On the importance of safeguarding the Truth in pedagogical systems. C. S. Lewis and David Foster Wallace concerning "Liberal education – remaining within the Tao"

Research Paper (undergraduate), 2019

11 Pages



Liberal Education is a pedagogical system that aims at cultivating a free human being, homini libera. It is usually based on the medieval concept of the artes liberales that offer a grounding formation and solid basis for postgraduate education. It is commonly accepted that Liberal Education is truly education for its own sake – excluding any consideration of utility, personal gain and future profession.

As we can deduct from the word alone, there must be something that sets us free. This something (someone[1] ) is the Truth itself[2] (himself); with a capital T. Prior to this however, if anything (anyone) is to set us free, we have to acknowledge the existence of (this) objective reality before it (he) can do so. At the core of Liberal Education stands thus the Truth. The Truth about the physical and metaphysical, the unmoved and the moving, the temporal and the eternal. A denial of the Truth (THE nut) then, in a nutshell, makes Liberal Education into a nutshell – lacking its essence, purpose, meaning and heart.


This paper aims to identify and lay out the views of C.S. Lewis and David Foster Wallace on the topic elucidated above. Lewis and Wallace both discuss the idea of a proper (Liberal) Education and in it the vital importance of objective truth or the Tao. In The Abolition of Man, Lewis sets out to persuade his audience at Durham University of the importance of universal values in education, whereas in This Is Water, Wallace wants to make graduating students understand that their liberal education was meaningless if they do not live meaningful life after having been set free by truth.

The heart of the argument - The Abolition of Man.

Clive Staple Lewis’s work here discussed is made up of three separate discussion in essay form. Each of these sections has their own line of argument and the chapters build on another in a continuous logical crescendo. The chapters are titled Men without Chests, The Way and lastly The Abolition of Man. From this one can already deduce that Lewis intends to show precisely what is eluded to in the title: that men formed without chests who deny and/or do not follow The Way shall ring in the downfall of man, The Abolition of Man.

In the first section, Men without Chests, Lewis commences his line of argumentation by describing to us the hidden dangers that the most common of children’s textbooks can contain. The authors of this Green Book, which in reality doth exist, he calls Gaius and Titus. This book reads passages like the following:

“This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings”[3].

This maxim is then applied to an example of a magnificent waterfall. In this case, the children are being taught to understand that when they regard this natural phenomenon and say This is sublime, really all they mean is I have sublime feelings. Lewis rejects this in saying that “the feelings which make a man call an object sublime are not sublime feelings but feelings of veneration”[4]. In other words, the waterfall is truly sublime, which causes in us, who are subject to its sight, feelings of veneration towards the object, the waterfall. This is a dangerous teaching for the child, because he will a) be indoctrinated without knowing it, b) start to hold that “all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker”[5] and c) be convinced that all statements concerning objective reality are unimportant.

Instead, they are conditioning the children to think in a certain way and instilling in them attitudes such as but not limited to: “tall emotions aroused by local association are in themselves contrary to reason or contemptible”[6]. Children that have received such a formation, Lewis points out, will go on to become what he calls a mere trousered ape and/or an irredeemable urban blockhead. The former will be a man “who has never been able to conceived the Atlantic as anything more than so many million tons of cold salt water”[7], whilst the former will grow up thinking that “a horse is merely an old-fashioned means of transport”[8]. These two modes of being that are presented to us are the consequence of the proliferation such a formation; the textbook being “the work of amateur philosophers where…[one]…expected the work of professional grammarians”[9]. Hereby, Lewis foreshadows an ill-educated new generation of men that is detached from and denies objective reality. A generation that will not remain within the Tao, “the doctrine of objective value”[10]. A generation who’s heads are not bigger than the ordinary, but who’s hearts are hard, cold, unhuman or simply not real. “The operation of The Green Book and its kind is to produce what may be called Men without Chests …We make Men without Chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise”[11].

The second chapter of C.S. Lewis ’ work starts with the conclusions from the first as premises. Moving from Gaius and Titus’ teachings and the issues with this formation as such, we now come to see how “the practical result of education in the spirit of The Green Book must be the destruction of the society which accepts it”[12]. In other words, Lewis in this chapter titled The Way, discusses precisely the way in which indoctrinating children to become Men without Chests eventually leads to the abolition of society and of humanity as a whole.

