Category: Philosophy

Lewis and Wittgenstein on Facts and Meanings

In a short paper all I can do is whet your appetite, if you have a taste for philosophical investigations. In other words, the best I can do is tease you. By ‘a taste for philosophical investigations’, I mean a fascination with certain questions-questions about ultimate meaning, but whose meaning is, ultimately, the question. For example, “What is truth?”; “What is reality?”; “What is knowledge?”; “What is the self?”; “What is meaning?” These are philosophical questions, both because the answers we give to them will shape the way we live our lives (and in that sense are ultimately meaningful), and because they are questions whose meanings are themselves so puzzling.

The Pursuit of Happiness: C. S. Lewis’s Eudaimonistic Understanding of Ethics

C. S. Lewis begins his sermon, “The Weight of Glory,” with these justly-famous words:

If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself. We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.

Lewis’s Rejection of Nihilism: The Tao and the Problem of Moral Knowledge

C. S. Lewis published The Abolition of Man in 1944 in the midst of World War II. We can perhaps imagine the ominous and suggestive nature of this timing. But, as readers soon discovered, the book was not at all about the War, or Hitler’s eugenics, or the looming nuclear threat. Lewis’s real subject is the soul and its education. According to Lewis, the real enemy—more dangerous than any nation, weapon, or science—is a philosophy: nihilism. It is perhaps a bit misleading to say that nihilism is a “post-modern” philosophy, for there have been nihilists and advocates of nihilism as long as there have been men. But it is true that this philosophy has come to be more widely preached and practiced in our time than ever before. In The Abolition of Man Lewis both explains and combats this modern (post-modern) development.

Externality in Lewis, Chesterton, and Tolkien

his paper is about three writers and one idea which they held in common—an idea with which they were all positively enchanted. The three are C. S. Lewis, G. K. Chesterton, and J. R. R. Tolkien. The one idea is a certain fairly general (but far from trivial) thesis about meaning or fulfillment in life—that is, in the life of created rational beings. I will state the idea and then comment briefly on some of its parts. It is this: that the fulfillment of rational creatures, in any (positive) degree, involves some activity of the soul which is performed as an end in itself and which has as its contemplated object some external good, where that activity does not entail either arrogating to oneself authority to which one does not have a right, or being remiss in the exercise of authority which one is obliged to exercise.