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Book 2, Chapters 7 & 8

One chapter per week study of a book that profoundly influenced C. S. Lewis.

Book 2, Chapters 7 & 8

Postby magpie » 07 Sep 2005, 21:39

The major thesis of these two chapters is the inadequacy of mortal fame, however admirable its origins. Having shown that no gift of Fortune can be the highest good, Philosophy turns her attention to the fame won by the virtuous though their own efforts. She does this, not by discerning any falsity in such virtue, but rather by showing its insignificance in the greater scheme of the universe. Earth is only a tiny point in a vast macrocosm, and of that earth only a portion is inhabited. Moreover, even within that inhabited area, the diversity of customs means that fame in one locale is irrelevant in another.
Therefore, a man must be content with a reputation recognized among his own people since the noble immortality of fame is confined within the boundaries of a single nation.
To state it in a modern cliche, to achieve human fame, no matter how grand and virtuous, is to be a big fish in a small pond, a very small pond.

What is true of our spacial insignificance is even more true in the temporal sense. Those who hope to achieve lasting renown will be gravely disappointed. Many are forgotten even during their own lifetime and those whose fame survives them gradually fade into obscurity. And in comparison to eternity even the most lasting mortal fame is but a moment.
But ten thousand years, however many times you multiply it, cannot even be compared to eternity. Finite things can be compared, but no comparison is possible between the finite and the infinite. And so, however long a time fame may last, it must seem not merely brief but nothing at all if it is compared to eternity.

Ultimately mortal fame conveys no glory at all. Sic transit gloria mundi. To continue the above cliche, not only is the pond of mortal fame very, very small, but it is also destined to evaporate into nothingness.
For, if men perish completely in death, a thing which our reason prevents us from accepting, then there is certainly no glory when the man who is supposed to have it no longer exists. But, if the soul, in full awareness of its virtue, is freed from this earthly prison and goes to heaven, does it not disregard all earthly concerns and, in the enjoyment of heaven, find its satisfaction in being separated from earthly things?
What does this say about our frantic desire to "be someone?" I am reminded of the vast number of blogs where ordinary people post their every thought in hopes of being significant in the eyes of others. What indeed would Philosophy say to our own rambling in this very forum? While I agree with the basic premise that renown is ultimately transitory, that does not seem to stop any of us from seeking recognition from those who are important to us, and often even from those who are not really important at all.

Perhaps this is why Philosophy concludes Book 2 with the general observation that ill fortune is better than good fortune, especially because our hard times will reveal to us who our true friends are. In this respect, all of our craving for high repute becomes meaningless. I am reminded of the age-old adage,"You do not need to explain yourself. Your friends do not need an explanation, and your enemies will not believe you anyhow."

Thus it is not surprising that Philosophy's final words in Poem 8 are an affirmation that the entire universe is held together, not by power or fame, but by love, an affirmation which causes her to exclaim,
O how happy the human race would be, if that love which rules the heavens ruled also your souls.
As we look around our world today, this affirmation of cosmic harmony seems so hard to sustain, yet when we are tempted to think that we now have it "so much worse," we are reminded that these words were written by a man condemned to death for crimes of which he had been falsely accused.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
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Postby Air of Winter » 10 Sep 2005, 01:52

magpie wrote:The major thesis of these two chapters is the inadequacy of mortal fame, however admirable its origins. Having shown that no gift of Fortune can be the highest good, Philosophy turns her attention to the fame won by the virtuous though their own efforts. She does this, not by discerning any falsity in such virtue, but rather by showing its insignificance in the greater scheme of the universe. Earth is only a tiny point in a vast macrocosm, and of that earth only a portion is inhabited.

This is one of the texts Lewis used in The Discarded Image to refute claims made about how medieval cosmology assigned to the Earth a position of great importance, if I'm remembering aright.

Specific references aren't leaping to mind, but I seem to recall that the desire for renown was an accepted and recognized spur to achievement and virtue in Classical civilization: it wasn't looked on with suspicion.

What does this say about our frantic desire to "be someone?"

It proved troublesome to me when I was contemplating attempting commercial publication of my fiction. I don't know how to describe this very well, but ... I dislike publicity, in the ordinary course of events, but to achieve commercial success demands becoming widely known. When I was thinking about this seriously I felt as if I were deeply under pressure to achieve something which was tempting, but which I'd hate when I had, frantic for something that smelled alluring but which would prove a poison. I'd describe my response as both an attraction to vainglory and a repulsion for it. I became happier about writing fiction again when I decided against this line of endeavor. I believe I could probably succeed, with enough effort and persistence; I also believe that I'd handle it badly and ultimately wish I hadn't done it.

I am reminded of the vast number of blogs where ordinary people post their every thought in hopes of being significant in the eyes of others.

Heh. I got one more or less by accident -- I wanted to comment on someone else's and they gave me one when I signed up -- and I'm using it more or less as public archive. The board is a better format for discussion, though.
What indeed would Philosophy say to our own rambling in this very forum? While I agree with the basic premise that renown is ultimately transitory, that does not seem to stop any of us from seeking recognition from those who are important to us, and often even from those who are not really important at all.

Oh, well -- I don't post to discussion boards because I want fame. I want to be able to talk about things I usually can't discuss face to face. And it's pretty hard to tell if a private board is going to be congenial before one joins, even if, all else being equal, I'd probably rather chatter on a private board.

Actually, I don't think Philosophy would condemn the discussion forum as a format, not if she were being consistent. The comparison to the forum or to the agora where philosophical discussions were sometimes held isn't entirely inapt.

