C.S. Lewis on Human Nature

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C.S. Lewis on Human Nature

In the Abolition of Man, Lewis argues for a world where “certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it – believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, or reverence, or our contempt”(15). He believes that the nature of man comes from the universal law of nature, or what he refers to as the “Tao”, an education that enforces knowing what is right and wrong through educating what are true and just sentiments of moral objectivity. The only way to understand right from wrong is to be educated within the Tao and it is the only way for a society to flourish. He argues that past generations passed on this education but the today’s educators have abandoned it. This starves man of a correct education, which leads to domestication of nature, and ultimately human nature because of the consumption of power and conditioning of one man over another. This ultimately will lead to the abolition of man. To better understand Lewis’s argument it is necessary to further delineate the themes within the three chapters of his book, which will help illustrate Lewis’s teaching on human nature and reason for his opposition.

The inception of this problem leading to the de-bunking of man begins with mal-education. This is covered in Lewis’s first lecture, “Men Without Chests”. As an example, Lewis explains that in The Green Book, a grammar schoolbook by Gaius and Titius; young students are taught, “all values are subjective and trivial” (5). In this book, Gaius and Titius refer to a story about a waterfall where one tourist describes it as “sublime”, and the other who says it is “pretty”. Gaius and Titius say the description of the waterfall as “pretty” should be rejected but “sublime” accepted. They state that the description “sublime” refers to the tourist’s feelings, not the waterfall itself. In cases such as this Gaius and Titius add that “we appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.”(2) Lewis rejects this explanation by pointing out its falsities and absurdities. He says it is as though something contemptible would mean that the person themselves saying it are having contemptible feelings, which makes no sense. This is dangerous because students do not learn the lessons in literature and grammar The Green Book is intended to teach but rather come away with two false conclusions. First, that “all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker” and/or that “ all such statements are unimportant” (4). Unfortunately, the students are unaware of this knowledge in ethics, theology, and politics they are absorbing unconsciously under the cover of “grammar.” Titius and Gaius in the textbook are putting and “assumption, which ten years later… will condition [the students] to take one side in controversy which [they] never recognized as controversy at all” (5). While Gaius and Titius think they are doing a good service to the students by fortifying the students minds against emotion, they and the schoolteachers are “cutting out the soul of the school child, long before he is old enough to choose the possibility of having certain experiences which thinkers of more authority than they have held to be generous, fruitful, and humane” and ultimately starving them of sensibility thus making them easy prey to propaganda (9). Starving someone of knowledge is not the way to prevent him or her from learning understanding what is evil and wrong. The only way to understand this is to be taught what is correct and good, which comes from an education within the Tao. Education within the Tao is one that implements a need for objective moral values and “the belief that certain attitudes are really true and other really false, to the kind of thing the universe and the kind of things we are” (18). The Tao...
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