The Case against Scientism – leading scholars explore Lewis’s prophetic warnings about the abuse of science

„The new oligarchy must increasingly rely on the advice of scientists,

till in the end, the politicians become merely the scientists’ puppets”.

C. S. Lewis in „Willing Slaves of the Welfare State”.
oligarchy

More than a half century ago, famed writer C.S. Lewis warned about how science (a good thing) could be twisted in order to attack religion, undermine ethics, and limit human freedom. In this documentary „The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case Against Scientism,” leading scholars explore Lewis’s prophetic warnings about the abuse of science and how Lewis’s concerns are increasingly relevant for us today.

Some quotes, followed by notes from the documentary video:

  • lewis holy trinity churchDuring the first half of the 20th century, 3 prophetic writers warned about the dark side of scientific and technological progress: (1) G K Chesterton, ‘Eugenics and other evils‘ (2) George Orwell, ‘1984‘ and (3) C S Lewis ‘Abolition of Man‘. Best known for his Narnia story and his books of Christian theology, C S Lewis also had an intense interest in the growing power of scientism- the efforts to use the methods of science to explain and control every part of human life.
  • Lewis was opposed to an ideology, which in his view had been confused with science. It was a particular materialistic approach which  wanted to reduce everything we could learn scientifically to materialistic causes- blind, undirected causes. (Angus Menuge PhD) Lewis thought that science was a perfectly legitimate enterprise. He never denied it, he in fact studied it quite a bit. (Victor Reppert Phd). Just like in all human disciplines, Lewis thought that science could be corrupted, and that some people could pursue science because they wanted power over the world and power over other people, in particular. (John G West PhD) What he saw was that you had to avoid those extremes, not in the employment of science, but in the popularization of science. (Michael Aeschliman PhD)
  • You could not afford to ignore the finding of science, the importance of scientific method, you had to see that it’s one of the greatest applications and developments of the rational method perse, a subset of the rational method. But, that it was very dangerous, and then in the 20th century we had had very malignant consequences to deify it. Scientific socialism is credibly a scientific version of politics. The Marxists called their system scientific socialism. Well, no one in their right mind, in 2012, will say that Marxism was scientific. No one in his right mind, but people did for 170 years.
  • Social Darwinist racial science in Nazi Germany. Enormous prestige was given to racialist views by their apparent clothing people such as Heckel and Münchner popularizing reductive scientific ideas with immense success. In many ways, more success in Germany than in England.
  • Lewis saw these developments: 2 World Wars, in one he served and was badly wounded, had roots in barbaric and hysterical scientistic ideas of abuses of the scientific method, abuses of scientific terminology and language, abuses of scientific faith. When warning about the abuse of science, Lewis made an unusual comparison. Although most people think of science as something modern, Lewis compared it to something ancient: MAGIC. Lewis thought that science and magic are twins. If you think about this, it might sound very strange. But Lewis was very perceptive here. In fact, he highlighted 3 different ways that science and magic really are quite similar.

(1) Science as religion.

Science has the ability to function as a religion. Certainly, a magical view of the world can give one a sense that there’s something more than just our every day lives. If you walk through a forest and think it’s enchanted it gives you a grand vision that there’s something out there that we don’t ordinarily experience.It can give you a sense of meaning. There’s a real reason why fantasy stories are so beloved… It gives people a sense of grandeur of the universe and something higher than ourselves. And in fact, for some people who aren’t religious, this magical view of the world can actually be more attractive, because it substitutes for that. In the same way, science can be an alternative religion. And during Lewis’s own time, there were people like H G Wells, who turned Darwins’ theory of evolution into this cosmic theory of life developing in this long struggle in the human universe, and then human life develops in this heroic character fighting against nature, and then, eventually, man evolves, and evolves himself through eugenics into a wave of demigods. This epic cosmic struggle of evolution was really an alternate religion for H G Wells, and you see that same thing today, whether it be Oxford biologist Richard Dawkins who says that „Darwin has made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist„. Or, in 2012, we had 10-20,000 people converge on Washington DC for this Reason Rally, where a lot of people testified that they really offer science as a religion. Today, you see a lot of people speaking in the name of science, who offer science as a quasi religion. It’s what gives their life meaning. Another area where we see this today is in the celebration of Darwin’s birthday. Hundreds of colleges, community organizations, if not thousands around the world, on Feb. 12th, every year, hold Darwin day celebrations. It really takes on the trappings of a religion.

(2) Science as credulity

A second way science and magic are similar, according to C S Lewis, is their encouragement of a lack of skepticism. Again, this may seem just completely outlandish, because science, how does that promote gullibility? How? It’s supposed to be just the hard facts. Now, in magic, you can think there’s a witch doctor and the tribe believes whatever the witch doctor says. And so, magical thinking can promote a type of credulous thinking where you just trust what the authority figure says. But, how does science promote that type of credulous and gullible thinking? Lewis pointed out that in the modern world, people will believe almost anything if it’s dressed up in the name of science.

For Lewis, one of the leading examples of science fueling gullibility was Freudianism. Lewis had an interest in Sigmund Freud since his days an Oxford undergraduate. Lewis was intrigued by some of the claims of psychoanalysis, but he ultimately rejected the efforts by Freud’s followers to explain everything from religion to stealing cars as a result of our subconscious urges. Lewis pointed out that if you actually take Freud’s view to its eventual conclusion, that actually undermines even the belief in Freudianism. Lewis’s point is: Where does this end? If you really think that all reasoning, fundamentally, is based on sub rational urges and that we can’t analyze those urges, and there isn’t real reason we can judge, based on evidence, and that we can’t be self critical, then that destroys Freudianism, just like it destroys everything else.

Shortly after Lewis accepted Christianity, he satirized Freud in his allegory ‘The Pilgrim’s Regress’. In Lewis’s story, the main character, John, winds up thrown in jail by a character named Sigismund enlightened. Sigismund was actually SIgmund Freud’s real first name, so this was very much a parody about Freud. But, what is this jail he is thrown into? Well, it’s a jail governed by this giant, and this giant has a particular propensity, that anything that he looks at becomes transparent. And so, when this pilgrim character is thrown into this dungeon, into this jail, it’s a jail of horrors because whenever he looks at someone , he doesn’t see them, he sees their insides, he sees through them. It’s like a house of horrors. And that was Lewis’s picture of where Freudianism leads you: If you try to deconstruct everything, you’re left with nothing

Another example of science inspired credulity, according to Lewis, was what he called evolutionism- the popular idea that matter could magically transform itself into complex and conscious living things, through a blind and unguided  process. Lewis’s doubts about unguided evolution went back to his days as a soldier in World War I. While recovering from shrapnel wounds, a young Lewis read the book ‘Creative Revolution’ by french natural philosopher Henri Bergson. Bergson questioned the ability of Darwin’s theory to account for complex structures, like the human eye, through a blind process like natural selection. Lewis believed that evolutionism, like Freudianism, contained a fatal self contradiction regarding the human mind, according to the Darwinian view. Reason was simply the unforeseen and unintended by-product of a mindless process based on survival of the fittest. Lewis pointed out the key difficulty with the Darwinian account of reason: „If my own mind is the product of the irrational,” he asked, „how shall I trust my mind when it tells me about evolution?” In his personal copy of Charles Darwin’s autobiography, Lewis underlined passages where Darwin had asked himself the same question. (16:00) The idea that a blind and purposeless process without a mind  can produce things like human beings that have minds, and produce moral beliefs in things that sometimes go against our need for physical survival, the idea that a mindless process of survival of the fittest could create such things, really was an outlandish one, according to Lewis. How could a mindless process produce minds? And, to think that it could really just shows how gullible people can be in the name of science.

