Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Charity and God

Last night, I led an Honors Colloquium on C. S. Lewis's Four Loves. Lewis's main point is that Affection, Friendship and Eros all run the danger of falling into a whole host of problems which he describes with great insight. There is only one solution: charity. It is charity that orders all the loves, keeping them faithful to themselves—keeping Friendship from usurping the role of Eros, keeping Affection from imposing on those close to one, keeping Eros from becoming a tyrant, and so on. Note that this is an empirically informed claim: it is informed by the universal human experience of the difficulties of love, and centuries of Christian experience in finding charity to be a remedy for these ills. Suppose that these quasi-empirical[note 1] claims are correct. Then we have the following plausible argument, which Lewis does not himself make in this book:

  1. (Premise) Ordering one's loves in charity is a good solution to the ills of love.
  2. (Premise) Ordering one's loves in a love for an imaginary being is not a good solution to the ills of love.
  3. (Premise) Charity is a love for God.
  4. (Premise) Either God is imaginary or God exists.
  5. Ordering one's loves in a love for God is a good solution to the ills of love. (1 and 3)
  6. God is not imaginary. (2 and 5)
  7. God exists. (4 and 6)

This argument is closely related to this one.


Mikaƫl said...

Dear Alex,

The argument is formaly valid, but it seems to me that premisse 3 "Charity is a love for God" is incorrect in confusing two distinct notions. Indeed, there can be and even there is a secular concept of charity which is not love for God but love for humans. And I don't see why it couldn't function as efficiently as christian charity in providing a good solution to the ills of love by ordering Affection, Friendship and Eros to be faithful to themselves.

Yours, sincerly

Mr Veale said...

Surely (3) is based on Christian experience?
And isn't the point that centuries of experience have taught us that love for humans tends to chaos and disorder?

I suppose that a secularist would contest this. So, can the same argument be made at a conceptual level? What is it about loving the source of all love, that brings order to eros, philia etc?

Alexander R Pruss said...

I actually took (3) to be true by definition. That's just what the word "charity" in Christian parlance (this is clear in Aquinas) means. It is primarily a love of God, and derivatively of man for the sake of God.

I should add that the argument does not require that charity be the only solution to the disordering of loves. All that the argument requires is that it is a solution to the problem.

Anonymous said...

But couldn't you go the opposite direction after 4 and suppose that God is imaginary, and get the conclusion that not 1- ordering one's loves in charity is not a good solution to the ills of love? Unless one already accepts God's existence it's hard to see why 1 and 4 are preferable to this conclusion.

Mr Veale said...

My mistake. 3 is true by definition, and secularist alternatives to charity don't affect the argument.

Okay, so why should we accept premise 2? Why not argue that God is a "useful fiction"?

Alexander R Pruss said...

Mr Veale:

I think one of the things we learn in life is that living a fiction isn't a great idea, isn't sustainable, etc. But charity as a solution to love's ills is sustainable.


Well, the quasi-empirical data from the Christian tradition is that in fact charity does keep our ordinary loves in balance, and keeps from the opposed problems of growing cold or growing demonic.

Mr Veale said...

I really like this argument (Jerry Walls and Scott Burson drew attention to it in their book on Schaeffer and Lewis, but didn't spell it out formally.)

Have you a paper that you're going to make available?