Reading Response to First Chapter of “Abolition of Man”

In the first chapter of The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis briefly brings up objectivity as it relates to attitudes and reason. He says, “… because 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 (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it)” (19). He mentions this in stark contrast to the authors of The Green Book, who attempt to classify all sentiments and value statements as purely subjective feelings about reality that reflect nothing about the real world. Lewis’ standpoint is to affirm each of our individual experiences, however, with the caveat that we cultivate our sentiments and values. The goal is to become more keen of feelings like humility, anger, or happiness, and affirm values that are more in tune with our human nature.

Lewis supports his argument with Augustine and Aristotle: “St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought” (16). This approach is antithetical to post-Kantian epistemological theory in which the great Kantian revolution has removed reality from the center of understanding, and instead makes reality conform to human understanding. That is, instead of seeking to understand the world as it is–a notion which has long been jettisoned–humans collapse into their own experience and can only affirm that meaningless world of appearance. This world is either created by individuals or by societies through pure reason or mere emotion, with no guiding principle of reality in place. The authors Lewis is responding to have collapsed into pure reason, neglecting the significance of sentiments and objective reality.

To Lewis, this leaves humans in a barren desert–a state that leaves them dangerously wanting. He states,  “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” (13). This leads to nihilism, and with such meaningless existence, people desperately reach out for something to cling on to. The claims of the authors, veiled in a faux-intellectualism, are still not grounded in anything truly real. However, they seem safe enough for such desperate persons. Lewis points out why they are faux-intellectuals: “It is not excess of thought but defect of fertile and generous emotion that marks them out. Their heads are no bigger than the ordinary: it is the atrophy of the chest beneath that makes them seem so.” This is because a full account of human nature or experience cannot be provided without an adequate understanding of human emotion.

Human emotion is what gives us the passion to seek understanding. Our drive and creativity also stem from our emotional centre–which is the majority of human experience. When philosophers jettison our sentiments we are left without anything authentic to reason about. Thus, we must affirm the validity of our sentiments and guide them appropriately with reason in order to understand reality.

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