(3) Science as power

The third similarity between science and magic, according to Lewis, is the quest for power. Magic was about the quest for power. Magicians wanted to have power over the world and over the universe. They wanted to harness the deeper powers of nature in order to control it, and Lewis said that much of modern science, not all, but much of modern science was actually developed fro power over the world. For many people in the 20th century, the power of modern science was its greatest virtue. They hoped science would usher in a new age of peace and prosperity- a scientific utopia. For the scientific utopians of Lewis’s era, science was the savior that would allow us to remake our world. And of course that can be good. Modern science can bring us good things. Many things: from the microwave oven to the computers, to life saving treatments of modern medicine, which Lewis certainly appreciated, But, on the other hand, that tendency to want to control things can bring us the Orwellian state of George Orwell’s 1984. And so, Lewis thought that modern science, in fact, was far more dangerous than magic, because magic failed. Magic doesn’t work at the end of the day. And so, it wasn’t so dangerous because people couldn’t use it to control the world. Modern science has the potential that you really can control  people, if you find the right drugs, or find the right treatments, you can manipulate them. And so, if you don’t have some other way of protecting to remedy what you do in the name of science, some ethical basis that isn’t dictated by science itself, that can control it, then you are facing a really bleak future.

1927 Supreme Court

Lewis’s critique of scientific utopianism was at the heart of his novel ‘That Hideous Strength’, which tells the story of a conspiracy to transform England into a Scientific dictatorship. The conspiracy is led by a government bureaucracy, with a deceptively innocuous name  of the National Institute of Coordinated Experiments or NICE. „That Hideous Strength’ and Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’ are the 2 greatest dystopias  in our language, in the 20th century. The agenda of NICE in ‘That Hideous Strength’ reads like a wish list drawn up by England’s leading scientific social reformers. It included sterilization of the unfit, selective breeding, biochemical conditioning, experimentation on both animals and criminals, and above all- truly scientific planning. A scientific planning that is pretending to provide a new humanity, that is doing away with traditional ethics, that is doing away with all traditional restraints. (United States 1927: Forced Sterilization Upheld. Supreme Court Rules: „Three generations of imbeciles are enough”. Alabama 1947: Blacks denied Penicillin as part of US Public Health Service study on effects of syphilis.) Lewis depicts a world in ‘That Hideous Strength’, in which nothing is sacred. Daniel Dennet has told us that the essence of modernity is that nothing is sacred.  Nothing is sacred, which includes the human person, and when that happens, there are no distinctions between individuals, or humans and animals, or humans and vegetables, and humans and minerals and we have the kind of things we had in the 20th century.

In the 2 decades before his death, Lewis became increasingly alarmed by the scientific authoritarianism. Lewis was very concerned by the dogmatic use of science, and that is why he wrote his novel ‘That Hideous Strength’, that is why he wrote his book ‘The Abolition of Man’, where he actually worries and somewhat predicts the rise of a new class of people, of experts, speaking in the name of science, who would dictate to everyone else. In fact, by the end of his life, Lewis was worrying about the rise of what he called scientocracy- government and society that claim to be based on the claims of modern science, but, in reality really is based on a scientific click of a few people who are speaking in the name of science. And maybe they’re adopting the majority view of science, but, they’re claiming the right to rule based on their scientific knowledge and expertise.

barcode at birthLewis’s concern for the authoritarian science seems eerily prophetic. (See photos of actual headlines form newspapers at the 23rd minute) In a world driven by science and technology, those who question the new order, like C S Lewis did, increasingly find themselves labeled anti-science. C S Lewis would have rejected the charge. Lewis did not accept the idea that science was a special form of knowledge, that was somehow immune to inspection, or somehow cordoned off from the nonspecialist assessing the deliverance of the sciences. Lewis was well aware, first of all, that there is no such thing as science, as such. There are sciences. And each science has its particular methods, and its particular area of study, and also, that the sciences to be good need to interact with one another, but they do so by means of the larger tools of good rational critical thinking. And so, the things that scientists say are subject to review by everyone who is able to think critically, to think rationally. Lewis did not deny that scientific expertise might be necessary for good public policy in many areas. But he insisted that science alone was not sufficient. Knowing how cells work, or knowing how ecosystems work doesn’t tell you what you ought to do for your society, because public policy is not just about technical expertise as to how things work. It’s about what good it’s worth having it in first place and as C  S Lewis pointed out, on these questions a scientific training gives you no added value. Scientists are not moral philosophers. Yet, political and social judgments involve, not just how do things work, and how can we make them work better? But, how should we act, and what’s worth spending money on, and what’s worth doing, and what freedoms are worth giving up or not?

healthcare mandate

On these sort of moral and ethical questions, someone in science training, it doesn’t give them the right to dictate to the rest of society. C S Lewis: „I dread government in the name of science, that is how tyrannies come in”. C S Lewis thought that science was a good thing, but he also thought that it held some really strong dangers. The biggest danger, really, was the penchant to control. In a scientific view, that is the only way that we have knowledge of the world. And so, if you think that I have the scientific truth about something, that’s end of story. I know everything. That really tends to feed a power trip, whether you’re a scientist or a politician who is trying to latch on to the prestige of science, you really have people who are going to abuse their power because they thing, „Look, we’re the only ones who know what should happen, because we know how the universe really works. Therefore, we should be able to dictate what our cultural beliefs are, we should dictate what our government should do, how we should design governmental programs, we should dictate all manner of public policy and anyone who doesn’t have a scientific training or isn’t part of the consensus view of science is basically stupid or against progress, or against science, and so should be swept by the wayside and shouldn’t be listened to. And Lewis thought that that almost totalitarian impulse was really a dangerous thing.

Lewis was properly so, frightened by that potential within science. That’s why he stressed, „We really need limits on science and that there is something behind science, a larger, transcendent ethical sphere behind science and that we aren’t just blind matter  in motion, that we’re part of a designed universe that actually sets limits on what we should and shouldn’t do. It’s an age old problem: How do we prevent something good to being twisted for evil ends? C S Lewis hoped that scientists themselves would find a way to rescue science from scientists, creating a regenerate science that respected human rights and honored human dignity. A science that would no longer be the magician’s twin.

The Magician’s Twin: C.S. Lewis and the Case against Scientism

C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man Chapter 3

Read Chapter 1 Men Without Chests here

Read Chapter 2 The Way here

Read the Appendix here

Chapter 3

The Abolition of Man

It came burning hot into my mind, whatever he said and however he flattered, when he got me home to his house, he would sell me for a slave.

—John Bunyan

`Man’s conquest of Nature’ is an expression often used to describe the progress of applied science. `Man has Nature whacked,’ said someone to a friend of mine not long ago. In their context the words had a certain tragic beauty, for the speaker was dying of tuberculosis. `No matter’ he said, `I know I’m one of the casualties. Of course there are casualties on the winning as well as on the losing side. But that doesn’t alter the fact that it is winning.’ I have chosen this story as my point of departure in order to make it clear that I do not wish to disparage all that is really beneficial in the process described as `Man’s conquest’, much less all the real devotion and self-sacrifice that has gone to make it possible. But having done so I must proceed to analyse this conception a little more closely. In what sense is Man the possessor of increasing power over Nature?

