Some books find a place in your hands during the time you need them the most. The ideas that Lewis hits on in The Abolition of Man have been turned over in my mind many times over the past few years.
Specifically, the idea of objectivity in a world consumed with the thought that their reality is subjective.
This book is slim—81 pages—but this is Lewis…the book is layered with knowledge. I’ve only just read it and feel as though this is a book you read many times over many years.
Lewis sets out to persuade the reader the importance of universal values. In philosophy this can be called natural law, which include ideas of honor and courage. He goes on to define virtue as being able to recognize things that are objectively good and beautiful. It’s that things have a value separate from what humanity gives it.
While Lewis is a Christian theologian, and his perspective is Christian, his intent with this book isn’t to prove this idea through Christianity. He believes that the values are universal across cultures and religions.
To briefly describe it I would say that he criticizes the demotion of value to being solely emotional and that by teaching to disregard emotion, they have “cut out of his soul.”
Teachers that adopt this idea, “They see the world around them swayed by emotional propaganda—they have learned from tradition that youth is sentimental—and they conclude that the best thing they can do is fortify the minds of young people against emotion” (pg. 13).
To best explain I’ll just quote Lewis:
“It is the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and other really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of things we are…but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not…our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason…the heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it” (pg. 18-19).
“They claim to be cutting away the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that ‘real’ or ‘basic’ values may emerge” (pg. 29).
In short, to do away with this people believe they become masters of themselves, when in reality they are slaves to their own whims, or “instinct,” which doesn’t lead to certain values or ideas. For example, giving up your life for your fellow countrymen.
I’ve struggled with the idea of natural law, universal values, but for me Lewis pushed me to agree with it because he gave me a better understanding of it.
This book has been called prophetic and I would agree. The state of society is very much against the idea of universal values, objective values, and we can see how fragile it is because of it.
It’s a little ironic, too. People disregard inherent value because they believe it’s traditional thought brought about by emotions, yet they are the very people whose every decision, philosophy, and moral ground is whatever it is because of what they feel. It’s not rational emotion; it’s instinctual and therefore prone to confusion and weakness.