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The Abolition of Man

The Abolition of Man

4.3 25
by C. S. Lewis

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 In the classic The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, the most important Christian writer of the 20th century, sets out to persuade his audience of the importance and relevance of universal values such as courage and honor in contemporary society. Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man is one of the most debated of Lewis’s


 In the classic The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis, the most important Christian writer of the 20th century, sets out to persuade his audience of the importance and relevance of universal values such as courage and honor in contemporary society. Both astonishing and prophetic, The Abolition of Man is one of the most debated of Lewis’s extraordinary works. National Review chose it as number seven on their "100 Best Nonfiction Books of the Twentieth Century."

Editorial Reviews

Owen Barfield
A Real Triump.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
C. S. Lewis Signature Classics
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Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.28(d)

Read an Excerpt

The Abolition of Man

Chapter One

Men Without Chests

So he sent the word to slay
And slew the little childer.

Traditional carol

I doubt whether we are sufficiently attentive to the importance of elementary text books. That is why I have chosen as the starting-point for these lectures a little book on English intended for 'boys and girls in the upper forms of schools'. I do not think the authors of this book (there were two of them) intended any harm, and I owe them, or their publisher, good language for sending me a complimentary copy. At the same time I shall have nothing good to say of them. Here is a pretty predicament. I do not want to pillory two modest practising schoolmasters who were doing the best they knew: but I cannot be silent about what I think the actual tendency of their work. I therefore propose to conceal their names. I shall refer to these gentlemen as Gaius and Titius and to their book as The Green Book. But I promise you there is such a book and I have it on my shelves.

In their second chapter Gaius and Titius quote the well-known story of Coleridge at the waterfall. You remember that there were two tourists present: that one called it 'sublime' and the other 'pretty'; and that Coleridge mentally endorsed the first judgement and rejected the second with disgust. Gaius and Titius comment as follows: 'When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall...Actually...he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word"Sublime", or shortly, I have sublime feelings.' Here are a good many deep questions settled in a pretty summary fashion. But the authors are not yet finished. They add: 'This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings.'

Before considering the issues really raised by this momentous little paragraph (designed, you will remember, for 'the upper forms of schools') we must eliminate one mere confusion into which Gaius and Titius have fallen. Even on their own view — on any conceivable view — the man who says This is sublime cannot mean I have sublime feelings. Even if it were granted that such qualities as sublimity were simply and solely projected into things from our own emotions, yet the emotions which prompt the projection are the correlatives, and therefore almost the opposites, of the qualities projected. The feelings which make a man call an object sublime are not sublime feelings but feelings of veneration. If This is sublime is to be reduced at all to a statement about the speaker's feelings, the proper translation would be I have humble feelings. If the view held by Gaius and Titius were consistently applied it would lead to obvious absurdities. It would force them to maintain that You are contemptible means I have contemptible feelings: in fact that Your feelings are contemptible means My feelings are contemptible. But we need not delay over this which is the very pons asinorum of our subject. It would be unjust to Gaius and Titius themselves to emphasize what was doubtless a mere inadvertence.

The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant. It is true that Gaius and Titius have said neither of these things in so many words. They have treated only one particular predicate of value (sublime) as a word descriptive of the speaker's emotions. The pupils are left to do for themselves the work of extending the same treatment to all predicates of value: and no slightest obstacle to such extension is placed in their way. The authors may or may not desire the extension: they may never have given the question five minutes' serious thought in their lives. I am not concerned with what they desired but with the effect their book will certainly have on the schoolboy's mind. In the same way, they have not said that judgements of value are unimportant. Their words are that we 'appear to be saying something very important' when in reality we are 'only saying something about our own feelings'. No schoolboy will be able to resist the suggestion brought to bear upon him by that word only. I do not mean, of course, that he will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all. The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the boy, and he cannot know what is being done to him.

Before considering the philosophical credentials of the position which Gaius and Titius have adopted about value, I should like to show its practical results on the educational procedure.

The Abolition of Man. Copyright (c) by C. Lewis . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) was one of the intellectual giants of the twentieth century and arguably one of the most influential writers of his day. He was a Fellow and Tutor in English Literature at Oxford University until 1954, when he was unanimously elected to the Chair of Medieval and Renaissance Literature at Cambridge University, a position he held until his retirement. He wrote more than thirty books, allowing him to reach a vast audience, and his works continue to attract thousands of new readers every year. His most distinguished and popular accomplishments include Out of the Silent Planet, The Great Divorce, The Screwtape Letters, and the universally acknowledged classics The Chronicles of Narnia. To date, the Narnia books have sold over 100 million copies and have been transformed into three major motion pictures.

