LECTURE #10/11: Lewis on Objective Value

I. What is the Tao?

Associated with the idea of objective values.

Sentiments, affections, value judgments can be true/false, correct/incorrect, correspond or fail to correspond with reality. No fact/value distinction. There are evaluative facts.

4 senses of "the Tao" in AM:

  1. The cosmic, metaphysical basis of all objective value.
  2. Human nature, as having a final cause, built-in purpose. This purpose involves in some way imitating or reflecting the Tao in sense 1.
  3. Our present state of knowledge or opinion of the Tao (in 1 & 2); or the belief in the reality of the Tao (in 1 & 2).
  4. The progressive development or growth of our knowledge of the Tao (in 1 & 2); the dynamic unfolding of the truth about the Tao in human consciousness through history.

II. Lewis's Critique of Subjectivism

Lewis's target in chapter 1: the emotive theory of value: Values are merely projections of our feelings upon external things.

Lewis's argument against subjectivism: cannot explain the phenomenon of disagreements over value judgments. If value judgments are merely projections of one's feelings, what are we disagreeing about?

The subjectivists that Lewis considers (represented by "Gaius and Titius") believe that we should learn to see through appeals to emotion that masquerade as appeals to objective fact. Propaganda will then lose its power.

Lewis argues that this approach will produce "men without chests": humans with overdeveloped intellects and powerful appetites/drives, but no strong passions, sentiments.

It is impossible to achieve moral virtue under such conditions. The intellect requires well-trained sentiments as its ally.

III. Implications for Education

On the objectivist view, education is a matter of initiation. Analogy: adult bird teaching the young bird to fly.

Helping the young to develop into the form of common human nature. A process of humanization.

On the subjectivist view, education is a matter of conditioning. Analogy: poultry keeper training the young bird to be manageable for the sake of productivity.

Distinction: propagation and propaganda.

Crucial case: teaching the child to be willing to sacrifice himself/herself for the sake of the community.

Is this a matter of shared submission to an objective order of value, or a matter of exploiting the child to serve the values of others?

IV. Critique of the Innovators

Lewis argues that true ethical innovation (the creation of a new value) is impossible. All judgments of value derive from an apprehension of the Tao.

What can be created are new ideology.


An ideology is a system of value judgments that consists in taking some fragment of the Tao, making it the supreme or absolute value, and using it to oppose the remainder of the Tao.
Lewis considers the scientific innovator, who argues that true (scientific/rational/biological) values are rooted directly in instinct, as opposed to false values, that depend on artificial sentiments, created by culture. We debunk the second class, and are left with only the first class.

Lewis's response:
This selective debunking is illegitimate. If all values are subjective, then this applies as much to "rational" and instinctive values as to any others.

Package-deal argument:
If the values of chastity and patriotism go, so must the values of humanitarianism, progressive politics.

Specific arguments against the instinct theory of moral value:"We are morally obliged to serve humanity because we have an inborn instinct to do so."

  1. We have many instincts, and they are in conflict. What gives "moral" instincts priority over aggressive ones?
  2. If the moral instinct is all-powerful, then we don't need moral exhortation. If it is not all-powerful, we need some reason to follow it. This reason must come from outside instinct.
  3. There is no such thing as an instinct for humanitarianism. Concern for the well-being of posterity is itself a product of culture.

V. The Conditioners' Dilemma

Key claim: it is impossible for fundamental moral principles to be both (i) the criterion for one's decision, and (ii) up for grabs in that decision: i.e., to be one of the consequences of one's decision.

A moralizing Conditioner tries to have it both ways:

  1. Claiming that the decisions guiding the re-fashioning of human nature are under the guidance of moral values, and
  2. Presupposing that moral values are merely the projections of human nature as presently consituted, and so, could be radically changed through the very re-fashioning under consideration.
This supports the need for a fixed reference point -- a cosmic Tao to which the Conditioners' actions are morally accountable (if they are to be subject to moral evaluation at all).

VI. Root Problem: distorted picture of Nature

Francis Bacon: jettisons final causation, emphasizes control over nature, rather than respect for its integrity.

Lewis uses Buber's contrast:
Bacon: I/it relationship to nature
Aristotle: I/thou relationship to nature.