Every culture ever known has operated under a system of values. Many varied on exact principles, but most applied the idea of Natural Law. Or, as C.S. Lewis would refer to it in his Abolition of Man, the Tao. In this particular book Lewis discusses the implications that would follow could man overcome this basic value system that has been in place since the development of rational thought. However, paradoxical as his opinion may seem, he holds that to step beyond the Tao is to plunge into nothingness. Simply put, it is his claim that to destroy, or even fundamentally change, mans basic value system is to destroy man himself.
Lewis states late in the book that, They are not men at all. Stepping outside the Tao, they have stepped into the void(64). The empty they that Lewis is referring to those that would seek to move beyond the Tao. Acceptance in the belief that the Tao is the rational contents of everyman, which Lewis asserts openly in the text, is to say that he has moved beyond all that makes him man. Although the idea of overcoming the Tao leading to nothingness in man is somewhat abstract, Lewis explains it in different terms later. He discusses the qualitative value of things be saying, 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(70). This is to say that it is the Tao that gives man his qualitative properties and hence, to take those away is to take away that which makes him man. This is clearly his meaning when he goes on to say, The great minds know very well that the object, so treated, is an artificial abstraction, that something of its reality has been lost(71). If something is not part of the reality, is it not instead a part of nothing? For even when man talks of intrinsic values and emotions, there is validity in these things simply because they are experienced by someone. To say these things have been experienced gives them substance, whether they can be perceived by the senses or not. It seems as though Lewis is arguing that because the Tao is a qualitative substance inherent to man, to strip that would be the reduction of him into nothing.
Perhaps this idea could be better applied when applying it to the observations that are common to most every man. Making the assumption that Lewis is referring to the void as the absence of all qualities defining man, it is simple to compare this idea to the world around us. To borrow a metaphor from the author himself, the reader should imagine a tree. Most would agree upon the most basic components of this object; a trunk, roots, limbs, and leaves. What would happen to the tree if the branches, thereby including the leaves, decided to exist and function separate from the trunk? As most know, this would lead to the destruction of the isolated branches. In essence, to separate this fundamental pair is to cause the destruction of one of its parts. This is the argument that Lewis is making about refusal of the Tao. The rational man is irrevocably dependant upon the Tao. Without this part of man, man cannot survive and leads to his own destruction.
Although it is clear what genuine dependence man has upon the Tao, the dissection of the Tao has not yet been explored. Perhaps his most assertive belief on futile attempts to alter the components of the Tao can be seen in the following passage. He writes that, The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary color, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in(44). It appears that Lewis views the Tao as the most basic part of rational man. Indeed, he even claims that, It is the sole source of all value judgments. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained(43). It is as if the Tao is an essential component in reasoning man. Returning to the tree, Lewis explains that:
In the Tao itself, as long as we remain within it, we find
the concrete reality in which to participate is to be truly
human: the real common will and common reason of
humanity, alive, and growing like a tree, and branching out,
as the situation varies, into ever new beauties and dignities
It is the very existence of the Tao that lends man his existence. Without it man loses all ability to move forward. Instead, he becomes the branches that die without their trunk, eventually fading into nothing.
C.S. Lewis is obviously a man resolved to his beliefs. And indeed, his values as well. He makes a clear argument that rational man must exist within the Tao because without he is nothing.
/ Pages : 831 / 24