A great paradox is here pointed out by Lewis; namely the fact that “a great many of those who ‘debunk’ traditional or (as they would say) ‘sentimental’ values have in the background values of their won which they believe to be immune from the debunking process”[13]. In other words, those who claim to challenge or get rid of classical and long-established values, even the very concept and existence of values, are in fact relying on such kinds of values themselves, which they think to be untouchable. For instance, “This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by mediation of society ought to be preserved[14], which shows how value is needed to qualify or judge things or situations – value is needed to mediate between propositions about fact and the desired practical applications or conclusions that follow therefrom. Essentially, Lewis underlines in this chapter that value(s) cannot be debunked without relying on value(s), i.e. the existence of values as such cannot be debunked.

“The Innovator attacks traditional values (the Tao) in defence of what at first supposes to be (in some special sense) ‘rational’ or ‘biological’ values. But as we have seen, all the values which he uses in attacking the Tao, and even claims to be substituting for it, are themselves derived from the Tao”[15].

Moreover in this chapter, Lewis draws the reader’s attention to the fact that in modern times we have not only tried to get rid of values as a whole, but that we have tried to set up an artificial system of pseudo-values. It is indeed self-evident from any given example that values have and will always exist(ed). The Innovator’s agenda, influenced by hedonism, materialism, Evolutionism and Social Darwinism, is very much inclined to stand up for a society that is ruled by Instinct. However, the problem herein lies in that “even if it were true that men had a spontaneous, unreflective impulse to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their fellows, it remains a quite separate question whether this is an impulse they should control or one they should indulge”[16]. In other words, even if a Roman has an instinctual impulse to die for his country, this does not give him reason do it, much less does it contribute to him viewing such actions as both dulce et decorum. That goes to show, that even if Instinct were to rule men and our world, it would not and cannot replace the value judgement that has to be made regarding our (re)active response to the Instinct.

Furthermore, Lewis now moves away from Instinct and shows us further reasons why our only choice is to remain within the Tao, the way. The Tao exists whether one likes it or not, because “if nothing is self-evident nothing can be proved.”[17]. Lewis also asserts that the Tao “is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world”[18]. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is one of the branches against the tree – success would mean self-destruction. No matter how technologically advanced or how rapid we evolve genetically, the human being in essence is eternally the same. Our mind has no more power in modernity of inventing a new value then it did in the middle ages. We are blind to see, that “from within the Tao itself comes the only authority to modify the Tao[19]. We do not want to conform ourselves to reality, we want the impossible. We want to ignore objective reality and create our own new reality. We go beyond scepticism and reject the concept of value altogether, thinking to ourselves: “Having mastered our environment, let us now master ourselves and choose our own destiny”[20].

C.S. Lewis concludes his essay in the third section titled The Abolition of Man. Here, he explains the effects and consequences of a rejection of value by society as a whole. One glance at our current societies suffices to see that Lewis was right; dead right. Firstly, Lewis maintains that any generation has great and existential power over the next. Our current generation, he says, is marked by “the aeroplane, the wireless and the contraceptive”[21], of which the latter is of crucial importance as it will determine whether humanity shall exist henceforth. Contraception denies future generations their existence and it deprives them of enjoying the(ir) gift/right to life.


[1] See John 14:6

[2] See John 8:32

[3] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 2-3

[4] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 3

[5] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 4

[6] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 9

[7] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 9

[8] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 11

[9] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 12

[10] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 18

[11] [A] Men without Chests, pg. 25-26

[12] [A] The Way, pg. 27

[13] [A] The Way, pg. 29

[14] [A] The Way, pg. 31-32

[15] [A] The Way, pg. 41

[16] [A] The Way, pg. 35

[17] [A] The Way, pg. 41

[18] [A] The Way, pg. 43

[19] [A] The Way, pg. 47

[20] [A] The Way, pg. 51

[21] [A] The Abolition of Man, pg. 54

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On the importance of safeguarding the Truth in pedagogical systems. C. S. Lewis and David Foster Wallace concerning "Liberal education – remaining within the Tao"
Liberal Arts, Writing and Rhetoric
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truth, lewis, david, foster, wallace, liberal
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Matthias J. F. Reichard V. (Author), 2019, On the importance of safeguarding the Truth in pedagogical systems. C. S. Lewis and David Foster Wallace concerning "Liberal education – remaining within the Tao", Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/477604


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