Thursday, March 03, 2005

The Moral Dilemma

Morality, then, seems to be concerned with three things, Firstly, with fair play and harmony between individuals. Secondly, with what might be called tidying up or harmonising the things inside each individual. Thirdly, with the general purpose of human life as a whole: what man was made for: what course the whole fleet ought to be on: what tune the conductor of the band wants it to play. ...

Almost all people at all times have agreed (in theory) that human beings ought to be honest and kind and helpful to one another. But though it is natural to begin with all that, if our thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well not have thought at all. Unless we go on to the second thing--the tidying up inside each human being--we are only deceiving ourselves.

What is the good of telling the ships how to steer so as to avoid collisions if, in fact, they are such crazy old tubs that they cannot be steered at all? What is the good of drawing up, on paper, rules for social behaviour, if we know that, in fact, our greed, cowardice, ill temper, and self-conceit are going to prevent us from keeping them? I do not mean for a moment that we ought not to think, and think hard, about improvements in our social and economic system. What I do mean is that all that thinking will be mere moonshine unless we realise that nothing but the courage and unselfishness of individuals is ever going to make any system work properly. It is easy enough to remove the particular kinds of graft or bullying that go on under the present system: but as long as men are twisters or bullies they will find some new way of carrying on the old game under the new system. You cannot make men good by law: and without good men you cannot have a good society.
~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book III "The Three Parts of Morality" (1952)


On this day:

1934 C.S. Lewis's friend Dorothy Sayers appeared as the only woman among such speakers as Winston Churchill and George Bernard Shaw on the BBC program "Seven Days Hard".

1 Comment(s):

At Thu Mar 03, 03:05:00 PM EST, Blogger MrKimi said...

When I was very young I had a hobby of trying to devise the perfect political system. But I could never do it because I knew there was no way to get people to behave. I came to the conclusion that we need better people, and that with better people the political system didn't matter anyway. Later, when I read Lewis adding the spiritual dimension to this it all made sense.


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