On Orthopathy: Part 2, Emotions, Value, and Virtue

C.S. Lewis starts his lectures in The Abolition of Man by discussing how an English textbook entitled The Green Book makes a comment about the emotion of sublimity when encountering a natural wonder. 

Lewis quotes the textbook authors who declare, 

"When the man said 'This is sublime,' he appeared to be making a remark about the waterfall... Actually... he was not making a remark about the waterfall, but a remark about his own feelings. What he was saying was really 'I have feelings associated in my mind with the word Sublime,' or shortly, 'I have sublime feelings’ ... This confusion is continually present in language as we use it. We appear to be saying something very important about something: and actually we are only saying something about our own feelings."

Lewis starts with this remark in the textbook to illustrate the point from yesterday's post: in the modern world emotion, in this case sublimity, wonder, and awe, have been disconnected from objective reality. Is the natural wonder, objectively speaking, sublime? If so, emotions of sublimity are appropriate to the encounter. And other emotions, such as indifference or boredom, less appropriate. This illustration of sublimity and the natural world sets up Lewis' argument. How can we determine when emotions are appropriate, healthy, virtuous, and praiseworthy unless they are suited to and congruent with external, objective reality? As Lewis comments upon the effect of the above passage upon the students who would read it: 

The schoolboy who reads this passage in The Green Book will believe two propositions: firstly, that all sentences containing a predicate of value are statements about the emotional state of the speaker, and secondly, that all such statements are unimportant.

In the modern world statements of value have been reduced to statements of feeling, and statements of feeling, being wholly subjective, tell us nothing about the world and are, thus, not very important. 

This congruence between emotion and value is important, says Lewis, because right emotions--orthopathy--sits at the very heart of virtue. Later in the lecture, Lewis says,

Until quite modern times all teachers and even all men believed the universe to be such that certain emotional reactions on our part could be either congruous or incongruous to it — believed, in fact, that objects did not merely receive, but could merit, our approval or disapproval, our reverence or our contempt...The man who called the cataract sublime was not intending simply to describe his own emotions about it: he was also claiming that the object was one which merited those emotions ... ‘Can you be righteous’, asks Traherne, ‘unless you be just in rendering to things their due esteem? All things were made to be yours and you were made to prize them according to their value.’

St Augustine defines virtue as ordo amoris, the ordinate condition of the affections in which every object is accorded that kind of degree of love which is appropriate to it. Aristotle says that the aim of education is to make the pupil like and dislike what he ought. When the age for reflective thought comes, the pupil who has been thus trained in ‘ordinate affections’ or ‘just sentiments’ will easily find the first principles in Ethics; but to the corrupt man they will never be visible at all and he can make no progress in that science.
Why is virtue rooted in our affections? Because reason alone is not sufficient for action, especially in the face of fear, hardship or sacrifice. We don't die for logic, but we do die for love. This is where Lewis brings in his illustration of the solider on the battlefield:
Without the aid of trained emotions the intellect is powerless against the animal organism. I had sooner play cards against a man who was quite sceptical about ethics, but bred to believe that ‘a gentleman does not cheat’, than against an irreproachable moral philosopher who had been brought up among sharpers. In battle it is not syllogisms that will keep the reluctant nerves and muscles to their post in the third hour of the bombardment.
It's here in the lecture where Lewis makes his comment about "men without chests." But as I noted yesterday, his point isn't about masculinity. His point is about the relationship between love and courage, how love of country creates bravery on the battlefield. Lewis' point is about the role of affections in motivating virtuous behavior. 

And the critical point here concerns the relationship been virtue and value. Is loving your country a value, a good? If so, then courage in battle is virtuous and praiseworthy. And cowardice is lamentable. But if loving your country isn't really a good, if feelings are just feelings and tell us nothing about value, then how could we pass any moral judgment upon heroes and cowards? If you're afraid, you might as well act on that feeling and run, right? Feelings aren't about values, after all. Feelings tell us nothing important about the world. 

This is Lewis' point about right affections. At root, all virtue is a form of bravery. But bravery is only heroic if there is an objective value at stake, a true good in question. Remove that value and you remove the distinction between virtue and vice, between heroic sacrifice and self-serving cowardice.  

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