Let us consider three typical examples: the aeroplane, the wireless, and the contraceptive. In a civilized community, in peace-time, anyone who can pay for them may use these things. But it cannot strictly be said that when he does so he is exercising his own proper or individual power over Nature. If I pay you to carry me, I am not therefore myself a strong man. Any or all of the three things I have mentioned can be withheld from some men by other men—by those who sell, or those who allow the sale, or those who own the sources of production, or those who make the goods. What we call Man’s power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. Again, as regards the powers manifested in the aeroplane or the wireless, Man is as much the patient or subject as the possessor, since he is the target both for bombs and for propaganda. And as regards contraceptives, there is a paradoxical, negative sense in which all possible future generations are the patients or subjects of a power wielded by those already alive. By contraception simply, they are denied existence; by contraception used as a means of selective breeding, they are, without their concurring voice, made to be what one generation, for its own reasons, may choose to prefer. From this point of view, 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.

It is, of course, a commonplace to complain that men have hitherto used badly, and against their fellows, the powers that science has given them, But that is not the point I am trying to make. I am not speaking of particular corruptions and abuses which an increase of moral virtue would cure: I am considering what the thing called `Man’s power over Nature’ must always and essentially be. No doubt, the picture could be modified by public ownership of raw materials and factories and public control of scientific research. But unless we have a world state this will still mean the power of one nation over others. And even within the world state or the nation it will mean (in principle) the power of majorities over minorities, and (in the concrete) of a government over the people. And all long-term exercises of power, especially in breeding, must mean the power of earlier generations over later ones.

The latter point is not always sufficiently emphasized, because those who write on social matters have not yet learned to imitate the physicists by always including Time among the dimensions. In order to understand fully what Man’s power over Nature, and therefore the power of some men over other men, really means, we must picture the race extended in time from the date of its emergence to that of its extinction. Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them. And if, as is almost certain, the age which had thus attained maximum power over posterity were also the age most emancipated from tradition, it would be engaged in reducing the power of its predecessors almost as drastically as that of its successors. And we must also remember that, quite apart from this, the later a generation comes—the nearer it lives to that date at which the species becomes extinct—the less power it will have in the forward direction, because its subjects will be so few. There is therefore no question of a power vested in the race as a whole steadily growing as long as the race survives. The last men, far from being the heirs of power, will be of all men most subject to the dead hand of the great planners and conditioners and will themselves exercise least power upon the future.

The real picture is that of one dominant age—let us suppose the hundredth century A.D.—which resists all previous ages most successfully and dominates all subsequent ages most irresistibly, and thus is the real master of the human species. But then within this master generation (itself an infinitesimal minority of the species) the power will be exercised by a minority smaller still. Man’s conquest of Nature, if the dreams of some scientific planners are realized, means the rule of a few hundreds of men over billions upon billions of men. There neither is nor can be any simple increase of power on Man’s side. Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well aas stronger. In every victory, besides being the general who triumphs, he is also the prisoner who follows the triumphal car.

I am not yet considering whether the total result of such ambivalent victories is a good thing or a bad. I am only making clear what Man’s conquest of Nature really means and especially that final stage in the conquest, which, perhaps, is not far off. The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal conditioning, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to Man. The battle will then be won. We shall have `taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?

Plato

For the power of Man to make himself what he pleases means, as we have seen, the power of some men to make other men what they please. In all ages, no doubt, nurture and instruction have, in some sense, attempted to exercise this power. But the situation to which we must look forward will be novel in two respects. In the first place, the power will be enormously increased. Hitherto the plans of educationalists have achieved very little of what they attempted and indeed, when we read them—how Plato would have every infant „a bastard nursed in a bureau”, and Elyot would have the boy see no men before the age of seven and, after that, no women,1 and how Locke wants children to have leaky shoes and no turn for poetry2—we may well thank the beneficent obstinacy of real mothers, real nurses, and (above all) real children for preserving the human race in such sanity as it still possesses. But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please.

The second difference is even more important. In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao—a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart. They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly. This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education. The conditioners have been emancipated from all that. It is one more part of Nature which they have conquered. The ultimate springs of human action are no longer, for them, something given. They have surrendered—like electricity: it is the function of the Conditioners to control, not to obey them. They know how to produce conscience and decide what kind of conscience they will produce. They themselves are outside, above. For we are assuming the last stage of Man’s struggle with Nature. The final victory has been won. Human nature has been conquered—and, of course, has conquered, in whatever sense those words may now bear.

The Conditioners, then, are to choose what kind of artificial Tao they will, for their own good reasons, produce in the Human race. They are the motivators, the creators of motives. But how are they going to be motivated themselves?

For a time, perhaps, by survivals, within their own minds, of the old `natural’ Tao. Thus at first they may look upon themselves as servants and guardians of humanity and conceive that they have a `duty’ to do it `good’. But it is only by confusion that they can remain in this state. They recognize the concept of duty as the result of certain processes which they can now control. Their victory has consisted precisely in emerging from the state in which they were acted upon by those processes to the state in which they use them as tools. One of the things they now have to decide is whether they will, or will not, so condition the rest of us that we can go on having the old idea of duty and the old reactions to it. How can duty help them to decide that? Duty itself is up for trial: it cannot also be the judge. And `good’ fares no better. They know quite well how to produce a dozen different conceptions of good in us. The question is which, if any, they should produce. No conception of good can help them to decide. It is absurd to fix on one of the things they are comparing and make it the standard of comparison.

To some it will appear that I am inventing a factitious difficulty for my Conditioners. Other, more simple-minded, critics may ask, `Why should you suppose they will be such bad men?’ But I am not supposing them to be bad men. They are, rather, not men (in the old sense) at all. They are, if you like, men who have sacrificed their own share in traditional humanity in order to devote themselves to the task of deciding what `Humanity’ shall henceforth mean. `Good’ and `bad’, applied to them, are words without content: for it is from them that the content of these words is henceforward to be derived. Nor is their difficulty factitious, „We might suppose that it was possible to say `After all, most of us want more or less the same things—food and drink and sexual intercourse, amusement, art, science, and the longest possible life for individuals and for the species. Let them simply say, This is what we happen to like, and go on to condition men in the way most likely to produce it. Where’s the trouble?’ But this will not answer. In the first place, it is false that we all really like the same things. But even if we did, what motive is to impel the Conditioners to scorn delights and live laborious days in order that we, and posterity, may have what we like? Their duty? But that is only the Tao, which they may decide to impose on us, but which cannot be valid for them. If they accept it, then they are no longer the makers of conscience but still its subjects, and their final conquest over Nature has not really happened. The preservation of the species? But why should the species be preserved? One of the questions before them is whether this feeling for posterity (they know well how it is produced) shall be continued or not. However far they go back, or down, they can find no ground to stand on. Every motive they try to act on becomes at once petitio. It is not that they are bad men. They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts. Man’s final conquest has proved to be the abolition of Man.

Yet the Conditioners will act. When I said just now that all motives fail them, I should have said all motives except one. All motives that claim any validity other than that of their felt emotional weight at a given moment have failed them. Everything except the sic volo, sic jubeo has been explained away. But what never claimed objectivity cannot be destroyed by subjectivism. The impulse to scratch when I itch or to pull to pieces when I am inquisitive is immune from the solvent which is fatal to my justice, or honour, or care for posterity. When all that says It is good’ has been debunked, what says 1 want’ remains. It cannot be exploded or `seen through’ because it never had any pretentions. The Conditioners, therefore, must come to be motivated simply by their own pleasure. I am not here speaking of the corrupting influence of power nor expressing the fear that under it our Conditioners will degenerate. The very words corrupt and degenerateimply a doctrine of value and are therefore meaningless in this context. My point is that those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another except the emotional strength of that impulse.

