I’m reading C S Lewis’ Mere Christianity at the moment and found myself ranting (in my head) before I’d even finished the first chapter. Most distracting, I had to kept shutting me up and going back to read what I’d missed. With that in mind I’d like to examine the points raised in each chapter to see if there is any merit to what he’s written. Fortunately he writes very well with some excellent examples so there are few distinct points in each chapter to confuse thing.
In chapter one Lewis argues that there are things he calls Laws of Nature that are universal for all people. This is essentially a default moral standard enjoyed by all of humanity that included compunctions against killing, stealing, rape, deceit, etc. He argues that these are not learned traits but inherent in the human condition.
There have been differences between their moralities, but these have never amounted to anything like a total difference. If anyone will take the trouble to compare the moral teaching of, say, the ancient Egyptians, Babylonians, Hindus, Chinese, Creeks and Romans, what will really strike him will be how very like they are to each other and to our own. Some of the evidence for this I have put together in the appendix of another book called The Abolition of Man; but for our present purpose I need only ask the reader to think what a totally different morality would mean. Think of a country where people were admired for running away in battle, or where a man felt proud of double-crossing all the people who had been kindest to him. You might just as well try to imagine a country where two and two made five. Men have differed as regards what people you ought to be unselfish to–whether it was only your own family, or your fellow countrymen, or everyone. But they have always agreed that you ought not to put Yourself first. Selfishness has never been admired. Men have differed as to whether you should have one wife or four. But they have always agreed that you must not simply have any woman you liked.
I disagree. Although he does follow up with some neat examples that I do agree with I think he is too sweeping in his assumptions.
There are many different characteristics that human beings could be said to have. I can indeed think of a country where aggression in war is frowned upon and pacifism is considered a positive trait or even where cowardice is excused. I think that we live in societies where exploiting those weaker than us is permissible and even encouraged. Selfishness and self dependence are certainly considered to be traits of value although we do not think of self promotion in such terms.
Are there really universal human characteristics or is Lewis just making a huge assumption? Even if he’s right what does this prove?