Thursday, April 18, 2019

This is Sublime

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it – believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt.

So writes Lewis when considering the work of Gaius and Titius, pseudonyms of authors of a text book referred to as The Green Book.  In the second chapter of this textbook, the authors quote the story of Coleridge at the waterfall: Coleridge hears one man describe the waterfall as “sublime,” the other man describes it as “pretty.”  Coleridge approves of the first, and rejects the second with disgust.

Why?  Both are valid observations and accurately describe its nature, yet “sublime” better captures its essence – it is the more appropriate and just observation.  Meanwhile, the two textbook authors do not concern themselves at all on this point, but choose, instead, to examine the statement as a description of the feelings of the observer – eliminating the possibility of making a proper value judgement.

St. Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it.

Aristotle says that this is the aim of education – to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought; thus, when he comes to the age of reflective thought and reason, he will find his first principles in ethics.  Those not so trained can make no progress in this regard.

One can find such thinking in many cultures and traditions: Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, and Oriental.  Lewis will refer to this as the Tao – that which the Chinese call the greatest thing…

…the reality beyond all predicates, the abyss that was before the Creator Himself.  It is Nature, it is the Way, the Road.

It is the way in which every man should “tread in imitation…conforming all activities to that great exemplar.”  In our Western tradition, we have been given this exemplar – His story is to be found in the Gospel.


Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism.

More stuff doesn’t equal liberty and isn’t enough for liberty; measuring progress in terms of trade and GDP is barely one level up from the law of the jungle.  Humans have been made for more than this.

We make men without chests and expect from them virtue and enterprise.  We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst.  We castrate and bid the geldings to be fruitful.

Doesn’t sound like the material from which liberty will spring forth, does it.


  1. I agree that there is a right and a wrong way to think about things. A true teacher concerns himself, not only with the "how" and "what" but also with the "why". Without "why", teaching becomes simple indoctrination.

    Axioms are the very basis for the "why". Mises identified the great axiom upon which all Austrian Economics is predicated: "People Act". The NAP is the basis for libertarianism but it is not an axiom - that is, it is not self-proving - and perhaps that is where we are falling short.

    Perhaps we need to discover the great axiom upon which liberty is based - if we can do that, then perhaps we can more easily analyze the other issues which have plagued libertarianism since its inception.

    1. Woody,

      "need to discover the great axiom upon which liberty is based"

      Maybe we have to look no further than Mises. Men act with purpose, therefore they are responsible for their own actions. If you take this as a 'universalizable' norm, I think you wind up with liberty. End of story.

      To me liberty is all about personal responsibility, not responsibility lumped on us by others without our consent (like the national debt, reparations, etc.), but all that responsibility we naturally come by whether through action, voice, or contract.

    2. Not enough. People Act / People should take responsibility for their actions is fine as far as it goes but, like the NAP, it is still incomplete.

      For example, what about mercy? I'd hate to be held responsible for everything wrong that I've done.

      Mercy is a big part of what being a Christian is all about - and, if we acknowledge that Christianity plays a part in building and maintaining a free society then mercy must also play a part in the same.

  2. You mean there's something beyond chasing a devalued dollar in a terrible corporate work environment, clamoring for cheap goods from the same people who lobby to inflate the dollar to keep the fake charade going?


    American Dream? Let's Hope Not!

    Good subject matter Bionic


  3. Btw I don't think that a 'true libertarian' can understand this post. They may 'get it' at some level, but I don't think they understand it.

  4. I guess I'm going to have to add "The Abolition of Man" to my reading list. "Mere Christianity" is an excellent book and my kids love all of the Narnia series.

    Coincidentally, I took my kids to a production of "The Horse and His Boy" yesterday(written by CS Lewis) and it was truly phenomenal. I was astounded by the high production value both in acting and accompanying puppetry of life size Narnian horses as well as Aslan. I'd highly recommend it to anyone that is willing to do the drive to the Logos Theater in Taylors, SC- there were many attendees from out of state. You won't be disappointed.

    My understanding is that it's the first production of this story in the United States.

    1. "Logos Theater". That's a fantastic name! I would recommend reading this as well. It can be found for free in the links below:

      The Abolition of Man

      Men Without Chests (Chapter 1 of Abolition of Man)

    2. Thanks for the links ATL!

      Yes, if you look up "Logos Theatre" on Google you'll notice it's gets 4.9 stars out of 5 with 162 reviews...which is unusually high for anything "Google Reviewed".