We may legitimately hope that among the impulses which arise in minds thus emptied of all `rational’ or `spiritual’ motives, some will be benevolent. I am very doubtful myself whether the benevolent impulses, stripped of that preference and encouragement which the Tao teaches us to give them and left to their merely natural strength and frequency as psychological events, will have much influence. I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently. I am inclined to think that the Conditioners will hate the conditioned. Though regarding as an illusion the artificial conscience which they produce in us their subjects, they will yet perceive that it creates in us an illusion of meaning for our lives which compares favourably with the futility of their own: and they will envy us as eunuchs envy men. But I do not insist on this, for it is a mere conjecture. What is not conjecture is that our hope even of a `conditioned’ happiness rests on what is ordinarily called `chance’—the chance that benevolent impulses may on the whole predominate in our Conditioners. For without the judgement `Benevolence is good’—that is, without re-entering the Tao—they can have no ground for promoting or stabilizing these impulses rather than any others. By the logic of their position they must just take their impulses as they come, from chance. And Chance here means Nature. It is from heredity, digestion, the weather, and the association of ideas, that the motives of the Conditioners will spring. Their extreme rationalism, by `seeing through’ all `rational’ motives, leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behaviour. If you will not obey the Tao, or else commit suicide, obedience to impulse (and therefore, in the long run, to mere `nature’) is the only course left open.

At the moment, then, of Man’s victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely `natural’—to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man’s conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature’s conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by step, to this conclusion. All Nature’s apparent reverses have been but tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really the opening of arms to enfold us for ever. If the fully planned and conditioned world (with its Tao a mere product of the planning) comes into existence, Nature will be troubled no more by the restive species that rose in revolt against her so many millions of years ago, will be vexed no longer by its chatter of truth and mercy and beauty and happiness. Ferum victorem cepit: and if the eugenics are efficient enough there will be no second revolt, but all snug beneath the Conditioners, and the Conditioners beneath her, till the moon falls or the sun grows cold.

My point may be clearer to some if it is put in a different form. Nature is a word of varying meanings, which can best be understood if we consider itsvarious opposites. The Natural is the opposite of the Artificial, the Civil, the Human, the Spiritual, and the Supernatural. The Artificial does not now concern us. If we take the rest of the list of opposites, however, I think we can get a rough idea of what men have meant by Nature and what it is they oppose to her. Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less fully so or not so at all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as against the world of quality; of objects as against consciousness; of the bound, as against the wholly or partially autonomous; of that which knows no values as against that which both has and perceives value; of efficient causes (or, in some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes. Now I take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and use it for our own convenience, we reduce it to the level of `Nature’ in the sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome before we can cut up a dead man or a live animal in a dissecting room. These objects resist the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count it. We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture. To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to Galileo or to `body-snatchers’ is simply obscurantism. But that is not the whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost.

click for naturalism on wikipedia

From this point of view the conquest of Nature appears in a new light. We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may `conquer’ them. We are always conquering Nature, because`Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyse her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things toNature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same. This is one of the many instances where to carry a principle to what seems its logical conclusion produces absurdity. It is like the famous Irishman who found that a certain kind of stove reduced his fuel bill by half and thence concluded that two stoves of the same kind would enable him to warm his house with no fuel at all. It is the magician’s bargain: give up our soul, get power in return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man’s power to treat himself as a mere `natural object’ and his own judgements of value as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one’s first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the person of his de-humanized Conditioners.

We have been trying, like Lear, to have it both ways: to lay down our human prerogative and yet at the same time to retain it. It is impossible. Either we are rational spirit obliged for ever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own `natural’ impulses. Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery.

I am not here thinking solely, perhaps not even chiefly, of those who are our public enemies at the moment. The process which, if not checked, will abolish Man goes on apace among Communists and Democrats no less than among Fascists. The methods may (at first) differ in brutality. But many a mild-eyed scientist in pince-nez, many a popular dramatist, many an amateur philosopher in our midst, means in the long run just the same as the Nazi rulers of Germany/Traditional values are to be `debunked’ and mankind to be cut out into some fresh shape at the will (which must, by hypothesis, be an arbitrary will) of some few lucky people in one lucky generation which has learned how to do it. The belief that we can invent `ideologies’ at pleasure, and the consequent treatment of mankind as mere υλη, specimens, preparations, begins to affect our very language. Once we killed bad men: now we liquidate unsocial elements. Virtue has become integration and diligence dynamism, and boys likely to be worthy of a commission are `potential officer material’. Most wonderful of all, the virtues of thrift and temperance, and even of ordinary intelligence, are sales-resistance.

The true significance of what is going on has been concealed by the use of the abstraction Man. Not that the word Man is necessarily a pure abstraction. In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly human: the real common will and common reason of humanity, alive, and growing like a tree, and branching out, as the situation varies, into ever new beauties and dignities of application. While we speak from within the Tao we can speak of Man having power over himself in a sense truly analogous to an individual’s self-control. But the moment we step outside and regard the Tao as a mere subjective product, this possibility has disappeared. What is now common to all men is a mere abstract universal, an H.C.F., and Man’s conquest of himself means simply the rule of the Conditioners over the conditioned human material, the world of post-humanity which, some knowingly and some unknowingly, nearly all men in all nations are at present labouring to produce.

Nothing I can say will prevent some people from describing this lecture as an attack on science. I deny the charge, of course: and real Natural Philosophers (there are some now alive) will perceive that in defending value I defend inter alia the value of knowledge, which must die like every other when its roots in the Tao are cut. But I can go further than that. I even suggest that from Science herself the cure might come.

I have described as a `magician’s bargain’ that process whereby man surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for power. And I meant what I said. The fact that the scientist has succeeded where the magician failed has put such a wide contrast between them in popular thought that the real story of the birth of Science is misunderstood. You will even find people who write about the sixteenth century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better. There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as digging up and mutilating the dead.

If we compare the chief trumpeter of the new era (Bacon) with Marlowe’s Faustus, the similarity is striking. You will read in some critics that Faustus has a thirst for knowledge. In reality, he hardly mentions it. It is not truth he wants from the devils, but gold and guns and girls. `All things that move between the quiet poles shall be at his command’ and `a sound magician is a mighty god’.3 In the same spirit Bacon condemns those who value knowledge as an end in itself: this, for him, is to use as a mistress for pleasure what ought to be a spouse for fruit.4 The true object is to extend Man’s power to the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not work;5 but his goal is that of the magician. In Paracelsus the characters of magician and scientist are combined. No doubt those who really founded modern science were usually those whose love of truth exceeded their love of power; in every mixed movement the efficacy comes from the good elements not from the bad. But the presence of the bad elements is not irrelevant to the direction the efficacy takes. It might be going too far to say that the modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would be true to say that it, was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an inauspicious hour. Its triumphs may have-been too rapid and purchased at too high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be required.

Is it, then, possible to imagine a new Natural Philosophy, continually conscious that the `natural object’ produced by analysis and abstraction is not reality but only a view, and always correcting the abstraction? I hardly know what I am asking for. I hear rumours that Goethe’s approach to nature deserves fuller consideration—that even Dr Steiner may have seen something that orthodox researchers have missed. The regenerate science which I have in mind would not do even to minerals and vegetables what modern science threatens to do to man himself. When it explained it would not explain away. When it spoke of the parts it would remember the whole. While studying the It it would not lose what Martin Buber calls the Thou-situation. The analogy between the Tao of Man and the instincts of an animal species would mean for it new light cast on the unknown thing, Instinct, by the only known reality of conscience and not a reduction of conscience to the category of Instinct. Its followers would not be free with the words only and merely. In a word, it would conquer Nature without being at the same time conquered by her and buy knowledge at a lower cost than that of life.

