C. S. Lewis

C. S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis on pluck and courage

Or look at it this way. In a battle, or in mountain climbing, there is often one thing which it takes a lot of pluck to do; but it is also, in the long run, the safest thing to do. If you funk it, you will find yourself, hours later, in far worse danger. The cowardly thing is also the most dangerous thing.
C. S. Lewis in _Mere Christianity_, (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1972), p. 168. Originally published as _Beyond Personality_.

C. S. Lewis on human behaviour

It seems, then, we are forced to believe in a real Right and Wrong. People may sometimes be mistaken about them, just as people sometimes get their sums wrong; but they are not a matter of mere taste and opinion any more than the multiplication table. Now if we are agreed about that, I go on to my next point, which is this. None of us are really keeping the Law of Nature. If there are any exceptions among you, I apologise to them. They had much better read some other book, for nothing I am going to say concerns them. And now, turning to the ordinary human beings who are left:

I hope you will not misunderstand what I am going to say. I am not preaching, and Heaven knows I do not pretend to be better than anyone else. I am only trying to call attention to a fact; the fact that this year, or this month, or, more likely, this very day, we have failed to practise ourselves the kind of behaviour we expect from other people. There may be all sorts of excuses for us. That time you were so unfair to the children was when you were very tired. That slightly shady business about the money—the one you have almost forgotten—came when you were very hard-up. And what you promised to do for old So-and-so and have never done—well, you never would have promised if you had known how frightfully busy you were going to be. And as for your behaviour to your wife (or husband) or sister (or brother) if I knew how irritating they could be, I would not wonder at it—and who the dickens am I, anyway? I am just the same. That is to say, I do not succeed in keeping the Law of Nature very well, and the moment anyone tells me I am not keeping it, there starts up in my mind a string of excuses as long as your arm. The question at the moment is not whether they are good excuses. The point is that they are one more proof of how deeply, whether we like it or not, we believe in the Law of Nature. If we do not believe in decent behaviour, why should we be so anxious to make excuses for not having behaved decently? The truth is, we believe in decency so much—we feel the Rule of Law pressing on us so—that we cannot bear to face the fact that we are breaking it, and consequently we try to shift the responsibility. For you notice that it is only for our bad behaviour that we find all these explanations. It is only our bad temper that we put down to being tired or worried or hungry; we put our good temper down to ourselves.
C. S. Lewis in Mere Christianity: A revised and amplified edition, with a new introduction, of the three books, Broadcast talks, Christian behaviour, and Beyond personality, (San Francisco, California: HarperCollins, 2001), p. 7. Originally broadcast as a series of BBC radio talks between 1941 and 1944. First published as Broadcast Talks: Reprinted with some alterations from two series of broadcast talks (“Right and Wrong: A clue to the meaning of the universe” and “What Christians believe”) given in 1941 and 1942 by C. S. Lewis, (London: G. Bles, 1942).

C. S. Lewis on the matter of thought

Now let me go back a bit. We began by asking whether our feeling of futility could be set aside as a merely subjective and irrelevant result which the universe has produced in human brains. I postponed answering that question until we had attempted a larger one. I asked whether in general human thought could be set aside as irrelevant to the real universe and merely subjective. I now claim to have found the answer to this larger question. The answer is that at least one kind of thought—logical thought—cannot be subjective and irrelevant to the real universe: for unless thought is valid we have no reason to believe in the real universe. We reach our knowledge of the universe only by inference. The very object to which our thought is supposed to be irrelevant depends on the relevance of our thought. A universe whose only claim to be believed in rests on the validity of inference must not start telling us that inference is invalid. That would really be a bit too nonsensical. I conclude then that logic is a real insight into the way in which real things have to exist. In other words, the laws of thought are also the laws of things: of things in the remotest space and the remotest time.[I]

This admission seems to me completely unavoidable and it has very momentous consequences.

In the first place it rules out any materialistic account of thinking. We are compelled to admit between the thoughts of a terrestrial astronomer and the behaviour of matter several light-years away that particular relation which we call truth. But this relation has no meaning at all if we try to make it exist between the matter of the star and the astronomer’s brain, considered as a lump of matter. The brain may be in all sorts of relations to the star no doubt: it is in a spatial relation, and a time relation, and a quantitative relation. But to talk of one bit of matter as being true about another bit of matter seems to me to be nonsense. It might conceivably turn out to be the case that every atom in the universe thought, and thought truly, about every other. But that relation between any two atoms would be something quite distinct from the physical relations between them. In saying that thinking is not matter I am not suggesting that there is anything mysterious about it. In one sense, thinking is the simplest thing in the world. We do it all day long. We know what it is like far better than we know what matter is like. Thought is what we start from: the simple, intimate, immediate datum. Matter is the inferred thing, the mystery.
Clive Staples (C. S.) Lewis in his essay “De Futilitate” available in Christian Reflections, edited by Walter Hooper, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994), p. 63. First published in 1967.


[I] Lewis’s best and fullest treatment on the validity of human reasoning appears in the first six chapters of his book Miracles: A Preliminary Study (Bles, 1947), especially Chapter III, ‘The Self-Contradiction of the Naturalist’. He later felt that he had in chapter III confused two senses of irrational; this chapter was rewritten and appears in its corrected form in the paper-backed edition of Miracles (Fontana Books, 1960).