I cannot remember a time when I denied the existence of God. My earliest memories include parental teachings about the truths of Christianity. My parents implicitly taught me that the Christian worldview entails a belief in objective morality. By objective morality I mean statements about morality are, in fact, stating truths about the moral action itself rather than about any individual’s personal taste or preferences. However, this is not the prevailing view of morality in many parts of the world today. Moral subjectivism—or more commonly know as moral relativism—is rampant and has a stronghold in mainstream culture. Moral subjectivism is the view that statements regarding morality are declaring truths about personal preferences, tastes or circumstances. Additionally, moral subjectivism holds that morality arises within individuals, not from an objective or transcendent standard.
Even though my parents presented the truth of objective morality during my developmental years, I became influenced by my culture. In fact—although I was still a deeply committed Christian—by the time I was a senior in college I fell into error by explaining morality in subjectivist terms.
One can understand my previous view by a conversation I once had with my girlfriend (who is now my wife) about the nature of morality. At one point in the conversation, my girlfriend inquired about how I understood morality. I replied morality was, “relative to each person.” As a dedicated Christian—who understood the truth of objective morality—she became alarmed and probed for the reasons I believed this to be true. I defended my (once held) view by presenting various understandings of modesty from assorted cultures. I said, “some cultures define modesty very liberally; some do not wear clothes at all! Then contrast those with cultures in which its immodest to even have an uncovered ankle.” This to me was evidence that morality was subjective.
Luckily, around this time, I began to read the writings of C.S. Lewis. Lewis was a moral objectivist and in many of his writings gave arguments defending moral objectivism. C.S. Lewis’ arguments against moral relativism were convincing and foundational in my understanding of the reality of moral objectivism. This post will examine Lewis’ arguments for what he called—among other names—the Moral Law. We will assess Lewis’ contentions that: all people are conscious of the Moral Law, this Moral Law is independent of any cultural differences, the Moral Law is more than mere personal taste or natural instinct. Finally, after this examination, it will be clear that the Moral Law cannot be subjective, but rather objective. Consequently, moral relativism must be false. All together we will see how Lewis’ resolution to the nature of morality was extremely helpful to a struggle in my personal faith development.
We would be hard-pressed to complete a single day without encountering or observing some type of disagreement or quarrelling. Lewis said, “quarrelling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong.” Yet, when men take exception with the actions of others, they are not simply expressing their own personal preferences or tastes; the man is actually “appealing to some type of standard of behaviour [sic] which he expects the other man to know about.” What is interesting is that the second man knows about this standard as well. Lewis rationalizes that the second man does not simply reject the standard out of hand, but rather tries to justify his behavior by telling the first man he did not actually violate it. By this analysis, Lewis argues all men—whether “Platonic, Aristotelian, Stoic, Christian, [or] Oriental alike”—are aware of this standard. Lewis called this standard the Law of Nature, Law of Human Nature, Moral Law, Rule of Decent Behaviour [sic], or the Tao. Principally, Lewis contends the Tao is the ultimate standard of “Right and Wrong,” which all men come to agree upon.
While discussing the Tao, it is important to establish that it is autonomous of any cultural variations. According to Lewis, the idea that cultural behaviors differ so substantially—that no common thread is visible—is “a good, solid, resounding lie.” Lewis was not afraid to admit some cultures appear to have dissimilar understandings of conventional social behaviors. Yet these differences, according to Lewis, “never amounted to anything like a total difference.” In fact, Lewis compiled a list of moral values—from which various cultures all agreed upon—and placed them side-by-side to give an illustration of the objectivity of the Tao.
However, even if there were differences, this would not be the Achilles heel for the Tao. To understand my point, we need only to reflect back to the time when working algebra problems in high school. Many times, two students would come up with different answers for the same algebra problem. Does this mean there is no correct, objective answer? Of course not! One (or perhaps both) of the students is merely mistaken. The same is true of morality. Simply because two people—or cultures—disagree about a moral value, does not mean there is not a right (or objective) answer. Disagreement does not support subjectivism.
Next, we shall discuss Lewis’ arguments that the Tao is more than mere personal taste or natural instinct. First, let us look at personal taste; “true for you, but not for me” is a common idiom of modern society. However, even though people may claim this phrase as true, they rarely live by it. Lewis said, “whenever you find a man who says he does not believe in a real Right and Wrong, you will find the same man going back on this a moment later.” What Lewis means is that a person may claim morality is only true depending on the person’s personal taste, however as soon as someone steals his wallet for example, this same person appeals that the action was really wrong, not that he just did not like it. This person cannot live out their worldview without at some point—even implicitly—appealing to the Tao.
In my experience, the second most common objection to the reality of the objectivity of the Moral Law is the idea it originates from “herd instinct.” Lewis brilliantly helped me come to understand why natural instinct cannot account for the Tao. To illustrate this point, Lewis presents a case where we hear a cry for help from a person in danger. Within us, two distinctive desires arise: the first is our herd instinct, which would be to help the man. The other is for self-preservation, which is to leave the man alone, and stay out of danger our self. The problem is that neither of these desires tells us what we ought to do. And this is where Lewis reminds us of the third impulse which judges between the two previous desires. This impulse tells us we ought to help the man or that helping the man is the right thing to do. Clearly, this third compulsion cannot be either of the first two desires, but rather a transcendent impulse as it stands over and above to be the objective arbiter. A desire to act out a particular instinct is much different than what one ought to do.
Lewis continues by explaining that natural desires—in and of themselves—are neither good nor bad. This is evident as soon as one takes a certain natural desire and sets it up as the one desire, which you will follow, no matter what. Doing this could be very hazardous. At one point or another, there will be a situation where following this instinct comes up against what you would have otherwise considered wrong. Lewis provides the example of maternal love. This is a good instinct to have, but at times, needs to be restrained or it “will lead to unfairness towards other people’s children.” Therefore, Lewis demonstrates that a transcendent authority of what ought to do is necessary, which is only possible with an objective Moral Law.
Therefore, Lewis gives a solid and convincing argument that all men are aware of a transcendent standard of right and wrong, which he famously called the Tao. Attempts to explain away the objectivity of this self evident Moral Law are lacking. We have seen that cultural differences do nothing to undermine the Tao and that it is much more significant than mere personal taste or natural instinct. After our examination the only conclusion, which follows, is that morality is not subjective, but rather objective. Moral relativism is false.
Shortly after reading Lewis, I was forced to do one of the cruelest moral obligations known to man: admit I was wrong. The depth of Lewis’ arguments forced me to abandon any belief in subjective morality. Luckily, this was not foreign to my Christian worldview and the transition was quite smooth, that is, except for the fact that my wife will now and forever be able to say: “you were wrong.”
 C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 4.
 Ibid., 3.
 C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: HarperCollins, 2001), 18.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 5.
 Ibid., 9.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 9.
 Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 18.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 6.
 C. S. Lewis, “The Poison of Subjectivism,” in Christian Reflections (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1967), 77.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 5.
 Lewis, The Abolition of Man, 83-101.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 6.
 Ibid., 7.
 Ibid., 9.
 Ibid., 11.
 Lewis, Mere Christianity, 11.