May 13, 2015

Merely a Christian 04.

Diving into the third chapter, we find Lewis continuing his discussion from the previous chapter, on the "reality of the Law" and its ramifications.

...they [the human race] were haunted by the idea of a sort of behaviour they ought to practise, what you might call fair play, or decency, or morality, or the Law of Nature.  Second, that they did not in fact do so.

After all, you may say, what I call breaking the Law of Right and Wrong or of Nature, only means that people are not perfect.... I am not concerned at present with blame; I am trying to find out truth.  

The laws of nature, as applied to stones or trees, may only mean 'what Nature, in fact, does'.  But if you turn to the Law of Human Nature, the Law of Decent Behaviour, it is a different matter.  That law certainly does mean 'what human beings in fact, do'; for as I said before, many of them do not obey this law at all, and none of them obey it completely.  The law of gravity tells you what stones do if you drop them; but the Law of Human Nature tells you what human beings ought to do and do not.  In other words, when you are dealing with humans, something else comes in above and beyond actual facts.  You have the facts (how men do behave) and you also have something else (how they ought to behave).  

Sometimes the behaviour which I call bad is not inconvenient to me at all, but the very opposite.  In war, each side may find a traitor on the other side very useful.  But though they use him and pay him they regard him as human vermin.  So you cannot say that what we call decent behaviour in others is simply the behaviour that happens to be useful to us.  

Human beings, after all, have some sense; they see that you cannot have any real safety or happiness except in a society where every one plays fair, and it is because they see this that they try to behave decently.  

If we ask: 'Why ought I to be unselfish?' and you reply 'Because it is good for society,' we may then ask, 'Why should I care what's good for society except when it happens to pay me personally?' and then you will have to say, 'Because you ought to be unselfish' - which simply brings us back to where we started. 

In the same way, if a man asks what is the point of behaving decently, it is no good replying, 'in order to benefit society,' for trying to benefit society, in other words being unselfish (for 'society' after all only means 'other people'), is one of the things decent behaviour consists in; all you are really saying is that decent behaviour is decent behaviour.  You would have said just as much if you had stopped at the statement, 'Men ought to be unselfish.' 

The Moral Law, or Law of Human Nature, is not simply a fact about human behaviour in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is....

Consequently, this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing - a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves.  And yet it is not a fact in the ordinary sense, in the same way as our actual behaviour is a fact.  

Source: Mere Christianity c. 1952 C.S. Lewis  

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