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.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Utilitarian Failure: C. S. Lewis and the Natural Law

IN DEPARTING FROM THE WAY WHEN EDUCATING THE YOUNG and lapsing into the slough of relativism and subjectivism one is assuring the eventual destruction of society. Strictly speaking, perhaps, the fact that a certain doctrine will lead to the demise of society does not speak as to its untruth. Contrariwise, the fact that a certain doctrine works does not assure its conformity with truth. Pragmatic sanction is not necessarily the seal of truth. "The true doctrine might be a doctrine which if we accept we die." Abolition, 27. If truth were to lead to our demise, then reality would be a cruel joke, to be sure, and the hopeless existentialists such as Sartre could all be right. We just need to man up and take it. It might be our fate to pray to Zeus in the manner of the ancient Greeks who were awash in the determinism of fate, of μοῖρα, moira. The world, and its God--if he be Zeus not Yahweh--may be hostile to us:
ἐν δὲ φάει καὶ ὄλεσσον.*

In the light do thou e'en slay us.
Homer, Iliad, XVII.647. But there is a curious inconsistency in the liberal mind. While it rejects absolute norms and the existence of an objective reality to which the mind and morals ought to conform, a "Reason" behind "reason," and therefore rejects a purpose or end to the entire structure of reality, it has the audacity to promote an end of its own. The doctrine of liberalism is therefore overwhelmingly hypocritical. It says one thing and does another. They claim to be free of doctrinal bias, all the while they have a doctrinal bias of their own. The talk about "progress" or "enlightenment" or "evolving" begs the question: progress to, enlightenment with, evolving towards what? What is the liberal ineluctable good which liberals deny everyone else? It is simply an "uncritical dogmatism," a "system of values which happen[] to be in vogue," which is anti-tradition, anti-religion, anti-natural law. Ultimately, the dogmatism of the liberal rests on absurdity.

The Subjectivist, Relativist Liberal Hoisted by the Humean Petard

Since the liberal rejects the notion of the Tao or the natural law as providing a reason for doing things, or eminently as being even part of reality and Reason itself, the liberal must seek for the basis of the good elsewhere. Lewis explores this and finds the subjectivism of the liberal wanting in foundation. He uses the Horatian sentiment: dulce et decorum est pro patria mori as the "experimentum crucis,"** How does the liberal argue to the fellow liberal that he ought to die for the good of his country?

The first possibility is the notion of the useful. Perhaps the good is based upon utility: "'Good', he might say, 'means what is useful to the community.'" Abolition, 30. Death is not useful to the community, so what must be meant is death of an individual is useful to the community. And we may grant the premises as true in fact. It may be factual that the death of one man saves many. Why then should any one man sacrifice himself for the others? On the liberal premise, one cannot appeal to those sentiments, central to the Tao, that are based upon an objective order (pride, honor, shame, love, etc.) and thus are "natural" to us but cannot be strictly ascribed to "pure reasoning." Why should one man sacrifice himself for the community and not another man? Isn't it as equally "rational" that another man (and not me) sacrifice himself for the community's good? Selfishness seems more rationally justifiable than altruism if the Tao is not to be taken into account. Refusal to sacrifice, then, seems equally as rational as sacrifice. Why is this the case? It is the case because the liberal is hoisted by his own petard. The Humean Guillotine kills the liberal: one cannot build value on utilitarian fact:

From propositions about fact alone no practical conclusion can ever be drawn. This will preserve society cannot lead to do this except by the mediation of society ought to be preserved. This will cost you your life cannot lead directly to do not do this: it can lead to it only through a felt desire or an acknowledged duty of self-preservation. The Innovator [i.e., the liberal if he bases his ethic on some sort of utilitarian or consequentialist reasoning] is trying to get a conclusion in the imperative mood out of premises in the indicative mood: and though he continues trying to all eternity he cannot succeed, for the thing is impossible.

Abolition, 32-33. The Tao, of course, would add the oughtness and make it part of the entire reasoning process. But far be it from the liberal to acknowledge his mistake. So from the "rational" and "enlightened" utilitarian principles which have failed him, where does he turn? Perhaps to instinct?

*Homer, Iliad, XVII.647. (My text, published by Harper, has: 'εν δε φαει και 'δλεσσου, which appears to be a misprint. Apparently, the editor did not know Greek!)
**The term experimentum crucis means "crucial experiment" or "critical experiment." It is a term that is given to an experiment that decisively determines the superiority of one hypothesis or theory to all other hypotheses or theories whose acceptance commonly held by others in the community.

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