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Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Comprising most of Lewis' writings.

Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Robert » 22 Dec 2009, 17:14

I was just rereading the Screwtape Letters and after reading this short addition to the work, I became rather angry about some of the elements of its argument. Before revealing these elements, I would like to know what everyone else thinks of this speech given by Screwtape to the junior temptors; particularly its treatment of democracy, equality and differences in people.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby archenland_knight » 22 Dec 2009, 23:53

Screwtape wasn't treating "Democracy" ... he was treating the idea of corrupting the word "Democracy" and other words to mean something other than what they were intended to mean ... or more to the point, to mean very little but to create an attitude or a feeling or a reaction, and then using that to make people accept ideas or behave in ways they would otherwise reject.

The corruption of language to make people accept ideas they would otherwise be repulsed by is a common theme in Lewis' work. Both STL and "Mere Christianity" deal with this quite a bit. It seems I remember there was some of this in OOTSP as well, but it's been a while since I read it.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Robert » 23 Dec 2009, 15:31

Well that is a good point and I have no problem with his treatment of inappropriate word usage, or more rightly said the conscious misleading of a person, persons or whole group purposely by using a term such as democracy and changing its entire meaning. Rather I was alarmed by his use of the term dunce in opposition to a bright student. I wasn't sure what he meant by this and whether it was one who merely is an under achiever or one who simply does not have the 'brain power' to think on the same level as another. I have alot to say to this and before making any statements was wondering what you or anyone thinks about it.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Bluegoat » 25 Dec 2009, 06:18

Robert wrote:Well that is a good point and I have no problem with his treatment of inappropriate word usage, or more rightly said the conscious misleading of a person, persons or whole group purposely by using a term such as democracy and changing its entire meaning. Rather I was alarmed by his use of the term dunce in opposition to a bright student. I wasn't sure what he meant by this and whether it was one who merely is an under achiever or one who simply does not have the 'brain power' to think on the same level as another. I have alot to say to this and before making any statements was wondering what you or anyone thinks about it.



Lewis comments elsewhere on the fact that some people are brighter than others. And more generally on the idea of equality of persons being a (necessary) political fiction, or a comment on our person-hood, rather than a fact or a reality based on our actual individual characteristics. Some are faster, some are smarter, some have more empathy. To try and deny this is simply a lie, and so will always serve God's enemies rather than God. I suppose the question is, what are we meant to do with these differences of ability?
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Adam Linton » 27 Dec 2009, 22:02

It's been a couple of years since I last read "Screwtape Proposes a Toast," but am familiar with it and like it. It's effectively writen and thought provoking.

Remember that given the work's premise, Lewis doesn't have to defend whether or not Screwtape's way of speaking about people is "appropriate"! Nor is it a nuanced examination of pedagogical theory and practice. Rather Lewis is taking on some broad trends about which he was gravely concerned (for good reason, I'd say).
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby RamandusDaughter » 27 Dec 2009, 22:16

Of course, we as Christians accept that God has allowed many levels of intellect and understanding. We serve the "simple" as Lewis might call them; they often cannot serve us.

Personally, I'm working on keeping my definitions clear. I don't seem to adopt the world's (Screwtape's) definitions so readily anymore.

In Letters: C.S. Lewis/Don Giovanni Calabria chap 4. Lewis says, "In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet."

And again, in his The Weight of Glory "Membership" he says "That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast." pp. 113-114

Hope this helps.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Robert » 28 Dec 2009, 14:31

Bluegoat wrote:
Robert wrote:Well that is a good point and I have no problem with his treatment of inappropriate word usage, or more rightly said the conscious misleading of a person, persons or whole group purposely by using a term such as democracy and changing its entire meaning. Rather I was alarmed by his use of the term dunce in opposition to a bright student. I wasn't sure what he meant by this and whether it was one who merely is an under achiever or one who simply does not have the 'brain power' to think on the same level as another. I have alot to say to this and before making any statements was wondering what you or anyone thinks about it.



Lewis comments elsewhere on the fact that some people are brighter than others. And more generally on the idea of equality of persons being a (necessary) political fiction, or a comment on our person-hood, rather than a fact or a reality based on our actual individual characteristics. Some are faster, some are smarter, some have more empathy. To try and deny this is simply a lie, and so will always serve God's enemies rather than God. I suppose the question is, what are we meant to do with these differences of ability?



Well, I can't disagree with Lewis more here. On the one hand, I agree that the education system, in treating each student the same as far as ability is quite disastrous. Certainly there are those whose talents and types of intelligence are more easily nurtured and enhanced by academia. However, I find it rather shallow and naive to think that intelligence and knowledge, wholly, is subsumed by academic knowledge. To call one a dunce simply because he or she can not grasp the concept of say Newtonian physics or Shakespearean prose or epistemological dualism is giving knowledge and intelligence too narrow a definition. Perhaps this is why as the Bible states we know only in part. I personally subscribe to the Augustinian theory of knowledge in contrast to the Aristotelian one (which seems to be the one favored by Lewis and others-such as Aquinas); where knowing is light being shed on a variety of objects (which are to us subjects of inquiry) just as the sun shines down and illuminates the host of earthly phenomena. I think we can learn alot from a dunce; perhaps just as much as from one as we can from an Einstein or a Shakespeare. *incidentally i find it hard to believe that 'what' Shakespeare knew and 'what' contributed to his genius could be imparted to the likes of an Einstein, and vice versa-which I feel supports a doctrine of illumination as opposed to the scientific inquiry of Aristotle's epistemology which finds all knowledge as being supported by identifying the substance of a thing through learning its matter and form.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Robert » 28 Dec 2009, 14:43

RamandusDaughter wrote:Of course, we as Christians accept that God has allowed many levels of intellect and understanding. We serve the "simple" as Lewis might call them; they often cannot serve us.

Personally, I'm working on keeping my definitions clear. I don't seem to adopt the world's (Screwtape's) definitions so readily anymore.

In Letters: C.S. Lewis/Don Giovanni Calabria chap 4. Lewis says, "In the poor man who knocks at my door, in my ailing mother, in the young man who seeks my advice, the Lord Himself is present: therefore let us wash His feet."

And again, in his The Weight of Glory "Membership" he says "That I believe to be the true ground of democracy. I do not believe that God created an egalitarian world. I believe the authority of parent over child, husband over wife, learned over simple, to have been as much a part of the original plan as the authority of man over beast." pp. 113-114

Hope this helps.


For one, I think that there is clearly warrant for identifying carious types of intelligence. However, the mind, unlike the material world, is not something that is 'more' or 'less'. I am afraid that Lewis had fallen into the same trap that Augustine fell into when he followed the Manichees; namely treating metaphysical things like material ones. This goes for knowledge. For who can catalog or count or grasp what is known and 'how much' one knows. One might as well try to state that I have 'more' love from God than another or 'more' freewill than my neighbor.

As to his statement in Weight of Glory, well I can't see how the order of parent over child somehow necessarily implies one being 'better' or more important than the other. I am not suggesting that this is what Lewis meant in this passage. But if this is the conclusion we are to come to, then we might as well find that the bank is more important than the grocery store since we must go there first to get our money out to spend it at the latter.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Bluegoat » 28 Dec 2009, 15:25

Lewis doesn't say one person is "worth" more than another because of his or her particular talents, including intellectual talents, nor does he say some are worth more because of their place in the hierarchy.

In fact, he says that each is, alone, worth nothing.

But we are each given worth by taking our unique place in the Body of Christ. The fact that our abilities and talents are different is in this sense incredibly important. It is we humans who see a king as more important than a servant, not God. (Of course, what Screwtape thinks is a different story, I don't think we can imagine it is really close to any "Christian" perspective. He often doesn't see the forest for the trees.)

I'm not sure why you imagine Lewis thinks intellectual ability is the only important or worthy characteristic, simply because it is the subject here. Intellectual ability does, perhaps, imply a certain role or responsibility in society. The idea that we all have "equality" in our ideas about intellectual subjects has not really been very successful - I can remember how useless my philosophy classes were which considered some 18 year olds ideas about, say, Descartes, without regard to their actual merits, because they were "valid". What a waste of time! And of no use to the 18 year olds in question.

On the other hand, I remember a professor telling me about a seminar he took as a young man,where one student was supposed to present on the thought of Bonaventure. "Should I tell you what I think of his ideas" the student asked the teacher. "Why, do you think that would be useful?" replied the professor. Recognizing great thinkers and approaching them in humility is really the only way to learn. And if we can't approach such people in that way, I doubt we will be able to approach the more humble in that way either. If we don't have respect for Bonaventure, we surely won't be able to take what Joe the guy next door has to offer either.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Robert » 28 Dec 2009, 16:08

Well whether or not he uses the word worth, it seems the implication is that one is more esteemed than the other. Again, I can not say that this is his intention, but it does seem that when speaking of hierarchies in such a manner, the sense that one is of more worth than the other often creeps into our own personal opinions and values; whether we will consciously admit it or not.

As to worth being an an intrinsic quality of persons is of no concern. Naturally, from the Christian perspective this is a foreign quality, given to the beloved by our creator. But, what the creator views as being of lesser or greater worth is His concern and I am not sure this is revealed to us. If it is, I doubt that it would be provided by common sense, the scientific method or some other rational method.

Furthermore, as to evaluating an historical figure's body of work, this can be done any number of ways. To merely state what were the theories, opinions, actions, events coinciding with the person's history and what not, this is simply doing history. For instance, to recount what is or was Bonaventure's views on epistemology, soteriology, ethics and the like is nothing more than presenting his philosophy as such. To evaluate it, or to say that one agrees or disagrees and to defend or refute his views on say Platonism is another matter. I can have reverence for his immense and respect him as an important and historically significant philosopher, but still perhaps disagree with some such theory or what have you.

Lastly, it was simply my intention to point out that perhaps Lewis' use of the term 'dunce' was inappropriate and ignored what I feel is a much larger issue pertaining to the subject of intelligence. I am not suggesting that I in any way will detract from Lewis' genius or that I have somehow found an error in his logic. I am merely stating that perhaps he associated with an Aristotelian tradition of epistemology that ignores another tradition (namely Platonism or more specifically Augustinian illumination) that allows for a better explanation of intelligence and tolerance for what society and or academia term as stupidity, duncehood and mental defects.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Bluegoat » 29 Dec 2009, 14:13

But, was dunce an inappropriate term for Screwtape to use?
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Robert » 29 Dec 2009, 14:50

Well naturally no. But assuming Lewis is adhering to a strict contrariety to Screwtape's position, I wonder if Lewis found them to be 'dunce's. I guess we shall never know.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Bluegoat » 30 Dec 2009, 16:14

Robert wrote:Well naturally no. But assuming Lewis is adhering to a strict contrariety to Screwtape's position, I wonder if Lewis found them to be 'dunce's. I guess we shall never know.


Screwtape's genius is that he says many things that are true, and yet understands them incorrectly or draws precisely the wrong conclusions from them.

I don't think there is much doubt that some people have less of a certain kind of intellectual ability. They may (or may not) have other kinds of insight. But I doubt that Screwtape would care - he would simply want to use such people for his own ends in some way.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby Robert » 30 Dec 2009, 18:34

Bluegoat wrote:
Screwtape's genius is that he says many things that are true, and yet understands them incorrectly or draws precisely the wrong conclusions from them.

I don't think there is much doubt that some people have less of a certain kind of intellectual ability. They may (or may not) have other kinds of insight. But I doubt that Screwtape would care - he would simply want to use such people for his own ends in some way.


True, but still it seems that the general perception of non-academic knowledge is some sort of duncehood. Screwtape no doubt could care less for which type of knowledge is 'truer' or closer to an objective fact. And yet, if there wasn't some preconceived notion of what is 'true' knowledge on the part of Lewis, I doubt Screwtape would have even brought up the strategy.
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Re: Screwtape Proposes a Toast

Postby maralewisfan » 01 Feb 2010, 20:46

I really enjoy TSL and especially the Toast.

I believe that the term dunce was used as more of a comparison between those who are "gifted" versus those who are not. There are many levels of talent "gifts" in this world. Some learn faster and more easily than others. Trying to put everyone on the same level regardless of their talents is not democratic. We are not all equal in intelligence, beauty, size, or anything else. I believe that stressing the importance of the individual was the point.

My oldest son was in a school for gifted children when in elementary school. When he was in High School we were informed that the school board had voted to lower the standards established for the gifted program so that more children could attend. To my way of thinking this would be something that would concern Lewis.

We are not all the same! After visiting this site for a while, I have determined that there are many here who are more intelligent than me. I don't have a problem with admitting this and being thrilled about our differences.

Dunce may not be a term which we like in the present time, but neither is moron or a few other words that were used differently.
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