Perhaps I am asking impossibilities. Perhaps, in the nature of things, analytical understanding must always be a basilisk which kills what it sees and only sees by killing. But if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it. What I most fear is the reply that I am `only one more’ obscurantist, that this barrier, like all previous barriers set up against the advance of science, can be safely passed. Such a reply springs from the fatal serialism of the modern imagination—the image of infinite unilinear progression which so haunts our minds. Because we have to use numbers so much we tend to think of every process as if it must be like the numeral series, where every step, to all eternity, is the same kind of step as the one before. I implore you to remember the Irishman and his two stoves. There are progressions in which the last step is sui generis—incommensurable with the others—and in which to go the whole way is to undo all the labour of your previous journey. To reduce the Tao to a mere natural product is a step of that kind. Up to that point, the kind of explanation which explains things away may give us something, though at a heavy cost. But you cannot go on `explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on `seeing through5 things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? It is no use trying to `see through’ first principles. If you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world. To `see through’ all things is the same as not to see.


The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

  1. Men Without Chests
  2. The Way
  3. The Abolition of Man
  4. Appendix-Illustrations of the Tao

Notes

1. The Boke Named the Governour, I. iv: `Al men except physitions only shulde be excluded and kepte out of the norisery.’ I. vi: `After that a childe is come to seuen yeres of age… the most sure counsaile is to withdrawe him from all company of women.’

2. Some Thoughts concerning Education,§7:1 will also advise his Feet to be wash’d every Day in cold Water, and to have his Shoes so thin that they might leak and let in Water, whenever he comes near it.’ §174: `If he have a poetick vein, ‘tis to me the strangest thing in the World that the Father should desire or suffer it to be cherished or improved. Methinks the Parents should labour to have it stifled and suppressed as much as may be.’ Yet Locke is one of our most sensible writers on education.

3. Dr Faustus, 77-90.

4. Advancement of Learning, Bk I (p. 60 in Ellis and Spedding, 1905; p. 35 in Everyman Edition).

5. Filum Labyrinthi, i.


Transcriber’s Notes

Buber, Martin (1878-1965) philosopher who said the I-Thou approach to relationships is the only way people can be fully authentic; only a part of our humanity is expressed in the I-It relationship.

Clotho – of the three Fates of Greek mythology, she was the one who wove the fabric of life

factitious – contrived, artificial

Faustus – the magician of Renaisance legend who bargained his soul to the devil in exchange for power

Ferum victorem cepit – from Horace Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit et/ Artes intulit agresti Latio.: „Greece, once overcome, overcame her wild conqueror,/ And brought the arts into rustic Latium.” The vanquished were actually the victors; Lewis is saying that nature, being conquered, is the true winner.

Francis Bacon – proponent (1561-1626) of the „scientific revolution” who advocated science as a tool to gain power over nature; he is known more for his polemical writings on science than his advancement of human knowledge

Goethe Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) Romantic poet who reverenced nature as divine

H.C.F. – highest common factor

Inter alia – Amongst other things

Paracelsus – (1493-1541), more properly Theophrastus Phillippus Aureolus Bombastus von Hohenheim, who was known for his medical innovations during the Renaisance. Traditionally it has been said that Paracelsus was taught by several bishops and the occultist abbot of Sponheim, Johannes Trithemius.

Petitio – short for petitio principii or begging the question: a logical fallacy in which the thing to be proved is implicitly assumed.

Sic volo, sic jubeo – short for sic volo, sic jubeo, stat pro ratione voluntas: „Thus I will, thus I command, my pleasure stands for law.”

Sui generis – adj. [literally, of its own kind] constituting a class alone: unique, peculiar.

υλη – hule or matter, as used by Aristotle

Wireless – radio


The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

  1. Men Without Chests
  2. The Way
  3. The Abolition of Man
  4. Appendix-Illustrations of the Tao

Posted by The Augustine Club at Columbia University, March 2002, because the book is only in print sporadically

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/
augustine@columbia.edu

Last update: March 6, 2002

C.S. Lewis The Abolition of Man Chapter 2 The Way

Read Chapter 1 here – Men without chests

Read Chapter 3 here – Abolition of Man    Read Appendix here

In Chapter 2 CS Lewis addresses the fact that if children don’t believe in the Natural Law, in moral absolutes, in ought and ought not –  then humane society will not survive – unless maybe the educators can find some other basis for ethical behavior.  Lewis considers two such bases.  (1) They can say that certain kinds of behavior are „useful” to society and others are not, and so, on this factual basis, try to build an ethical system.  But this will not work because anyone can ask, „Why ought I be the one who has to deny himself something for the sake of others?”  The educators cannot logically say, „You ought to because…,” since they have already ruled out the Natural Law, which is the sole source of such imperative statements as „One ought to be willing to lay down one’s life to defend one’s country,” etc.  (2)  The educators can say that „instinct” (whatever that is) could be the basis for ethical behavior.  This will not work, either, because we have many instincts and they conflict with one another – plus, it is questionable whether there really is an instinct to protect and preserve one’s society.

Chapter 2

THE WAY

It is upon the Trunk that a gentleman works.

—Analects of Confucius, I.2

The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it. But this is not necessarily a refutation of subjectivism about values as a theory. The true doctrine might be a doctrine which if we accept we die. No one who speaks from within the Tao could reject it on that account: ‘εν δε φαει και ‘δλεσσου. But it has not yet come to that. There are theoretical difficulties in the philosophy of Gaius and Titius.

However subjective they may be about some traditional values, Gaius and Titius have shown by the very act of writing The Green Book that there must be some other values about which they are not subjective at all. They write in order to produce certain states of mind in the rising generation, if not because they think those states of mind intrinsically just or good, yet certainly because they think them to be the means to some state of society which they regard as desirable. It would not be difficult to collect from various passages in The Green Book what their ideal is. But we need not. The important point is not the precise nature of their end, but the fact that they have an end at all. They must have, or their book (being purely practical in intention) is written to no purpose. And this end must have real value in their eyes. To abstain from calling it good and to use, instead, such predicates as ‘necessary’ or ‘progressive’ or ‘efficient’ would be a subterfuge. They could be forced by argument to answer the questions ‘necessary for what?’, ‘progressing towards what?’, ‘effecting what?’; in the last resort they would have to admit that some state of affairs was in their opinion good for its own sake. And this time they could not maintain that ‘good’ simply described their own emotion about it. For the whole purpose of their book is so to condition theyoung reader that he will share their approval, and this would be either a fool’s or a villain’s undertaking unless they held that their approval was in some way valid or correct.

In actual fact Gaius and Titius will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars.1 Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about the values current in their own set they are not nearly sceptical enough. And this phenomenon is very usual. A great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their own which they believe to be immune from the debunking process. They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that ‘real’ or ‘basic’ values may emerge. I will now try to find out what happens if this is seriously attempted.

Let us continue to use the previous example—that of death for a good cause—not, of course, because virtue is the only value or martyrdom the only virtue, but because this is the experimentum crucis which shows different systems of thought in the clearest light. Let us suppose that an Innovator in values regards dulce et decorum and greater love hath no man as mere irrational sentiments which are to be stripped off in order that we may get down to the ‘realistic’ or ‘basic’ ground of this value. Where will he find such a ground?

