Book: The Abolition of Man

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The Abolition of Man
By: C. S. Lewis
Read online: on archive.org
ISBN 0060652942
"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."
(p. 51)

This short book, the Abolition of Man, is a writeup of three lectures by C.S. Lewis. Its subtitle is "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools" because the starting point of his argumentation is an english schoolbook.

The book is a rebuttal of subjectivism and illustrates meticulosly where it leads to: a dictatorship of few. However, these are ultimately subjected to Nature, because they rejected all objective values and thus have to rely on their day-to-day impulses.

Outline

Men without Chest

The Way

The Abolition of Man

  • Generation conflict is a struggle of power. (p. 38)
    • Earlier generation try to shape their descendants with education.
      • Mother-love & children resisted insanity. (p. 40)
    • Younger generations try to resist by "modify[ing] the environment" and "rebel[ing] against tradition". (p. 38)
  • => Logically, there must be a "master generation" (p. 39) which dominates Nature including human nature. "Each new power won by man is power over man as well." (E.g. planes make us dependent on those who produce them, own them, fuel them, knows about them etc.)
  • Inside Tao: Educationalists "initiate ... into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike." (p. 41) Outside Tao: "They (the Conditioners) know how to produce conscience and decide which kind of conscience they will produce." (p. 41)
  • What are the Conditioners motivated by? We can only speculate. But as they emancipated from Tao, why should they still keep it? Should they give us a sense of duty because it is beneficient for the race?
  • Conditioners cannot be morally bad, as they live outside tao. Indeed, one could question if they are still humans without this part of humanity. "Stepping outside Tao, they have stepped into the void. Nor are their subjects necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts." (p. 43)
  • "When all that says 'It is good' has been debunked, what says 'I want' remains." (p. 43)
  • => Man's victory of Nature is really Natures victory over Man.
  • Nature really is quantified, analyzed, abstracted really. ("We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while we cut them into beans." (p. 45)
  • "The soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyze her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature."
    • "The real objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw material he will be" (p. 47): ready to be conditioned.
  • => "Only the Tao provides a common human law of action which can over-arch rulers and ruled alike. A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery." (p. 47)
  • "For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is technique." (p. 49)

What I've learned

  • It is not possible to arrive from facts at moral conclusions without involving values (belief, opinion).
    • Nature only displays a system rules. It is both cruel and magnificient.
    • "This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by the mediation of society ought to be preserved." (p. 22)
    • If we debunk all objective truth/values, then the only values left is my personal opinion. A society without values will lead to tyranny of the mighty [1].
  • => Science of Ecology cannot talk about morals. It can describe influence, but cannot judge good from bad influence. Environmental activism basically is ideology combined with this knowledge.

Notes

  1. "A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery." (p.47)