What is the Tao?

if you don’t presume to lead
you can lead the high and mighty.

For me, the Tao is flowing like water, or action without effort: doing something according to instinct without consciously analysing, calculating or criticising it, without pride or fear or even intent, allowing action rather than taking it. One does this better after learning to do it, which makes me wonder how learning might “flow”- I do not know the Tao. Or my heart does.

For CS Lewis, the Tao is Natural Law, the moral code inscribed by God in every conscience, which every man knows unless he is corrupted. Values are objective, and must be recognised. It is illegitimate to challenge them: The direct frontal attack- “Why?” – “What good does it do?” – “Who said so?” is never permissible; not because it is harsh or offensive but because no values at all can justify themselves on that level. You cannot think properly without valuing truth, cannot ask a justification without seeing that morals can justify: If you persist in that kind of trial you will destroy all values, and so destroy the bases of your own criticism as well as the thing criticised.

Whereas for me, values may be debated, and consequentialism requires evidence of likely consequences. What “peace” means, between individuals or states, may be addressed by philosophers. We can come to greater understanding. Dulce et decorum est is really an “old lie”. Lewis admits there may be criticism of Natural Law from people who accept it generally, but not from without, in the interests of commercial convenience or scientific accuracy.

Everything outside my skin is sublime- simply and only of itself, not subject to my laws or understanding, holy and magical. The dust beneath my feet is made of atoms created in supernovae and blasted across space, churned as magma and blasted from the Earth as lava. I imagine I might agree, still, with a great deal of Lewis’ concepts of natural law; but not with his understanding of how it might come about, or how it could be improved. We know so much more psychology than he did in 1942.

Lewis imagines a group of “Conditioners”, perhaps in the hundredth century AD., who had the ability to throw off the influence of previous generations, and to conclusively influence all generations after until the end of the human race. Therefore there is no “Man’s conquest of nature”, only a power possessed by some men which they may, or may not, allow other men to profit by. He spends several pages elucidating this nightmare, which fits Professor Weston, possessed by the Devil, in Perelandra. It has links to Presuppositionalism and the Christian idea that atheists cannot be moral. I feel that people will always be free who value nothing else, not even life, more than freedom, and that some people like that will always exist, and others will listen to them. Perfect totalitarianism cannot exist, and even though human beings can create monstrous hells which are difficult to escape it will always be possible eventually.

Lewis ends with illustrations of natural law from different civilisations. A lot comes from the Encyclopædia of Religion and Ethics. Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Shamash, said some Babylonian source. However his list makes no pretence of completeness, and you might find better sources for the content or evolution of ethics.

Go on, you know you want to

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