C.S. Lewis and Donald Sterling

What has Donald Sterling to do with C.S. Lewis?

This: Sterling’s racist remarks, and the public reaction to them, remind us of the truth–and continued relevance–of C.S. Lewis’s argument for moral realism in his little classic, The Abolition of Man.

The prophet Nathan, reminding King David of the existence of objective moral truths.

The prophet Nathan, reminding King David of the existence of objective moral truths.

This is the argument of one of my recent pieces for Public Discourse.  Here is a relevant excerpt:

Here, then, we encounter the elementary lesson with which the Sterling affair should reacquaint us: when we make moral judgments, we implicitly and unavoidably acknowledge that there are objective standards of right and wrong independent of our feelings, and to which we ought to conform our feelings. Put another way, the public reaction to Sterling’s remarks reminds us that—whatever some of us may say when we find an appeal to moral relativism convenient—we are, as human beings, by our nature moral realists, believers in ethical standards that we hold to be true, and not just a projection of our own feelings or sentiments.

It is worthwhile reminding ourselves of this elementary lesson because many of us—in other contexts than the problem of racism, and for other purposes than combating it—have been trying to deny it for a long time. The effort was underway almost seventy years ago when C.S. Lewis—in his indispensable little book, The Abolition of Man—refuted, and examined the dangers of, the belief that reason plays no fundamental part in our moral judgments, that such judgments are nothing more than projections of our subjective feelings.

This view is as dangerous as it is erroneous, Lewis contended, because in the long run we will be unable to sustain our commitment to moral principles that we believe are nothing more than manifestations of our feelings. The issues at stake go far beyond academic moral philosophy. Civilization, Lewis warned, depends on moral realism.

You can read the whole thing here.

Even better, you can get Lewis’s The Abolition of Man here.



  • Otis Howard Payne

    My concern has to do with presenting documentary evidence of any religion, cult, or political agenda or world view may soon be considered “hate speech.” If freedom of speech survives i will only be that differences of opinion can be expressed where opposing views can be discussed verbally, electronically, in print or over the airwaves when we agree to disagree agreeably with impunity, That is the definition of free speech as meant by our founding fathers. The Pilgrims were free to proselytize. Our law of free speech is degraded to prohibit mention of Islam as promoting suicide bombers. My book, Counterfeit Religions, features Catholicism in Vol. I as a man-made religion evolving into a heretical institution Dr. John Henry Newman called, “The developing church.” Today the Pope claims when he speaks, God speaks. Mary is worshiped as God and Catholics assume she has the three attributes of God: Omnicience, Omnipotence, and Omnipresence. Only God God has those attributes. Exodus 20 says, You shall have no other God. Shame on Catholicism!!!

    • Alan D.

      Mr. Payne,
      I suggest you pull your book off of any store shelves on which it might be available, as you clearly have not adequately researched Catholic dogma or beliefs, particularly in regard to Mary.

  • Michael

    Just read your original essay, and I have one major problem with your thesis. People do not regard racism as a product of “feelings”, but of convictions. One has very little control over what one feels, but only over what one does in response. Convictions, on the other hand, are chosen, and one can therefore be blamed for making a poor choice. I agree with Lewis, and you, about the dangers of relativism, and the societal hypocrisy exemplified by the Sterling incident, but I think your choice of words weakens your argument.

  • http://Facebook Saourse Gilmore

    In truth, though, we have lost our Constitutional rights to say whatever we want in the privacy of our own home. Our Constitution and our God have given us the CHOICE of what we say, feel and do. While I believe his remarks were racist, he had the right to privacy and the woman who leaked it to TMZ and TMZ should be sued for breach of prvacy. What has happened to our country ???????



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