In Epiphany Term, 1942, C.S. Lewis delivered the Riddell Memorial Lectures in the Physics Lecture Theatre, King's College, Newcastle, which was then a constituent college of the University of Durham. The Riddell Memorial Lectures were founded in 1928 in memory of Sir John Buchanan Riddell of Hepple, onetime High Sheriff of Northumberland, who had died in 1924. His son, Sir Walter, was, like his father, a devout Christian, active throughout his life in public affairs. He was Fellow, and subsequently Principal, of Hertford College, Oxford, and Secretary, and subsequently Chairman, of the University Grants Committee---at a time when the interventions of the UGC in academic affairs were entirely benign. I myself have a special personal interest in the founder of the Riddell Lectures. Sir Walter and my father were contemporaries at Oxford and close friends. Owing to his untimely death I never knew him, though I am credibly assured that he must have viewed me when I was taken to Hepple in a Moses' basket at the age of six months. In being invited to give this lecture on the Riddell Lectures, I am not only honoured but enabled to discharge a debt of family pietas.
The intention of the Riddell foundation was that the lectures should explore the relation between religion and contemporary thought. C.S. Lewis was an obvious choice. He delivered1 three lectures entitled ``Men without Chests'', ``The Way'', and ``The Abolition of Man''. In them he set out to attack and confute what he saw as the errors of his age. He started by quoting some fashionable lunacy from an educationalists' textbook, from which he developed a general attack on moral subjectivism. In his second lecture he argued against various contemporary isms, which purported to replace traditional objective morality. His final lecture, ``The Abolition of Man'', which also provided the title of the book published the following year, was a sustained attack on hard-line scientific anti-humanism.
The intervening fifty years have largely vindicated Lewis. True, we still have educational sociologists trying to expel Shakespeare from the syllabus and making out that we must not inculcate values because in ``our multicultural society no values should be imposed on our children, who should be left to decide for themselves what values to adopt''. But the great isms have collapsed. Even in the dark days of 1942 Lewis could reckon that the swastika would not fly for long; but now, with the hammer broken on the anvil of the church and the sickle blunted by men's unwillingness to live lies for ever, the values of the humanistic West are in the ascendant, and even in philosophy, though there are still subjectivists who maintain that all our values are but projections of our personal attitudes, they mostly now admit that this is an ``error theory'', which goes against the grain of our ordinary understanding, and needs to be argued for pretty convincingly, if it is ever to get off the ground.2 The onus of proof is on the sceptic, not the defender of objectivity, and talk of the inevitable decline of western values seems strangely dated to modern ears.
In a sense, then, Lewis was right, and has been vindicated by events. Like Hayek, he warned us of dangers ahead, and if we did not heed his warning then, we have come to realise in our subsequent troubles that he had told us so, and that what he told us was, indeed, true. But as I read him now, I read him not as an old man, having lived through the errors of my generation, but as an undergraduate, matriculating, five years after Lewis delivered his lectures, in an Oxford deeply unreceptive to the whole tenor of Lewis's thought. In post-war Oxford Lewis did not cut much ice. The enormous influence of the broadcast talks and The Screwtape Letters told against him. If he could be understood by Leading Aircraftsmen and ordinary citizens doing their firewatching roster, he could not be profound enough to engage the attention of people clever enough to be at Oxford. Also there had been a sea change in the climate of opinion, and Logical Positivism had swept all before it. Lewis was speaking out of an earlier system of thought, represented by William Temple, and was addressing an audience in a North East whose thought was formed by Dorothy Emmett, Leslie Hunter, Oliver Tomkins, Billy Greer and, earlier, Alan Richardson in the diocese of Newcastle, and here in Durham by Oliver Quick and Michael Ramsey, Bishop Henson and Bishop Williams, and lightened by the verse and epigrams of Dean Alington. In that setting his arguments went home. A wide variety of allusions evoked a whole range of considerations, the point often being driven home with a telling phrase or epigram. Lewis was reminding his audience of what they already knew, and drawing out the implications of propositions they already accepted. In Oxford it was different. Every assumption was up for questioning, and the Christian Platonism of an earlier age was rejected as meaningless, since it it could not be verified by sense- experience. The new generation of philosophers had a short way with traditional philosophy: ``I don't understand what you mean'' was the favoured weapon of attack, and once ignorance is seen as a boast rather than a confession, it is in the nature of the case invincible. In this atmosphere Lewis's arguments failed to grip. After a bruising encounter with Miss Anscombe in February, 1948, he made no further appearance on the philosophic scene, and though the Socratic Club, of which he remained President, continued to have considerable influence among undergraduates anxious to discover how they ought to lead their lives, neither Lewis personally nor his writings attracted any notice among professional philosophers.
