[percy-l] Lewis, 1943

Michael Larson larsonovic at gmail.com
Thu Feb 10 10:27:34 EST 2011

The following is excerpted from C. S. Lewis’s *The Abolition of Man*, pages
68-78. My apologies for the length of it, but it is salient to the present
discussion and a companion of sorts to Percy’s thought, though from a
generation prior.  Kind regards, Mike Larson

Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be
Nature's conquest of Man. Every victory we seemed to win has led us, step by
step, to this conclusion. All Nature's apparent reverses have been but
tactical withdrawals. We thought we were beating her back when she was
luring us on. What looked to us like hands held up in surrender was really
the opening of arms to enfold us for ever. […]

Nature seems to be the spatial and temporal, as distinct from what is less
fully so or not so at all. She seems to be the world of quantity, as against
the world of quality; of objects as against consciousness; of the bound, as
against the wholly or partially autonomous; of that which knows no values as
against that which both has and perceives value; of efficient causes (or, in
some modern systems, of no causality at all) as against final causes. Now I
take it that when we understand a thing analytically and then dominate and
use it for our own convenience, we reduce it to the level of `Nature' in the
sense that we suspend our judgements of value about it, ignore its final
cause (if any), and treat it in terms of quantity. This repression of
elements in what would otherwise be our total reaction to it is sometimes
very noticeable and even painful: something has to be overcome before we can
cut up a dead man or a live animal in a dissecting room. These objects *
resist* the movement of the mind whereby we thrust them into the world of
mere Nature. But in other instances too, a similar price is exacted for our
analytical knowledge and manipulative power, even if we have ceased to count
it. We do not look at trees either as Dryads or as beautiful objects while
we cut them into beams: the first man who did so may have felt the price
keenly, and the bleeding trees in Virgil and Spenser may be far-off echoes
of that primeval sense of impiety. The stars lost their divinity as
astronomy developed, and the Dying God has no place in chemical agriculture.
To many, no doubt, this process is simply the gradual discovery that the
real world is different from what we expected, and the old opposition to
Galileo or to `body-snatchers' is simply obscurantism. But that is not the
whole story. It is not the greatest of modern scientists who feel most sure
that the object, stripped of its qualitative properties and reduced to mere
quantity, is wholly real. Little scientists, and little unscientific
followers of science, may think so. The great minds know very well that the
object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its
reality has been lost.

>From this point of view the conquest of Nature appears in a new light. We
reduce things to mere Nature *in order that* we may `conquer' them. We are
always conquering Nature, *because* `Nature' is the name for what we have,
to some extent, conquered. The price of conquest is to treat a thing as mere
Nature. Every conquest over Nature increases her domain. The stars do not
become Nature till we can weigh and measure them: the soul does not become
Nature till we can psychoanalyse her. The wresting of powers *from* Nature
is also the surrendering of things *to* Nature. As long as this process
stops short of the final stage we may well hold that the gain outweighs the
loss. But as soon as we take the final step of reducing our own species to
the level of mere Nature, the whole process is stultified, for this time the
being who stood to gain and the being who has been sacrificed are one and
the same. […] It is the magician's bargain: give up our soul, get power in
return. But once our souls, that is, ourselves, have been given up, the
power thus conferred will not belong to us. We shall in fact be the slaves
and puppets of that to which we have given our souls. It is in Man's power
to treat himself as a mere `natural object' and his own judgements of value
as raw material for scientific manipulation to alter at will. The objection
to his doing so does not lie in the fact that this point of view (like one's
first day in a dissecting room) is painful and shocking till we grow used to
it. The pain and the shock are at most a warning and a symptom. The real
objection is that if man chooses to treat himself as raw material, raw
material he will be: not raw material to be manipulated, as he fondly
imagined, by himself, but by mere appetite, that is, mere Nature, in the
person of his de-humanized Conditioners. […]

I have described as a `magician's bargain' that process whereby man
surrenders object after object, and finally himself, to Nature in return for
power. And I meant what I said. The fact that the scientist has succeeded
where the magician failed has put such a wide contrast between them in
popular thought that the real story of the birth of Science is
misunderstood. You will even find people who write about the sixteenth
century as if Magic were a medieval survival and Science the new thing that
came in to sweep it away. Those who have studied the period know better.
There was very little magic in the Middle Ages: the sixteenth and
seventeenth centuries are the high noon of magic. The serious magical
endeavour and the serious scientific endeavour are twins: one was sickly and
died, the other strong and throve. But they were twins. They were born of
the same impulse. I allow that some (certainly not all) of the early
scientists were actuated by a pure love of knowledge. But if we consider the
temper of that age as a whole we can discern the impulse of which I speak.

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating
both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal
problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had
been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science
alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the
solution is a technique; and both, in the practice of this technique, are
ready to do things hitherto regarded as disgusting and impious—such as
digging up and mutilating the dead. […]

The true object [for the practical scientist] is to extend Man's power to
the performance of all things possible. He rejects magic because it does not
work;5 but his goal is that of the magician. In Paracelsus the characters of
magician and scientist are combined. No doubt those who really founded
modern science were usually those whose love of truth exceeded their love of
power; in every mixed movement the efficacy comes from the good elements not
from the bad. But the presence of the bad elements is not irrelevant to the
direction the efficacy takes. It might be going too far to say that the
modern scientific movement was tainted from its birth: but I think it would
be true to say that it was born in an unhealthy neighbourhood and at an
inauspicious hour. Its triumphs may have-been too rapid and purchased at too
high a price: reconsideration, and something like repentance, may be
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