First of all, he might say that the real value lay in the utility of such sacrifice to the community. ‘Good’, he might say, ‘means what is useful to the community.’ But of course the death of the community is not useful to the community—only the death of some of its members. What is really meant is that the death of some men is useful to other men. That is very true. But on what ground are some men being asked to die for the benefit of others? Every appeal to pride, honour, shame, or love is excluded by hypothesis. To use these would be to return to sentiment and the Innovator’s task is, having cut all that away, to explain to men, in terms of pure reasoning, why they will be well advised to die that others may live. He may say ‘Unless some of us risk death all of us are certain to die.’ But that will be true only in a limited number of cases; and even when it is true it provokes the very reasonable counter question ‘Why should I be one of those who take the risk?’

At this point the Innovator may ask why, after all, selfishness should be more ‘rational’ or ‘intelligent’ than altruism. The question is welcome. If by Reason we mean the process actually employed by Gaius and Titius when engaged in debunking (that is, the connecting by inference of propositions, ultimately derived from sense data, with further propositions), then the answer must be that a refusal to sacrifice oneself is no more rational than a consent to do so. And no less rational. Neither choice is rational—or irrational—at all. From propositions about fact alone nopractical conclusion can ever be drawn. This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by the mediation of society ought to be preserved. This will cost you your life cannot lead directly to do not do this: it can lead to it only through a felt desire or an acknowledged duty of self-preservation. The Innovator is trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premisses in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible. We must therefore either extend the word Reason to include what our ancestors called Practical Reason and confess that judgements such as society ought to be preserved (though they can support themselves by no reason of the sort that Gaius and Titius demand) are not mere sentiments but are rationality itself; or else we must give up at once, and for ever, the attempt to find a core of ‘rational’ value behind all the sentiments we have debunked. The Innovator will not take the first alternative, for practical principles known to all men by Reason are simply the Tao which he has set out to supersede. He is more likely to give up the quest for a ‘rational’ core and to hunt for some other ground even more ‘basic’ and ‘realistic’.

This he will probably feel that he has found in Instinct. The preservation of society, and of the species itself, are ends that do not hang on the precarious thread of Reason: they are given by Instinct. That is why there is no need to argue against the man who does not acknowledge them. We have an instinctive urge to preserve our own species. That is why men ought to work for posterity. We have no instinctive urge to keep promises or to respect individual life: that is why scruples of justice and humanity—in fact the Tao—can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species. That, again, is why the modern situation permits and demands a new sexual morality: the old taboos served some real purpose in helping to preserve the species, but contraceptives have modified this and we can now abandon many of the taboos. For of course sexual desire, being instinctive, is to be gratified whenever it does not conflict with the preservation of the species. It looks, in fact, as if an ethics based on instinct will give the Innovator all he wants and nothing that he does not want.

In reality we have not advanced one step. I will not insist on the point that Instinct is a name for we know not what (to say that migratory birds find their way by instinct is only to say that we do not know how migratory birds find their way), for I think it is here being used in a fairly definite sense, to mean an unreflective or spontaneous impulse widely felt by the members of a given species. In what way does Instinct, thus conceived, help us to find ‘real’ values? Is it maintained that we must obey Instinct, that we cannot do otherwise? But if so, why are Green Booksand the like written? Why this stream of exhortation to drive us where we cannot help going? Why such praise for those who have submitted to the inevitable? Or is it maintained that if we do obey Instinct we shall be happy and satisfied? But the very question we are considering was that of facing death which (so far as the Innovator knows) cuts off every possible satisfaction: and if we have an instinctive desire for the good of posterity then this desire, by the very nature of the case, can never be satisfied, since its aim is achieved, if at all, when we are dead. It looks very much as if the Innovator would have to say not that we must obey Instinct, nor that it will satisfy us to do so, but that we ought to obey it.2

But why ought we to obey Instinct? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it?—an infinite regress of instincts? This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve. From the statement about psychological fact ‘I have an impulse to do so and so’ we cannot by any ingenuity derive the practical principle ‘I ought to obey this impulse’. Even if it were true that men had a spontaneous, unreflective impulse to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their fellows, it remains a quite separate question whether this is an impulse they should control or one they should indulge. For even the Innovator admits that many impulses (those which conflict with the preservation of the species) have to be controlled. And this admission surely introduces us to a yet more fundamental difficulty.

Telling us to obey Instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. If it is held that the instinct for preserving the species should always be obeyed at the expense of other instincts, whence do we derive this rule of precedence? To listen to that instinct speaking in its own cause and deciding it in its own favour would be rather simple-minded. Each instinct, if you listen to it, will claim to be gratified at the expense of all the rest. By the very act of listening to one rather than to others we have already prejudged the case. If we did not bring to the examination of our instincts a knowledge of their comparative dignity we could never learn it from them. And that knowledge cannot itself be instinctive: the judge cannot be one of the parties judged; or, if he is, the decision is worthless and there is no ground for placing the preservation of the species above self-preservation or sexual appetite.

The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct above its fellows dies very hard. We grasp at useless words: we call it the ‘basic’, or ‘fundamental’, or ‘primal’, or ‘deepest’ instinct. It is of no avail. Either these words conceal a value judgement passed upon the instinct and therefore not derivablefrom it, or else they merely record its felt intensity, the frequency of its operation and its wide distribution. If the former, the whole attempt to base value upon instinct has been abandoned: if the latter, these observations about the quantitative aspects of a psychological event lead to no practical conclusion. It is the old dilemma. Either the premisses already concealed an imperative or the conclusion remains merely in the indicative.3

Finally, it is worth inquiry whether there is any instinct to care for posterity or preserve the species. I do not discover it in myself: and yet I am a man rather prone to think of remote futurity—a man who can read Mr Olaf Stapledon with delight. Much less do I find it easy to believe that the majority of people who have sat opposite me in buses or stood with me in queues feel an unreflective impulse to do anything at all about the species, or posterity. Only people educated in a particular way have ever had the idea ‘posterity’ before their minds at all. It is difficult to assign to instinct our attitude towards an object which exists only for reflective men. What we have by nature is an impulse to preserve our own children and grandchildren; an impulse which grows progressively feebler as the imagination looks forward and finally dies out in the ‘deserts of vast futurity’. No parents who were guided by this instinct would dream for a moment of setting up the claims of their hypothetical descendants against those of the baby actually crowing and kicking in the room. Those of us who accept the Tao may, perhaps, say that they ought to do so: but that is not open to those who treat instinct as the source of value. As we pass from mother love to rational planning for the future we are passing away from the realm of instinct into that of choice and reflection: and if instinct is the source of value, planning for the future ought to be less respectable and less obligatory than the baby language and cuddling of the fondest mother or the most fatuous nursery anecdotes of a doting father. If we are to base ourselves upon instinct, these things are the substance, and care for posterity the shadow—the huge, flickering shadow of the nursery happiness cast upon the screen of the unknown future. I do not say this projection is a bad thing: but then I do not believe that instinct is the ground of value judgements. What is absurd is to claim that your care for posterity finds its justification in instinct and then flout at every turn the only instinct on which it could be supposed to rest, tearing the child almost from the breast to creche and kindergarten in the interests of progress and the coming race.

