On Men Without Chests image

On Men Without Chests

C. S. Lewis makes a remark early on in The Abolition of Man that, like many things Lewis says, gets quoted all the time. "In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful."

I can’t speak for others, but I had heard that many times before I read The Abolition of Man, so I never realised what Lewis meant by the “chest.” The image was so evocative that I assumed I had got the point without checking; presumably a man without a chest was a man without courage, a milksop, a coward. But Lewis’s meaning is quite different. What he is actually warning about is the lack of sentiment: emotions which have been stabilised through disciplined practice. Without sentiment we may appear intellectual, but it will be a mirage; our heads will look larger, but only because our chests are so small:

The head rules the belly through the chest—the seat, as Alanus tells us, of Magnanimity, of emotions organised by trained habit into stable sentiments. The Chest—Magnanimity—Sentiment—these are the indispensable liaison officers between cerebral man and visceral man. It may even be said that it is by this middle element that man is man: for by his intellect he is mere spirit and by his appetite mere animal … A persevering devotion to truth, a nice sense of intellectual honour, cannot be long maintained without the aid of a sentiment.

Preachers—especially those of us who like books, blogs, thoughts, notions and interesting ideas—beware.

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