Good & Evil, Right & Wrong
The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987), 25-26
There is only one thing a professor can be absolutely certain of: almost every student entering the university believes, or says he believes, that truth is relative. If this belief is put to the test, one can count on the student's reaction: they will be uncomprehending. That anyone should regard the proposition as not self-evident astonishes them, as though he were calling into question 2+2=4. These are things you don't think about... That it is a moral issue for students is revealed by the character of their response when challenged — a combination of disbelief and indignation: "Are you an absolutist?," the only alternative they know, uttered in the same tone as... "Do you really believe in witches?" This latter leads into the indignation, for someone who believes in witches might well be a witch-hunter or a Salem judge. The danger they have been taught to fear from absolutism is not error but intolerance. Relativism is necessary to openness; and this is the virtue, the only virtue, which all primary education for more than fifty years has dedicated itself to inculcating. Openness — and the relativism that makes it the only plausible stance in the face of various claims to truth and various ways of life and kinds of human beings — is the great insight of our times... The study of history and of culture teaches that all the world was mad in the past; men always thought they were right, and that led to wars, persecutions, slavery, xenophobia, racism, and chauvinism. The point is not to correct the mistakes and really be right; rather it is not to think you are right at all.
Cur Deus Homo ("Why God Became Man") (1033-1109).
Of forgiveness, indeed, I speak briefly, for, as we said above, vengeance in no sense belongs to you, since you are not your own, nor is he who injures you yours or his, but you are both the servants of one Lord, made by him out of nothing. And if you avenge yourself upon your fellow servant, you proudly assume judgment over him when it is the peculiar right of God, the judge of all. But what do you give to God by your obedience, which is not owed him already, since he demands from you all that you are and have and can become?
Arthur Koestler on War said...
Even a cursory glance at history should convince one that individual crimes committed for selfish motives play a quite insignificant part in the human tragedy, compared to the numbers massacred in unselfish loyalty to one's tribe, nation, dynasty, church, or political ideology, ad majorem gloriam dei. The emphasis is on unselfish. Excepting a small minority of mercenary or sadistic disposition, wars are not fought for personal gain, but out of loyalty and devotion to king, country or cause. Homicide committed for personal reasons is a statistical rarity in all cultures, including our own. Homicide for unselfish reasons, at the risk of one's own life, is the dominant phenomenon of history.
C.S. Lewis on Moral Deliberation said...
Surprised by Joy (Harcourt Brace Jovanovich: 1955), 172.
[T]he difficulty of explaining even a boy's thought entirely in terms of his wishes is that on such large questions as these he always has wishes on both sides. Any conception of reality a sane mind can admit must favor some of its wishes and frustrate others.
C.S. Lewis on Value Judgments said...
The Four Loves (Harcourt Trade: 1971), p. 12.
But throughout this inquiry we must be careful never to adopt prematurely a moral or evaluating attitude. The human mind is generally far more eager to praise and dispraise than to describe and define. It wants to make every distinction a distinction of value; hence those fatal critics who can never point out the differing quality of two poets without putting them in an order of preference as if they were candidates for a prize. We must do nothing of the sort about the pleasures. The reality is too complicated.
"Ethical Relativity: Sic et Non", Journal of Philosophy 52 (1955).
Every culture has a concept of murder, distinguishing this from execution, killing in war, and other "justifiable homicides." The notion of incest and other regulation upon sexual behavior, the prohibition upon untruth under defined circumstances, of restitution and reciprocity, of mutual obligation between parents and children — these and many other moral concepts are altogether universal.
"The Definition of Morality" in Empiricism and Ethics (Cambridge University Press: 1967), pp. 143-4.
One suspects that some modern philosophers have used the device of defining morality as a means of softening the rigours of subjectivism. They are unable to accept an objectivist ethic, and feel forced to conclude that moral utterances merely express attitudes that men happen to have acquired. They are, however, reluctant to accept the consequence that they have no reason for condemning the moral attitudes of (say) Hitler except that they do not happen to share them. They try to avoid this conclusion by saying that it applies only to certain kinds of attitude. Others may be excluded simply because, by definition, they are not moral. ¶ It is clear, however, that to say ... that moral desires are, by definition, those impersonal desires which we want others to share does not excuse us from saying why we think that personal desires should yield to impersonal ones, when they conflict; nor does it justify us in condemning another man if he prefers to give precedence to personal desires. Again, to say ... that moral principles are, by definition, 'universalizable' does not automatically justify a preference for universalizable principles over ones that cannot be universalized. The hard questions for subjectivism still remain, however morality is defined.
David Hume on Arbitrary Morality said...
A Natural History of Religion (1757), Part XV.
The more exquisite any good is, of which a small specimen is afforded us, the sharper is the evil, allied to it; and few exceptions are found to this uniform law of nature. The most sprightly wit borders on madness; the highest effusions of joy produce the deepest melancholy; the most ravishing pleasures are attended with the most cruel lassitude and disgust; the most flattering hopes make way for the severest disappointments. And, in general, no course of life has such safety (for happiness is not to be dreamed of) as the temperate and moderate, which maintains, as far as possible, a mediocrity, and a kind of insensibility, in every thing. As the good, the great, the sublime, the ravishing are found eminently in the genuine principles of theism; it may be expected, from the analogy of nature, that the base, the absurd, the mean, the terrifying will be equally discovered in religious fictions and chimeras.
A Natural History of Religion (1757), Part XV.
Hear the verbal protestations of all men: Nothing so certain as their religious tenets. Examine their lives: You will scarcely think that they repose the smallest confidence in them. The greatest and truest zeal gives us no security against hypocrisy: The most open impiety is attended with a secret dread and compunction. No theological absurdities so glaring that they have not, sometimes, been embraced by men of the greatest and most cultivated understanding. No religious precepts so rigorous that they have not been adopted by the most voluptuous and most abandoned of men. ... Look out for a people, entirely destitute of religion: If you find, them at all, be assured, that they are but few degrees removed from brutes. What so pure as some of the morals, included in some theological system? What so corrupt as some of the practices, to which these systems give rise?
A Treatise of Human Nature (1739), Part 1, Sect. 1.
There is an inconvenience which attends all abstruse reasoning, that it may silence, without convincing an antagonist, and requires the same intense study to make us sensible of its force, that was at first requisite for its invention. When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its conclusions seem to vanish, like the phantoms of the night on the appearance of the morning; and 'tis difficult for us to retain even that conviction, which we had attain'd with difficulty.