Angilbert (fl. ca. 840/50), On the Battle Which was Fought at Fontenoy

The Law of Christians is broken,
Blood by the hands of hell profusely shed like rain,
And the throat of Cerberus bellows songs of joy.

Angelbertus, Versus de Bella que fuit acta Fontaneto

Fracta est lex christianorum
Sanguinis proluvio, unde manus inferorum,
gaudet gula Cerberi.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Man is "Instinkt Arm": C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

PURE REASON WRESTED FROM ANY NOTION OF THE TAO, of the natural law, leads pretty much to a dead end in explaining moral oughtness, at least if utilitarian calculus is invoked. As we saw in our last posting, C. S. Lewis hoists the utilitarian with his own Humean petard. Having stung the liberals with the failure of their reason-without-Tao to explain moral oughtness, C. S. Lewis then explores an alternative explanation frequently posited by the relativists: instinct, most fundamentally the instinct of preserving the species. Here we enter into the Hobbesian apologetic, the Hobbesian brutal, nasty, short-lived world where the moral law is dumbed down to red tooth and red claw. We fall from Seneca's noble sentiment, Homo sacra res homini, man is something sacred to man, to the vicious Plautian bruteness, homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man. The Tao can be disposed of as, in the final analysis, conventional, at best. It is for the weak. The real law is dark, ominous, and completely self-regarding and Darwinian:

We have no instinctive urge to keep promises or to respect individual life: that is why scruples of justice and humanity--in fact the Tao--can be properly swept away when they conflict with our real end, the preservation of the species.

Abolition, 33. The Hobbesian ethic gets even more vicious as man's technical progress virtually assures his survival, so that the sole basis of morality becomes literally dispensable. Thus man is able to dismantle virtually any natural law, any natural institution, beginning with sex and with the advocacy of contraception:*
That . . . is why the modern situation permits and demands a new sexual morality: the old taboos served some real purpose in helping to preserve the species, but contraceptives have modified this and now we can abandon many of the taboos. For of course sexual desire, being instinctive, is to be gratified whenever it does not conflict with the preservation of the species.
Abolition, 33. The notion of instinct as the basis for morality presents significant problems. The first which C. S. Lewis discusses in his Abolition of Man relates to the problem of determinism. If instinct is what drives us on compulsively, if we have no choice but to obey instinct, then it would appear that all is determined by "unreflective or spontaneous impulse." In which case, it would seem, there is no basis for morality. We are going to do what instinct compels us to do willy nilly, and there does not seem much point in encouraging certain behavior or discouraging other behavior since instinct does what instinct does.

To circumvent the determinism problem, the advocate of instinct must then say that man has a choice in the matter, and therefore may suggest that instinct is not compelling yet it has a measure of oughtness to it. But this is to trade one problem for another, and the problem traded for is one that begs the question. If we ought to obey instinct, why is it that we ought to? Is there an instinct above the instinct that informs us that we ought to obey instinct, a sort of Urinstinkt or primal or meta-instinct above the ordinary instinct that informs the latter's oughtness? If so, then why ought we to obey this primal or meta-instinct? Is there a primal-primal instinct, a meta-meta instinct, an ururinstinkt? And we begin to see the kind of Borgian infinite regress we have just entered. Adding more primals and metas and urs to a word doesn't really get us anywhere. "This is presumably impossible, but nothing else will serve." Lewis finds the kernel of illogic in the argument, and it is similar to the Humean "is/ought" problem he detected in the utilitarian:
From the statement about psychological fact 'I have an impulse to do so and so' we cannot be any ingenuity derive the practical principle 'I ought to obey this impulse'. Even if it were true that men had a spontaneous, unreflective impulse to sacrifice their own lives for the preservation of their fellows,** it remains a quite separate question whether this is an impulse they should control or one they should indulge.
As if the problem of infinite regress were not enough for the instinctivist to try to tackle, Lewis then asks what standard the instinctivists*** reach for in determining what instincts should be followed and which should not. It is a fundamental experience which no man can deny: "Our instincts are at war." Abolition, 36. When instincts clash, and we are instructed that one instinct should take precedence, "whence do we derive this rule of precedence?" Instincts do not judge themselves. There must be something outside the instincts to judge them.

The idea that, without appealing to any court higher than the instincts themselves, we can yet find grounds for preferring one instinct above its fellows dies very hard. We grasp at useless words: we call it the 'basic', or 'fundamental', or 'primal', or 'deepest' instinct. It is of no avail. Either these words conceal a value judgment passed upon the instinct and therefore not derivable from it, or else they merely record its felt intensity, the frequency of its operation and its wide distribution. If the former, the whole attempt to base value upon instinct has been abandoned: if the latter, these observations about the quantitative aspects of a psychological event lead to no practical conclusion. It is the old dilemma. Either the premises already concealed an imperative or the conclusion remains merely in the indicative.

Abolition, 36-37. It looks more and more like instinctivists, sort of like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, are caught up in some sort of spiraling gyre and heading out of Kansas into some Ozian world of logic. Or perhaps, more classically, it looks like the instinctivists in their Odyssean quest for a basic of morality are being ineluctably swallowed up by some sort of Charybdian enemy of logic.

Ur, ur, ur, ur, ur, ur, ur, ur . . .

