C. S. Lewis and The Abolition of Man

C. S. Lewis’ 1944 book The Abolition of Man is widely considered to be a classic work in the history and philosophy of education. The National Review, in fact, chose it as number seven on their “100 Best Nonfiction Books of the 20th Century.” In this seminar, we will examine the central themes of this important book
and the key arguments Lewis makes throughout it for absolute values and the training of students’ affections, as well as their intellects. We will work sequentially through each of the three chapters of the book, discussing both the progression of Lewis’ thought and the practical educational implications of his treatment of concepts like “men without chests,” “the Tao” and “the abolition of man.”

David Diener

Dr. David Diener began his post-secondary education at Wheaton College, where he graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and ancient languages. After putting his philosophical training to work by building custom cabinets and doing high-end finish carpentry for an Amish company, he moved with his wife to Bogotá, Colombia, where they served as missionaries for three years at a Christian international school. He then attended Indiana University, where he earned a master’s degree in philosophy, another master’s degree in history and philosophy of education, and a dual doctorate in philosophy and philosophy of education. He has taught at The Stony Brook School on Long Island, served as Head of Upper Schools at Covenant Classical School in Fort Worth, Texas, and currently is the Head of School at Grace Academy in Georgetown, Texas. He also teaches philosophy courses at Taylor University, is an Alcuin Fellow and offers consulting services through Classical Academic Press. He is the author of Plato: The Great Philosopher-Educator and serves as the series editor for Classical Academic Press’ Giants in the History of Education. The Dieners have four wonderful children and are passionate about classical Christian education and the impact it can have on the church, our society and the world.

Aslan in the Academy: What C.S. Lewis Can Teach the Modern Christian Educator

Louis Markos

Louis Markos holds a BA in English and History from Colgate University and an MA and PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He is a Professor of English and Scholar in Residence at Houston Baptist University, where he teaches courses on British Romantic and Victorian Poetry and Prose, the Classics, C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, and Art and Film. Dr. Markos holds the Robert H. Ray Chair in Humanities and lectures on Ancient Greece and Rome, the Early Church and Middle Ages, the Renaissance and Romanticism for HBU’s Honors College. He is the author of eighteen books, including From Achilles to Christ, On the Shoulders of Hobbits, Literature: A Student’s Guide, CSL: An Apologist for Education, three Canon Press Worldview Guides to the Iliad, Odyssey, and Aeneid, & two children’s novels, The Dreaming Stone and In the Shadow of Troy, in which his kids become part of Greek Mythology and the Iliad and Odyssey. His son Alex teaches Latin at the Geneva School in Boerne, TX and his daughter Anastasia teaches music at Founders Classical Academy in Lewisville, TX.

Men Without Chests

In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ [the heart] and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honor and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful.

—C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
—Judges 21: 25

Most of you by now know the story of the best cyclist in the history of the sport, Lance Armstrong. An enormously gifted athlete at the top of the cycling world, Armstrong suffered from stage IV cancer and was given a high probability that he would not live. He not only survived his cancer, of course, Armstrong became the seven-time winner of the prestigious Tour de France, transforming the sport as the greatest in its storied history. His success ran so deep that it was seen as unbelievable, defying natural human ability. Armstrong defended himself for years against critics accusing him of using performance- enhancing drugs, usually very vociferously and defiantly, including winning millions in successful lawsuits. And, of course, we all know that he recently admitted that his success was not so natural, that he indeed had the assistance of the most sophisticated drug machine known in all of sports and destroyed the careers, the reputations, the bank accounts, and, to a degree, even the lives of untold others who got in his way. And, now that he has come “clean,” he does so with virtually no remorse or contrition, unrepentant in his confession. His only crime, he implies, is that he was caught. He lied and destroyed, and angrily defended himself in the process, to protect only himself, a self-absorbed narcissist of epic proportions.

