Saturday, January 8, 2011

Mere Christianity: Book 3; Chapter 4 (Morality and Psychoanalysis)

How Free is Free-Will?

In this Chapter Lewis discusses the relationship between morality and psychoanalysis, saying that they serve the same end--to enable and inform the personal choice.

Lewis states that "when a man makes a moral choice two things are involved"--the act of choosing, and the various feelings and impulses affecting those choices.  It is this second area that Psychoanalysis aims to address, for either those influences are normal and rational, or they are abnormal and irrational (phobias, neurosis, vices).  The goal of psychoanalysis, and indeed all of psychology, is to fix those irrationalities to allow us to freely make a moral choice.

This poses the ancient question, how free is free-will actually?

It seems that Lewis is distinguishing between "good influences" (natural and rational) and "bad influences" (unnatural and irrational), and that, while both influence our choices, it is only the bad ones that need be eliminated.  This implies that we are never truly free of our past while making moral decisions.  Indeed, as humans it is IMPOSSIBLE NOT to be changed by any experience, and we come to any decision we make with bias.  This is called our hermeneutic.  But does this mean we are fully determined, or that we are not free?

Perhaps we must ask, what determines what is a good influence and what is a bad influence? Considering what we know of natural law and our origins/destination as human persons, it would stand to reason that a good influence is that which is in accord with our nature, and a bad influence is that which is not.  For example, while hatred of sin and moderate fear of death is natural and acceptable when influencing our moral judgements, hatred of a human person or of God, and crippling obsession with fear of death would cause us to make poor moral decisions.  It is these later impulses that "enslave us".

You may be thinking, "why is it only the negative passions that enslave us?"  The answer to that question lies in the appropriate definition of freedom.  Freedom, properly defined, is "the ability to do good."  Contrary to modern belief, it is NOT the ability to do whatever we want, for that would allow us to serve passions that we have already shown preclude us from making a true choice.  Rather, if we are to be truly free, we have to be ABLE to do the good.  We may still choose not to give to the poor, no to defend our country, and to forsake God (and indeed, this is what the Human Condition states we do that majority of the time), and we, by definition of free will are allowed to make those decisions, but in order to truly do that we must be free from all those passions and wounds that have a negative influence on us.

How can we do this?  I am skeptical if its possible for the majority of the human population to make a purely free choice, for we are all broken and in terrible shape psychologically.  The best practice is to 1) gather as much info on your choice and options before making them, 2) address all the biases that may accompany all the options, and 3) know thyself... for by continuing to understand ourselves, and trying to improve ourselves, we may work towards the virtue of prudence, more often making objective decisions in accord with our nature.

The important thing however, is to remember that its the effort that counts, not the action itself. For as Lewis says, when a man who is constantly angry shows a single of moment of gentility, he may indeed be more moral than the man who has never had a trouble with anger.  This is why Christians are told not to judge, we only see the external actions, not the interior workings that God does.  When a man who is constantly drunk makes the effort for a moment of sobriety, he may, in God's eyes, be showing more moral fiber than the man who has never drank a drop in his life.  And when the man who sleeps with numerous women a week strives for the occasional chastity, is it possible that he is showing more moral effort than the always chaste man?  It's possible.

Lewis says that morality is not about living by certain rules and obeying them without fault, but rather, morality is about choice, and it is through each and every single choice, that we are either aligning our heart with God or turning away from him.

Let us therefore, try every single moment, of every single day, strive to make the choice that turns us towards God.

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