Tuesday, May 1, 2007

C.S. Lewis' thoughts on Right and Wrong

Excerpted from Mere Christianity.

"Every one has heard people quarreling. Sometimes it sounds funny and sometimes it sounds merely unpleasant; but however it sounds, I believe we can learn something 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 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 they have. If they had not, they might, of course, fight like animals, but they could not quarrel in the human sense of the word. Quarreling means trying to show that the other man is in the wrong. 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; just as there would be no sense in saying that a footballer had committed a foul unless there was some agreement about the rules of football."

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