“The Abolition of Man”

The Abolition of Man

I absolutely loved my last read, “The Abolition of Man” by C.S. Lewis, in which, Lewis sheds quite the illumination on the idea of absolute truth as paramount in one’s worldview. He describes why a moral code must exist that is mutually exclusive of all bias or preference. He paints such descriptions of what it might look like if such a code did not exist. And although some parts are difficult to grasp (the first “favorite quote” in particular), I think if you’ll stick with me until the end of it, it will all wrap up in a firm understanding.

 

Chapter 1 (only 3 chapters in total) is primarily about 2 authors of a book whose true title remains secret that are basically debunking statements that one makes as “merely a reflection of that person’s feelings.” Or in other words, saying that a statement from anyone only shows that they have feelings relating to such a statement and that their feelings and the aforementioned statement are all without any point of value whatsoever. Basically saying that since there is no scale, there is no such thing as weight.

Lewis writes of hypothetical situations, were this argument true, in which boys grow into men and what those men would resemble. Then he debunks their “debunking” by establishing the truest value of our feelings (in a culture in which feelings are often benched or back-burnered) I have yet to see trumped by saying the following, “As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest – the seat [head authority/true throne], as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest-Magnanimity-Sentiment[the heart] – these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man [the mind] and visceral man [the flesh/stomach]. It may even be said it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.”

 

He goes on to describe what it would be like if his example authors’ worldview were indeed true and the description is gripping, “In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ [the heart] and demand the function. We make men without chest and expect of the virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.”
Lewis questions everything, even the simplest (sometimes thoughtless) phrase. He demands his readers be critical thinkers of everything they read and hear and see. Do not let thoughtless words escape your lips, for they are tied to much more than your current feelings, but actually are creative instruments of power. Hmmm… Delicious.

This is a very short book and won’t take you long, but don’t attempt it if you are tired or distracted because it is rich and deep. Make sure to really focus, for you can easily lose track of what Lewis is saying and miss the meat of the book.

 

I would not consider this book a “pleasure read”, but instead I would call it a training manual in the art of apologetics. Lewis was one of the greatest individuals at arguing the faith to ever live. I would rank him with Paul The Apostle, Socrates (in argumentative ability) and Ravi Zacharias in the ability to develop and convey an entire concept in a single sentence. He explains how by writing a book, it implies an intent to relay a message to the reader, therefore debunking their entire point of their own book; that all expression of truth or beauty is merely a reflection of one’s thoughts and emotions rather than substance eternal in nature.

 

Oracle Insider Rating: 7/10

Who I think this book is for:
Those looking to deepen their ways of thinking, weather through Socratic thought or in spiritual richness. This book, like many of Lewis’ writings, can start to hurt your head if you read it for too long in a single sitting. Make sure to take this one slow. It is a very small book and is a greater starter into apologetics.
Those who are trying to increase their delivery of sermons, messages, speeches etc. Lewis is amazing at building his points and driving them home with massive impact.

Who I think should steer clear right now:
If you struggle with focus or following extended sentences, this might present some difficulty. That might mean this is just the book for you, if you are one who is chasing growth in these areas.
The young and the restless, those who are looking for a great story or who are eager to fly through books.

Preface to my favorite quotes:
These are the really some of the richest and deepest, though most of the book consists of Lewis breaking down these thoughts into simpler form. Don’t be intimidated if they are mind boggling.
The Tao, Lewis refers to is a sort of moral code, or a system of absolute values of which all rational men live by.

“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.”

“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 a 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.”

“But you cannot go on ‘explaining away’ for ever: you will find that you have explained explanation itself away. You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ 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.”

I love these three passages. Lewis explains how without there being a Tao of absolute values, then all opinions, understandings, truths etc. would be relative. Hitler’s good would be the exact same in value as my good or yours. And all claims of opinion, truth and understanding etc. would therefore be nothing but a reflection of one’s feelings towards something. If truth is relative, then there is actually no truth at all, and that very opinion/understanding/truth that caused their entire argument that such absolutes don’t exist is actually self-defeating in that it is only a reflection of their experience and is therefore not even true that truth isn’t absolute. See the issue here? If truth is not more absolute than one’s recognition of it, then no argument, truth, understanding, concept or definitive exists outside of one’s own feelings.
Wow. I’ll leave that there.

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