The Abolition of Man
by C.S. Lewis
4 out of 5 stars
Lewis shows the implications of the philosophical ideas that emotions are crude and invalid, and only “reason” should dictate our actions. Reason without emotion is unreality, and even if it were true it would only lead to the abolition of mankind. Lewis attacks the issue from several angles, debunking popular arguments that the purest form of reason is our instincts, or that benevolent actions can be found through pursuing “science” as the best moral compass for mankind to follow.
Lewis proves that moral absolutes do exist and that they are universal through all generations and cultures throughout all of time. These moral absolutes appeal to both our reason and our emotions, and you cannot cut them out of a person’s life without destroying that person. There are basic truths that are self-evident and omnipresent in all mankind.
One of my favorite quotes from this book: “If nothing is self-evident, nothing can be proved.”(pg. 40) You can’t throw out all of traditional morality and say that there are no moral absolutes, because you erode the very foundation of your “new” morality, the idea of truth. Saying that there are no absolute truths is in itself an absolute statement, which contradicts itself. If you step outside of truth, you “have stepped into the void” as Lewis says on page 64. “…those who stand outside all judgements of value cannot have any ground for preferring one of their own impulses to another….” (pg. 65)
Another great quote talks about how if you follow the idea of obeying only “reason” and having no moral absolutes down to its logical conclusion, there is no value to anything, and mankind is left at the mercy of their impulses. Lewis says “Their extreme rationalism… leaves them creatures of wholly irrational behavior.” (pg. 67)
The writing is a little bit rambling, and I get the impression that Lewis is answering a very specific argument from a specific set of people. Sometimes it would have been better to keep to a more general scope that would be applicable to everyone. However, the writing is powerful and compelling.
I love that Lewis can point towards Christianity without ever actually mentioning Christianity, because when you reach the conclusion of his logic proving that moral absolutes do exist and that they exist for everyone equally (whether people acknowledge that or not), then the next logical step is to conclude that those moral absolutes were not created by mankind, but by Someone outside of ourselves. He only mentions Christianity once or twice in the entire essay, but the overarching direction of all his logic is that everything comes from and to Christ.