There was a third reason for neglect. Although very well written, The Abolition of Man is not very courteously written. Gaius and Titius, the authors of the Green Book, and later another author, Orbilius, are held up to contempt and ridicule. The whole argument is external to the enemy opposed. No attempt is made to understand their position, to get inside their skin, to see things as they see them, and consequently be able to show them why they are wrong.3 In particular, Lewis, even though he was delivering his lectures in a physics lecture theatre, takes a low view of scientists, seeing them as mere Faustian technocrats, interested in science only as a means to power. Although in this criticism he proved prescient, and for the last forty seven years we have shuddered at the lethal magic of the atomic bomb, the technological view of science was, and is, less than the whole truth. As I read Lewis, I feel I am taken to be within the magic circle, invited to agree just how awful those outsiders are, and how utterly beyond the pale of civilised humanity. No doubt in 1942 in beleaguered Britain it felt like that; but in 1947, with the enemy no longer at the gates, the tone jarred, and if Lewis was concerned to controvert and convert the enemy within the gates, this was no way to do it. The radicals might be wrong, but they were not all wrong-headed. They had been led to their position, mistaken though it was, by arguments and considerations which seemed to them good. If they, and other uncommitted readers like myself, were to be swayed by Lewis's arguments, he must not only give his own reasons, but meet theirs. Some sympathy for their position, some attempt to get inside it, and see things from their point of view, needed to be shown; and Lewis needed not only to state his own positive arguments, as he did, trenchantly and cogently, but to pause and consider what counter-arguments might be maintained against his contentions, and how they in turn could be countered. Lewis did none of this. In large part it was the reverse side of his virtues. The author of The Screwtape Letters had reached a very wide readership and touched many men just because he could concentrate on the main issues, remind people of what they already knew, and not obfuscate with tedious elaboration. But the hard- hitting phrase that could be read and remembered in the air raid shelter seemed naked and unsupported in common room conversation where there was time to adduce innumerable objections, insist on further qualifications, and draw ever finer distinctions.
Nevertheless, Lewis was a philosopher, maintaining a philosophical position in large part correct by means of arguments which now I recognise as ones that I myself, along with my contemporaries, only gradually stumbled on and fumblingly formulated as we sought to free ourselves from the pervasive Logical Positivism of our time. It was a great discovery for me in the 1950s that the subjectivist analysis of value judgements could not be correct, because then there would be no contradiction between my holding one view and your maintaining the opposite,4 and it was only gradually that I was able to express confidently and competently the uneasy feeling I had that the advocates of the new isms were using sceptical arguments against traditional values that would tell equally against their own pet nostrums. Lewis had said it already. He gives good arguments against easy subjectivism. He does not prove the objectivity of value judgements up to the hilt, and I would not set a pupil to read him in order to answer the arguments of Mackie and Blackburn. But in so far as we are concerned with our conceptual structure as it actually is, we do make judgements that aspire to objectivity: they do not claim to be only about our feelings or emotions, and they stand ready to be corrected by further evidence or thought. We may be led by our metaphysics to reckon that our present conceptual structure is badly flawed and in need of radical revision, but the case has to be made, and unless and until it is done, the presumption in favour of objective values stands.
