If I had a patron saint (I don’t because Baptists) it would be Saint Lewis. I can think of no greater influence on my own intellectual development, that is outside of my family and the Bible, than that of Clive Staples Lewis. It was my freshman year in college that I first picked up a copy of Mere Christianity. And now I can say I have read everything Lewis published outside of a few scholarly works and letters.

And so, at times when some complicated question comes to mind and I can find little current thought that satisfies the issue, I find myself delving into the annals of Lewisian wisdom for some answer to the question at hand.

I was doing just that reading over , “Why I am not a Pacifist” in The Weight of Glory. When I discovered something I had not expected. As Lewis goes about laying out his arguments against Pacifism, he first lays out exactly what a train of reasoning entails.

It’s fascinating to me because it is an answer to a question that has been brewing in my mind. Simply, why can we as a society not reason together? I believe that the arguments against say, the acceptance of Transgenderism are strong. Yet, there is no argument to be had.

Perhaps, by reviewing what it actually means to reason there can arise some explanation for our current cultural gridlock.

“Now any concrete train of reasoning involves three elements: Firstly, there is the reception of facts to reason about.”

Lewis describes the reception of these facts to come from two places. The first of which is the reception of facts from our own experiences, our own senses. And the second reception of facts is from the minds of others. Lewis refers to this second reception as a reception from Authority. Authority is the most common reception of facts because our own experiences are limited.

“…of every hundred facts upon which to reason, ninety-nine depend on authority.”

The second step in reasoning is to take what we have received and perceive self-evident truths. Lewis uses the example if a = c and b = c then we can logically derive that a and b are the same. Lewis calls this second step intuition. All reasoning comes down to intuition. Our perception of self-evident truth is necessary to reach truth or falsehood.

The third and final step in the process of reasoning is taking the facts that we have received from the first step and fitting them together to create an intuition. A proof test as Lewis puts it of truth or falsehood. Gathering the facts that are essentially puzzle pieces and then fitting them together to a point we can say yes, this fits together to make this picture.

Lewis’s train of concrete is thus,

  1. Reception of Facts
  2. Perceiving intuitions about the facts
  3. Fitting the facts together to create intuitions

Of course, despite our best efforts our reasoning sometimes fails, either to stand up to argument or to convince others. Where do we go wrong? Lewis points to two instances where intuition is the source of poor reasoning.

“…there is only the danger of mistaking for an intuition something which is really a conclusion and therefore needs argument.”

In the end, we can find ourselves unable to find any agreement whatsoever.

“Now all correction of errors in reasoning is really correction of the first or third element. The second, the intuitional element, cannot be corrected if it is wrong, nor supplied if it is lacking. You can give the man new facts. You can invent a simpler proof, that is, a simpler concatenation of intuitable truths. But when you come to an absolute inability to see any one of the self-evident steps out of which the proof is built ,then you can do nothing.”

It appears to me that much of our own problems arise from these two issues concerning intuition. Simply put, too many things are taking as axiomatic while they are not truly self-evident truths and require argument. At the same time, many have reached their own intuitions and there is no place to go with them.

Where do we go from here then? If the society at large has embraced for axiom what needs argument but is unwilling to argue? Perhaps, the only solution is to pay less attention to what others do and check our own reasoning. Lewis provides a guide to which we can check our own train of reasoning and ensure it is concrete, not simply sand.


One thought on “Learning from C.S. Lewis: On Reason

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