Clive Staples Lewis (1898-1963) fue uno de los intelectuales más importantes del siglo veinte y podría decirse que fue el escritor cristiano más influyente de su tiempo. Fue profesor particular de literatura inglesa y miembro de la junta de gobierno en la Universidad Oxford hasta 1954, cuando fue nombrado profesor de literatura medieval y renacentista en la Universidad Cambridge, cargo que desempeñó hasta que se jubiló. Sus contribuciones a la crítica literaria, literatura infantil, literatura fantástica y teología popular le trajeron fama y aclamación a nivel internacional. C. S. Lewis escribió más de treinta libros, lo cual le permitió alcanzar una enorme audiencia, y sus obras aún atraen a miles de nuevos lectores cada año. Sus más distinguidas y populares obras incluyen Las Crónicas de Narnia, Los Cuatro Amores, Cartas del Diablo a Su Sobrino y Mero Cristianismo.

Brief Biography

Date of Birth:
November 29, 1898
Date of Death:
November 22, 1963
Place of Birth:
Belfast, Nothern Ireland
Place of Death:
Headington, England
Oxford University 1917-1923; Elected fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford in 1925

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The Abolition Of Man 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 25 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book is the most concise treatment of postmodernism--and all of its absurdities--that I have ever read. This is my fourth time through it and its better than the last. Definitely my favorite book.
OniC89 More than 1 year ago
This is a short concise reading. It captures you from the first to the last sentence. In between it offers you great knowledge and respective concept. It analyzes each of its claims and deliver them with example which widen the understanding of the reading.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lewis tackles the very daunting subjects of ethics and reason in this short but gratifying read. However this book is not for the faint of heart and can be difficult to understand at times.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is amazing to me to see how long the author's wisdom abides on this planet. My intellect was very much stimulated by the profound understanding of the author regarding morality and 'Man's conquest of Nature.' It became clear to me that the human institution consists not only of body, but soul also. A whole new perspective on life can be learned from this very small book. The precipice reached in this title is this for sure: 'He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life' (RSV-John 12:25). There surely is a prophetic touch to this powerful dissertation. If you seek to understand the 'signs of the times,' don't let this book pass you by!
Anonymous 9 months ago
I couldn't put the book down. Short but packed with thought provoking widom.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This rather lengthy essay is a difficult read for those without a decent exposure to classical education. Familiarity with Latin, Greek, world philosophies, "STEM", and logic will serve very well in following Chesterton's reasoning. All that "stuff" is required, but that background knowledge makes the task easier. Chesterton's treatment of the prevailing social, personal, and scientific ethics of the latter 19th thru 20th centuries are absolutely stunning - even if one doesn't quite agree with him. This essay will force the reader to think clearly and deeply about his own ethical positions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If I could recommend one single book (aside from the scriptures) in the entire world for a young person to read that would help them in life, it would be "The Abolition of Man" by CS Lewis. It's a short book-----really it's an essay. This book does more to explain and expose the moral relativism that has poisoned our society....from politics, to academia, to popular culture. Aristotle stated: "the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought." Aristotle was referring to objective truth. The world we live in today has largely rejected the reality of objective truth. The culture today lies to us and tells us that there is no objective morality, truth, or right and wrong. This is a lie. The Chinese speak of the TAO---the TAO is the reality beyond all predicates. it is the doctrine of objective value. It is the belief that certain things and beliefs are really true, and others are really false. It is the doctrine of "objective order" that should rule our thoughts and actions. The "Abolition of Man" explodes the lie of our age....the lie that all things have equal value and the lie that nothing is inherently bad and nothing is inherently good.
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I love C.S. Lewis, and this is a brilliant work. The formatting for this copy is very easy to read and true to the Harper Collins form.
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Guest More than 1 year ago
Lewis once again says it like it is, and once more he leaves me challenged at his message and staggered at his endless intellectual depth.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Despite its brevity (just over 100 pages), Lewis' *Abolition* get my vote as one of the great books of the 20th Century. The argument of the book is (in my opinion) a devastating critique of the moral subjectivism that is required by a Darwinian account of human morality. Of those who would, on the one hand, assure us that moral judgments are merely descriptions of personal sentiment and, on the other, affirm some set of cherished values (while exhorting others to do the same), Lewis writes, 'They castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.' The argument of Chapter Two, 'The Way,' is a gem, echoing (whether wittingly or not)the Kantian critique of empirical traditions in morality that would seek to derive moral laws from our knowledge of human nature or of the circumstances in which humans are placed. Both Lewis and Kant show that the resulting morality is a morality in name only.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago