C.S. Lewis on Rationalism: a Precursor to Oakeshott?


C.S. Lewis was a major public intellectual in Britain, beginning from the late 1930s and continuing to his death in 1963. In both his non-fiction, especially The Abolition of Man (1943), and his fiction, most importantly in That Hideous Strength (1945), he offers a critique of rationalism and scientism that is often strikingly similar to those that Michael Oakeshott penned in the late 1940s and early 1950s. This paper will examine the question of to what extent this similarity is merely superficial, and to what extent the two writers shared a similar basis for their views. Furthermore, it will examine whether there is an actual thread of influence: had Oakeshott been reading Lewis before writing his critique of rationalism, and if so, to what extent did Lewis's work inform Oakeshott's?


(At the moment I am just collecting material!)

"To some it will appear that I have merely restored under another name what they always meant by basic or fundamental instinct. But much more than a choice of words is involved. The Innovator attacks traditional values (the Tao) in defense of what he 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. If he had really started from scratch, from right outside the human tradition of value, no jugglery could have advanced him an inch towards the conception that a man should die for the community or work for posterity. If the Tao falls, all his own conceptions of value fall with it. Not one of them can claim any authority other than that of the Tao. Only by such shreds of the Tao as he has inherited is he enabled even to attack it. The question therefore arises what title he has to select bits of it for acceptance and to reject others. For if the bits he rejects have no authority, neither have those he retains: If what he retains is valid, what he rejects is equally valid too." -- The Abolition of Man

"What purport to be new systems, or (as they now call them) ‘ideologies,’ all consist of fragments from the Tao itself, arbitrarily wrenched from their context in the whole and then swollen to madness in their isolation, yet still owing to the Tao and to it alone such validity as they possess. If my duty to my parents is a superstition, then so is my duty to posterity. If justice is a superstition, then so is my duty to my country or my race. If the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a real value, then so is conjugal fidelity. The rebellion of new ideologies against the Tao is a rebellion of the branches against the tree: if the rebels could succeed they would find that they had destroyed themselves. The human mind has no more power of inventing a new value than of imagining a new primary colour, or, indeed, of creating a new sun and a new sky for it to move in." -- The Abolition of Man