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The Abolition of Man: Readings for Meditation and Reflection (Collected Letters of C.S. Lewis)by C S Lewis
Synopses & Reviews
Men Without Chests
"So he sent the word to slay
In their second chapter Gaius and Titius quote the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall. You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it 'sublime' and the other 'pretty'; and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust. Gaius and Titius comment as follows: 'When the man said "This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall...Actually...he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really "I have feelings associated in my mind with the word "Sublime," or shortly, "I have sublime feelings.' Here are a good many deep questions settled in apretty summary fashion. But the authors are not yet finished. They add: 'This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.'
Before considering the issues really raised by this momentous little paragraph (designed, you will remember, for 'the upper forms of schools') we must eliminate one mere confusion into which Gaius and Titius have fallen. Even on their own view — on any conceivable view — the man who says "This is sublime cannot mean "I have sublime feelings. Even if it were granted that such qualities as sublimity were simply and solely projected into things from our own emotions, yet the emotions which prompt the projection are the correlatives, and therefore almost the opposites, of the qualities projected. The feelings which make a man call an object sublime are not sublime feelings but feelings of veneration. If "This is sublime is to be reduced at all to a statement about the speaker's feelings, the proper translation would be "I have humble feelings. If the view held by Gaius and Titius were consistently applied it would lead to obvious absurdities. It would force them to maintain that "You are contemptible means "I have contemptible feelings: in fact that "Your feelings are contemptible means "My feelings are contemptible. But we need not delay over this which is the very "pons asinorum of our subject. It would be unjust to Gaius and Titius themselves to emphasize what was doubtless a mere inadvertence.
The schoolboy who reads this passage in "The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containinga predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant. It is true that Gaius and Titius have said neither of these things in so many words. They have treated only one particular predicate of value "(sublime) as a word descriptive of the speaker's emotions. The pupils are left to do for themselves the work of extending the same treatment to all predicates of value: and no slightest obstacle to such extension is placed in their way. The authors may or may not desire the extension: they may never have given the question five minutes' serious thought in their lives. I am not concerned with what they desired but with the effect their book will certainly have on the schoolboy's mind. In the same way, they have not said that judgements of value are unimportant. Their words are that we '"appear to be saying something very important' when in reality we are '"only saying something about our own feelings'. No schoolboy will be able to resist the suggestion brought to bear upon him by that word "only. I do not mean, of course, that he will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authorsthemselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.
Before considering the philosophical credentials of the position which Gaius and Titius have adopted about value, I should like to show its practical results on the educational procedure.
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."
In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis 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, this book is one of the most debated of Lewis's extraordinary works. National Review chose it as number seven on their "100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century."
About the Author
Clive Staples Lewis, was born in Belfast, Ireland, in 1898. As a child, he was fascinated by the fairy tales, myths, and ancient legends recounted to him by his Irish nurse. The image of a faun carrying parcels and an umbrella in a snowy wood came to him when he was sixteen. Many years later, the faun was joined by an evil queen and a magnificient lion. Their story became The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe. Six further Chronicles of Narnia followed, and the final title, The Last Battle, was awarded the United Kingdom's prestigious Carnegie Award.
Lewis was Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Magdalen College, Oxford, and later was Professor of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, where he remained until his death in 1963. He wrote numerous books of literary criticism and on Christianity, the best-knowing being The Screwtape Letters, as well as four novels for adults. The seven books of The Chronicles of Narnia were his only works for children.
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