Lewis's second lecture was entitled ``The Way''. He claims that objective values have been recognised in essentially the same form in Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian and Oriental thought alike.5 The Chinese call it the Tao, the Way, the Road, the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself. Lewis's thought here is confused. He fails to distinguish between the intimation, which may be common to many systems of thought, that values are objective, and the thesis that the values actually espoused by these different cultures are all essentially the same. The former may be true. It is difficult to be sure because intimations of objectivity are difficult to express unambiguously, and the metaphors metaphysicians use are easily misunderstood. But the Chinese account Lewis quotes chimes in with Plato's sense of values' being epekeina tes ousias, and the Stoics are clearly asserting, what subjectivists are concerned to deny, that values are part of the fabric of the universe.6 It is a different matter to hold that all objective moralities are essentially the same. On the face of it, there are very considerable differences between Christian morality, with its emphasis on the sanctity of human life, and the other moralities of the ancient world or of the East. Of course, there is an overlap, and if we gloss `essentially' stringently enough, we can distil a common strand. But the agreement between the different cultures is much less telling on the substance than on the status ofmorality, and Lewis's invocation of the Tao weakens, rather than strengthens, his argument.
The real target in Lewis's second lecture is Selective Scepticism. Moderately educated young men of the professional classes would be ready to debunk traditional values, but to hold with uncritical dogmatism those values that happened to be in vogue at the time. ``Their scepticism about values is on the surface: it is for use on other people's values; about their own values they are not nearly sceptical enough.''7 The Innovator rubbishes traditional precepts, enjoining conjugal fidelity, or holding dulce et decorum est mori pro patria, and seeks instead to explicate `good' in terms of what is useful to the community, or ground morals on something more basic, like Instinct. But these clearly will not serve: Lewis does not actually convict the Innovator of the naturalistic fallacy, but he cites the impossibility of deriving an `ought' from an `is' in order to discredit all alternative systems of values that start out by denying the validity of value judgements generally so as to sweep away traditional morality and leave the field clear for the new system. It is a fair rejoinder to an unfair tactic. But as a result of his confusion between the status and the substance of traditional values, Lewis fails to address himself to fair criticisms of accepted values: often, indeed, behind the bad arguments actually adduced are real reasons which deserve serious consideration, even if they ultimately can be shown to be wrong. He somewhat uneasily allows that they may be criticized, and holds that this can be done only from within the system,8 but does not argue for it, nor does he recognise how radical were Jesus' strictures on the received morality of His time.
The culmination of Lewis's argument is in his third lecture ``The Abolition of Man''. Here he is no longer dealing with the superficial subjectivism of the half-educated educationalist, or the selective scepticism of the Innovator, but the thorough-going rejection of all moral judgement by the nihilist. Lewis has two lines of argument. One, which recurs in his novels and in his inaugural lecture at Cambridge, is that we destroy man's humanity if we treat him merely as a means, and not also as an autonomous, rational, end in himself. Emancipated from the shackles ofmorality, a man will treat other men merely as things, manipulating them to serve his own ends. Lewis was particularly afraid of genetic engineering, and in this, again, he was prescient. We might take issue with him on some points. Not all genetic counselling and therapy need be manipulative. And some measure of control is not the same as complete control. We always have had some measure of control over future generations---the monks of Durham were able to secure that no sons of theirs would ever sin. What frightened Lewis, and ought to frighten us, is the possibility that, by genetic engineering or social conditioning, we could program people to behave exactly as we pleased. For then they would not be people, beings other than ourselves with a mind of their own, but merely artefacts---things we could use, but not persons we could communicate with, share with, identify with, or care about.
Lewis's second argument concerns the manipulators rather than those manipulated. Emancipation for them is liberation into a vacuum. If everything is permitted, nothing is worthwhile. The Conditioners, who have no scruples to prevent them manipulating and refashioning man to their own liking, have no grounds for liking any one thing rather than any other. For a time, Lewis thinks, they may be guided by vestiges of objective values not yet completely dethroned, but in the end they can have no rational motives to guide them in deciding how to fashion subsequent generations. The same sense of human worth which ought to restrain them from manipulating other men merely as means to their own purposes provides the purposes that alone make our goals worthwhile and our decisions meaningful. In liberating ourselves from the tie of obligation to others, we diminish ourselves too, and deprive ourselves of any standards of achievement by reference to which we could hope to have done well. We are no longer rational agents, but. like other men, the playthings of heredity and environment, instinct and social conditioning.
