In this episode, Paul and Courtney consider one of Lewis’s more famous ideas from The Abolition of Man—the idea that modern education has rendered us all as men without chests.


Lewis begins his essay “Men without Chests,” by introducing the reader to what he calls the Green Book, authored by two educators Lewis dubs Gaius and Titius. In the Green Book, the authors discuss the following story about two tourists at a waterfall. The first sees the waterfall and calls it “sublime” whereas the second sees it and calls it “pretty.” Coleridge, in turn, responds by praising the first, and condemning the second tourists. In reply to this scene, Gaius and Titius offer the following analysis.

“When the man said This is sublime, he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall . . . Actually . . . he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really I have feelings associated in my mind with the word ‘Sublime’, or shortly, I have sublime feelings . . . 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.” [1]

The view expressed by Gaius and Titius is called subjectivism.

Subjectivism = moral (or aesthetic) judgements and emotions are not about objective moral (or aesthetic) values; rather they are reports about the subjective emotions of the speaker.

  •             “murder is wrong” = “I have disapproving feelings toward murder”
  •             “the sunset is beautiful” = “I have approving feelings toward this sunset”

According to subjectivism, emotions are not only unimportant, they are also irrational. They are “mere sentiments.” Now there are at least three problems here:

  • First, if subjectivism is true there are no objective moral values or obligations.
  • Second, there is the problem of emotions—the modern person, according to Lewis, misunderstand the nature of the emotions, and this leads to our final problem.
  • Third, the problem of a faulty view of human nature. Let me say a bit more about this problem because it is the most relevant to our discussion about men without chests.

So, the medieval held to a principle called the principle of the triad. The basic idea is that two things are always joined by a third. In keeping with this principle of the triad, the ancient and medieval view of humanity was thought to include three elements: head, chest and stomach—but it is the chest that rules them both. For the moderns—we only have two parts—we often place the seat of emotions (the chest) together with the seat of desire (the stomach). But for the ancients and the medieval desire and emotion are two different things.

If, however, we teach our children (and society in general) to distrust their emotions, we are creating a society of people “devoid of well-formed emotional sensitivities—people, as Lewis puts it ‘without chests.’”

How does Lewis help us see through That Hideous Strength the dangers of moral subjectivism, modern education, and men without chests?

According to subjectivism, moral claims are just emotive claims—they are statements of approval. So, for example, in chapter nine, Mark had been taken into the inner sanctum of Belbury and witnessed the talking head of the executive murderer Saracen. He had passed out upon seeing the horror. Mark had no real life experience with evil and suffering. He was an academic. He was more comfortable as a sociologist with generic humanity and people groups: but he’d never seen suffering up close. And he’d never seen the horrors like that severed head up close—and he so he fainted. The reason for Mark’s lack of understanding about morality, according to Lewis, is because of his modern education:

It must be remembered that in Mark’s mind hardly one rag of noble thought, either Christian or Pagan, had a secure lodging. His education had been neither scientific nor classical—merely “Modern.” The severities both of abstraction and of high human tradition had passed him by: and he had neither peasant shrewdness nor aristocratic honour to help him. He was a man of straw. [2]

Notice: he has no noble thoughts—neither Christian nor pagan. He was a “man of straw” without an ounce of wisdom. Now Lewis is contrasting this deflationary view of education with what we might call the Traditional view.

The Traditional View is the correct view and should not have been abandoned. It was largely abandoned because worldviews like perennial naturalism and creative anti-realism have become the dominant worldviews or stories that shape our university and culture today. And by and large, these worldviews don’t have the intellectual resources to cultivate a life of moral and intellectual virtue.


  • Christiana Hale, Deeper Heaven
  • S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man
  • S. Lewis, The Discarded Image
  • S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength

  • [1] C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 2–3.
  • [2] C. S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength, 182.
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