Books and Code · A Miscellany

The Discarded Image, by C.S. Lewis (A Review)


A few general comments and then I will expound at length about my quibbles. First, this book is a phenomenal introduction to what Lewis calls the “Medieval Model”–the medieval world view. This should really be required reading before embarking on any study of the literature or history of that period.

Okay, now on to my quibbles. This book is not Christian apology dammit. It is really annoying to find this shelved in the religion section when it is more appropriately placed with literary criticism, philosophy, or history. Also, the latest Canto Classics cover makes no sense at all. Work gloves?! What the hell is that supposed to mean?

Finally, I have a lot to say about epistemology which is only tangentially related to the book’s content, although I think it has a lot to do with Lewis himself and the Inklings:

While Lewis does a fantastic job explaining the Model and dispelling common misconceptions about it, he occasionally takes his defense too far. Although he never explicitly does so, Lewis comes very close to asserting that different models that can explain the same phenomena (ie. have comparable explanatory power) are necessarily equivalent. This is a well-meaning but misguided approach, and if applied rigorously (as it regularly is in religious apologetics) often perverse. Occam’s Razor is one way to differentiate such models (ie. simpler is better). Lewis mentions Occam’s Razor early in the book and then fails utterly to apply it. Another way is by empirical verification. A third is by how much predictive power the model has. The model which replaced the Medieval Model is superior in all these criteria. Not only does Lewis not address these, he claims all models come before their evidence and that whatever the prevailing model is, evidence will be found to support it. This too is problematic because some models are demonstrably better at encouraging investigation into their validity than others. A model which eschews Occam and honors uninformed authority will accrete all manner of superfluity relative to one which honors Occam, for example. A model which makes testable predictions encourages its own verification more than one which depends on post-hoc rationalization of phenomena or arbitrary divine interventions. From this vantage point, it is obvious why Lewis yearns to draw the false equivalence and I praise him for keeping it to a minimum.

The false equivalence is also strange from Lewis’ own point of view. He (and Tolkien) talked a lot about True Myth. For them, Christianity is a myth that actually happened and all other myths were true insofar that they point to the Christian myth. In his own terms, the best myth was the one he thought was true. If we applied his mythological reasoning to the aforementioned models, we would have to conclude that the model which was most true was better. Other models were good insofar as they point to truth. This is all fine and dandy when one sticks to the mythological, but what happens when myths and their models must seriously compete on the basis of more than just their explanatory power? Lewis is not so eager to go there. And we all know why.