Abolition of Man Response Paper In the book, Abolition of Man, C. S. Lewis illustrates how the lack of objective values affects the human race and its progeny, using the philosophical theories proposed by The Green Book, an elementary textbook on English. Lewis goes on in his series of lectures to explain what such theories mean, and the ramifications of adopting such philosophies. What struck me the most, however, was the prevalence of these ramifications in today’s society; Lewis’s conclusions and observations hold true in our world today.
In the first section, Lewis shows the conclusion students of The Green Book will make due to the book’s debunking of value statements, causing them to infer that “all values are subjective and trivial” (Lewis, 2). This idea of teaching children that values are subjective rather than objective has become so ingrained in modern times that it is difficult for them to distinguish between what is subjective or objective. I’m reminded of how prevalent this has become by a class discussion concerning whether beauty was subjective or not.
Despite the majority of the class coming from a background that accepts and follows objective values, we were unable to come up with a satisfactory answer. We all agreed that beauty was objective, but were unable to apply it when given examples, eventually resorting to a position that oscillated between subjectivism and objectivism. Our exposure to society, whether through social media, entertainment, or reading materials, has slowly permeated our idea of what is ‘black and white’ with a ‘gray area’ of relativism.
Lewis’s other examples of educators attempt to remove objective values include a particular book by ‘Orbilius’ which debunks the idea that horses are “willing servants” and the like through its analysis of a passage of writing about horses. As a result, Lewis claims the students find displeasure in their own pets and develop an inclination towards neglect and cruelty. While such a conclusion may seem farfetched, it is evident in the increasing amount of animal abuse that occurs today.
Without an objective value dictating that animals should be cared for, people have no reason not to mistreat animals. Additionally, Lewis mentions how The Green Book may be attempting to “fortify the minds of young people against emotion” (Lewis, 4). We find today that many young children, especially in public schools, are desensitized to not only their own emotions, but the feelings of others. Coupled with an abandonment of objective values, such children may indeed be prone to violence and cruelty towards others, seen by the increasing frequency of bullying and school shootings.
I find an eerie similarity between the new educational system described in The Abolition of Man and our current public education system. Both seem to involve propaganda to indoctrinate specified values into children while leaving out values which serve no use to the instructor or society, conditioning students to accept certain things while dismissing others entirely. This can be observed by the push for children to be taught about homosexuality and the theory of evolution.
The Gay community wants children to become accustomed to the idea that homosexuality is acceptable; to the effect of bringing up a new generation that no longer recognizes homosexuality as a controversy, but merely the norm. As far as teaching children the theory of evolution, the educational system instructs its students to believe that the process of evolution was what guided and shaped life into what it is today. Such a theory allows for the students, as well as the instructors, to do away with the idea that a supernatural being had any involvement in the process.
The old values which religious people adhered to are, as a result, no longer relevant. However, despite ‘doing away’ with such values, they hold to objective truths such as “killing is wrong” or “helping is good”, educating children by picking and choosing a value system that benefits society rather than the children. I personally witness such an education via social media. Many people rally for the cause of homosexuals, promoting their lifestyles, claiming justification by saying love is subjective: no one person, or religion, can dictate what love is acceptable and what is not.
At the same time, I see numerous website posts which advocate human rights and offer support for victims of abuse or people with mental illnesses. It’s a very contradictory world that states that love is relative, but that abuse is wrong in all circumstances. Another thing that | found interesting was the concept of men without chests’. Lewis makes the comment that without a heart, man is “by his intellect… mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal” (Lewis, 8). Many criminals, especially those with excessive homicidal tendencies, we find, are mere animals.
Lacking a conscious, or a value system that dictates right and wrong, such people are left with base appetites and impulses, which they follow without any remorse or guilt, degrading them to the level of animals. In the case of ‘mere spirits’, those who base their actions solely on reasoning and logic, we find that it is not reason that prompts one to do anything. Reason alone is not cause for action of any type; “no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous” (Lewis, 8). Without a heart to carry out the response, such a person is a mere spirit: unable to express outwardly what is occurring inwardly.
Additionally, if one was to follow the very limiting lifestyle of living according to reason, one would have a friendless, bland and uneventful life, much like a robot or computer. However, I might note that without an objective value system, such behavior cannot be criticized; behavior which is much more dangerous than mere animal behavior. For if no one is bound to an objective value system, then humans are mere animals, left to the whims of nature and emotion to survive, their lives insignificant and their accomplishments nothing.
Everything we as humans live for is of little matter, for there is nothing left that dictates our lives. Rather than “rising above” nature in our conquest of supposedly archaic values, we are left with nothing, having succumbed by “instinct” to animalism. (Such environments can be described in many dystopian novels or television shows. ) Additionally, in Lewis’s third book, or chapter, Lewis’s discussion of man’s conquest of nature is significant in that we have progressed so much over the years since the publication of the book, yet still face the same problems.
Lewis observed that each advance over nature caused man not only to gain power, but to lose it as well. Take technology for example. Despite its obvious benefits, there are multiple detriments to the abundance of technology we have today. Not only does it distract people, especially in the form of personal devices, but its users exhibit extensive dependence upon it. Many people don’t know how to function without phones, let alone computers or internet. And while such commodities seem to expand our world immeasurably, we find ourselves stuck more than ever in one place (or rather a screen).
The same may be applied to medicine. While it is no doubt beneficial and has saved hundreds of thousands of lives, we are utterly dependent upon it. We no longer, as a society, know how to live without either of these advancements. To abandon technology would be to seriously impair one’s communication abilities and perhaps even one’s ability to work. To abandon medicine would be to put one’s life in danger, in the event of a serious injury or illness. The necessity of such commodities demands our dependence upon them, and thus, an exchange of power.
Finally, I would like to comment on a question proposed by the discussion questions: whether or not there should be limits on progress. My initial response to the answer was no, in that progress in my mind) carries a positive connotation, and my assumption was that the researchers and developers would follow ethical standards. But when the question is asked in light of Lewis’s writings, my skepticism grows. From where do these researches gain their ethical beliefs? Do they even hold any ethical standard?
The uncertainty of the answers to such questions makes me alter my initial response. To allow for unchecked experimentation and research without assurance of the researcher’s ethical standards is foolish. This is especially true in the realm of genetics. I cite the example of the researchers who grew cells that contained the mixed genetic material of pigs and humans. The researchers did not question their actions and the possible results until the cell had divided multiple times, terminating the experiment after the cells’ multiplication.
This sort of experimentation without thorough ethical consideration beforehand can be detrimental and perhaps even life threatening to the subject. What had the scientists created? It’s difficult to say. But what’s even more difficult is asking whether or not it was right for the scientists to terminate the experiment and perhaps, the life of a new species. Without limits on experimentation, there are dangerous consequences. The Abolition of Man, despite being nearly 72 years old, is applicable even today.
The consequence of relativism and subjectivism taking the place of objective values can be detrimental not only to society, but to the educational system, and most importantly, children. We still face the same ethical questions today, especially in relation to progress and development of new ideas. But the answer to both of these problems lies in our own objective value system; for without one, we are reduced to a sad state of affairs, left with wavering ground on which to our base beliefs and many questions for which we have no answers.