The Abolition of Man

by

C. S. Lewis

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Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Education, Emotional Sentiment, and Ethics Theme Icon
Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon
Traditional Values vs. Innovation Theme Icon
Nature, Science, and the Abolition of Man Theme Icon
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Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Theme Icon

After establishing the importance of rightly-formed emotional sentiment in modern education, Lewis develops his underlying principle of the Tao—a concept that must not be confused simply with Taoism, because it is “Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental alike.” While these various worldviews might seem to defy generalization, Lewis contends that they have a very important principle in common: “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.” By establishing “objective value” as the bedrock of all human civilization, Lewis argues that, by neglecting this concept, modern education produces “men without chests” (people who lack properly trained sentiments) who are not capable of sustaining a flourishing society.

In order to make his argument that recognizing objective value is paramount to education, Lewis first establishes that emotions can be either be reasonable or unreasonable. Lewis argues that because our liking or disliking of things is a response to objective value, then our emotional states can be either in harmony with reason or out of harmony with reason. “No emotion is, in itself, a judgement […] But [emotions] can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform. The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it.” For Lewis, emotions should follow reason. But this doesn’t occur naturally—rather, it must be taught. The role of education, then, is to train the emotions to become “just sentiments” (i.e., emotions that are in harmony with objective reality).

Lewis argues that emotions must be trained in order to properly align with what is objectively morally right. Lewis believes that, just as Plato taught that the appetites must be ruled by reason, “The head rules the belly through the chest”—the “chest” is “the seat […] of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments.” That is, the chest is the metaphorical “liaison […] between cerebral man and visceral man.” Lewis means that neither bare intellect nor untaught emotion is sufficient to make a person virtuous.

Therefore, emotions must be trained by objective reason to become just sentiments that will guide a person’s views and actions throughout life. Lewis sees this as an indispensable process for creating a well-rounded human being: “It may even be said that it is by this middle element [sentiment] that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.” The problem with The Green Book and similar textbooks popular during Lewis’s time is that they tend to “produce what may be called Men without Chests,” or people who are intelligent but devoid of an emotional or moral compass.

In Lewis’s view, the reason that these “Men without Chests” are dangerous is that, without individuals having properly trained sentiments, civilization as a whole is endangered. A civilization that produces “men without chests” can’t expect virtue from its citizens: “And all the time […] we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. […] We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.” In other words, if people are not trained to hold proper sentiments and value judgments, they cannot be expected to behave in ways that are widely acknowledged to help society prosper and thrive.

Nevertheless, Lewis says, educators like Gaius and Titius are obviously not trying to corrupt society. They uphold certain values as desirable, or else they would not teach at all: “They write in order to produce certain states of mind in the rising generation, if not because they think those states of mind intrinsically just or good, yet certainly because they think them to be the means to some state of society which they regard as desirable. […] For the whole purpose of their book is so to condition the young reader that he will share their approval [...].” Gaius and Titius, in other words, seek to commend certain ways of thinking that they presumably see as correct and desirable, even if they reject objective values.

This being the case, argues Lewis, Gaius and Titius are actually not being critical enough. They take their own values for granted, without offering students any clear means of assessing those values for themselves: “Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people’s values; about [their own] they are not nearly sceptical enough.” Lewis implies that Gaius and Titius are themselves “Men without Chests,” and that their approach will produce a generation of students who, like them, are dangerously uncritical in their thinking.

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Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health Quotes in The Abolition of Man

Below you will find the important quotes in The Abolition of Man related to the theme of Objective Value, Human Virtue, and Societal Health.
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:

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

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:

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: