A Moral Education from C.S. Lewis

By Meilaender, Gilbert | USA TODAY, January 2014 | Go to article overview

A Moral Education from C.S. Lewis


Meilaender, Gilbert, USA TODAY


WHEN WE THINK about C.S. Lewis' understanding of morality, we have to distinguish three elements: what moral truths we know; how we know them; and how we become able to know them.

What do we know when we know moral truth? Most fundamentally, we know the maxims of what Lewis---in his book on education, The Abolition of Man--calls the Tao. These "primeval moral platitudes" (as Screwtape, in Lewis' Screwtape Letters, terms them) constitute the human moral inheritance. We would not be wrong to call them the basic principles of natural law: the requirements of both general and special beneficence; duties to parents/ancestors and children/posterity; and requirements of justice, truthfulness, mercy, and magnanimity. These are the starting points for all moral reasoning, deliberation, and argument; they are to morality what axioms are to mathematics. Begin from them and we may get somewhere in thinking about what we ought to do. Try to stand outside the Tao on some kind of morally neutral or empty ground and we will find it impossible to generate any moral reasoning at all.

Lewis provides an illustration of the Tao in That Hideous Strength, the third and last volume in his space fantasy series. He himself subtitled the book "A Modern Fairy-Tale for Grown-Ups" and, in the short preface he wrote for the book, he says: "This is a 'tall story' about devilry, though it has behind it a serious 'point' which I have tried to make in my Abolition of Man." We can follow his hint and illustrate the Tao by remembering the scene in That Hideous Strength in which the sinister Frost begins to give young Prof. Mark Studdock a systematic training in what Frost calls "objectivity." This is a training designed to kill in Studdock all natural human preferences.

Studdock is placed into a room that is ill-proportioned; for example, the point of the arch above the door is not in the center. On the wall is a portrait of a young woman with her mouth open--and full of hair. There is a picture of the Last Supper, distinguished especially by beetles under the table. There is a representation of a giant mantis playing a fiddle while being eaten by another mantis, and another of a man with corkscrews instead of arms. Studdock himself is asked to perform various obscenities, culminating in the command to trample a crucifix.

Gradually, however, Studdock finds that the room is having an effect on him, which Frost scarcely had predicted or desired. "There rose up against this background of the sour and the crooked some kind of vision of the sweet and the straight." This was for Studdock all interwoven with images of his wife Jane, fried eggs, soap, sunlight, and birds singing. Studdock may not have been thinking in moral terms but, at least, as the story puts it, he was "having his first deeply moral experience. He was choosing a side: the Normal."

He never had known before what an idea meant: he always had thought that they were things inside one's head, but now, when his head was continually attacked and often completely filled with the clinging corruption of the training, this idea towered up above him---something which obviously existed quite independently of himself and had hard rock surfaces which would not give, surfaces he could cling to.

He is experiencing the Tao, which neither is his creation nor anyone else's. He does not construct these moral troths; on the contrary, they claim him. The world around us is not neutral ground; it is from the start shot through with moral value.

We can, of course, criticize one or another of these moral truths, or, at least, particular formulations of them, but we inevitably will call on some other principle of the Tao when we do so. Thus, for instance, we may think Aristotle's magnanimous man insufficiently merciful and too concerned about his own nobility, using thereby one principle of the Tao (mercy) to refine another. In pursuit of our duties to posterity we may be willing to sacrifice the weak and vulnerable on the altar of medical research, but then we will have to ask whether we have transgressed the requirement of justice--every bit as much an element of the Tao as our duty to posterity. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

A Moral Education from C.S. Lewis
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.