It is a powerful argument, reminiscent of Plato, Pascal and Dostoievski, and worth elaborating afresh in each generation. But still, we may ask, is it really cogent? It portrays the terrible consequences, for our view of ourselves as well as of others, if we abandon our belief in value. But may-be that is the way it is. Perhaps we really are nothing but physical organisms, and all our intimations of being children of God, rational agents, fragments of eternity, are merely the projection of our wishful thinking for ourselves and of the social conditioning we are exposed to by others. Lewis shows a dilemma, but does not give us good reason to believe, however much we may hope, that the nihilist horn is not the one on which we are really impaled. Worse, running through his writing there is a counterpoint theme of pessimism, that half suggests man is really due for abolition, and the humanist West is undergoing an inevitable decline, and that the audience to his inaugural lecture in Cambridge should cherish their new professor as a last specimen of Old Western Man.9 The remnant is going down to a romantic defeat, not girding its loins to recover the allegiance of men's minds.
And yet Lewis had the resources to do battle on the central ground, and to win the day for rationality and truth. A year previously he had published a short article in Time and Tide, opaquely entitled ``Bulverism: or The Foundation of Twentieth Century Thought''10 in which he exposed both the selective scepticism that underlay the Marxist and Freudian critiques of rationality, and their self-refuting character. In a later work, Miracles,11 Lewis needed to clear the ground against materialistic determinism, so as to establish the possibility of God's intervening in nature. He argued that naturalism, as he called it, was not a position that could be argued for, since the very fact that a man was arguing for naturalism would show that he thought the person he was addressing was open to reason, and not the mere product of determinist causes. It is an argument that has occurred to many both before and after it was formulated by Lewis.12 It came to me in 1945 in an argument at Winchester with a hard-nosed materialist, and occupied a large part of my thinking life as I struggled to get it into focus and make it proof against counter- arguments. The argument has been much controverted. Lewis's formulation of it was strongly attacked by Miss Anscombe, and my own version produces a crop of two or three articles a year making out that I am wrong. It was generally thought in Oxford that Miss Anscombe had wiped the floor with Lewis in their encounter, but that may have been due more to gamesmanship than the actual merits of the argument.13 Certainly when twenty-one years later I staged a re-run, with Miss Anscombe present and myself taking Lewis's part, the floor remained-- -to the expressed disappointment of some---unwiped with me.
If Lewis had a good argument, we may wonder why he did not use it. Some have thought---indeed I myself have entertained the thought---that Lewis was so shaken by the encounter with Miss Anscombe that he abandoned the philosophical arena altogether, and concentrated on literary pursuits instead.14 Hugo Dyson told me of a snatch of conversation he had with Lewis after that meeting of the Socratic Club: Lewis said that he was not a philosopher, to which Dyson replied ``Nobody ever thought you were, Jack; you are a man of letters''. We could, on the basis of that remark and others that have been reported, suppose that there was a great change of direction in Lewis's life as a result of that debate: and while on the one hand we might deplore the loss of further works of apologetics which might have flowed from his pen, we could not but rejoice at the imaginative creativity of the Narnia books and the other works of fiction that took the place of more argumentative apologias for the Christian faith.
