We’ve been talking about whether the foundation of morals are objective or subjective. We theists appeal to an objective standard, an overarching conscience, if you will, that inherently guides all healthy human beings. Naturalist and Materialists believe that morals come from the human mind and/or evolve with the advancement of civilization.
C.S. Lewis called the subjective stance a poison that’s potentially fatal to humankind. The following short clip comes from his brilliant short work, The Abolition of Man. Keep in mind, he was writing this in the recent wake of Nazism and Stalinist communism, but his deep insights into the human condition are relevant and timeless.
Here’s what he says in the beginning of the essay:
“A purely theoretical error may remove ordinary checks against evil and deprive good intentions their natural support. An error of this sort is abroad at present. I am not referring to the power of the philosophies of the totalitarian states, but to something goes deeper and spreads wider, and which indeed has given these power philosophies their golden opportunity. I am referring to subjectivism.”
Subjectivism is the philosophical tenet that “our own mental activity is the only unquestionable fact of our experience”. In other words, subjectivism is the doctrine that knowledge is merely subjective and that there is no external or objective truth. (Wikipedia)
This is modern notion (since Descartes) is a very popular way to “agree to disagree”…”to each his or her own…” “whatever floats your boat….” But indifference to discovering truth will never actually make a free people. Only truth can do that. Here’s what Lewis says about why this philosophy will never yield truth:
“After studying his environment, man has begun to study himself….now his own reason had become the object. It is as if we took out our eyes to look at them. His own reason appears to him as the epiphenomenon which accompanies chemicals or electrical events in a cortex, which is itself the by-product of blind evolutionary process. His own logic, hitherto the king whom events in all possible worlds must obey, becomes merely subjective. There is no reason for supposing that it yields truth.”
You can hear what Lewis say about this in the clip below.
It’s amazing to me how relevant Lewis’s words are to us today, 70 years after he wrote them. Like his penetratingly concise insight: “Unless the measuring rod is independent of the measured, we can do no measuring.”
Lewis makes these conclusions near the end of his essay:
“All ideas of new or scientific or modern morality must therefore be dismissed as mere confusion of thought. We only have two alternatives: either the maxim of traditional morality must be accepted as axioms of practical reason, which neither admit or require argument to support them, and not to see which is to have lost human status, or else there are no values at all.”
“The very idea of freedom presupposes some objective moral law which overarches rulers and ruled alike.”