The Abolition of Man
is a 1943 book by C. S. Lewis
Clive Staples Lewis , commonly referred to as C. S. Lewis and known to his friends and family as "Jack", was a novelist, academic, medievalist, literary critic, essayist, lay theologian and Christian apologist from Belfast, Ireland...
. It is subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools," and uses that as a starting point for a defense of objective value
Value theory encompasses a range of approaches to understanding how, why and to what degree people should value things; whether the thing is a person, idea, object, or anything else. This investigation began in ancient philosophy, where it is called axiology or ethics. Early philosophical...
and natural law
Natural law, or the law of nature , is any system of law which is purportedly determined by nature, and thus universal. Classically, natural law refers to the use of reason to analyze human nature and deduce binding rules of moral behavior. Natural law is contrasted with the positive law Natural...
, and a warning of the consequences of doing away with or "debunking" those things. It defends science as something worth pursuing but criticizes using it to debunk values — the value of science itself being among them — or defining it to exclude such values. The book was first delivered as a series of three evening lectures at King's College, Newcastle, part of the University of Durham, as the Riddell Memorial Lectures on February 24-26, 1943.
Logical positivism vs. natural law
Lewis begins with a critical response to “The Green Book”, by “Gaius and Titius”, pseudonyms for The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing
(1939) and its authors Alex King and Martin Ketley. The Green book was used as a text for upper form students in British schools.
Lewis takes the authors to task for subverting student values. He claims that they teach that all statements of value (such as "this waterfall is sublime") are merely statements about the speaker's feelings and say nothing about the object. Lewis says that such a subjective view of values is faulty, and, on the contrary, certain objects and actions merit
positive or negative reactions: that a waterfall can actually be objectively
praiseworthy, and that one's actions can be objectively
good or evil. In any case, Lewis notes, this is a philosophical position rather than a grammatical one, and so parents and teachers who give such books to their children and students are having them read the "work of amateur philosophers where they expected the work of professional grammarians."
Lewis cites ancient thinkers such as Plato
Plato , was a Classical Greek philosopher, mathematician, student of Socrates, writer of philosophical dialogues, and founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world. Along with his mentor, Socrates, and his student, Aristotle, Plato helped to lay the...
Aristotle was a Greek philosopher and polymath, a student of Plato and teacher of Alexander the Great. His writings cover many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, linguistics, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology...
Augustine of Hippo , also known as Augustine, St. Augustine, St. Austin, St. Augoustinos, Blessed Augustine, or St. Augustine the Blessed, was Bishop of Hippo Regius . He was a Latin-speaking philosopher and theologian who lived in the Roman Africa Province...
, who believed that the purpose of education was to train children in "ordinate affections," that is, to train them to like and dislike what they ought; to love the good and hate the bad. He says that although these values are universal, they do not develop automatically or inevitably in children (and so are not "natural" in that sense of the word), but must be inculcated through education. Those who lack them lack the specifically human element, the trunk that unites intellectual man with visceral (animal) man, and may be called "men without chests".
Men without chests: a dystopian future
Lewis criticizes modern attempts to debunk natural values (such as those that would deny objective value to the waterfall) on rational grounds. He says that there is a set of objective values that have been shared, with minor differences, by every culture "... the traditional moralities of East and West, the Christian, the Pagan, and the Jew...". Lewis calls this the Tao
Dao or Tao is a Chinese word meaning 'way', 'path', 'route', or sometimes more loosely, 'doctrine' or 'principle'...
(which closely resembles Confucian
Confucius , literally "Master Kong", was a Chinese thinker and social philosopher of the Spring and Autumn Period....
Taoism refers to a philosophical or religious tradition in which the basic concept is to establish harmony with the Tao , which is the mechanism of everything that exists...
usage). Without the Tao
, no value judgments can be made at all, and modern attempts to do away with some parts of traditional morality for some "rational" reason always proceed by arbitrarily selecting one part of the Tao
and using it as grounds to debunk the others.
The final chapter describes the ultimate consequences of this debunking: a distant future in which the values and morals of the majority are controlled by a small group who rule by a perfect understanding of psychology, and who in turn, being able to "see through" any system of morality that might induce them to act in a certain way, are ruled only by their own unreflected whims. The controllers will no longer be recognizably human, the controlled will be robot-like, and the Abolition of Man
will have been completed.
An appendix to "The Abolition of Man" lists a number of basic values that Lewis saw as parts of the Tao
, supported by quotes from different cultures.
A fictional treatment of the dystopia
A dystopia is the idea of a society in a repressive and controlled state, often under the guise of being utopian, as characterized in books like Brave New World and Nineteen Eighty-Four...
n project to carry out the Abolition of Man
is a theme of Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength
That Hideous Strength is a 1945 novel by C. S. Lewis, the final book in Lewis's theological science fiction Space Trilogy. The events of this novel follow those of Out of the Silent Planet and Perelandra and once again feature the philologist Elwin Ransom...
Passages from The Abolition of Man
are included in William Bennet
William Bennet may refer to:*William Bennet , MP for Ripon *William Bennet , Bishop of Cloyne and antiquary*William Stiles Bennet , US politician...
's The Book of Virtues
which could be said to be a compilation of examples of Lewis's "Tao" system of values or natural law.
- National Review
National Review is a biweekly magazine founded by the late author William F. Buckley, Jr., in 1955 and based in New York City. It describes itself as "America's most widely read and influential magazine and web site for conservative news, commentary, and opinion."Although the print version of the...
ranked the book #7 in its 100 Best Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century list. The Intercollegiate Studies Institute
The Intercollegiate Studies Institute, Inc., or ', is a non-profit educational organization founded in 1953 as the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists...
ranked the book as the second best book of the 20th century.
In popular culture
- Christian hip hop
Christian hip hop is hip hop music characterized by a Christian worldview, with the general purposes of evangelization , edifying members of the church and/or simply entertaining.-History:Since hip-hop started in the 1970s, various hip-hop artists have...
duo Mars ILL
Mars Ill is an emcee/DJ hip-hop duo from Atlanta, Georgia. The duo consists of Gregory Owens and Nathan Corrona . They are also part of the hip-hop collective Deepspace5....
named the track "The Abolition of manCHILD" from their 2002 album Raw Material
Raw Material is a Mars Ill album released in 2002, on Uprok Records. It's a re-release of the original Sphere of Hip Hop Records release from 2000, with a few track changes.- Track listing :# Mars Ill# Sphere of Hip-Hop part 2...
after the book.
- In 2003, the Post-Hardcore
Post-hardcore is a genre of music that developed from hardcore punk, itself an offshoot of the broader punk rock movement. Like post-punk, post-hardcore is a term for a broad constellation of groups...
Thrice is an American rock band from Irvine, California, formed in 1998. The group was founded by guitarist/vocalist Dustin Kensrue and guitarist Teppei Teranishi while they were in high school....
based the lyrics of the song "The Abolition of Man" on the book. It was featured in the band's third album, The Artist in the Ambulance
The Artist In The Ambulance is Thrice's third album, but their first on a major label. The album peaked at #16 on The Billboard 200 charts. As with The Illusion of Safety, a portion of the sales of this CD were donated to a charitable cause. In this case, it was the Syrentha J. Savio Endowment...