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17 August 2002 @ 12:50 pm
I draw the following conclusions. This thing which I have called for convenience the Tao, and which others may call Natural Law or Traditional
Morality or the First Principles of Practical Reason or the First Platitudes,
is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source
of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected. If any
value is retained, it is retained. The effort to refute it and raise a new
system of value in its place is self-contradictory. There never has been, and
never will be, a radically new judgement of value in the history of the world.

-C.S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man

C.S. Lewis is one Christian author for whom I have much respect. I only rarely agree with him, but I impressed by the way he presents his ideas.

From my point of view, there are several ways to define this Tao C.S. Lewis describes. First, it can be defined as the Union of all ethical principles in all cultures. These definition of the Tao would result in an enourmous (and possibly internally inconsistent) ethical system. This would render C.S.Lewis' statement above into a simple truism, true by definition.

Second, we can define the Tao as the Intersection of all culture's ethical principles. This definition is implied by his "examples of the Tao" example, which seems to be an attempt to show that the principles of the Tao are common to ALL cultures. By this definition also, the above statement is a truism.

Personally, I prefer to take a more postmodern, Godel-influenced approach to ethics. The first definition of the Tao may give a near-complete system for any ethical system, but it is likely inconsistent. Similarly, the second approach will give us a minimalistic, consistent system, although it will be far from complete, leaving many ethical quandries unsolved. I contend that that if we try to explain ethics in terms of a logical symbol systems, ethics are bound to the same limitations that symbol systems. Specifically, I suspect that ethics have the Godellian limitation that no ethical system based on a finite number of axioms can be both complete and consistent.

This relates to my dislike of "zero tolerence" policies. Human judgement may be flawed, but I see it as an essential part of any ethical decision.