As noted in my opening post on this matter, I am wanting to more fully and directly make this connection – the connection of the meaning crisis to the violation of a natural law ethic, and why restoring the natural law ethic is the only solution to the meaning crisis.
Again, while I call the previous post my opening post, in reality it is what I have been working through for a few years, but have decided I now need to try to pull it together in a concise form.
It has been a month since I published that opening post, “Nature, According to Our Purpose.” Almost from the time I published it, I have kept getting pulled to C. S. Lewis’s book, the Abolition of Man. The more I have thought about it, the more I have come to conclude that the answer to my dilemma is all in this book. Lewis wrote of the problem and solution almost eighty years ago.
I have written about this book in the past. My previous posts can be found here:
What I believed would be the case, and as I have started to re-read the book has turned out to be true, is that my thought has developed significantly since the time I wrote these earlier posts almost three years ago. There are many parts that didn’t catch my attention the first time that now seem tremendously relevant. So, I can’t take a shortcut and just say “read these old posts for the answer.” Parts of it will be there, to be sure. But I don’t think it ties together the way I hope it will today.
So, why The Abolition of Man? Why do I believe the entire answer will be found in this short (less-than-forty-page) book? Lewis quickly summarizes why we, as human beings, require objective values if we are to live as human beings.
Now, consider that last sentence carefully: we require objective values if we are to live as human beings. If he is right, then the clear implication is that if we do not have and hold to objective values, we cannot live as human beings.
Hence, if we cannot live as human beings, our lives have lost meaning as human beings. We can live as something else, but not as human beings. Would this not result in a crisis of meaning, to live as something other than what we are – to not live as we are meant to live?
Lewis covers all of this. Now, he begins with an example that seems quite quaint to our ears; a seemingly small little slight, an almost unnoticeable ounce of meaning stripped from a large inventory of stock. It will be worth beginning by examining how far we have fallen since the time he wrote these words – from a small little gap in maintaining objective values to the chasm we now live with today (and we know the limits of widening this gap have not yet been reached).
The cost of the one little slight noted by Lewis at the beginning of this book can be understood if one understands the quote from Confucius with which Lewis begins his work:
The Master said, He who sets to work on a different strand destroys the whole fabric.
Just one strand out of place – in a different order, one not belonging to the whole – and the whole is ruined. Once the unraveling begins, there is no end to it. Once the principle is given up or compromised, there is no natural (principled) place by which one can say “it stops here.”
What is the fabric that is so delicate that one wrong strand, one strand out of place, will destroy the whole? Lewis answers the question:
This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes, is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There has never been, and never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world.
Throughout the book, Lewis, for convenience, uses the word Tao when he speaks of this point. I will, as Lewis has made clear is appropriate, use the term Natural Law whenever he uses Tao, in order to be quite clear to Western ears what Lewis is speaking of.
It is this that Lewis explores – the loss of a Natural Law ethic and the costs associated with this – and this is why Natural Law is the key to resolving the meaning crisis. It is the fabric that has been destroyed because man has been working on a different strand. It is derived from the objective values on which man depends if he is to have a meaningful life.
It is this that I will explore, through Lewis, in several subsequent posts.