But this line of thought is, I think, mistaken. Lewis's turning away from philosophical polemics was not the result of his having been once worsted in an encounter---he was not the man to be defeated by a single defeat. It was, rather, the maturation of his own intellectual personality. In much the same way as Christianity is said to be something that is caught from other Christians, not taught, philosophy is seen as a therapy, a therapy in which the intellectual physician can heal others only in the course of healing himself. The philosopher struggles to cure himself of ailments he finds himself suffering from, but cannot cure others of errors he is not himself prone to. Lewis, as the spokesman for Old Western Culture, saw the great divide between the ages as that brought about by the un-christening of Europe and, above all, by the coming of the machines.15 He had no sympathy for science, no appreciation of its achievements, no understanding of its methods, or the attraction of its discoveries in man's understanding of the world he lives in. Although on occasion he makes shrewd stabs at the pretensions of scientism, again and again throughout his work there is a sense of his not really knowing his enemy, and consequently of missing the vital point. He could only go so far in trying to cure us of scientific materialism, because it was a disease he had never really suffered from, and having said what he had to say on that subject, he inevitably felt drawn to other issues which were more crucial for him. The argument against naturalism could only establish the existence of a Mind beyond Nature, which is, he insists, not at all the same thing as the God of Christianity.16 And it was with the God of Christianity that he was primarily concerned. Throughout his life he wrestled with other foes which assault the Christian pilgrim further along the road; not whether there is a God or whether all is materialist meaninglessness, but the nature of God, and what the love of God is like; how values self-destruct unless we keep them in their place and put first things first; not just whether it is possible that prayers be answered, but how they should be prayed, and what things we ought to ask for; and finally, in the Gethsemane at the close of his own life, how a loving God could subject him to false hope and final unutterable grief. Lewis has something of St Augustine's gift of knowing man inside out, and showing up our secret motives which lie unseen in our hearts when we are at our most sincere and most straightforward. He was the Twentieth Century's 139th psalm. It was something few others could have been, and of more value than further polemics against scientific materialism. Great though a victory over that enemy might have been, Christianity is not just non-atheism, a worship of ``a Something or Someone urging us to do what is right and making us uncomfortable when we do wrong'':17 Christianity believes in a personal God, who is far more bound up in the world than the Deity of the philosophers need ever be, and whose transactions with man pose many problems for the would-be believer. Lewis had had to wrestle with these, and in curing himself of his own misapprehensions and confusions, could hope to cure others too. He turned away frompreserving man from the scientists who would abolish him not, because he had been defeated on that issue, but because it was one that had never seemed live to him, and there were other viruses the Christian soul was vulnerable to, which were more infectious and more fatal, since not so obviously wrong.
Within the architectonic assessment of his life, then, we should acquit Lewis of having failed to carry through the refutation of scientific materialism as a pervasive threat to our humanity; but so far as the Riddell lectures go, it is something that needs to be done, if man is not to be abolished, but is to be rehabilitated and restored. The argument he had adduced a year earlier, and laid out more fully in Miracles, needs itself to be revived, if Lewis's main purpose is to be achieved. That argument was a special case of a general line of attack on a philosopher arguing for an irrationalist position, that in arguing for it, he is appealing to a rationality whose existence he is seeking to deny. He is sawing off the branch on which he is sitting; his arguing belies the conclusion he is arguing for. The Marxists in my youth used to explain away my rejection of their views as merely the articulation of my class interest, but felt I was playing foul when I pointed out that they were espousing Marxism only because, as would- be apparatchiks, it was in their class interest to do so. Freud hit many of my contemporaries around the age of adolescence, and they had an easy task diagnosing all the neuroses and inhibitions that prevented me from acknowledging the truth of Freud's teaching, but did not like it when I counter-diagnosed them. They said, as did also the Marxists, that I ought to take their arguments seriously. But if arguments can be taken seriously, then we are not the completely irrational playthings of our class interests or childhood repressions, as they were claiming. If I can be argued with, I am not just the creature of circumstance, but a rational autonomous agent, altogether different from, and something more than, the account given by the ism in question.18 It is the same with Logical Positivism. I used to embarrass my tutor, after he had been propounding the Verification Principle---that every meaningful proposition must be either an analytic tautology or a synthetic truth founded on sense- experience---by asking into which class the Verification Principle itself fell, and then, after showing it could be accommodated in neither, concluding that it must itself bemeaningless too. It is the same with subjectivism. If the subjectivist opines that subjectivism is true, I thank him for the expression of his state of mind, and hope he feels better for having given vent to his opinion. When he then boils over and says that I ought to think likewise, I rub his nose in the non-subjectivity of that utterance.