Thus it is not surprising that Philosophy's final words in Poem 8 are an affirmation that the entire universe is held together, not by power or fame, but by love, an affirmation which causes her to exclaim,
O how happy the human race would be, if that love which rules the heavens ruled also your souls.

It would greatly diminish the evil of the world if it were so.

The reference to the love that orders the heavens is another Aristotelian idea that ended up in medieval cosmology, and which Lewis explains in The Discarded Image. It's rather startlingly literal, in that the planets (including the moon and the sun) were actually Intelligences -- angels, lesser gods, powers -- whose constant attempts to draw near to God, which were motivated by love, led them to move around the heavens in the perfect form, the circle. The Planetary Intelligences are the inspiration for the Oyarsas in the Space Trilogy. And the sense of lightness and radiance that Ransom feels while he's aboard the spaceship, journeying to Malecandra, is the old idea that the heavens above the moon are filled with the light of God.
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Postby magpie » 12 Sep 2005, 21:08

For purposes of expositon, I perhaps overemphasized this denigration of fame thing a bit, although Philosophy does come across rather strongly on the subject. But it is also a personal issue with me. I was raised by a mother whose mantra is "What will people think?" She in turn was raised by a mother who stopped going up to Communion because she didn't want people to notice her varicose veins (in a era when no "true lady" would wear slacks). While I fortunately imbibed the spirituality of the male members of my family, I also wince at even the suggestion that our value can be determined by the opinion of others.

Air of Winter wrote:Specific references aren't leaping to mind, but I seem to recall that the desire for renown was an accepted and recognized spur to achievement and virtue in Classical civilization: it wasn't looked on with suspicion.


What does this say about our frantic desire to "be someone?"


It proved troublesome to me when I was contemplating attempting commercial publication of my fiction. I don't know how to describe this very well, but ... I dislike publicity, in the ordinary course of events, but to achieve commercial success demands becoming widely known. When I was thinking about this seriously I felt as if I were deeply under pressure to achieve something which was tempting, but which I'd hate when I had, frantic for something that smelled alluring but which would prove a poison. I'd describe my response as both an attraction to vainglory and a repulsion for it. I became happier about writing fiction again when I decided against this line of endeavor. I believe I could probably succeed, with enough effort and persistence; I also believe that I'd handle it badly and ultimately wish I hadn't done it.


Like you, I tend to be a "private person." That is part of the reason why I have made no attempt to get my writing published, but only part. The other and stronger part is a fear that my work will be rejected or savagely criticized, a throwback from my painful and unsuccessful experiences attempting to get scholarly work published during my former academic career. If I am honest with myself, I admit that I would enjoy fame if it could be unalloyed with negativity, a guarantee that none of us is ever given. Thus if I ever do publish, it will be under a pen name!

Oh, well -- I don't post to discussion boards because I want fame. I want to be able to talk about things I usually can't discuss face to face. And it's pretty hard to tell if a private board is going to be congenial before one joins, even if, all else being equal, I'd probably rather chatter on a private board.


I never intended to suggest that you were so motivated in your cyber-activity, but there are those who clearly are. Enough said. And I do agree that Philosophy would have regarded such fora as these as being very much like the ancient agora both in its exhange of ideas and in the mixture of motivations among its participants.

Still I cannot help but wonder how Boethius would have proceeded with his work had it been a blog. Surely the feedback would have influenced him, for better or worse, most likely the latter, if indeed the Senate did not disconnect his ISP first. But as it was, in the solitude of his cell, he had ample opportunity to reflect on the futility of allowing our value to be dependent upon the opinion of others, and therein lies the power of these particular chapters.
"Love is the will to extend one's self in order to nurture one's own or another's spiritual growth."
M. Scott Peck

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Postby Air of Winter » 13 Sep 2005, 02:16

magpie wrote:For purposes of expositon, I perhaps overemphasized this denigration of fame thing a bit, although Philosophy does come across rather strongly on the subject. But it is also a personal issue with me. I was raised by a mother whose mantra is "What will people think?" She in turn was raised by a mother who stopped going up to Communion because she didn't want people to notice her varicose veins (in a era when no "true lady" would wear slacks). While I fortunately imbibed the spirituality of the male members of my family, I also wince at even the suggestion that our value can be determined by the opinion of others.

My grandmother was like that for most of her most of her life, and my grandfather was, to some extent. My mother rebelled thoroughly.

Like you, I tend to be a "private person." That is part of the reason why I have made no attempt to get my writing published, but only part. The other and stronger part is a fear that my work will be rejected or savagely criticized, a throwback from my painful and unsuccessful experiences attempting to get scholarly work published during my former academic career. If I am honest with myself, I admit that I would enjoy fame if it could be unalloyed with negativity, a guarantee that none of us is ever given. Thus if I ever do publish, it will be under a pen name!

Oh, yeah. Sometimes I wonder how much good work is forever hidden from public view because a writer needs an iron hide to get through the rejection in the publication process. And I use a pen name for the stuff I have published.

Still I cannot help but wonder how Boethius would have proceeded with his work had it been a blog. Surely the feedback would have influenced him, for better or worse, most likely the latter, if indeed the Senate did not disconnect his ISP first. But as it was, in the solitude of his cell, he had ample opportunity to reflect on the futility of allowing our value to be dependent upon the opinion of others, and therein lies the power of these particular chapters.

There are things apparent only from the hermit's cell -- ? I can believe that.
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