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A blog dedicated to the Source of everything good.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

From The Abolition of Man: All value derives from the Tao

I presented excerpts from Chapter 1 of The Abolition of Man, “Men Without Chests,” in this post. Lewis continues to discuss the function of his schoolbook-example’s method in Chapter 2, “The Way,” a portion of which I will look at now.

Please forgive the book-report style of this and related posts. I want to share the Lewis I’m reading because his ideas are shatteringly relevant to the current culture wars. However, it is very difficult to paraphrase or summarize because Lewis' writing is so distilled.

He begins the chapter:

“The practical result of education in the spirit of [the school book] must be the destruction of the society which accepts it. But this is not necessarily a refutation of subjectivism about values as a theory. The true doctrine might be a doctrine which if we accept we die. No one who speaks from within the Tao could reject it on that account...But it has not yet come to that. There are theoretical difficulties in the philosophy of [the writers of the school book].”

Lewis rightly states that, though the textbook’s writers may be subjective about traditional values, they have shown, by the act of writing their book, that they must indeed hold some other values “about which they are not subjective at all.” They must be writing in order to produce certain states of mind in those they hope to influence, namely, those of the next generation, because they think that these values are “the means to some state of society which they regard as desirable.” There must be an end, or purpose, to what they are doing, else there would be no purpose for their book, and, as a corollary, they must feel that the purpose of their book is good, yet, since they have debunked sentiment as a reason to value anything, they cannot support the purpose of their book on those grounds.

As Lewis points out,
“In actual fact [the schoolbook’s writers] will be found to hold, with complete uncritical dogmatism, the whole system of values which happened to be in vogue among moderately educated young men of the professional classes during the period between the two wars. Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values: about the values current in their own set they are not nearly skeptical enough.”


Lewis goes on to examine what happens if a serious attempt is made to cut away “the parasitic growth of emotion, religious sanction, and inherited taboos, in order that the ‘real’ or ‘basic’ values may emerge.” Where can the “Innovator in values” find “realistic” or “basic” ground for such values? Lewis shows that any attempt to find such ground is no more or less rational than the values the Innovator is attempting to supercede. In his words,

“The Innovator is trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premises in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible.”

Therefore, Reason must be extended to include Practical Reason and confess that any judgments which appear to be rational are actually based upon sentiment, which is not merely sentiment but rationality itself (I think I got that right), or else “the attempt to find a core of ‘rational’ value behind all the sentiments we have debunked” must be given up."

“The Innovator will not take the first alternative, for practical principles known to all men by Reason are simply the Tao which he has set forth to supercede.” (We have nothing else to work with, thus the Tao is something we “can’t not know,” as per Professor Budziszewski.) Therefore, according to Lewis, the Innovator is likely to find his “more basic and realistic ground” in Instinct. “The preservation of society, and of the species itself, are ends that do not hang on the precarious thread of Reason: they are given by Instinct.”

Ah ha:
“the scruples of justice and humanity – in fact, the Tao -- can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species. It looks, in fact, as if an ethics based on instinct will give the Innovator all he wants and nothing that he does not want.

(Lewis has demonstrated that the Innovator has an interest toward posterity, indicating the Innovator's belief in preservation of the species as our real end.)

Lewis’ definition of instinct: “an unreflective or spontaneous impulse widely felt by the members of a given species.” He asks, “In what way does Instinct, thus conceived, help us to find “real” values? Is it maintained that we must obey instinct, that we cannot do otherwise? And the obvious question: “But if so, why are [the school book] and the like written? Why this stream of exhortation to drive us where we cannot help going?” (Pardon me while I gush: I absolutely love Lewis’ style!) “Why such praise for those who have submitted to the inevitable? Or is it maintained that if we do obey instinct we shall be happy and satisfied?”

He shows that this can’t be the case, then suggests that the Innovator “would have to say...that we ought to obey instinct.” Yet, as he shows, our instincts are at war. How, then, can a rule of precedence be derived? Lewis explains that value judgment, as separate from instinct, is inescapable.

He asks, finally, whether there actually “is any instinct to care for posterity or preserve the species.” He confesses that he fails to find it in himself; neither can he imagine that “the majority of people who have sat opposite me in buses or stood with me in queues feel an unreflective impulse to do anything at all about the species, or posterity.” No, he says, "neither in any proposition with factual propositions nor in any appeal to instinct can the Innovator find the basis for a system of values...All the practical principles behind the Innovator’s case for posterity, or society, or the species, are there from time immemorial in the Tao. But they are nowhere else.”

All value will be sentimental [emphasis added]; and you must confess...that all sentiment is not ‘merely’ subjective,” and an ought can be entirely rational. “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly, if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all.”

The summary: all the values which can be used to attack the Tao or used as substitute claims “are themselves derived from the Tao.

More about the Tao and value to come soon.


  • We can all profit from studying C.S. Lewis. It's profitable both to read him directly, and to read others' analyses of his work. I profited from yours. Thanks!


    By Blogger The Hedgehog, at 11:15 AM  

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    By Blogger Admin, at 9:41 AM  

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