The Abolition of Man

by

C. S. Lewis

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C. S. Lewis Character Analysis

C. S. Lewis (1898–1963) was a British author, professor of English literature, and Christian apologist. He is most well-known for authoring The Chronicles of Narnia children’s series as well as Christian theological books like Mere Christianity and The Screwtape Letters. In 1943, he delivered the three philosophy lectures contained in The Abolition of Man at King’s College, Newcastle. In doing so, Lewis sought to critique an English textbook written by Gaius and Titius (and, by extension, the ideologies and methodologies commonly used to teach English at the time). He believed that following such curricula, which denied that things have objective value, would result in “Men Without Chests”—students who lack “right sentiments,” or emotions that are properly aligned with reason. Thus, according to Lewis, these “Men Without Chests” would be dehumanized and lack the ability to recognize or embody proper morality as outlined in the Tao. This emphasis on upholding morality and the unique qualities of humanity extends to Lewis’s other writing, as he heavily incorporated aspects of the Christian value system into both his fiction and nonfiction works. In particular, Lewis’s Space Trilogy focuses on what he viewed as a troubling trend of dehumanization in science fiction literature.

C. S. Lewis Quotes in The Abolition of Man

The The Abolition of Man quotes below are all either spoken by C. S. Lewis or refer to C. S. Lewis. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Education, Emotional Sentiment, and Ethics Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the HarperOne edition of The Abolition of Man published in 2015.
Chapter 1 Quotes

He will have no notion that there are two ways of being immune to such an advertisement—that it falls equally flat on those who are above it and those who are below it, on the man of real sensibility and on the mere trousered ape who has never been able to conceive the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water. […] None of this is brought before the schoolboy’s mind. On the contrary, he is encouraged to reject the lure of the ‘Western Ocean’ on the very dangerous ground that in so doing he will prove himself a knowing fellow who can’t be bubbled out of his cash. Gaius and Titius, while teaching him nothing about letters, have cut out of his soul, 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.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker), Gaius and Titius
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. The right defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments. By starving the sensibility of our pupils we only make them easier prey to the propagandist when he comes. For famished nature will be avenged and a hard heart is no infallible protection against a soft head.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker), Gaius and Titius
Page Number: 14
Explanation and Analysis:

This conception in all its forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao.’ Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical. But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is 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.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker), Gaius and Titius
Page Number: 18
Explanation and Analysis:

We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs by his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat […] of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments […] these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Related Symbols: Men Without Chests
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 2 Quotes

For the whole purpose of their book is so to condition the young reader that he will share their approval, and this would be either a fool’s or a villain’s undertaking unless they held that their approval was in some way valid or correct. In actual fact Gaius and Titius 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 sceptical enough.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker), Gaius and Titius
Page Number: 28
Explanation and Analysis:

At this point the Innovator may ask why, after all, selfishness should be more ‘rational’ or ‘intelligent’ than altruism. The question is welcome. If by Reason we mean the process actually employed by Gaius and Titius when engaged in debunking (that is, the connecting by inference of propositions, ultimately derived from sense data, with further propositions), then the answer must be that a refusal to sacrifice oneself is no more rational than a consent to do so. And no less rational. Neither choice is rational—or irrational—at all. From propositions about fact alone no practical conclusion can ever be drawn. This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by the mediation of society ought to be preserved. This will cost you your life cannot lead directly to do not do this. It can lead to it only through a felt desire or an acknowledged duty of self-preservation.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker), Gaius and Titius
Page Number: 31
Explanation and Analysis:

There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world. What purport to be new systems or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies’, all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. […] The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:

[T]he Tao admits development from within. There is a difference between a real moral advance and a mere innovation. From the Confucian ‘Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you’ to the Christian ‘Do as you would be done by’ is a real advance. […] [This] is an advance because no one who did not admit the validity of the old maxim could see reason for accepting the new one, and anyone who accepted the old would at once recognize the new as an extension of the same principle.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 45
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 3 Quotes

Each generation exercises power over its successors: and each, in so far as it modifies the environment bequeathed to it and rebels against tradition, resists and limits the power of its predecessors. This modifies the picture which is sometimes painted of a progressive emancipation from tradition and a progressive control of natural processes resulting in a continual increase of human power. In reality, of course, if any one age really attains, by eugenics and scientific education, the power to make its descendants what it pleases, all men who live after it are the patients of that power. They are weaker, not stronger: for though we may have put wonderful machines in their hands we have pre-ordained how they are to use them.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

The second difference is even more important. In the older systems both the kind of man the teachers wished to produce and their motives for producing him were prescribed by the Tao—a norm to which the teachers themselves were subject and from which they claimed no liberty to depart. They did not cut men to some pattern they had chosen. They handed on what they had received: they initiated the young neophyte into the mystery of humanity which over-arched him and them alike. It was but old birds teaching young birds to fly. This will be changed. Values are now mere natural phenomena. Judgements of value are to be produced in the pupil as part of the conditioning. Whatever Tao there is will be the product, not the motive, of education.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 60
Explanation and Analysis:

