The Tao and Important Details:
The Tao is a set of traditional values held by almost every society prior to its attackers around C.S. Lewis’ time. “The innovator attacks traditional values (The Tao) in defense of what they at first supposed to be (in some special sense) ‘rational’ or biological’ values.” From an apologetics and moral philosophy standpoint, we can classify The Tao as “objective” moral duties.
This implies moral realism which holds that there are moral facts about reality that can be known to humans, by which we are the moral agents who must follow these duties. It’s important to make a distinction that Lewis talks about implicitly in the text. There is a huge distinction between moral epistemology and moral ontology. Moral epistemology asks the question of how we know moral facts, while moral ontology asks the questions, what grounds these in reality. “Those of us who accept the Tao may, perhaps, say that they ought to do so: but that is not open to those who treat instinct as the source of value.”
Lewis points out that those who have objections to the Tao affirm that they have knowledge of it, but want to root it in anything other than religion. There is a clear moral ontological claim saying that the Tao is really rooted in instinct, which implies a biological evolutionary process by which we get the Tao. It’s important to note that Lewis refutes the innovators (logical positivists/skeptics) of the Tao and their moral ontology claims. Lewis himself does not give a grounding himself, but really defends that the Tao is real and is known. “In order to avoid misunderstanding, I may add that though I myself am a Theist, and indeed a Christian, I am not here attempting any indirect argument for Theism. I am simply arguing that if we are to have values at all we must accept the ultimate platitudes of Practical Reason as having absolute validity.”
In Defense of the Tao:
Lewis essentially argues that we are justified in believing in The Tao on the grounds of our reason. Ultimately, this is a type of intuition form of a prior knowledge for justification of moral facts. “Our duty to do good to all men is an axiom of Practical Reason, and our duty to do good to our descendant is a clear deduction from it.” It’s important to point out that this is justification for moral epistemology, not moral ontology. The innovators attack The Tao whether by trying to ground it in something that can’t do the job or rebelling against it.
One attack comes in the form of instinct, it’s used as both a grounding for the oughtness of The Tao and to deny it. Lewis points out that “Telling us to obey instinct is like telling us to obey ‘people’. People say different things: so do instincts.” It’s important to note that instinct is not the same as intuition. Instinct is more rooted in biology and social condition for how our bodies of senses react to things.
A classic example of this would be the idea of fight or flight. If you see a tornado heading towards your location, you have an instinct to get away from the hurling, tumbling tower of death coming to you. So for the innovators, moral institutions are instincts that we have picked up by either Darwinian evolution or simply by the culture/environment that we grow up in. They give an instinct that really is a moral claim that assumes its own conclusion.
“We have an instinctive urge to preserve our own species.” That is why men ought to work for posterity.” The Darwinist would just simply point out that this doesn’t ground The Tao, but really is just an instinct we developed from the blind evolutionary process. Richard Dawkins affirms The Tao in the epistemological sense, but his ontology concludes that we developed moral intuition just like how we grew five fingers. We could have developed six fingers and developed rape as an instinct to help preserve our species.
A very good point that Lewis points out with the problem of the argument from instinct, is an argument from infinite regress. “But why ought we to obey instinct? Is there another instinct of a higher order directing us to do so, and a third of a still higher order directing us to obey it? An infinite regress of instincts?” Two more problems arise with the argument from instinct includes the is ought problem and the lack of explanatory power.
Trying to ground The Tao in a natural phenomenon or process is trying to ground the oughts into process, something that just is. All your doing is assuming the ought and plugging it into something that can’t explain it. The moral ontology can’t be grounded by natural means or by an unconscious process that just is. There’s nothing prescriptive about the blind Darwinian evolutionary process, it’s just descriptive. The second point to be made here is that this has no explanatory power. All it does is give a description of some moral epistemological claims, really does not tell us anything about the moral ontology of The Tao. Theists and Atheists can accept that The Tao came about by evolution (granting for the sake of argument), but the physical, descriptive process tells us nothing about moral ontology. The worldviews that interpret that data makes the moral ontological claims. Hence, grounding The Tao in instinct has no explanatory power of moral ontological claims.
Another idea thrown out in this chapter is the idea of Utilitarianism. “Where will he find such a ground? First of all, he might say that the real value lay in the utility of such sacrifice to the community. “Good”. He might say, meant what is useful to the community.” The Tao is grounded in usefulness and consequence. Lewis points out a reductio ad absurdum to refute this idea, “He may say ‘unless some of us risk death all of us are certain to die.” But that will be true only in a limited number of cases; and even when it is true it provokes the very reasonable counter question ‘Why should I be one of those who take the risk?” Ultimately, Utilitarianism can be used to justify atrocities that The Tao condemns. Nazi Germany justified their acts as arguing that the extermination of those unfit by Hitler is for the usefulness of “superior race”. Clearly, The Tao would not support this, since the most fundamental rule is treat others how you want to be treated.
Lewis concludes: “The truth finally becomes apparent that neither in any operation with factual propositions not in any appeal to instinct can the innovator find the basis for a system of values. None of the principles he requires are to be found there: but they are all to be somewhere else.” The Tao has to be grounded in something that can prescribe and not in things that merely describe. This grounding must be some personal and must have agency itself, sounds a lot like God, which Lewis would argue for in Mere Christianity.
Abolition of Man: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07YLQ19FC/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding=UTF8&btkr=1