In this slim volume of three essays, C. S. Lewis makes the argument for what he calls the Tao, “the doctrine of objective value, the belief that certain attitudes are really true, and others really false, to the kind of thing the universe is and the kind of thing we are” (31). Basically (and I know I am really simplifying this) it boils down to this: you cannot condemn “traditional morality” on the grounds that there are no absolutes, because condemning something is an absolute statement.
So there are absolutes. Though many are generally agreed upon, others are up for discussion. Lewis writes that though he is a Theist and a Christian, he is not here making an argument for his belief system. Indeed, in the Appendices at the end he quotes from a multitude of sources, religious and secular, from ancient times to modern, demonstrating the remarkable similarities in human society regarding the Tao. This lines up with Scripture, interestingly enough (see Romans 2:12-15).
Lewis also goes into an interesting discussion about how Man is supposedly conquering Nature through scientific advances. But these advances aren’t really Man conquering Nature; they are men exercising power over other men. For example, the technology of contraceptives could be denied to some people by the contraceptive makers. It isn’t Nature that is being controlled here, but people.
Eventually we may get to the point where the group exercising the control (the “Conditioners”) decides to make Man “better” — but of course they have to have an absolute value system to make a value judgment that one thing is better than another. Using different words like “primal” or “deep-rooted” or whatever instead of “better” doesn’t solve the problem of using the Tao to make value judgments. So the Conditioners will make future man something different and thereby exercise a far greater control than ever of one generation over another. This is the abolition of Man.
For every pupil who needs to be guarded from a weak excess of sensibility there are three who need to be awakened from the slumber of cold vulgarity. The task of the modern educator is not to cut down jungles but to irrigate deserts. (27)
The heart never takes the place of the head: but it can, and should, obey it. (31–2)
It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. (35)
Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey “people.” People say different things: so do instincts. Our instincts are at war. (49)
This thing which I have called the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgments. (55)
The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in. (56)
An open mind, in questions that are not ultimate, is useful. But an open mind about the ultimate foundations either of Theoretical or Practical Reason is idiocy. If a man’s mind is open on these things, let his mouth at least be shut. He can say nothing to the purpose. (59)
Lewis is one of those authors who make me feel simultaneously intelligent and in dire need of more education. He has the trick of making his reader understand a thing as if clearly seeing something heretofore only dimly perceived. It is as if I am discovering something I always knew… and then realizing how dimly and vaguely I knew it, and how inadequate is all my articulation of it. Excellent. ( )