Thursday, September 21, 2006

Men, Rabbits and Marsh-wiggles: C. S. Lewis on pragmatic arguments

An interesting question that has concerned me of late is how Lewis viewed pragmatic arguments. Pragmatic arguments provide practical reasons for believing the theism or Christianity without in any way showing that Christianity is more likely to be true than its rivals. A good example would be Pascal's wager, or James' argument from the Will to Believe. I think Kant's moral argument fits into this category, as does one of Robert Merrihew Adams' arguments for theism from morality. The idea in Kant and Adams is that one should select theism or atheism because theism better supports the moral life than atheism. Steve Lovell's defense of the argument from desire seems to go down this road, and that is how this issue connects to some of the earlier posts.

Lewis in many places seems pretty cold to pragmatic arguments for religious belief. In responding the the quesiton "Can't you lead a good life without believing in Christianity?" Lewis says:

CSL: More probably, foolish preachers, by always telling you how much Christianity will help you and how good it is for society, have actually led you to forget that Christiantiy is not a patent medicine. Christianity claims to give an account of the *facts*--to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once the question is really before you, then you natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it might be: if it is true, every honest man will wawnt to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all. (C. S. Lewis, "Man or Rabbit," in God in the Dock, pp. 108-9.)

However, in the Silver Chair, we find Lewis putting this argument into the mouth of Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle.

"One word. All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder... But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we *have* only dreamed, or made up, all these things--trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself...Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones....That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So...we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for the Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's a small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

SC Chapter 12, p. 633.

Now, isn't this a pragmatic argument of the type Lewis objected to in "Man or Rabbit?" How do we reconcile these passages/


Anonymous said...

Might Lewis use the 'Marsh-wiggles' argument as rhetorical device (e.g., character development, climax setup, connect plot points etc.) rather than to reflect his own viewpoint onto the story? That is, might Lewis really believe what he says in Men-Rabbits and not really believe what his character says in Marsh-wiggles?

RuthAnnie said...

Thank you for this article; I am happy to find you and your dangerous ideas, and I am also enjoying a reconnection with the Marshwiggle at your request.

I have always been fond of Puddleglum as a character, maybe because I often saw my father as the steady, practical, but sullen, brave one. I look for these types everywhere. They are often overlooked.

Yet their argument, that we each hold tightly and enjoy what we believe to be true, does ring true for me.

The question our dear, Puddleglum leaves us with, as did Eore and others of heir ilk, is timelessly timely:

Is what we believe more important than to us than any other "reality?"

Most of "honest men" (and women) wholeheartedly say, "Yes!"

Naturally, with that in mind, the question begging to follow at surely at the root of nearly every conflict throughout time:

Does our very presence, when we live our faith, challenge other veiws of "reality"?

Clive would hope so,
as do I!

Therefore, I see no inconsistancy at all amoung men, rabbits and marshwiggles.

Here's to you for wondering,
and here's to the steadiest of dreamers!

May I one day, be one,
RuthAnn Purchase