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In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis makes his classic argument for the Law of Nature, stating that, “This law was called the Law of Nature because people thought that everyone knew it by nature and did not need to be taught it. They did not mean, of course, that you might not find an odd individual here and there who did not know it…But taking the race as a whole, they thought that the human idea of decent behavior was obvious to everyone.
And I believe they were right”(Lewis 5). Unfortunately, contrary to Lewis, I find that morality varies by culture, and these differences in morality are significant enough to discount the concept of the “law of nature.” Primarily, I find that Lewis’s concession that some individuals may be “colour-blind” as a major issue with his argument. (Lewis 5) Whether referencing psychopaths or foreign countries or some subgroup of society that holds very different views on major moral issues, many individuals have an example of someone who stands against a “basic” sense of morality.
When Lewis writes these individuals off as being simply colour-blind, I believe he undermines an element of their humanity. By definition, the natural law is natural because humans are naturally aware of this given standard. As C.S. Lewis observes later on, “…there were two odd things about the human race. First, that they were haunted by the idea of a sort of behavior that they ought to practise…” (Lewis 16). Essentially, Lewis argues that our awareness of some form of lawfulness defines our humanity.
Following this logic, if a society developsthe opinion that a given moral standard is natural law, they have established a standard by which they may judge the humanity of individuals within their society. If a society assumes that humans are naturally aware of this given arbitrary standard, individuals who lack that understanding of morality may be assumed to be unnatural or inhumane. Thus, it seems to me that Lewis’s argument for natural law opens up the door for humans possessing an unconventional definition of morality to be deemed less than human.
Were C.S. Lewis to respond to this argument, I believe he would primarily contend that all humans possess some understanding of a sense of morality. He would argue, along that line of logic, that by referring to an “idea of a sort of behavior that [humans) ought to practice,” he was recognizing humanity by its ability to perceive something of morality, not by whether a person’s individual standard agrees with a societal norm. Humanity is defined by individual belief in some form of right or wrong, while natural law is defined by the general overall perception perception of morality. The two are not connected. Regardless of whether an individual’s standard matches the standard of his surrounding society, he still possesses the entirety of his humanity. Specifically, C.S. Lewis may note that, “The…law of human nature is not simply a fact about human behaviour in the same way as the Law of Gravitation is, or may be, simply a fact about how heavy objects behave…” (Lewis 20).
Rather than the law of nature being clearly cut and dry in this mathematical fashion, he would argue that the law of nature can be seen at work in a general sense, with the specificities of its influence on each individual varying. This does not diminish their humanity, but only diminishes our perception of their morality.
To conclude, I believe a strong case can be made for the generalized nature of C.S.
Lewis’s argument on the law of nature. While C.S. Lewis may be able to provide viable counterpoints to those arguments, I believe a convincing rebuttal to those counterpoints can also be made. Cogent and persuasive points may be made for either side of the natural law debate, and perhaps that explains why natural law remains a perennial question.
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