There is outrage by many at Armstrong—and outrage at those not outraged—because of his lack of honor and virtue. But Armstrong, I argue, is merely the fruit of our cultural tree. The shocking things are not his lies and seemingly unrepentant, unremorseful attitude, but our feigned outrage at Armstrong’s lack of honesty and lack of soul. Should we really expect any more from a culture based on falsehood? Armstrong’s mantra of “everyone’s doing it” may seem weak, but it is one of the mantras of our postmodern world, a world of relativism so similar to the tenth century BC when the writer of Judges proclaimed that, “Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” Armstrong is by no means alone at the judgment seat; we read and hear of Manti T’eo’s lies and the subsequent Notre Dame cover up, the affairs of General Petraeus, the Benghazi cover up, the slightly less-recent Enron deceit and debacle; the list can fill volumes.

Our society undermines honesty in every way imaginable. Underhanded behavior is glorified. Unfaithful spouses are glamorized. Untouched photos are gone. In our nation, politicians are not elected based on their deeply held convictions or their ability to accomplish great things. We choose men and women who are most able to deceptively convince the most people that they agree with them. Lying is not frowned upon. Quite the contrary; it is expected. For truth, you see, has become relative, and therefore ever illusive.

Every photo published is almost expected to be a lie of some sort. Photoshop and filters make pictures seem as if the subject were perfect. Magazines portray a false life as the object of desire. Never mind that it is literally unattainable. Chasing the lie will keep you buying more things. In sports, like so many other areas of our culture, the frequently repeated phrase is, “It is not cheating unless you get caught.” Armstrong, then, never really cheated. He never was caught while competing, only after retirement. We told him performance-enhancing drugs were perfectly fine, so long as he let us believe our naïve fantasy about “LiveStrong.”

Manti T’eo was embarrassed about being conned in such a heart-wrenching manner, so instead of coming clean, he perpetuated the very fraud that was committed against him. And his university—my dear wife’s alma mater, by the way—covered it up. It was more important to the school to keep its squeaky-clean image during its national football championship quest; it was more important to T’eo to remain respectable in the eyes of others than to be honest. What’s that? Respectability is the opposite of honesty? That is our culture. In a world where “image is everything,” integrity is nothing. In a culture where there are no longer absolute truths, you can create your own truths, your own reality. And, all is fine unless you get caught.

In his book, The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis included an essay entitled “Men Without Chests.” In it, Lewis depicts one of the problems with our culture: we ask for a virtue while cultivating the opposing vice. Lewis was prophetic in pointing out that relativism—the idea that there is no absolute truth—would lead to the decay of morality and a lack of virtue within society. Without a belief in and the teaching of universal moral laws, we fail to educate the heart and are left with intelligent men who behave like animals, or as Lewis puts it, “men without chests.” Lewis’ treatise (written in 1947) is about the failed educational system, and he asks the question: Can we really divorce truth and values from education? Many of the “experts” of Lewis’s day thought so. Since that time, the idea of “values neutral” education has been all the
rage. It began with the simple relativistic assumption that there is really no such thing as transcendent “right” and “wrong.” This is, of course, the ultimate conclusion we are forced to draw when we adopt some form of naturalism and place humanity as the ultimate arbiter of reality. As we proceeded into the postmodern era, that assumption spread like cancer through academia. From there, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The philosophy of the school room in one generation [became] the philosophy of government the next.” Today, there is hardly a part of Western culture— including the church—that isn’t infected with the idea.

Before long, the educational theorists realized that they must teach some form of truth and morality, if for no other reason than crowd control. In keeping with their attempt to be values-neutral, they settled on a hollow secular humanism that simply compounded the problem, demanding that children act morally while giving them no compelling reason to do so. Ultimately, students essentially were led to believe that it only pays to be morally upright when you think that someone will catch you.

This dilemma is precisely what Lewis predicted. As a culture, we produce men and women “without chests” and we expect them to do the right thing anyway. Heads may appear to have swelled in our time, but largely because chests have atrophied. Lance Armstrong and Manti Te’o and General Petraeus and so many others may indeed be men without chests, but they are our men without chests. That doesn’t make what they did excusable. It makes what each of us do each day to affirm honesty and truth, particularly God’s Truth, so very important.

Polanyian Perspective on “The Abolition of Man”

The Abolition of Man is sometimes viewed as an attack on science. Anticipating this criticism, Lewis states that his remarks are not an attack on science but instead a defense of value—the value, among other things, of science. Lewis goes on to suggest that science might itself be the remedy for the dark moral malady that The Abolition of Man accounts for and describes. The purpose of this paper is to show that, in the work of Michael Polanyi, Lewis’s aspirations regarding the curative powers of science are in fact realized. Polanyi not only demonstrates the bankruptcy of scientism, but he does so in a manner that, while revealing the inspiring character of genuine science, greatly clarifies Lewis’s project.

