[percy-l] Lewis, 1943

RHONDA MCDONNELL rhonda_mcdonnell at msn.com
Fri Feb 11 01:12:56 EST 2011

I agree Janet. He had a knack for reconciling the two positions. I hold as a touchstone for my own belief a comment he once made that went something like this: I believe in creation through evolution.


"You live in a deranged age, more deranged than usual, because in spite of great scientific and technological advances, man has not the faintest idea of who he is or what he is doing."
                                    Walker Percy

Date: Thu, 10 Feb 2011 11:32:54 -0800
From: janetcantor37 at yahoo.com
To: percy-l at lists.ibiblio.org
Subject: Re: [percy-l] Lewis, 1943

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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