Erin Rose, Guest Reporter |
C.S. Lewis is recognized, primarily by young people, for his fictional classics “The Chronicles of Narnia.” For many others he is acclaimed for his works on Christianity and philosophy. Lewis presented his readers time and time again with the subject of morals and living life as a “good man.”
“The Abolition of Man,” or “Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools,” published in 1943, presents its audience with the trouble of modern education as it relates to values and man’s never-ending quest to conquer nature.
Throughout the book, Lewis draws on the works and concepts of accomplished philosophers and authors like Aristotle, St. Augustine, Plato, Locke and Wordsworth, as well as religions throughout history, including Christianity, Hinduism, Hellenism, Judaism and Confucianism. Even today, 74 years later, his work remains relevant.
While Lewis’s concepts may seem foreign to someone uneducated in the terminology and concepts of philosophy, his book, “The Abolition of Man,” is well written. His concepts are clearly explained and wholly supported with the works of familiar, respected philosophers.
Although I only have general knowledge in the study of philosophy, I found Lewis to be incredibly reasonable and insightful. His perspective on the teachings to youth opened my eyes on the tremendous influence that subtle ideas and concepts can have on the mind.
Lewis’ book, not only relevant in the time it was written, rings true in today’s society. Education shapes the minds and hearts of young people and should not be taken lightly. Lewis explains that teachers must be careful in how they teach, and students, at the same time, should be aware of what they are being taught.
In a world where information is at our fingertips, it is increasingly important that students take the time to separate fact from opinion. They also need to be aware of their own prejudices and how they came about. As Lewis points out brilliantly, the teachings in school can lead to preconceived notions about ethics and value.
The book is broken into three parts. Lewis builds each part from the last.
The first part, “Men Without Chests,” surveys a book written on literature for the use in the “upper forms of school.” Lewis condemns the book, as it does little in the way of teaching literature but rather unknowingly asserts certain views in the schoolboy’s mind. The book subtly rejects the use of emotions as they are contradictory to reason.
Lewis ascertains that sentiments and values are an important part of education and should not be cut from the schoolboy’s mind. He argues that emotion thrives alongside reason. Lewis introduces what he calls “the Tao”: “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are.” He derives this concept from “Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian and Oriental alike.” By teaching schoolboys that reason only exists without emotion, they are being denied the Tao and will grow to be “Men without Chests.” Plato said, “the head rules the belly through the chest,” therefore without a chest, what is such a man?
The second part, “The Way,” builds upon the former and supposes the authors of the literature book wrote it intentionally to produce such men. Lewis attacks their concept of pure rationalism and the “debunking” of traditional values to create men with these concepts in mind. Lewis presents the argument of preservation of society and claims that by looking for a more “rational” or “basic” motive without sentiment, logically there would be no motive to preserve society.
The final part, “The Abolition of Man,” builds on the concepts mentioned in the former parts but asserts a different idea. Lewis reflects on “Man’s conquest of Nature” and how it will lead to the “Abolition of Man.” The more man conquers nature, nature is in return conquering man, who in turn conquers man. However, man here refers to the power of a select few that Lewis calls the “Conditioners.” Conditioners then decide to teach the rest of the human race what principles they see fit and may stray from the Tao. This creation of humanity replaces the traditional values of “justice” and “virtue” with the tendency to “explain away” and find transparencies. Lewis states, “if you see through everything, then everything is transparent. But a wholly transparent world is an invisible world.”
Lewis’ book urges against the destruction of youth through improper teachings. He effectively discredits the idea that youth should be taught to put emotions aside when dealing with reason. Lewis uses credible sources and situations on which to build his arguments and does so efficiently. His statements are rarely left to ambiguity but give the reader much to consider.