The last novel in the Space Trilogy, That Hideous Strength, Lewis described as the fictional form of the ideas he presents in The Abolition of Man. So it is appropriate to treat the two works back to back on succeeding monthly meetings.
The Abolition of Man focuses on the universality of values and takes on the modern moral relativism of our times. We will be meeting to discuss it on the second Thursday in June, June 14th at 7:30 p.m. in the Barnes and Noble in Harrisonburg. Ray will be our discussion leader. After that in July, on July 12th we'll meet to discuss At the Back of the North Wind, a work by George MacDonald whom C.S. Lewis described as "... his master." Please come and join us. If you wish to be added to our mailing list you can send a request to Ray Schneider firstname.lastname@example.org.
Discussion Questions on The Abolition of Man
Introduction: “The Green Book” by “Gaius and Titius” which C.S. Lewis criticizes in The Abolition of Man are pseudonyms for The Control of Language: A Critical Approach to Reading and Writing (1939) and its authors Alex King and Martin Ketley. The Green book was used as a text for upper form students in British schools.
Professor Peter Kreeft of the University of Boston, in a lecture on Walker Percy lists The Abolition of Man as one of five "books to read to save Western Civilization," alongside Lost in the Cosmos by Walker Percy, Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis, The Everlasting Man by G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton, and Brave New World by Aldous Huxley. (paraphrase from Wikipedia)
TAOM was first delivered at the University of Durham in February 1943 as a series of three lectures. The book which emerged from the lectures is divided into three sections: 1) Men Without Chests, 2) The Way, and 3) The Abolition of Man and an Appendix which illustrates what Lewis means by the Tao, a term he uses to capture the universality of values across time and culture.
I. Men Without Chests
1. Why is Lewis against the ideas expressed in the Green Book? If you agree, why? If you disagree, why? Why does Lewis call it a pons asinorum? (15)
2. What is "the advertisement" and why does Lewis criticize Titius and Gaius for their treatment of it? How does Lewis suggest they should have proceeded? ((17-18)
3. Is Lewis engaging the modern world when he suggests that Gaius and Titius are "cutting out the soul" of young people when they are still too young to chose for themselves? (20)
4. Lewis speaks of the pressing educational need of the moment and contrasts it with what Gaius and Titius are doing? What do you think of the two suggested points of view? (24)
5. How did you react to Lewis's description of The Tao? (29)
6. Lewis suggests that the effect of the Green Book will be to produce Men Without Chests? Why does he say this? What is the proper action if the Green Book is wrong? (34)
My favorite quote: "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."
II. The Way
7. "The practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it." This sentence leads off the second section of TAOM. Do you agree with Lewis? What does he mean? What does he offer as the proper form of education? (39) What values do Gaius and Titius hold? (40)
8. "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." (43-44) This poses the problem of where do we get the ought in our values?
9. Does substituting "instinct" for the Tao help or hurt the search for the source of values? (45-47)
10. "If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved. Similarly, if nothing is obligatory for its own sake, nothing is obligatory at all." (53) Do you agree with Lewis that we cannot use instinct to justify values? All oughts are slipped in by a hidden appeal to the Tao. Does Lewis demonstrate these propositions convincingly? Illustrate. (53-57)
11. Different kinds of criticism from within and from without. Lewis says that the Tao can be modified from within but not from without. "This is why Aristotle said that only those who have been well brought up can usefully study ethics: to the corrupted man, the man who stands outside the Tao, the very starting point of this science is invisible." Does Lewis make the case successfully? (59-60)
Favorite quote: "Outside the Tao there is no ground for criticizing either the Tao or anything else."
III. The Abolition of Man
12. "Man's Conquest of Nature" is a category mistake. "What we call Man's power is, in reality, a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by." How does Lewis making this point affect the rhetoric surrounding the concept? (67-68)
13. Lewis makes much of the influence of time, earlier generations exercising power over later ones. He uses eugenics as an example. What do you think about Lewis's emphasis on this power of some men over the rest? (70-71)
14. Lewis characterizes this phase as not a good thing or a bad thing, only a final thing. Do you agree that this has to be final? "But the man-moulders of the new age will be armed with the powers of an omnicompetent state and an irresistible scientific technique: we shall get at last a race of conditioners who really can cut out all posterity in what shape they please." (73)
15. Lewis sees the conditioners creating an artificial Tao and ultimately not being bound by the conscience they create. The conditioned continue to operate within the manufactured Tao which the conditioners stand outside of. Do you see any tendency towards this state that Lewis predicts? (75-77)
16. "sic volo, sic jubeo" (I want this, I order this.) Man's final conquest is the abolition of man. The men under the rule of the conditioners are not "... necessarily unhappy men. They are not men at all: they are artefacts." Lewis sees the final triumph of the conditioners as a hollow victory since it has destroyed man making of him simply an artifact like any other construct. What factors in current society do you think are moving in that direction? What factors are resisting that movement? (77)
17. "Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man." "Ferum victorem cepit" (captured her savage conqueror) ends Lewis's dystopian vision of man's ultimate surrender to the conditioners and hence ultimately to base nature. This is a case of unintended consequences. Such consequences often attend policies which begin with the best of intentions. From what aspect of the human psyche do such things stem? Is there a way to keep the good and eliminate the bad? How? (80-82)
18. Lear, Bacon, and Faust are all invoked as Lewis explores the deification of knowledge and the uncomfortable truce between magic and science. He confesses that he has not solution to the problem – "But if the scientists themselves cannot arrest this process before it reaches the common Reason and kills that too, then someone else must arrest it." How do you think this can be achieved? (90)
Quotation: "A dogmatic belief in objective value is necessary to the very idea of a rule which is not tyranny or an obedience which is not slavery." (84-85)