The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics Part 3 of 3 – page 1


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From the Winter 2017 issue of Knowing & Doing:

The Good Serves the Better and Both the
Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason
in Christian Apologetics
Part 3 of 3

by Michael Ward, Ph.D.
Senior Research Fellow, University of Oxford

[Part 1 & part 2 of this essay appeared in the Summer 2017 and
Fall 2017 issues of Knowing & Doing respectively]

Imagination Is Insufficient without Reason

ewis distinguishes between ‘imaginary’ (bad) and ‘imaginative’ (good).1 Pagan myths, howsoever meaningful, were ultimately untrustworthy as a final guide to life because their meanings were imaginary rather than imaginative. Without the controlling and clarifying effects of reason, imaginative efforts at apprehending God are always apt to lose themselves and turn unreliable or even rotten.2 In The Pilgrim’s Regress it is because their imaginative ‘pictures’ are not supplemented by the truthful ‘Rules’ of the Shepherds that the Pagans ‘become corrupt in their imaginations’.3 Likewise, it is because its resulting play of imagination is undisciplined that awe at the universe’s size can be taken as an argument against God; this is ‘matter spiritualized’ in the wrong sense, the psycho-physical parallelism (wherein meaning resides) mishandled.4 Lewis is almost Feuerbachian here. As Feuerbach considered imagination to be the engine of religion and ground of its falsity, so Lewis would have said that it stoked the engine of religion and was a potential ground of its falsity
  To prevent imagination running amok it must be properly related to reason and both to the will. Lewis sometimes pictures the human person as three concentric circles, the outermost being the imagination, the middle ring being the reason, and the core being the will.5 Although imagination is the most exposed of these three rings and the one most naturally inclined to deceive, it is nevertheless indispensable to the two higher or more central levels. Images provide reason and the will with the very stuff of conscious life: ‘I doubt if any act of will or thought or emotion occurs in me without them.’6 Thus, imagination, which is good, serves reason, which is better, and both serve the will, which is best of all. We will look briefly at the will in the final section of this essay, but before we come onto that subject, let us say a little more about how reason works on the meanings supplied to it by imagination.7

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