Matt 7:12 Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

The truth finally becomes apparent that neither in any operation with factual propositions nor in any appeal to instinct can the Innovator find the basis for a system of values. None of the principles he requires are to be found there: but they are all to be found somewhere else. ‘All within the four seas are his brothers’ (xii. 5) says Confucius of the Chün-tzu, the cuor gentil or gentleman. Humani nihil a me alienum puto says the Stoic. ‘Do as you would be done by,’ says Jesus. ‘Humanity is to be preserved,’ says Locke.4 All the practical principles behind the Innovator’s case for posterity, or society, or the species, are there from time immemorial in the Tao. But they are nowhere else. Unless you accept these without question as being to the world of action what axioms are to the world of theory, you can have no practical principles whatever. You cannot reach them as conclusions: they are premisses. You may, since they can give no ‘reason’ for themselves of a kind to silence Gaius and Titius, regard them as sentiments: but then you must give up contrasting ‘real’ or ‘rational’ value with sentimental value. All value will be sentimental; and you must confess (on pain of abandoning every value) that all sentiment is not ‘merely’ subjective. You may, on the other hand, regard them as rational—nay as rationality itself—as things so obviously reasonable that they neither demand nor admit proof. But then you must allow that Reason can be practical, that an ought must not be dismissed because it cannot produce some is as its credential. If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.

To some it will appear that I have merely restored under another name what they always meant by basic or fundamental instinct. But much more than a choice of words is involved. The Innovator attacks traditional values (the Tao) in defence of what he at first supposes to be (in some special sense) ‘rational’ or ‘biological’ values. But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking the Tao, and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from the Tao. If he had really started from scratch, from right outside the human tradition of value, no jugglery could have advanced him an inch towards the conception that a man should die for the community or work for posterity. If the Tao falls, all his own conceptions of value fall with it. Not one of them can claim any authority other than that of the Tao. Only by such shreds of the Tao as he has inherited is he enabled even to attack it. The question therefore arises what title he has to select bits of it for acceptance and to reject others. For if the bits he rejects have no authority, neither have those he retains: if what he retains is valid, what he rejects is equally valid too.

The Innovator, for example, rates high the claims of posterity. He cannot get any valid claim for posterity out of instinct or (in the modern sense) reason. He is really deriving our duty to posterity from the Tao; our duty to do good to all men is an axiom of Practical Reason, and our duty to do good to our descendants is a clear deduction from it. But then, in every form of theTao which has come down to us, side by side with the duty to children and descendants lies the duty to parents and ancestors. By what right do we reject one and accept the other? Again, the Innovator may place economic value first. To get people fed and clothed is the great end, and in pursuit of its scruples about justice and good faith may be set aside. The Tao of course agrees with him about the importance of getting the people fed and clothed. Unless the Innovator were himself using the Tao he could never have learned of such a duty. But side by side with it in theTao lie those duties of justice and good faith which he is ready to debunk. What is his warrant? He may be a Jingoist, a Racialist, an extreme nationalist, who maintains that the advancement of his own people is the object to which all else ought to yield. But no kind of factual observation and no appeal to instinct will give him a ground for this option. Once more, he is in fact deriving it from the Tao: a duty to our own kin, because they are our own kin, is a part of traditional morality. But side by side with it in the Tao, and limiting it, lie the inflexible demands of justice, and the rule that, in the long run, all men are our brothers. Whence comes the Innovator’s authority to pick and choose?

Since I can see no answer to these questions, I draw the following conclusions. 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 rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies’, all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in.

Does this mean, then, that no progress in our perceptions of value can ever take place? That we are bound down for ever to an unchanging code given once for all? And is it, in any event, possible to talk of obeying what I call the Tao? If we lump together, as I have done, the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christian, the Pagan, and the Jew, shall we not find many contradictions and some absurdities? I admit all this. Some criticism, some removal of contradictions, even some real development, is required. But there are two very different kinds of criticism.

A theorist about language may approach his native tongue, as it were from outside, regarding its genius as a thing that has no claim on him and advocating wholesale alterations of its idiom and spelling in the interests of commercial convenience or scientific accuracy. That is one thing. A great poet, who has ‘loved, and been well nurtured in, his mother tongue’, may also make great alterations in it, but his changes of the language are made in the spirit of the language itself: he works from within. The language which suffers, has also inspired the changes. That is a different thing—as different as the works of Shakespeare are from Basic English. It is the difference between alteration from within and alteration from without: between the organic and the surgical. In the same way, the Tao admits development from within. There is a difference between a real moral advance and a mere innovation. From the Confucian ‘Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you’ to the Christian ‘Do as you would be done by’ is a real advance. The morality of Nietzsche is a mere innovation. The first is an advance because no one who did not admit the validity of the old maxim could see reason for accepting the new one, and anyone who accepted the old would at once recognize the new as an extension of the same principle. If he rejected it, he would have to reject it as a superfluity, something that went too far, not as something simply heterogeneous from his own ideas of value. But the Nietzschean ethic can be accepted only if we are ready to scrap traditional morals as a mere error and then to put ourselves in a position where we can find no ground for any value judgements at all. It is the difference between a man who says to us: ‘You like your vegetables moderately fresh; why not grow your own and have them perfectly fresh?’ and a man who says, ‘Throw away that loaf and try eating bricks and centipedes instead.’

Those who understand the spirit of the Tao and who have been led by that spirit can modify it in directions which that spirit itself demands. Only they can know what those directions are. The outsider knows nothing about the matter. His attempts at alteration, as we have seen, contradict themselves. So far from being able to harmonize discrepancies in its letter by penetration to its spirit, he merely snatches at some one precept, on which the accidents of time and place happen to have riveted his attention, and then rides it to death—for no reason that he can give. From within the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao. This is what Confucius meant when he said ‘With those who follow a different Way it is useless to take counsel’.5 This is why Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible.6 He may be hostile, but he cannot be critical: he does not know what is being discussed. This is why it was also said ‘This people that knoweth not the Law is accursed’7 and ‘He that believeth not shall be damned’.8 An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or of Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else. In particular instances it may, no doubt, be a matter of some delicacy to decide where the legitimate internal criticism ends and the fatal external kind begins. But wherever any precept of traditional morality is simply challenged to produce its credentials, as though the burden of proof lay on it, we have taken the wrong position. The legitimate reformer endeavours to show that the precept in question conflicts with some precept which its defenders allow to be more fundamental, or that it does not really embody the judgement of value it professes to embody. The direct frontal attack ‘Why?’—’What good does it do?’—’Who said so?’ is never permissible; not because it is harsh or offensive but because no values at all can justify themselves on that level. If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticized. You must not hold a pistol to the head of the Tao. Nor must we postpone obedience to a precept until its credentials have been examined. Only those who are practising the Tao will understand it. It is the well-nurtured man, the cuor gentil, and he alone, who can recognize Reason when it comes.9 It is Paul, the Pharisee, the man ‘perfect as touching the Law’ who learns where and how that Law was deficient.10 In order to avoid misunderstanding, I may add that though I myself am a Theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any indirect argument for Theism. I am simply arguing that if we are to have values at all we must accept the ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason as having absolute validity: that any attempt, having become sceptical about these, to reintroduce value lower down on some supposedly more ‘realistic’ basis, is doomed. Whether this position implies a supernatural origin for the Tao is a question I am not here concerned with.

