The Subjective Morality of CS Lewis
In The Poison of Subjectivism, CS Lewis blames subjectivism for the evils of totalitarian states. "Until modern times, no thinker of the first rank ever doubted that our judgments of value were rational judgments, or that what they discovered was objective." That may be true, but it ignores the fact that those thinkers did not always share the same values and moral judgments. So Lewis, ironically, states his opinion that value judgments are objective, despite the fact that there is no universal agreement as to what these supposed objective values are. He calls the idea that men can create value by rational means a "fatal superstition", even as he bases his own values on his religious superstition.
Lewis speaks of having a measuring rod for moral judgments that is independent of the things measured, and without such a rod, there is no ground for making any moral judgments. There would be no basis, for example, to say that the Nazis were morally inferior or superior to any other society. But does this objective standard exist? Was it used by the authors of the Christian bible? The bible tells us that wearing mixed fabrics is wrong, that adultery is grounds for stoning, that slavery is acceptable. Most people today disagree with those things, but they were once widely accepted moral judgments, and you would likely be unable to convince someone from that society that their moral values were not objectively correct. The "objective" measuring rod they used is not the same as the ones most of us use in our current societies. Perhaps it's really not objective at all. What is an objective fact is that our moral values and judgments change along with society.
Lewis makes the mistake of claiming the primacy of this own religious-based values, which is a common ploy of Christians, as I described in an earlier post. He assumes that his own moral judgments are superior, and that he can say with confidence that he knows what is right, and all those others who have a different ideology are wrong, and that this is an objective fact. That's his opinion, and many people with different ideologies have exactly the same opinion about their own moral judgments. It is easy for him to look down upon the Nazis and declare that they are morally inferior, because most people other than Nazis share the same opinion. But that doesn't make it an objective moral fact, any more than the notion that the slaughter of the Canaanites was objectively good. There are many other cases where Lewis' "objective" values would run counter to the opinions of other people. For example, can he say his Christian morals are superior to those of a Buddhist, or a Hindu, or an atheist? On what basis does he make such a claim? His objective measuring rod doesn't exactly match the objective measuring rods used by people of other societies or other faiths. So what kind of standard does it actually represent?
I think that it is wrong for Christians to teach young children that they will be tortured for all eternity if they don't swallow the Christian faith. But that's my opinion. That's my own moral judgment, and it is probably shared by the majority of people on the planet (other than Christians). But I understand that people have different opinions. I don't have the chutzpah to go around making the claim that my own moral judgments are superior to those of anyone who doesn't share my particular ideals and values. But Lewis has the chutzpah to do just that. Lewis is correct to say that there is no objective basis to make moral judgments without an objective standard by which to measure them. But he is wrong to insist that such a standard exists. It doesn't. What does exist is his own measuring rod based on his own subjective and societal-based opinions. Nothing more.