Against Pious Nihilism: C.S. Lewis on Natural Law | Public Discourse

Reason, Natural Law, and the Order of the Cosmos

Though modern, Lewis was nonetheless steeped in the ancients, thoroughly at home with “Old Western men,” and one of the few remaining “specimens” of these “dinosaurs.” So trained, Lewis thoroughly resonated with classical-Christian anthropology. Consequently, he had little patience for the reductionism plaguing so many of his contemporaries, and he defended the human, properly understood, against reductive materialism and psychologism. As Dyer and Watson explain, Lewis felt it his “painful duty to wake the world from an enchantment,” or, perhaps better, the disenchantment of viewing humans as no more than biological entities seeking comfort and security. Such a gloomy vision leaves no space for the classical-Christian understanding of reason as naturally oriented to truth, goodness, beauty, and God. Instead, it jettisons the governance of reason for technical calculation, the inner tyranny of one’s own ungoverned will, and the social and political tyranny that inevitably follows.

Whether due to a stinging debate loss to G.E.M. Anscombe about his arguments against naturalism, or because he became convinced that a people skeptical about reason could no longer ascertain the power of argument, Lewis turned to imagination to convey the moral structure of the cosmos. Despite the change of genre, his commitment to a high view of reason remained constant. For Lewis, the universe was a “constitutional monarchy,” with a rational and good God creating and sustaining an ordered, hierarchical cosmos, knowable by humans who could order their lives in keeping with the moral law. While skeptical of unchecked government and of revolutionary promises to perfect the human lot, Lewis, a classical liberal, knew that God had given us “the natural light” and so could leave “to us” the business of governing ourselves as individuals and citizens.

Source: Against Pious Nihilism: C.S. Lewis on Natural Law | Public Discourse