Yet how can the modern mind be expected to embrace the conclusion we have reached? This Tao which, it seems, we must treat as an absolute is simply a phenomenon like any other—the reflection upon the minds of our ancestors of the agricultural rhythm in which they lived or even of their physiology. We know already in principle how such things are produced: soon we shall know in detail: eventually we shall be able to produce them at will. Of course, while we did not know how minds were made, we accepted this mental furniture as a datum, even as a master. But many things in nature which were once our masters have become our servants. Why not this? Why must our conquest of nature stop short, in stupid reverence, before this final and toughest bit of ‘nature’ which has hitherto been called the conscience of man? You threaten us with some obscure disaster if we step outside it: but we have been threatened in that way by obscurantists at every step in our advance, and each time the threat has proved false. You say we shall have no values at all if we step outside the Tao. Very well: we shall probably find that we can get on quite comfortably without them. Let us regard all ideas of what we ought to do simply as an interesting psychological survival: let us step right out of all that and start doing what we like. Let us decide for ourselves what man is to be and make him into that: not on any ground of imagined value, but because we want him to be such. Having mastered our environment, let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny.

This is a very possible position: and those who hold it cannot be accused of self-contradiction like the half-hearted sceptics who still hope to find ‘real’ values when they have debunked the traditional ones. This is the rejection of the concept of value altogether. I shall need another lecture to consider it.


NOTES

1 The real (perhaps unconscious) philosophy of Gaius and Titius becomes clear if we contrast the two following lists of disapprovals and approvals.

A. Disapprovals: A mother’s appeal to a child to be ‘brave’ is ‘nonsense’ (Green Book, p. 62). The reference of the word ‘gentleman’ is ‘extremely vague’ (ibid.) ‘To call a man a coward tells us really nothing about what he does’ (p. 64). Feelings about a country or empire are feelings ‘about nothing in particular’ (p. 77).

B. Approvals: Those who prefer the arts of peace to the arts of war (it is not said in what circumstances) are such that ‘we may want to call them wise men’ (p. 65). The pupil is expected ‘to believe in a democratic community life’ (p. 67). ‘Contact with the ideas of other people is, as we know, healthy’ (p. 86). The reason for bathrooms (‘that people are healthier and pleasanter to meet when they are clean’) is ‘too obvious to need mentioning’ (p. 142). It will be seen that comfort and security, as known to a suburban street in peace-time, are the ultimate values: those things which can alone produce or spiritualize comfort and security are mocked. Man lives by bread alone, and the ultimate source of bread is the baker’s van: peace matters more than honour and can be preserved by jeering at colonels and reading newspapers.

2 The most determined effort which I know to construct a theory of value on the basis of ‘satisfaction of impulses’ is that of Dr I. A. Richards (Principles of Literary Criticism, 1924). The old objection to defining Value as Satisfaction is the universal value judgement that ‘it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied’. To meet this Dr Richards endeavours to show that our impulses can be arranged in a hierarchy and some satisfactions preferred to others without an appeal to any criterion other than satisfaction. He does this by the doctrine that some impulses are more ‘important’ than others—an important impulse being one whose frustration involves the frustration of other impulses. A good systematization (i.e. the good life) consists in satisfying as many impulses as possible; which entails satisfying the ‘important’ at the expense of the ‘unimportant’. The objections to this scheme seem to me to be two:

(I) Without a theory of immortality it leaves no room for the value of noble death. It may, of course, be said that a man who has saved his life by treachery will suffer for the rest of that life from frustration. But not, surely, frustration of all his impulses? Whereas the dead man will have no satisfaction. Or is it maintained that since he had no unsatisfied impulses he is better off than the disgraced and living man? This at once raises the second objection.

(2) Is the value of a systematization to be judged by the presence of satisfactions or the absence of dissatisfactions? The extreme case is that of the dead man in whom satisfactions and dissatisfactions (on the modern view) both equal zero, as against the successful traitor who can still eat, drink, sleep, scratch and copulate, even if he cannot have friendship or love or self-respect. But it arises at other levels. Suppose A has only 500 impulses and all are satisfied, and that B has 1200 impulses whereof 700 are satisfied and 500 not: which has the better systematization? There is no doubt which Dr Richards actually prefers—he even praises art on the ground that it makes us ‘discontented’ with ordinary crudities! (op. cit., p. 230). The only trace I find of a philosophical basis for this preference is the statement that ‘the more complex an activity the more conscious it is’ (p. 109). But if satisfaction is the only value, why should increase of consciousness be good? For consciousness is the condition of all dissatisfactions as well as of all satisfactions. Dr Richards’s system gives no support to his (and our) actual preference for civil life over savage and human over animal—or even for life over death.

3 The desperate expedients to which a man can be driven if he attempts to base value on fact are well illustrated by Dr C. H. Waddington’s fate in Science and Ethics. Dr Waddington here explains that ‘existence is its own justification’ (p. 14), and writes: ‘An existence which is essentially evolutionary is itself the justification for an evolution towards a more comprehensive existence’ (p. 17). I do not think Dr Waddington is himself at ease in this view, for he does endeavour to recommend the course of evolution to us on three grounds other than its mere occurrence, (a) That the later stages include or ‘comprehend’ the earlier, (b) That T. H. Huxley’s picture of Evolution will not revolt you if you regard it from an ‘actuarial’ point of view, (c)That, any way, after all, it isn’t half so bad as people make out (‘not so morally offensive that we cannot accept it’, p. 18). These three palliatives are more creditable to Dr Waddington’s heart than his head and seem to me to give up the main position. If Evolution is praised (or, at least, apologized for) on the ground of any properties it exhibits, then we are using an external standard and the attempt to make existence its own justification has been abandoned. If that attempt is maintained, why does Dr Waddington concentrate on Evolution: i.e., on a temporary phase of organic existence in one planet? This is ‘geocentric’. If Good = ‘whatever Nature happens to be doing’, then surely we should notice what Nature is doing as a whole; and Nature as a whole, I understand, is working steadily and irreversibly towards the final extinction of all life in every part of the universe, so that Dr Waddington’s ethics, stripped of their unaccountable bias towards such a parochial affair as tellurian biology, would leave murder and suicide our only duties. Even this, I confess, seems to me a lesser objection than the discrepancy between Dr Waddington’s first principle and the value judgements men actually make. To value anything simply because it occurs is in fact to worship success, like Quislings or men of Vichy. Other philosophies more wicked have been devised: none more vulgar. I am far from suggesting that Dr Waddington practises in real life such grovelling prostration before the fait accompli. Let us hope that Rasselas,chap. 22, gives the right picture of what his philosophy amounts to in action. (‘The philosopher, supposing the rest vanquished, rose up and departed with the air of a man that had co-operated with the present system.’)

4 See Appendix.

Analects of Confucius, xv. 39.

Eth. Nic. 1095 b, 1140 b, 1151 a.

7 John 7:49. The speaker said it in malice, but with more truth than he meant. Cf. John 13:51.

8 Mark 16:6

Republic, 402 A

10 Philippians 3:6


Transcriber’s Notes

Cuor gentil – a noble heart

‘εν δε φαει και ‘δλεσσου – ‘en de faei kai dlessou’ roughly „in the light you perceive it [light]” (?)

Dulce et decorum – sweet and seemly, from the Roman saying dulce et decorum est pro patria mori It is sweet and seemly to die for one’s country.

Humani nihil a me alienum puto from Terence: homo sum; humani nihil a me alienum puto: „I am a man; and nothing of man is foreign to me.”

Nietzschean ethic – an ‘ends justify the means,’ ‘win at any cost’ philosophy; the starting point his philosophy is his own desire instead of reality; he is a nihilist.

Olaf Stapledon – a famous science fiction writer (1886-1950) whose most famous works include Last and First MenDarkness and the Light, and Star Maker.

Theist – a believer in one or more gods, e.g. Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus, Zoroastrians


The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Posted by The Augustine Club at Columbia University, March 2002, because the book is only in print sporadically

http://www.columbia.edu/cu/augustine/
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Last update: March 6, 2002

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