Thoughts on Thoughts on Mere Christianity

Scott, who needs to stop bogarting content and post it here, is reading C.S. Lewis's Mere Christianity. Why he'd want to read a book that doesn't prominently feature a talking lion isn't entirely clear to me, but there's a lot about Scott (NSFW) that's not entirely clear to any of us.

Some thoughts on Lewis's arguments, and on Scott's analysis. Lewis's first premise---that we can perceive the existence of an objective morality through intuition---strikes me as questionable, for a couple of reasons. First, it's not clear that intuition is a valid tool of cognition, even for morality. An obvious example of the failure of moral intuition is the conflict between the liberal and redistributionist ethics. My intuition suggests that people should be free to keep the fruits of their labor, and that charity should be voluntary. Others intuitively feel that we have the right and obligation to take money from the successful and give it to the needy. We can't all be right, ergo moral intuition is fallible.

Equally importantly, I can't conceive of a coherent interpretation for what it might mean to say that objective morality exists, with or without a god. I'll grant for the sake of argument that Lewis could be right on this point, but he fails to make an adequate case.

Regarding Scott's reponse to step 3, I think that the critical difference between moral intuition and vision as tools of perception is not that we know how vision works (as Scott points out, Aristotle didn't, and I don't think we completely understand it, either), but that vision has predictive value, and it can be cross-checked by other means. If I see a flame, I can put my hand near it and feel the warmth. Put it closer still, and I might get burnt. Touch a piece of paper to it, and I can see it catch fire, and smell the smoke. We don't need to know why vision works; we just need to know that it does, and we have countless ways of verifying this empirically. But moral intuition stands alone. It has no predictive value, and there's no way to cross-check the data it gives us.

In step 5, Lewis suggests that it is only through moral intuition that God may make himself known. Aside from the problems that Scott points out, and the fact that, as a commenter points out, this flatly contradicts scripture, this has the unfortunate effect of rendering God indistinguishable from an instinct or meme. If we grant for the sake of argument that this feeling exists and is more or less universal, there is still no reason to conclude that it is a manifestation of the divine, rather than a learned behavior or the action of some enzyme in the brain.

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