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Chronological snobbery

Chronological snobbery is a term coined by friends C. S. Lewis and Owen Barfield, describing the erroneous argument (usually considered an outright fallacy) that the thinking, art, or science of an earlier time is inherently inferior to that of the present, simply by virtue of its temporal priority. As Barfield explains it, it is the belief that "intellectually, humanity languished for countless generations in the most childish errors on all sorts of crucial subjects, until it was redeemed by some simple scientific dictum of the last century."[1] The subject came up between them when Barfield had converted to Anthroposophy and was persuading Lewis (an atheist at that time) to join him. One of Lewis's objections was that religion was simply outdated, and in Surprised by Joy (chapter 13, p. 207-208) he describes how this was fallacious:


The form of the chronological snobbery fallacy can be expressed as follows:

  1. It is argued that A.
  2. A is an old argument, dating back to the times when people also believed B.
  3. B is clearly false.
  4. Therefore, A is false.


C. S. Lewis in Surprised by Joy (Chapter 13, p. 206) recounts his story:

The usage in general of the word "medieval" to mean "backwards" is also an example -- as is the use of the term "backwards" to mean "unsophisticated."

G. B. Tennyson in his book Owen Barfield: Man and Meaning offers the following firsthand account:

See also


  1. ^ History in English Words p. 164

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