Jon Fennell

Jon M. Fennell is Director of Teacher Education and Dean of Social Sciences at Hillsdale College. He received his B.A. and M.A. from the University of California, Davis before moving to the University of Illinois where he earned a Ph.D. in philosophy of education. Prior to arriving at Hillsdale in 2005, Dr. Fennell spent four years in the Idaho State Department of Education and more than 20 years in the wholesale distribution, computer hardware, and ERP so ware industries. His teaching and research re ect a deep interest in philosophy, politics and education and is frequently focused on the domain where the three disciplines overlap. Dr. Fennell has wri en on educational topics as well as on the thought of seminal thinkers ranging from Rousseau and Dewey to Allan Bloom, Leo Strauss, Harry Ja a, and Michael Polanyi. He is currently pursuing the intellectual connections between Polanyi and C.S. Lewis.

Reading “the Right Books”: C.S. Lewis on Reading Good Literature

Eustace Clarence Scrubb, says Lewis, repeatedly had not read “the right books.” So what books should Eustace have read to equip him for his adventures in Narnia? Lewis has lots to say about what books to read, how to read them, and even how to teach them and how not to teach them. This workshop will consider Lewis’s ideas on reading and teaching good literature.

Linda Dey

Linda Dey is a co-founder, administrator and teacher at The Imago School in Maynard, MA, and a past member of the board of the Society for Classical Learning.

Classroom Film Production: Learning Literacy By Making Movies

One of the most effective ways to teach film literacy and elicit higher order thinking skills from students is to teach them how to make their own movies, a skill that can then be applied to a variety of academic areas and learning projects. This seminar will provide resources and a start-to-finish “how to” approach for making commercials, research documentaries, music videos, and dramatic short films in the classroom, including script writing, technology needs, pre-production, acquisition, post-production, assignment evaluation methods, and project ideas. See your students go from putting in five hours on a research paper to fifty hours on a research documentary.

Charlie Starr

Charlie Starr is a professor of English and Humanities at Kentucky Christian University. He took an MA in Humanities at the University of Dallas under Louise Cowan and finished his DA in English at Middle Tennessee State Univeristy with the dissertation, The Triple Enigma: Fact, Truth and Myth as the Key to C.S. Lewis' Epistemological Thinking. Charlie has published three books, most recently a biblical study entitled Honest to God. His essay, "The Silver Chair and the Silver Screen" is the lead chapter in Revisiting Narnia and he has published on C.S. Lewis in Seven, C.S.L and Mythlore.

Christianity and Culture: C.S. Lewis’s Approach

Lewis’s approach to culture, specifically the arts, flies in the face of a lot of what’s going on in Christian thinking, both on popular and intellectual fronts. On the popular front, are well meaning Christians who accept he model of “culture war”, and on the intellectual front, is an emphasis on “worldview” theory- analyzing the worldviews behind artistic texts to point out their hidden assumptions or to mine their truth value. And while these strategies may have their place, Lewis would look at what evangelicals have been doing in the arts for the last forty years and, for the most part, tell us we’ve been doing it all wrong – that we’ve failed to understand what art is really for.

Charlie Starr

Charlie Starr is a professor of English and Humanities at Kentucky Christian University. He took an MA in Humanities at the University of Dallas under Louise Cowan and finished his DA in English at Middle Tennessee State Univeristy with the dissertation, The Triple Enigma: Fact, Truth and Myth as the Key to C.S. Lewis' Epistemological Thinking. Charlie has published three books, most recently a biblical study entitled Honest to God. His essay, "The Silver Chair and the Silver Screen" is the lead chapter in Revisiting Narnia and he has published on C.S. Lewis in Seven, C.S.L and Mythlore.

That Hideous Strength: The Abolition of Man in Pictures

What are the connections between these two great Lewis works? Explore how one informs the other and what we need to learn from both.

Linda Dey

Linda Dey is a co-founder, administrator and teacher at The Imago School in Maynard, MA, and a past member of the board of the Society for Classical Learning.