C.S. Lewis wrote, in the essay entitled The Law of Human Nature, that our sense of right and wrong is what binds us together as human beings but the question is whether he is correct or not. Upon some consideration, it would seem that he has a valid argument. We are all within a society that imposes a fairly standardised set of basic laws, regardless of the culture: do not steal, do not harm others, and respect others. Lewis claims that we our bound together by our desire to live up to those social expectations and that those of us who fail to do so, choose to fail. Lewis states “Each man is at every moment subjected to several different sets of law but there is only one of these which he is free to disobey” (Lewis) implying that the laws of physics, for example, cannot be disobeyed whilst the laws of nature can. Ergo, Lewis is correct in his assumption that it is our sense of right and wrong which bounds human beings as a species together.
Throughout time, it has been our instincts which have kept us safe and have helped us to evolve as a species. Our instinct to survive is one which is so closely identified with our senses that we are acutely aware of being watched, of being followed and when we are in danger. So why should it be any different when considering our sense of right and wrong? For those of us who are capable of distinguishing between right and wrong, it is a natural differentiation which does not require an awful lot of thinking, in most cases, due to our natural understanding of this law which is built into our physiology and evolutionary status.
However, Lewis does clarify that this law is what tells us how we ought to behave: after discussing the idea of two scenarios where one man succeeds in claiming a seat on the train before him, and another where a man tries to steal his bag whilst his back is turned, Lewis writes, “I am angry with a man who tries to trip me up even if he does not succeed” (Lewis). His idea being that we all want a seat on the train and if we’re lucky enough to be quicker than the next man, we’ve done nothing wrong. However, stealing another man’s bag is morally wrong and as Lewis states, it is sneaky as he is unable to defend himself due to him being unaware of what was happening.
Other theories discuss how in practice, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ but rather labels which modify the behaviour of people (Wilkens 22). In theory, this is correct but then, arguably, the same can be said for any word – it is merely a marker that signifies meaning. The words ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ are the same such markers but this does not necessarily mean that they detract from the meanings behind them and the behaviour they signify.
In conclusion, Lewis’ argument has a number of strengths behind it and seems sound, in theory. If we look at the majority of people, they behave well out of a sense of duty to society, their peers, their parents or even their own families. Those of us who do not conform to these laws, frequently repeat offend and this demonstrates a fundamental inability to conform at all and, therefore, aligns them more closely with irrational and unreasonable animals rather than human beings and is, precisely, why we exclude our criminals from society at large.
Lewis, C.S. “The Law of Human Nature.” The Complete C.S. Lewis. Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. E-book.
Wilkens, Steve. Beyond Bumper Sticker Ethics: An Introduction to Theories of Right and Wrong. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2011. Print.