In a review of Jonah Goldberg’s The Suicide of the West in The Federalist, John Daniel Davidson quotes from C. S. Lewis’s The Abolition of Man. Lewis is showing the similarity between magic and technology, and, in doing so, brings up two different assumptions about how we should relate to the world.
From C. S. Lewis’ Abolition of Man via John Daniel Davidson, The West Isn’t Committing Suicide, It’s Dying Of Natural Causes:
“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,” he writes. “For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is 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.” [p. 78] . . . .
Lewis’s larger argument in “The Abolition of Man” is that man’s conquest of nature is chimerical; it ends with nature’s conquest of man. Having debunked all tradition and morality through the wonders of applied science, having succeeded in reducing all of human life to mere biological functions that can be precisely manipulated, mankind will “be henceforth free to make our species whatever we wish it to be.” [p. 60]
But therein lies the problem, says Lewis. Without any standards by which to judge what man ought to be, this new species of mankind will be reduced to following the mere whims of pleasure and instinct: “When all that says ‘it is good’ has been debunked, what says ‘I want’ remains.” [p. 66]
Illustration: Virtual Reality, by geralt via Pixabay, CC0, Creative Commons