Lewis on Plato on Being Human, from The Abolition of Man

“Let us suppose for a moment that the harder virtues could really be theoretically justified with no appeal to objective value. It still remains true that no justification of virtue will enable a man to be virtuous. Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism…In a battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of bombardment. The crudest sentimentalism…about a flag or a country or a regiment will be of more use. We were told it all long ago by Plato. As the king governs his executive, so Reason in man must rule the mere appetites by means of the ‘spirited element’. The head rules the belly through the chest–the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organized by trained habit into stable sentiments…These are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal.” (emphasis mine)

Excerpt from, The Abolition of Man by C.S. Lewis

Quick comment on the italicized portions. Lewis goes about it in an interesting way in the text, but this is actually a truth that we hold dear as Christians. It never was possible that one could be made righteous by the law, no matter how justified it was in our heads. I think we know this at our core to be true, and it is interesting that out emotions/settled sentiments are the means by which God, through His Spirit empowers us (by faith!?) to mortify our flesh, taking up our crosses and following our Lord Jesus. Without that ability to love, we are mere animal organisms. Really, it touches on our essential humanity in a way that makes Lewis always worth returning to time and again.

God bless!

  1. Why is “by faith” written “(by faith!?)?”
    Yes, it’s by faith.

    And, you just have to think harder. That’s how you fix all your problems.

    • Will Sprague
    • March 30th, 2011

    Yes. It is by faith. I put it like that because it is a question in regards to whether it is a matter of “Reason” or of the “Spirited element” in Lewis’ thinking. I am not sure.

    And I am sure that all I need to do is think harder. Thank you for reminding me propositionally in a comment box.

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