Abolition of Man

The Abolition of Man

I. The Issue of Education

A. The Abolition of Man is a book about education, and about the subtlety of propaganda.

B. “I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary textbooks” (p. 13).

C. Lewis is greatly concerned here with how the process of education is capable of destroying children, and, through them, of destroying great civilizations.

II. Subjectivism

A. The thing which set Lewis off was the very clever inculcation of subjectivism. In the story about the waterfall, the authors of the text said that to say that something is sublime is really only to say that I have certain feelings which can be associated with the word sublime. And when this lesson is mastered, all of western civilization falls.

B. “The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him” (p. 17).

C. Lewis is at war with subjectivism: “The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of planting a new sun in the sky or a new primary colour in the spectrum . . . Every attempt to do so consists in arbitrarily selecting some one maxim of traditional morality, isolating it from the rest, and erecting it into an unum necessarium” (The Poison of Subjectivism; Christian Reflections, p. 75)

III. Trousered Apes

A. “. . . that it [a mawkish appeal] falls equally flat on those who are above it and those who are below it, on the man of real sensibility and on the mere trousered ape who has never been able to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water” (p. 20).

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

C. When we are done with this kind of education, we will often be shocked at the success of our efforts. In a sort of ghastly simplicity . . .

IV. Objective Morality

A. “Either the maxims of traditional morality must be accepted as axioms of practical reason which neither admit nor require argument to support them and no to ‘see’ which is to have lost human status; or else there are no values at all, what we mistook for values being ‘projections’ or irrational emotions”(The Poison of Subjectivism; Christian Reflections, p. 75).

B. In this book, Lewis calls what “practical reason” sees the Tao, and then goes on to show what monotonous agreement there has been on ethical issues throughout the history of the world.

C. From a Reformed standpoint, we can acknowledge the existence of the Tao, and attribute the successful perception of it to common grace. However, a great deal rides on whether we handle this as natural revelation, or natural law. A simplistic distinction can be drawn here by saying that in natural revelation, God reveals; in natural law, man discovers.

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