Of course, in practice the argument usually goes on longer: it takes some dialectical skill to get hold of a philosopher's nose firmly enough to rub it in anything, even the folly of his own stated views. But the strategy of argument is clear. Suitably modified, it would apply to any world-view that made out man to be not in any way subject to reason.19 Although it would not prove that such a doctrine must be false or could not be held, it would show that it could not be argued for or rationally held, and the very fact that someone argued in its favour would be strong evidence that he did not really believe it. Lewis had here an argument by means of which he could obtain purchase on a radically different metaphysical system, and argue from both inside and outside it for its own untenability. Contrary to the teaching of Collingwood, metaphysics is not just the articulation of the absolute presuppositions of the age, and contrary to Kuhn's later account of paradigm shifts in science, there is room for rational debate about, and rational choice between, different over-arching views of reality, and our adoption of one rather than another is not just a matter of sociological happenstance---influential though sociological factors sometimes are---but can aspire to be guided by reason.
The self-referential argument is not the only one available for assessing different metaphysical systems---internal coherence and the ability to accommodate the facts of experience are others---but it has three features of especial interest for anyone concerned with the same concerns as Lewis, and addressing an audience similarly situated to his. In the first place it is an argument that can be made water-tight. Although intuitively it seems slippery, in 1931 Gödel was able to adapt it to formal mathematical systems in an entirely rigorous way. The argument is fiendishly difficult. I shall not attempt to give even a flavour of it here, but only take this opportunity of paying tribute to Father Fitzpatrick's paper, ``To Gödel via Babel'' in Mind, 1966,20 which helped me and many others to a better grasp of what the nerve of the argument really was. But, though difficult, it is conclusive, and provides a schema of refutation of all world-views that make out man to be nothing but the plaything of irrational causes.
The self-referential argument is, secondly, an opening up argument. In Gödel's hands it proves that in any mathematical system there are true propositions that cannot be proved within that system; truth is more than provability. It serves to refute a wide range of views which make out that man is nothing but an organism, a creature of class interest, a bundle of drives and inhibitions, or truth is nothing but provability in a system, and suggests in each case that in reality there is more than we had been led to suppose. The contest between ``Nothing-Buttery'' and ``Morethanism'' is a wide- ranging and long-running one, and an argument that tips the balance in favour of the fuller and more generous view is an argument by which we should set great store.
And finally a key feature in the dialectic against the proponent of Nothing-Buttery is the integration of theoretical and practical reason. People show their rationality primarily in what they do, and their engaging in the activity of arguing shows that they do not really believe that reason is impossible. Reason is being construed more widely than it was by Hume and his successors. It is not just deductive and inductive argument, but is shown whenever we argue about what we ought to do or believe. Lewis is inclined to take a narrower view. He takes, as we have seen, a low view of scientists, and fails to appreciate the extent to which they are moved by the disinterested desire for knowledge, by the intellectual love of God. Their theoretical reasonings are not just a calculation of means and ends, nor a completely separate activity unconnected with practical action, but something done for its own sake that informs their whole life and guides them in all their doing---a form of worship. Lewis's strictures were less than just, less than the truth. And once we recognise that there is not a fundamental divorce between theoretical and practical reasoning, but that they are all of a piece, and that the decisions about what to believe are like decisions about what to do, we are able to apply the self-referential argument, and argue from our activity in arguing about what the world is like to the falsity of those world-views which would deny our status as rational agents, capable of making up our minds for ourselves, and seeking what is reasonable and right. And in recognising the unity of thought and action, we return to the foundation of the Riddell Lectures, founded in memory of one who ``was active for the rest of his life in public affairs; a quiet philanthropist whose devout Christian faith was borne out by his concern for others''; and equally we are at home in Durham, where always on the peninsula the Cathedral and Castle have stood together, with a strong sense of the need for action if civilisation is to be sustained in the face of the barbarian invader, but an ever- present recognition that the values we seek to put into effect in our actions are values that are not the creations of our own wills, but derive their validity ultimately from God.
A printed version of this lecture is to be found in Theology, November/December, 1995, pp.445-456.
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