What has Donald Sterling to do with C.S. Lewis?
This: Sterling’s racist remarks, and the public reaction to them, remind us of the truth–and continued relevance–of C.S. Lewis’s argument for moral realism in his little classic, The Abolition of Man.The prophet Nathan, reminding King David of the existence of objective moral truths.
This is the argument of one of my recent pieces for Public Discourse. Here is a relevant excerpt:
Here, then, we encounter the elementary lesson with which the Sterling affair should reacquaint us: when we make moral judgments, we implicitly and unavoidably acknowledge that there are objective standards of right and wrong independent of our feelings, and to which we ought to conform our feelings. Put another way, the public reaction to Sterling’s remarks reminds us that—whatever some of us may say when we find an appeal to moral relativism convenient—we are, as human beings, by our nature moral realists, believers in ethical standards that we hold to be true, and not just a projection of our own feelings or sentiments.
It is worthwhile reminding ourselves of this elementary lesson because many of us—in other contexts than the problem of racism, and for other purposes than combating it—have been trying to deny it for a long time. The effort was underway almost seventy years ago when C.S. Lewis—in his indispensable little book, The Abolition of Man—refuted, and examined the dangers of, the belief that reason plays no fundamental part in our moral judgments, that such judgments are nothing more than projections of our subjective feelings.
This view is as dangerous as it is erroneous, Lewis contended, because in the long run we will be unable to sustain our commitment to moral principles that we believe are nothing more than manifestations of our feelings. The issues at stake go far beyond academic moral philosophy. Civilization, Lewis warned, depends on moral realism.
You can read the whole thing here.
Even better, you can get Lewis’s The Abolition of Man here.