I have a wonderful class this semester called Composition II. It is basically a class in written rhetoric, or persuasion if you will. Those who are in the class with me are engaged and engaging, the professor who teaches it is a wonderful and thought provoking man, and the content of the class is superb. Both in and out of the class I have been piecing together this blog post.
Throughout the semester we have been discussing a set of ideas centering around Natural Law. We wrote a paper discussing the similarities or differences between Sophocles' "law of Zeus" in Antigone and the "Law written on [men's] hearts" in Paul's letter to the Romans. We considered Machiavelli's ideas and compared them to the Declaration of Independence and to Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from Birmingham Jail." And we read C. S. Lewis's work "The Abolition of Man." All these sources have led most of our class to the conclusions that persuasion is the only alternative to violence and that in order to be persuasive it is necessary to have shared values to which the rhetorician must appeal.
I thought I would share some of my thoughts on this subject. Firstly, I agree with the above conclusions. I am a realist, as opposed to a nominalist, which means I think that words mean something outside of what meaning the hearer chooses to give them. I also believe in definite virtues and vices which are defined by their adherence or lack thereof to God's character. That aside I think the rest of my argument will fit nicely together.
Most of my argument will come from "The Abolition of Man" (hereafter "The Abolition"). C. S. Lewis's work is a masterpiece and I don't think one blog post could do it justice. You should definitely read it at least once. In it he argues that the way children are taught, and the way teachers are thinking are destructive and that Natural Law, or the Tao is being thrown out for the first time in history which will lead to "the abolition of man". Now this was written several decades ago, and we can see that his argument is more relevant than ever before. The Tao indicates that we should honor our parents and look in wonder at beautiful things and be kind to our fellow man. The appendix in "The Abolition" gives examples of this from many cultures. One of his main focuses in the first chapter "Men Without Chests" is that of the two tourists in front of a waterfall, one calling it pretty and the other calling it sublime. Lewis brings this up via the authors of what he calls "The Green Book." These authors debunk the idea of sublimity by saying that it is merely how the man feels about the waterfall. Lewis suggests that the waterfall merits wonder, which is why we call it sublime. Even if we didn't feel that wonder, Lewis argues, it would still merit that feeling. I learned this my Freshman year of college in a class which almost everyone else complained about. The class was meant to teach us meta-cognitive techniques and to help us to combine our learning into a harmonious whole. In one of the lectures the guest speaker spoke about intrinsic and instrumental good. He differentiated by telling us that intrinsic good is good in itself, whereas instrumental good is good because it eventually leads to an intrinsic good. This struck me because I had spent a couple of years trying to understand why snow and traditions like keeping the top button of my shirt unbuttoned were called good. (I learned that tradition is there for a reason and that snow is beautiful and thus intrinsically good by applying this lecture and some other things that were going on at the time.) All that said, Lewis is arguing for the real, objective existence of intrinsic values. Intrinsic values are, like intrinsic good, values that exist in the thing in question.
The example of the waterfall was carried further in my class. The waterfall not only merits feelings of wonder, but also feelings of dread. In this way, the world is much more complicated than we try to make it. Once we made that observation I thought back to my Western Literature class in which we read "The Franklin's Tale" by Geoffrey Chaucer. I compared the waterfall to the black rocks in the story. They merit fear. Dorigen cannot think of any useful reason for the rocks and in her monologue by the cliff she questions the wisdom of creating such "fiendish" works and prays that they may "sink into hell." This fear of the rocks was not simply how she felt about them; the rocks were dangerous. Countless men had died on them and few, if any, lived. Beauty is not in the eye of the beholder, as the old adage says. The purpose of education is to teach the way to recognize and to appreciate that beauty. (It also teaches us to recognize and appreciate other intrinsic values such as fear.)
Quintilian, an early rhetorician, addressed this "education of the heart" that Lewis calls for in his "Institutes of Oratory." In chapter two of book six in his work, Quintilian writes, "But what more peculiarly belongs to it [ethos] is simulation of some virtue, of making satisfaction to some one, and εἰρωνεία (eirōneia), "irony" in asking questions, which means something different from that which it expresses." Lewis adds to this as he discusses education of the heart. He refers to his own attitude toward children: "I myself do not enjoy the society of small children: because I speak from within the Tao I recognize this as a defect in myself— just as a man may have to recognize that he is tone deaf or colour blind." Here he refers back to St. Agustine's ordo amoris: "the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind and degree of love which is appropriate to it."
Lewis's attack on modern educational trends is not limited to "The Abolition." Eustace, in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is described as liking "[A]nimals, especially beetles, if they were dead and pinned on a card...[And] books of information [that] had pictures of grain elevators or of fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools." Here is the result of "The Green Book." This passage describing Eustace is also mentioned in Anthony Esolen's book "How to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child." In it Esolen uses Eustace to make the same point. Proverbs 22:6 is an axiom which indicates that children inculcated with the Tao at early ages will not leave that path. (Tao means the Way. ;-) ) This works both with the Tao and against it. For a child trained to debunk will debunk and train others to do so as well.
I hope to write another post like this one. It was getting long, and I have a few tidbits which wouldn't fit into the topic I chased.
(Written from my desk at school.)
- Hi, my name is Justus, I'm a Christian.I attended Patrick Henry College for three semesters, and I transfered to College of the Ozarks in the fall of 2013 where I graduated as an English major in 2016. I love the Lord Jesus Christ the savior of my soul. He has made me new. He leads me in the Old Path; He is the Way. I am not perfect; my Lord is sanctifying me though.