Lewis has yet another point against the instinctivists, specific to the notion of preservation of the species as a "basic" instinct. He has doubts that it even exists, and that if it exists it is conventional. How go about proving that it is an instinct at all?
I do not discovery [an instinct to care for posterity] in myself . . . . Much less do I find it easy to believe that the majority of people who have sat opposite me in buses or stood with me in queues feel an unreflective impulse to do anything at all about the species, or posterity. . . . . What we have by nature is an impulse to preserve our own children and grandchildren; an impulse which grows progressively feebler as the imagination looks forward and finally dies out in the 'deserts of vast futurity'.*** . . . . If we are to base ourselves upon instinct, these things are the substance, and care for posterity the shadow--the huge, flickering shadow of he nursery happiness cast upon the screen of the unknown future.
Abolition, 38-39. What it looks like to Lewis is that the alleged instinct of preservation of the species is not something instinctive, but a taste highly refined and reflective, one nurtured not natured, and one generally found in such characters, many of them misanthropic but some just idealistic activists, with grandiose idealogies such as the the innocuous pedagogue and social reformer Friedrich Fröbel, the liberal political philosopher Rousseau, and the much less liberal and much more ominous Marx, Hitler, Mao, or Pol Pot.
*Lewis was Anglican with Catholic leanings. Published in 1943, his book Abolition of Man came after the controversial Lambeth Conference in 1930. Look at the great Fall of the Anglican Church, the great sexual apostasy in just one decade between the Sixth Lambeth Conference (1920) and the Seventh Lambeth Conference (1930).
Here is the Anglican teaching in 1920:

Resolution 68

Problems of Marriage and Sexual Morality

The Conference, while declining to lay down rules which will meet the needs of every abnormal case, regards with grave concern the spread in modern society of theories and practices hostile to the family. We utter an emphatic warning against the use of unnatural means for the avoidance of conception, together with the grave dangers - physical, moral and religious - thereby incurred, and against the evils with which the extension of such use threatens the race. In opposition to the teaching which, under the name of science and religion, encourages married people in the deliberate cultivation of sexual union as an end in itself, we steadfastly uphold what must always be regarded as the governing considerations of Christian marriage. One is the primary purpose for which marriage exists, namely the continuation of the race through the gift and heritage of children; the other is the paramount importance in married life of deliberate and thoughtful self-control.

We desire solemnly to commend what we have said to Christian people and to all who will hear.

Here is the Anglican teaching only one decade later, in 1930:
Resolution 15

The Life and Witness of the Christian Community - Marriage and Sex

Where there is clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, the method must be decided on Christian principles. The primary and obvious method is complete abstinence from intercourse (as far as may be necessary) in a life of discipline and self-control lived in the power of the Holy Spirit. Nevertheless in those cases where there is such a clearly felt moral obligation to limit or avoid parenthood, and where there is a morally sound reason for avoiding complete abstinence, the Conference agrees that other methods may be used, provided that this is done in the light of the same Christian principles. The Conference records its strong condemnation of the use of any methods of conception control from motives of selfishness, luxury, or mere convenience.

Voting: For 193; Against 67.
By 1968, at the Tenth Lambeth Conference, the Anglican bishops had the temerity to disagree with Pope Paul VI's recent encyclical Humanae vitae which reaffirmed the Tao and the Church's teaching regarding artificial contraception:
Resolution 22

Responsible Parenthood

This Conference has taken note of the papal encyclical letter Humanae vitae recently issued by his holiness Pope Paul VI. This Conference records its appreciation for the pope's deep concern for the institution of marriage and the integrity of married life.

Nevertheless, the Conference finds itself unable to agree with the Pope's conclusion that all methods of conception control other than abstinence from sexual intercourse or its confinement to periods of infecundity are contrary to the "order established by God." It reaffirms the findings of the Lambeth Conference of 1958 contained in Resolutions 112, 113, and 115 which are as follows:

112. The Conference records its profound conviction that the idea of the human family is rooted in the Godhead and that consequently all problems of sex relations, the procreation of children, and the organisation of family life must be related, consciously and directly, to the creative, redemptive, and sanctifying power of God.

113. The Conference affirms that marriage is a vocation to holiness, through which men and women may share in the love and creative purpose of God. The sins of self-indulgence and sensuality, born of selfishness and a refusal to accept marriage as a divine vocation, destroy its true nature and depth, and the right fullness and balance of the relationship between men and women. Christians need always to remember that sexual love is not an end in itself nor a means to self-gratification, and that self-discipline and restraint are essential conditions of the responsible freedom of marriage and family planning.

115. The Conference believes that the responsibility for deciding upon the number and frequency of children has been laid by God upon the consciences of parents everywhere; that this planning, in such ways as are mutually acceptable to husband and wife in Christian conscience, is a right and important factor in Christian family life and should be the result of positive choice before God. Such responsible parenthood, built on obedience to all the duties of marriage, requires a wise stewardship of the resources and abilities of the family as well as a thoughtful consideration of the varying population needs and problems of society and the claims of future generations.

The Conference commends the Report of Committee 5 of the Lambeth Conference 1958, together with the study entitled "The Family in Contemporary Society" which formed the basis of the work of that Committee, to the attention of all men of good will for further study in the light of the continuing sociological and scientific developments of the past decades.

So facilely, easily did the Anglicans cast of the natural law's teaching on artificial contraception and the meaning and purpose of the conjugal act. The lawlessness, 'tis true, is draped in pious sounding language: but that is about as effective as suggesting a traitor's corpse is patriotic because it is a coffin and draped in an American Flag. I do not know Lewis's personal views on the liciety of artificial contraception, although he appears to be generally against it in this particular text.
**One should recall that Lewis is here exploring the concrete teaching: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori (it is a sweet and useful thing to die for one's country) from the perspective of those who reject the Tao. It is his experimentum crucis, or critical experiment, meant to ferret out the problems of the non-traditionalist, liberal, subjective and relativist view.
***Lewis has some lengthy footnotes discussing the doctrines of literary critic Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979) and the biologist Conrad Hal Waddington (1905–1975) not discussed herein.
****This appears to be an allusion to Marvell's "To his Coy Mistress":
But at my back I always hear
Time's winged chariot hurrying near;
And yonder all before us lie
Deserts of vast eternity.

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