I have just finished reading the second chapter, “Some Objections,” of C.S. Lewis’s Mere Christianity. In this chapter, he is discussing the idea that there is something real in all of us called Moral Law.
In the beginning, Lewis states that “You will probably feel two desires-one a desire to give help…the other a desire to keep out of danger…But you will find inside you, in addition to these two impulses, a third thing which tells you that you ought to follow the impulse to help.” It seems that Lewis didn’t have much understanding of altruism. This isn’t some moral law, it’s an instinct found in social species that helps the species stay alive longer. If we just let each other die when we can save them, then our species is worse off. Yes, people will jump into water to save a drowning person, but only in certain circumstances. A beach full of people will let the life guard save a drowning person before they themselves will act. This is a good thing, because it means that the person best suited to the job is the one who’ll do it. But, at the same time, a busy street full of people will do nothing to stop one person from hurting another because they all believe that someone else will do it. We really aren’t so willing to risk ourselves for others unless we see it as our duty, which is when we either consider ourselves the experts or when we do not believe that there is an expert around. All of this can be explained by biology and psychology. Yes, we do have some instinct to help others. While we do build moral theories around the concept of helping others, we also act out of instinct for the betterment of our species. We don’t need some mystical, objective moral law to explain this stuff.
He goes on to say “We all learned the multiplication table at school. A child who grew up alone on a desert island would not know it. But surely it does not follow that the multiplication table is simply a human convention, something human beings have made up for themselves and might have made differently if they had liked?” Ah…it is and we could have. Seriously, Lewis? Mathematical realism? That’s just silly. There is no physical form of 4 out there. No essence of 4. Nothing that 4 really is. 4 is a label we give something, a concept that we use, to make communication and jobs easier. They could have given the number concepts any names that they had liked. The fact that we all accept mathematics as valid doesn’t make it any less of a construct. Human behaviour is much the same.
According to Lewis, accepting one set of morality over another proves that not all moral codes are equally valid, which allows for progress. I’d agree with this, but not for the reasons that he likes. First off, of course we prefer certain moral codes to others. We are taught to view the moral code that we are taught as superior to all others. This is bias, not a sign one being truer than another. Nonetheless, some are better than others. I view some as better than others because I believe that they lead to the best outcomes. Many people will disagree with my order, but they too will likely state that it is a result of which lead to the best outcomes. Basically, the best moral codes are those that lead to the best outcomes, but they are judged differently by different people, so there is no objective best moral code. I believe that improving upon these moral codes will lead to progress, but progress will only come if you are willing to look at your own moral code and find ways to improve it. Believing that one moral code is the ultimate, infallible moral code will prevent any improvement from ever happening.
Basically, Lewis set out to prove that some objective morality exists. He has not given me any reason to believe him. Instead, he has merely shown me that he never really had a very good understanding of human behaviour.