Note: Because in this series I am building an argument and reaching a conclusion in stages, it is meant to be read consecutively. Part One, “A Primer on Rights,” may be found here.
SHALL BEGIN where I began in Part 1, with the opening sentence of Book II of Aristotle’s Physics: “Of things that exist, some exist by nature, and some from other causes.” With the help of Aquinas, we may amend that to read, “Of things that exist, some owe their existence to God, and some to other causes.” That is the beginning of all correct reason. And if it applies to the question of Rights, as I suggested earlier, it applies no less to the question of the moral law. No one, I suspect, would argue that Aristotle’s words apply only to tangible things. Rights, though intangible, exist; for that is how people talk about them. People talk as though intellect, and love, and reason, and logic, and freedom actually exist, and as though they matter, in a much more profound way than a world of tangible things. So that is how we should speak of the moral law, too, and whence it derives.
With that in mind, let us turn to how C.S. Lewis establishes the reality of the moral law, in the opening paragraphs of Mere Christianity:
Every one has heard people quarrelling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something very important from listening to the kind of things they say. They say things like this: ‘How’d you like it if anyone did the same to you?’–‘That’s my seat, I was there first’–‘Leave him alone, he isn’t doing you any harm’–‘Why should you shove in first?’–‘Give me a bit of your orange, I gave you a bit of mine’–‘Come on, you promised.’ People say things like that every day, educated people as well as uneducated, and children as well as grown-ups.
Now what interests me about all these remarks is that the man who makes them is not merely saying that the other man’s behaviour does not happen to please him. He is appealing to some kind of standard of behaviour which he expects the other man to know about. And the other man very seldom replies: ‘To hell with your standard.’ Nearly always he tries to make out that what he has been doing does not really go against the standard, or that if it does there is some special excuse. He pretends that there is some special reason in this particular case why the person who took the seat first should not keep it, or that things were quite different when he was given the bit of orange, or that something has turned up which lets him off keeping his promise. It looks, in fact, very much as if both parties had in mind some kind of Law or Rule of fair play or decent behaviour or morality or whatever you like to call it, about which they really agreed. … And there would be no sense in trying to do that unless you and he had some sort of agreement as to what Right and Wrong are. Read more »