Reflecting on “The Abolition of Man”

Continuing the discussion I started last week, and which was thoughtfully furthered by Jon on April 30, I decided to share a brief passage from C.S. Lewis’ book The Abolition of Man (as referenced by Jon, as well) for my post today. I first read The Abolition of Man during college, and was struck by how powerful this short book was. Since then I have found myself returning to it many times. In the book, Lewis addresses the human condition and what the result is when we make values subjective and deny the truths that have long been recognized by human beings (the “Tao” as he refers to it). Lewis articulately demonstrates that in seeking to overcome and conquer the human condition through such rejection of any system of values, in the end what we are really doing is destroying ourselves. Put another way, that in conquering human nature, we ultimately defeat ourselves.

“The final stage is come when Man by eugenics, by pre-natal condition, and by an education and propaganda based on a perfect applied psychology, has obtained full control over himself. Human nature will be the last part of Nature to surrender to man. The battle will then be won. We shall have ‘taken the thread of life out of the hand of Clotho’ and be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be. The battle will indeed be won. But who, precisely, will have won it?”

I share this not to point out the decline of humanity in a dramatic or fatalistic reaction, but to encourage us to remember the importance of offering sound, ethical advice in the midst of ever-advancing human knowledge. To remind us that in seeking to heal humanity of hurt and disease, we don’t seek to conquer humanity, defeating ourselves in the process.

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Carol Eblen
Carol Eblen

Thank you for sharing this with me. This is very “deep” and “instructive” in that when mankind, in search of knowledge about mankind, and the nature of ALL things, so often loses faith that the human species is special and that humans are created in the image of the creator whose will is done on earth as it is in heaven. We cannot but wonder if this is not God’s Will in an effort to sort out those on earth who will speak up for their “GOD” of their faith against those who human beings who would make each individual… Read more »

Jon Holmlund
Jon Holmlund

I am in the camp that would agree that “The Abolition of Man” is required reading for anyone even remotely concerned about bioethics. I also read it, as I think many if not most do, as Lewis’s take on natural law (the “Tao”)–a position I share, although probably most current thinkers would repudiate it. That of course is a longer discussion. But even keeping Lewis in mind, would we admit to exceptions for human germline modification if its use were very narrowly limited? I know some of what my answer would be, and plan to try to unpack it in… Read more »