North Western Winds

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Objective value

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C.S. Lewis and The Green Book

Delcan’s post about a book he’s plumbing at the moment brought to my mind C.S. Lewis’ short little book, The Abolition of Man. Lewis wrote it as a response to a modern English primer for school children. Modern, in this case, is the early 1940’s. His insights are good and because the book is so short, I’m always recommending it to people when I suspect they are being taken up with the sort of ideas in what Lewis called The Green Book (in an effort to avoid embarassing the authors). This post is something of a continuation of my comments on Delcan’s thread today.

What Lewis calls ‘The Tao’ can be likened to what a Catholic would call the Natural Law and Lewis himself points out that he uses the eastern term in an effort to point to the universality of that which he speaks.

From The Abolition of Man:

This conception in all it’s forms, Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian and Oriental alike, I shall henceforth refer to for brevity simply as ‘the Tao’. Some of the accounts of it which I have quoted will seem, perhaps, to many of you merely quaint or even magical. But what is common to them all is something we cannot neglect. It is 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 things we are. Those who know the Tao can hold that to call children delightful or old men venerable is not simply to record a psychological fact about our own parental or filial emotions at the moment, but to recognize a quality which demands a certain response from us whether we make it or not. I myself do not enjoy the society of little children: because I recognize this as a defect in myself – just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind. And because our approvals and disapprovals are thus recognitions of objective value or responses to an objective order, therefore emotional states can be in harmony with reason (when we feel liking for what ought to be approved) or out of harmony with reason (when we perceive that liking is due but cannot feel it). No emotion is, in itself, a judgement; in that sense all emotions are alogical. But they can be reasonable or unreasonable as they conform to Reason or fail to conform…

Over against this stands the world of The Green Book. In it the very possibility of a sentiment being reasonable – or even unreasonable – has been excluded from the outset. It can be reasonable or unreasonable only if it conforms or fails to conform to something else. To say that the cataract is sublime means saying that our emotion of humility is appropriate or ordinate to the reality, and thus to speak something else besides the emotion; just as to say that a shoe fits is to speak not only of shoes but of feet. But this reference to something beyond the emotion is what Gaius and Titus [pseudonyms for the authors] exclude from every sentence containing a predicate of value. Such statements, for them refer solely to the emotion. Now the emotion, thus considered in itself, cannot be considered either in agreement or disagreement with Reason. It is irrational not as a paralogism is irrational, but as a physical event is irrational: it does not rise even to the dignity of error. On this view, the world of facts, without one trace of value, and the world of feeling, without one trace of falsehood, justice, or injustice, confront one another, and rapprochement is possible.

Hence the educational problem is wholly different according as you stand within or without the Tao. For those within, the task is to train in the pupil those responses which are in themselves appropriate, whether or anyone is making them or not, and in making which the very nature of man consists. Those without, if they are logical, must regard all sentiments as equally non-rational, as mere mists between us and the real objects. As a result, they must either decide to remove all sentiments, as far as possible, from the pupil’s mind; or else to encourage some sentiments for reasons that have nothing to do with their instrinsic ‘justness’ or ‘ordinacy’. The later course involves them in the the questionable process of creating in others by ‘suggestion’ or incantation a mirage which their own reason has successfully dissipated.

At the close here I suppose Lewis is anticipating books like the one Delcan is reviewing, and also, on the neocon side, authors like Leo Strauss. These are books and authors that do not present proposals about the nature of the Tao; they are books and authors who deny its existence in order to lessen the resistance to their own will. This they present simply as ‘truth’, without missing the irony that they have already claimed there is no such thing.

You’re not supposed to notice that, however. I suspect that in a day of such rampant technical specialization, there are simply not enough people even aware of the problem. The issue is not a technical one, it is one of being, and since it’s possible to materially rich without it, few care. If you’re concerned about issues like judicial over reach, the burden of government, religious freedom, and human dignity, however, you ought to be concerned with it.

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Written by Curt

June 29, 2005 at 8:41 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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