The Abolition of Man

by

C. S. Lewis

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The Tao Term Analysis

In The Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis adopts the Chinese philosophical term Tao to encompass what he considers to be the broadly accepted, traditional moralities of both Eastern and Western cultures—including Platonic, Hindu, Taoist, Christian, and others. He argues that this Tao, or Way, is the basis for all objective principles and therefore of human virtue. In short, the Tao refers to 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.” Throughout The Abolition of Man, Lewis argues that modern abandonment of the Tao endangers society by producing Men Without Chests.

The Tao Quotes in The Abolition of Man

The The Abolition of Man quotes below are all either spoken by The Tao or refer to The Tao. For each quote, you can also see the other terms 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

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:
Chapter 2 Quotes

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

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:
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The Tao Term Timeline in The Abolition of Man

The timeline below shows where the term The Tao appears in The Abolition of Man. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Men Without Chests
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
Lewis also cites the Chinese belief in the Tao, a reality that precedes creation. The Tao is the “Way” or “Road” in which the... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
...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 value: “the belief that... (full context)
Education, Emotional Sentiment, and Ethics Theme Icon
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Thus, one’s relationship to the Tao determines one’s view of the educational task. To one who stands within the Tao, the... (full context)
Chapter 2: The Way
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
...instinctive desire to, say, keep promises, which is why this and other values of the Tao can be swept away when they seem to be in conflict with the preservation of... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
...People naturally have an instinct to preserve their own offspring; those who believe in the Tao would say this is how people ought to feel, but those who take instinct as... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
In the end, when the Innovator tries to attack the Tao, he can only do so by using principles that are themselves derived from the Tao.... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
Since Lewis can find no answer to these questions, he draws the following conclusions. The Tao (which others might call Traditional Morality or Natural Law) isn’t just one among a series... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
...occur when one already accepts the older maxim as valid. Only those who accept the Tao and find it intelligible, according to Lewis, are in a position to modify it. In... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
...make a defense of Theism. He simply wants to argue that the values of the Tao must be accepted as having absolute validity, and that any attempt to uncover more basic,... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
Nature, Science, and the Abolition of Man Theme Icon
Lewis acknowledges that “the modern mind” has a hard time assenting to the Tao. In fact, modern people might assume that the Tao is one more aspect of nature... (full context)
Chapter 3: The Abolition of Man
Education, Emotional Sentiment, and Ethics Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
Nature, Science, and the Abolition of Man Theme Icon
...increased. In addition, in the past the attempts to mold humanity were guided by the Tao; the mold, in other words, was pre-cut. If values are just natural phenomena, however, then... (full context)
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
Nature, Science, and the Abolition of Man Theme Icon
At first, the “conditioners” might retain some sense of the Tao as something they have a duty to preserve. It’s now up to them to decide... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Nature, Science, and the Abolition of Man Theme Icon
Without the Tao, the only motive that remains to the conditioners is their emotional sense. When there is... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Nature, Science, and the Abolition of Man Theme Icon
While 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... (full context)
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Nature, Science, and the Abolition of Man Theme Icon
...says that this is impossible—we must either be rational spirits which are subject to the Tao, or we are raw material to be manipulated at will by select masters who are... (full context)