Thursday, November 19, 2009

C. S. Lewis on the "progress" of modern thought

A redated post.

This is a passage from C. S. Lewis's The Empty Universe, which was a introduction Lewis wrote to a book entitled A New Diagram of Heaven and Earth by a man named Harding. It parallels some of the comments I have been putting up on DI2 about the "siphoning off" argument is Swinburne and Feser.

The process whereby man has come to know the universe is from one point of view extremely complicated; from another it is alarmingly simple. We can observe a single one-way progression. At the outset the universe appears packed with will, intelligence, life, and positive qualities; every tree is a nymph and every planet a god. Man himself is akin to the gods. The advance gradually empties this rich and genial universe, first of its gods, then of its colours, smells, sounds and tastes, finally of solidity itself as solidity was originally imagined. As these items are taken from the world, they are transferred to the subjective side of the account: classified as out sensations, thoughts, images or emotions. The Subject becomes gorged, inflated, at the expense of the Object. But the matter does not rest there. The same method which has emptied the world now proceeds to empty ourselves. The masters of the method soon announce that we were just mistaken (and mistaken in much the same way) when we attributed “souls” or ‘selves” or “minds’ to human organisms, as when we attributed Dryads to the trees. Animism, apparently, begins at home. We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications. Man is indeed akin to the gods, that is, he is no less phantasmal than they. Just as the Dryad is a “ghost,” an abbreviated symbol for certain verifiable facts about his behaviour: a symbol mistaken for a thing. And just as we have been broken of our bad habit of personifying trees, so we must now be broken of our habit of personifying men; a reform already effected in the political field. There never was a Subjective account into which we could transfer the items which the Subject had lost. There is no “consciousness” to contain, as images or private experiences, all the lost gods, colours, and concepts. Consciousness is “not the sort of noun that can be used that way.”


Anonymous said...

Wow. How frighteningly true that is: "We, who have personified all other things, turn out to be ourselves mere personifications." It seems prophetic of Daniel Dennett's 'intentional stance' or his 'multiple drafts' model of consciousness. But I think there is a balance between being leery of 'hollow' materialism and rejecting good science which does sometimes challenge the 'manifest image'. If this world is God's good creation, Christians have nothing to fear of advances in scientific knowledge. Not that I think Lewis was guilty of sciento-phobia. Here it seems his criticisms are largely philosophical and do not hinge on rejecting this or that theory of science.

Anonymous said...

I don't understand the "sciento-phobia" charge being thrown around so much these days.

I agree, Christianity has nothing to fear from science, as all truth is God's truth.

But I tire of science doing metaphysics so poorly. It should stick to what it's good at.

Gordon Knight said...

Rather Sartrean. Did lewis know Sartre?

Victor Reppert said...

Lewis mentions Sartre in his essay De Futilitate, where he argues that Sartre is mistaken in supposing that there is something wrong with general moral rules because it the rules don't settle every case. I think what he has in mind is the case of the man who feels an obligation to take care of his mother, but also an obligation to France to join the Free French and resist Hitler.

Anonymous said...

Alvin Plantinga on C.S. Lewis's argument in Miracles...

JB: Yeah. Speaking of popular philosophy, had you read C.S. Lewis’ brief critique of Naturalism in his book Miracles? People have pointed out that it’s very similar to your argument against the theory.
AP: No, I hadn’t actually read his argument, and yes, people have pointed that out to me too. But it’s not quite all that similar. He’s talking about determinism there. And he says if
determinism is true, then I can’t be confident in any of my beliefs. Or, putting it my way, my believing determinism is true would be a defeater for the idea that my cognitive faculties are reliable. But I don’t think that’s right. Suppose I thought they were determined, but determined by God. In fact, I think they are to a large degree determined. Or at least, if not determined, there certainly is a lot of strong inclination to accept them. It would be really hard for me to not believe that there’s a book here or that I’m talking to a person. I don’t know if it’s quite determinism but it’s in the neighborhood. With respect to determinism, then, what matters is what you think the ultimate causes of your belief are. If the ultimate cause is a God who has designed us in a certain way to resemble Him, other things in having knowledge, that’s not a defeater at all. So I don’t think Lewis is quite right on that point. He’s right that Naturalism offers a defeater, but it’s not via determinism.