[percy-l] Lewis, 1943

janet cantor janetcantor37 at yahoo.com
Thu Feb 10 14:32:54 EST 2011

Thank you. How apt indeed.
I don't think Percy would celebrate the purely scientific view. He is interested 
in the soul and wants our humanness to keep that in mind as we make our choices.

From: Michael Larson <larsonovic at gmail.com>
To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Sent: Thu, February 10, 2011 10:27:34 AM
Subject: [percy-l] Lewis, 1943

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 required.

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