Good & Evil, Right & Wrong
Kelly James Clark in Realism/Anti-Realism, William Alston, ed. (Cornell University Press: 2002).
In this paper, I defend the importance of narrative to moral philosophy, in particular to moral realism. Moral realism, for the purposes of this essay, is the claim that there are moral truths independent of human beliefs, attitudes, desires and feelings.i Contemporary philosophers typically focus on discursive arguments and exclude narrative. But narrative is considerably more powerful than argument in effecting belief-change. I shall argue that through such belief-change one can attain to moral truth.ii This account is opposed to that of fellow narrativalist, Richard Rorty, who denies moral realism. Since I believe the clash between realists and anti-realists resolves into a clash of intuitions, I don't propose to offer a convincing argument in favor of moral realism. Instead, like Rorty I will draw a word-picture, which stands in stark contrast to the word-picture that he draws about stories; it is my hope that the reader will find my word-picture more compelling than Rorty's word-picture. In the final section I will offer some considerations in favor of moral realism.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), chp 3.
Lewis observes that man's increasing power over nature is at the same time the unavoidable empowering of some men over other men, whether it be nation over nation, the majority over the minority, or this generation over the next. "Each new power won by man is a power over man as well. Each advance leaves him weaker as well as stronger." Lewis imagines that day when science conquers the last domain of nature, human nature, and gains the power to determine even what it is to be human. Released thereby from the dictates of the Tao, an ultimate rule that guides behavior and law in conformity with the natural order, we will have recourse only to impulse, to emotion, to whim. "At the moment, then, of Man's victory over Nature, we find the whole human race subjected to some individual men, and those individuals subjected to that in themselves which is purely 'natural' — to their irrational impulses. Nature, untrammelled by values, rules the Conditioners and, through them, all humanity. Man's conquest of Nature turns out, in the moment of its consummation, to be Nature's conquest of Man." Our defeat by nature is the inevitable outcome of making ourselves mere constituents of nature. "Either we are rational spirit obliged forever to obey the absolute values of the Tao, or else we are mere nature to be kneaded and cut into new shapes for the pleasures of masters who must, by hypothesis, have no motive but their own 'natural' impulses." Lewis' Abolition of Man has been widely lauded as one of the great prophetic works of the twentieth century. ~ Afterall
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), Appendix.
The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness. It will be noticed that writers such as Locke and Hooker, who wrote within the Christian tradition, are quoted side by side with the New Testament. This would, of course, be absurd if I were trying to collect independent testimonies to the Tao. But (1) I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it. (2) The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that 'civilizations' have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the last resort, from a single centre — 'carried' like an infectious disease or like the Apostolical succession.
C. S. Lewis in The Abolition of Man (1943), chp 1.
Lewis takes as his subject the thesis presented by two unnamed schoolmasters in what he calls "The Green Book": that our value judgments refer only to our own sentiments and never to any intrinsic worth in the objects we judge. He is concerned as to what this will mean for the education of English children, and this essay constitutes one part of Lewis' Abolition of Man, subtitled "Reflections on education with special reference to the teaching of English in the upper forms of schools". In the authors' seemingly innocent and casual subjectification of value there is a subversive outcome: "I do not mean, of course, that [the schoolboy] will make any conscious inference from what he reads to a general philosophical theory that all values are subjective and trivial. The very power of Gaius and Titius depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy: a boy who thinks he is 'doing' his 'English prep' and has no notion that ethics, theology, and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory they put into his mind, but an assumption, which ten years hence, its origin forgotten and its presence unconscious, will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all." The Green Book's authors analyze a piece of banal and deceptive advertising. But, Lewis notes, the authors have effectively precluded any normative judgment of the ad, for a similiar judgment upon Johnson, Wordsworth, or Virgil could be no less an accurate description of a reader's sentiments, and there is no other quality to which to appeal. Lewis ends with this oft-cited poetic prose: "And all the time — such is the tragi-comedy of our situation — we continue to clamour for those very qualities we are rendering impossible. You can hardly open a periodical without coming across the statement that what our civilization needs is more 'drive', or dynamism, or self-sacrifice, or 'creativity'. In a sort of ghastly simplicity we remove the organ and demand the function. We make men without chests and expect of them virtue and enterprise. We laugh at honour and are shocked to find traitors in our midst. We castrate and bid the geldings be fruitful." His argument continues in "The Way". ~ Afterall
C.S. Lewis, Excerpts from "Right and Wrong as a Clue to the Meaning of the Universe", Book One in Mere Christianity (original 1944).
