The Good Serves the Better and Both the Best: C.S. Lewis on Imagination and Reason in Christian Apologetics Part 3 of 3 – page 2


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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

« continued from previous page

  Reason, in Lewis’s scheme, is much more than the faculty of bald ratiocination. The sort of understanding of Reason that Lewis appears to be working with is that ‘Practical Reason’8 which was accepted by ‘nearly all moralists before the eighteenth century’.9 It is difficult to say exactly how much of the detail of that pre-Eighteenth century understanding of Reason Lewis adopted in his own thinking, but there is a general harmony between the idea of the tripartite ‘Rational Soul’ that he outlines descriptively, from the literary historian’s point of view, in The Discarded Image, and the model of man which he presents argumentatively in The Abolition of Man, Mere Christianity, ‘Bluspels and Flalansferes’, ‘On Ethics’, and elsewhere.10 Reason, the defining part of the Rational Soul, consists of intellectus (the ability to see self-evident truth) and ratio (the ability to arrive at truth which is not self-evident). In this two-fold capacity, Reason obviously has a moral element (it is ‘the organ of morality’11) because certain self-evident truths are moral axioms.12 That these understandings of Reason still linger in our concept of morality is shown, Lewis believes, by the fact that, when we would recall a person to right conduct, we sometimes say, ‘Be reasonable’.13 The Rational faculty guides and governs the Sensitive Soul and its five inward ‘wits’ (including the imagination). In doing so, Reason chooses between the meanings presented to it by the imagination, distinguishing true meanings from false and, where a choice of expressions is available, choosing the one most suitable for the desired meanings to be communicated.
  One of the reasons, I think, why Lewis has become so long-lived as an apologist, and why some passages from his apologetics have become veritable anthology pieces, is this very point: that his logical, reasoned argumentation is informed by a sensitive poetic intelligence. His choice of image, metaphor, and analogy is controlled by an alert imagination and, as a result, charges what he says with a pleasing appropriateness, even sometimes a superfluity, of meaning. His apologetic writing, at its best, becomes rich and enjoyable for its own sake, almost regardless of whether one actually agrees with the conclusions he arrives at. This carries its own dangers, of course. As Austin Farrer remarked, with respect to The Problem of Pain, ‘We think we are listening to an argument, in fact we are presented with a vision; and it is the vision that carries conviction.’14 But the dangerousness is an indication of the method’s power and, when used aright (for instance, the image of the great ‘dive’ in Miracles as a picture of the Incarnation;15 or the ‘myth’ of Lewis’s own devising in the chapter on agape in The Four Loves),16 the vision does not overpower the argument but supports and indeed enables it.

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