unjust. It stands above all humans so that everyone from kings to commoners are subject to it. Importantly, the Tao is a premise, not a conclusion: one cannot reason himself to the Tao without accepting its basic framework. Thus, we see why Lewis is so irate about the dismissal of the Tao in a children's grammar book. If the Tao must be discovered, then education--even education at an early age--becomes all the more important. It is the duty of teachers to inculcate the ways of the Tao to all their pupils so that they can fully integrate their developing reason with a well-formed chest.

Finally, in "The Abolition of Man," Lewis demonstrates why the threat of the subjectivists is so dire. He begins with recognizing that their time is one of new developments in technology and science (much like ours today). But Lewis demonstrates that science is not really about man exercising power over nature so much as it about some men exercising power over other men. In the end, the last aspect of nature to overcome will be human nature, which is to say the power of some men to remake man into whatever they like. For this, they've earned the title of the Conditioners.

Lewis warns the Conditioners, and us, that because they've already thrown out the Tao, all the Conditioners have to lean on is pure emotivism: what do we desire to do? And since all objectivity has been thrown out, including moral objectivity, their desires are now completely conditioned by chance. We see then that it is Nature which has actually conquered man.

Lewis applies his thesis in two ways. The first is a warning about life in a world where there is no objective value as the subjectivists wish. That world has nothing that stands above the wills and desires of men. Since some men will have different desires than others, we have just opened ourselves to perpetual, never-ending culture wars as one group tries to impose their vision of reality over the others. The second is bleaker still. Because the ultimate end of the Conditioners is to change the very makeup of human nature, we can aptly say their goal is anti-human--it is the very end of our kind. ( )
  rdhasler | Nov 14, 2023 |
"In the classic The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, the most important Christian writer of the 20th century, sets out to persuade his audience of the importance and relevance of universal values such as courage and honor in contemporary society. Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man is one of the most debated of Lewis’s extraordinary works." From www.goodreads.com/book/show/59995328-the-abolition-of-man
  salem.colorado | Oct 31, 2023 |
It is not my favorite Lewis, and I am a fan. It does seem to be cobbled together and not seamlessly. I do question an approach here. Lewis posits a "tao" a deep order or telos to the universe and to human existence that cannot be proven but must be accepted a a maxim. He then expresses alarm that it will be ignored and we will end up with the loss of all values. I suppose he's striking back at the existentialists and others who deny the idea of a human nature (at least one given from outside of human existence, if not apart from an individual's own moral sovereignty). If this tao exists, and I think I agree with him that it does, he should have a little more confidence in it. It will assert itself and will not be ignored. Mid twentieth century did its worse, and yet life goes on and people still cherish their values imperfectly as ever. ( )
  rsairs | May 23, 2023 |
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» Add other authors (15 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
C. S. Lewisprimary authorall editionscalculated
Gisi, MarthaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Gresham, DouglasNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Sobolewska, MagdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Whitfield, RobertNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The Master said, He who sets to work on a different strand destroys the whole fabric.

Confucius, Analects II.16
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I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary text books.
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Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man remains one of C. S. Lewis's most controversial works. Lewis sets out to persuade his audience of the ongoing importance and relevance of universal objective values, such as courage and honor, and the foundational necessity of natural law. He also makes a cogent case that a retreat from these pillars of our educational system, even if in the name of "scientism," would be catastrophic. National Review lists it as number seven on their "100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century.".

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