In this oft discussed passage from Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis spurns the supposed implications of a century's worth of cultural anthropology, arguing that virtually all people possess an innate moral compass that is at bottom similar or the same, in spite of surface differences. He begins by noting that human quarreling presupposes such a shared set of moral norms, that without a common set of "Rules of Human Nature", quarreling would be, in effect, impossible. An interesting thought. Lewis goes on to argue that this set of moral obligations we find in ourselves suggests a moral lawgiver. En route, he comments on the proper limits of science, on what we can infer on the basis of our own self-knowledge, and on the hypocrisy of those who claim no such common moral knowledge exists. Lewis' essay is hardly the most rigorous moral argument for theism on offer, but it does display his knack for drawing on the everyday to illustrate his premises and his argument for a common ethic is especially worth considering in view of the conventional wisdom about the radical diversity of moral norms. The moral differences between persons and cultures is profound. Can Lewis' argument for universal "Rules of Human Nature" be sustained? I'm particularly keen to reflect on the extent to which apparent moral differences should actually be attributed to different beliefs about reality. On this, see his thought provoking comments on the old practice of burning witches at the stake. Also note his observation that the materialistic and religious views of reality are not a bifurcation emerging out of the Enlightenment, but rather a fundamental divergence that turns up "wherever there having been thinking men".
Henry Drummond (James Pott & Co.: 1890), 69 pages. »
In this timeless speech, Henry Drummond argues that the greatest thing, the summum bonum, is love. But this love is not here just a cliché, the love of pop songs and romantic comedies. As Drummond puts it: "Patience; kindness; generosity; humility; courtesy; unselfishness; good temper; guilelessness; sincerity — these make up the supreme gift... You will observe that all are in relation to men, in relation to life, in relation to the known to-day and the near to-morrow, and not to the unknown eternity." I have always appreciated this fact, that the biblical portrait of love is not merely a beautiful but empty concept, but rather a love with form and flesh. Drummond enumerates and expounds on the nature of biblical love, contrasting it with other goods, analyzing its aspects, and defending its primacy of place. ~ Afterall
John Hare in Evolution and Ethics: Human Morality in Biological and Religious Perspective (Eerdmans: 2004), pp. 187-203.
I am going to talk about the question of whether we can find an evolutionary basis for human morality. I am not a scientist, but a philosopher. So I am not going to try to pass judgment on the theory of evolution itself, as it applies to human beings. I do not regard philosophers as professionally competent either to pass a positive or negative judgment on the theory, except insofar as there are philosophical commitments embodied in it. However, I do regard myself as having made some progress in understanding human morality. In particular, I have been interested in and have written about the gap between the demands of morality on us and our natural capacities to meet those demands. This gap presents the problem of how we can be held accountable or responsible for a standard we are not equipped to meet either by innate capacity or natural development. So I want to ask the conditional question: if we assume that the theory of evolution as it applies to human beings is correct, does this help us answer the questions of whether we can be morally good and why we should be morally good? The first question, whether we can be morally good, is the question raised by the moral gap between the demands of morality and our natural capacities. It is only after answering this first question, “yes, we can be morally good,” that the second question arises of why we should be morally good, for we can only be held accountable or responsible for standards that we are able to reach. The burden of my presentation will be that we do not get an answer to these two questions from the theory of evolution. I am not arguing here that the theory is false, but that even if it is true, it doesn’t give us an answer. I will be looking at a number of recent attempts to provide such an answer from the theory, but I will claim that all of them fail.
William Lane Craig, presented to the Christian Theological Research Fellowship meeting at the AAR in November, 1996
William Lane Craig argues first that objective morality is indefensible apart from the existence of God, and second, therefore, that the evident fact of objective morality is evidence for the existence of God. If not A (no God) then not B (no objective morality), then conversely, B therefore A. Craig justifies his thesis by noting the inability of atheism to account for moral evaluation, moral responsibility, and moral accountability. He is careful to stipulate that he is not arguing that belief in God is required for moral action and character, as the argument is sometimes misconstrued. Rather, "that if God exists, then the objectivity of moral values, moral duties, and moral accountability is secured, but that in the absence of God, that is, if God does not exist, then morality is just a human convention, that is to say, morality is wholly subjective and non-binding." ~ Afterall
John Hare, presented at Baylor University (April 2002).
Hare summarizes his talk as follows: "I have been defending a divine command theory of the right. The version I have been defending is that of Duns Scotus. In this version we distinguish between the two tables of the law, or the two great commandments Jesus gives us. The first, we say, is necessary. God has to order us towards loving God. The second is contingent, and is the route God has chosen for us to reach our final destination, which is union with God. I have then replied to two objections to this view. First, there is the objection that divine command theory makes morality arbitrary. The reply is that the route is not arbitrary because it does lead to our destination. The second objection is that divine command theory makes morality infantile. The reply is that if there is a God who knows what is good for all of creation, then it is not infantile to follow the commands of such a being, but excellent good sense." Also see, "Can We Be Good Without God?".
John Hare, presented at Baylor University (April 2002).
Here is the thesis of this paper. Morality as we are familiar with it in our culture originally made sense against the background of a set of beliefs and practices in traditional theism. In elite Western culture these beliefs and practices have now been widely abandoned. The result is that morality no longer makes sense within that culture the way it once did. There are two problem areas in particular that I will stress. The first is the gap between the moral demand on us and our natural capacities to meet it. This gap produces the question: Can we be morally good? The second problem area is the source of the authority of morality. This produces the question: Why should we be morally good? The traditional answer to these questions has been that God enables us to live in the way we should, and that we should live that way because God calls us to live that way. I will be looking at various kinds of incoherence that arise when these traditional answers are no longer available. [Also see, "Can We Be Good With God?"]