From this point of view the conquest of Nature appears in a new light. We reduce things to mere Nature in order that we may ‘conquer’ them. We are always conquering Nature, because ‘Nature’ is the name for what we have, to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become Nature till we can psychoanalyse her. The wresting of powers from Nature is also the surrendering of things to Nature. As long as this process stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and the same.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 71
Explanation and Analysis:

You cannot go on ‘seeing through’ things for ever. The whole point of seeing through something is to see something through it. It is good that the window should be transparent, because the street or garden beyond it is opaque. How if you saw through the garden too? 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.

Related Characters: C. S. Lewis (speaker)
Page Number: 81
Explanation and Analysis:
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C. S. Lewis Character Timeline in The Abolition of Man

The timeline below shows where the character C. S. Lewis appears in The Abolition of Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Men Without Chests
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Lewis begins his first lecture by saying that he doubts that we pay enough attention to... (full context)
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Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
As an aside, Lewis argues that Gaius and Titius’s claim isn’t really an accurate way of talking about feelings.... (full context)
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Before considering Gaius and Titius’s position about value in greater detail, Lewis seeks to show the practical results of their position on education. He critiques Gaius and... (full context)
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Lewis argues that Gaius and Titius’s critique of the advertisement fails, because all they do is... (full context)
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Lewis critiques a second book, by an author he names Orbilius. Orbilius criticizes an anthropomorphized treatment... (full context)
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Lewis doubts that Gaius and Titius set out to instill any philosophy in their readers. They... (full context)
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Lewis argues that the best way to guard against false sentiments is to instill just sentiments.... (full context)
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But, Lewis says, there is a third reason for Gaius and Titius’s approach. He sets out to... (full context)
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...to like and dislike what he ought. A student who’s been trained in these ways, Lewis says, will be suitably prepared to understand ethics; a student who hasn’t will be helpless... (full context)
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Lewis also cites Plato’s Republic, in which a “well-nurtured youth” is one who is trained from... (full context)
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Lewis also cites the Chinese belief in the Tao, a reality that precedes creation. The Tao... (full context)
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Such ideas—whether Platonic, Aristotelian, Western, Christian or Eastern—will henceforward be described by Lewis simply as “the Tao.” What these conceptions have in common is an idea of objective... (full context)
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Even though Gaius and Titius may set out to oppose propaganda, Lewis argues, their approach is ultimately no better. Without a belief in objective value, and hence... (full context)
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Lewis explains that, long ago, Plato taught that human Reason must rule the appetites. In other... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Way
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Lewis argues that “The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must... (full context)
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Lewis argues that this desirable state is “the whole system of values which happened to be... (full context)
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Lewis next considers what happens when this “cutting away” is seriously attempted. He uses as his... (full context)
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...is based solely on fact, then no practical conclusion may be drawn. In other words, Lewis argues, it isn’t possible to move from “This will preserve society” to “do this” except... (full context)
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In reality, though, the Innovator hasn’t gotten anywhere, Lewis argues. For one thing, it seems that “Instinct” is being used in the sense of... (full context)
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Finally, Lewis doubts whether there really is a commonly observable instinct for the preservation of the species.... (full context)
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Since Lewis can find no answer to these questions, he draws the following conclusions. The Tao (which... (full context)
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Lewis concedes that, when lumping together Western and Eastern traditional moralities in this way, there will... (full context)
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Lewis maintains that although he is a Theist and a Christian, he is not trying to... (full context)
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Lewis acknowledges that “the modern mind” has a hard time assenting to the Tao. In fact,... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Abolition of Man
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...applied science,” they often refer to it as “Man’s Conquest of Nature.” In this lecture, Lewis explores in what sense humanity can be said to hold power over Nature. He begins... (full context)
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Lewis does not wish to argue that increased moral virtue would cure certain abuses, but to... (full context)
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Lewis claims he is not assuming that the conditioners would be “bad men.” In a certain... (full context)
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...we can’t assume that the rejection of the Tao would strip away all “benevolent” impulses, Lewis is inclined to believe that history does not show many examples of people who stepped... (full context)
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This process, then, is trying to have it both ways. Lewis says that this is impossible—we must either be rational spirits which are subject to the... (full context)
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While some will accuse Lewis of hereby making an attack on Science, Lewis denies this. In fact, he even believes... (full context)
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Lewis questions whether a better approach to natural philosophy—one that explains without explaining away—is possible. Such... (full context)
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Lewis argues that this kind of “seeing” comes at too heavy a price. The whole point... (full context)