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The Abolition of Man


Men without Chests:

Lewis has a bone to pick with some modern educators. With British politeness and civility he sets out to destroy their arguments. What’s the trouble? These English teachers are spreading a philosophy that removes moral law. Someone isn’t truly “bad” for example, badness is the feeling that I have happened to attach to them because that is how their actions have made me feel. In the end these teachers create a world that is just facts without actual value and feelings without actual truth. Things are as they are, and feelings are what they are and that’s it, there can be no actual rightness or wrongness attached. He calls the “intellectuals” who attempt to dismiss moral law as “men without chests”. The reason of the mind remains, and the instinct of the gut remains, but the chest, the heart, the rightness and wrongness that makes a man and gives him courage is gone. Lewis calls this state a tragic-comedy as modern man continues to clamour for the very qualities they have rendered impossible.

The Tao:

Lewis argues that a moral law exists, just like natural law, it has existed forever in every culture, he refers to it as the “Tao” of course within the Tao there is lots of debate over which and how these moral absolutes fit in individual cultures and whether or not there is a deity connected, but outside the Tao there is no ground for criticism of it. You can’t “righteously” lob grenades at the idea of Tao, from a position outside of it. To make moral judgements against the system that allows you to make moral judgements while at the same time standing outside of it is utterly self contradictory. Lewis rejects the “innovators” who attempt to debunk the concept of absolute morality. It simply cannot be done, for example, care of offspring, is both instinctual and rational, therefore there is no need, say the innovators, to say that this kind of care is the “right” thing to do. Lewis is extremely dubious of our instincts being our moral guide and equally so our reason. When it comes to inventing new sources for value Lewis says: 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 to move in. For Lewis, This Tao we must treat as an absolute phenomenon like any other, and leave off this nonsense that it doesn’t exist.

The Abolition of Man: 

Lewis says “When “it is good” has been debunked, only what says ‘I want’ remains…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.”

Man seeks to dominate nature by figuring everything out. We can see through things to the real thing which is raw nature, purely natural explanations for everything. The trouble is when man chooses to treat himself purely as raw material, raw material he will be. Lewis’ concern is that in our efforts to conquer nature, we ourselves become conquered by nature. We just become stuff, and the strong and smarter stuff wins, and what harm is there in that? Outside the Tao, nothing.

Lewis, who was eminently qualified leads us on a fascinating bit of history. It was not as some have said that the magic of the middle ages was replaced by the applied science of later centuries. Lewis argues that magic and applied science are twins. The middle ages knew relatively little magic, they were concerned more about gaining knowledge (mind), practicing virtue (strengthening the heart) & discipline. (controlling the instinct) In the 16th and 17th centuries men began to seek for ways to subdue reality in order to do as they wished. Magic failed, and died off, because it doesn’t work at subduing nature, but science lived on and thrived, of course, the good scientists were searching for truth before power, but the motive for science was contaminated from the start. When the Tao is reduced to a natural product, the cost to humanity becomes very heavy. If truth/morality is not actually a thing,  a reality, it will always just be manipulated by games players who want control.

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2 Responses

  1. #1 Mere Christianity, #2 Abolition of Man — but it really all depends on the person. If someone doesn’t believe on account of the doctrine of hell, give them the great divorce. That book is fantastic! So much of the good stuff of Lewis is scattered all throughout his writings, his reflections on the Psalms, Screwtape letters, and God in the Dock all have good bits and pieces that might resonate with an agnostic or an atheist depending upon their struggle.

  2. If you were to put together a Lewis reading list for an agnostic, which volumes would you include and in what order? Would this be 1st?

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