In C. S. Lewis for the Third Millenium, a six part analysis of C.S. Lewis’s remarkable book The Abolition of Man, Peter Kreeft points out two major problems in our new society; the downfall of moral knowledge and the increase of technical knowledge. The latter is not bad in and of itself, but its badness is connected to the first. Kreeft points out that the “most radically new feature of our civilization is not technology, its newly powerful means, but the lack of a summum bonum, an end.”[1] In ancient times, the summum bonum (lat., “good end,” or “the highest good”) was (and it still is [or should still be]) happiness; eudaimonia or makarios in Greek.

Aristotle in facts points out in the first lines of the Nicomachean Ethics, that

“[e]very art and every inquiry, and similarly every action and pursuit, is thought to aim at some good; and for this reason the good has rightly been decleared to be that at which all things aim.”[2]

We all aim at the good, and this Aristotle calls happiness. But for him — and for most ancients over all — happiness is not really about luck or chance, ecen though Aristotle admits that they play a minor role in a happy life.

The greek word makarios, for instance, really means “blessedness” or “blessed.” It is used in Matt. 5:3-11. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (v. 3)[3] “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

The greek word eudaimonia is also interesting, but it needs more study. The word is a combination of three different words, eu, meaning “good,” daimon, meaning “spirit,” and ia, meaning a lasting state. Thus, in oder to be happy, you must be good, morally good and you have to be spiritually good, good within, not just “on the outside.” And the last word indicates that this should be lasting. Thus, you are not a happy man if you just happens to be feel good a day, but miserable the next.

And this happiness is what is our goal, our purpose, our telos.[4] Alasdair MacIntyre points out the importance of this telos, end or summum bonum in ethics:

Within [the] teleological scheme there is a fundamental contrast between man-as-he-happens-to-be and man-as-he-could-be-if-he-realized-his-essential-nature. Ethics is the science which is to enable men to understand how they make the transition from the former state to the latter. Ethics therefore in this view presupposes some account of potentiality and act, some account of the essence of man as a rational animal and above all some account of the human telos.[5]

But how thos this relate to the Fall (in Genesis)? To explain futher, I must point to a major part of Aristotle’s theory of knowledge. According to him, there are fundamentally three reasons to pursue knowledge (but many things come under these three); (i) to know truth for truth’s own sake (what we could call “wisdom”), (ii) to know how to be as a human being, how to act morally, and (iii) technical knowledge, know-how, craft. The problem we are facing today lies in the turning upside down of this hierarchy, where technique rules truth. And we can show this through the story in Genesis 3. It starts out by describing the serpent: “Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the LORD God had made.” (Gen. 3:1, emphasis added) In the KJV it says that he “was more subtil,” while others use “cunning.” I believe that “crafty” is the best translation, because it shows exactly what the Fall was all about: it was about turning things, upside down, distorting what God had made and deemed “very good.” (Gen. 1:30)

Many have pointed out that God is evil, because he doesn’t want us to gain ethical or practical knowledge. But that is not true. The point is that our practical knowledge, just like our will, conforms to what is above it. Thus, if a man is right side up, his will conforms to his reason.[6] But if we turn things upside down, if we let technical knowledge be on top, than our moral knowledge will not conform to truth, or to our knowledge of it, but to our technical knowledge, and thus good morality becomes pragmatism and utilitarianism.

C.S. Lewis points out this problem, by comparing the ancient and modern (baconian) view on the relationship between truth and technique:

There is something which unites magic and applied science while separating both from the wisdom of earlier ages. For the wise men of old the cardinal problem had been how to conform the soul to reality, and the solution had been knowledge, self-discipline, and virtue. For magic and applied science alike the problem is how to subdue reality to the wishes of men: the solution is a technique.[8]

The point of the Fall story in Genesis is to show us that we should conform to what God has made and deemed good, and not distort it. We should of course seek excellence in technical progress, but that progress should conform to morality (we shouldn’t use our technical immorally), and our morality should conform to truth, to God.

Solomon said that “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.” (Proverbs 9.10) This is further explored in the Book of Wisdom (written, according to tradition, by Solomon[9]):

“For Wisdom begins with the sincere desire for instruction, care for instruction means loving her [Wisdom], loving her means keeping her laws, attention to her laws guarantees incorruptibility, and incorruptibility brings us near to God; the desire for Wisdom thus leads to sovereignty. If then thrones and sceptres delight you, monarchs of the nation, honour Wisdom, so that you may reign for ever.” (Wisd. 6:17-21, NJB)[10]

This is written to kings, as indicatec by vv. 19-21, but it can easily be “internalized.” If we have wisdom, our reason will be the King, reigning for ever, through the will, its “executive officer.”

Notes & references:

1. Kreeft, Peter, C. S. Lewis for the Third Millenium (San Francisco: Ignatius, 1993), p. 46

2. Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics. Translated by W.D. Ross (Kitchener: Batoche Books, 1999) http://socserv.mcmaster.ca/econ/ugcm/3ll3/aristotle/Ethics.pdf (24.07.2007), p. 3

3. If not otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the English Standard Version, ESV. The Holy Bible, English Standard Version (Crossway Bibles, 2001.) I got this through The SWORD Project (http://www.crosswire.org/sword/), and use it in my MacSword computer bible (http://www.macsword.com)

4. Telos is greek for “end” or “goal.”

5. Macintyre, Alasdair, After Virtue: a study in moral theory. Second Edition (London: Duckworth, 1985; 1st ed., 1981), p. 52

6. According to Thomas Aquinas, the humans soul have five faculties; (i) reason, (ii) will, (iii) the ability to sense and perceive (sense-perception), (iv) instincts, and (v) urges. He calles the will appetitus rationalis, the “rational appetite.” It conforms to reason.

7. Lewis, C.S., The Abolition of Man (Lewis, 1944, 1947, HaperSanFrancisco, 2001), pp. 77

8. In The New Jerusalem Bible it says:

The author is supposed to be Solomon who, though not named, is clearly indicated in 9:7.8,12, and the book is called Wisdom of Solomon in Greek. The author writes as though he were king, 7:5; 8:9-15, addressing his fellow kings, 1:1, 6:1-11,12. It is evident, however, that this is a literary device; as with Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, this Wisdom book is published under the nominal patronage of Israel’s greatest sage. And indeed the entire book was written in Greek (including the first section, ch. 1.5, wrongly supposed by some scholars to have been originally written in Hebrew). The unity of authorship is apparent in the closely knit composition of the book and also in the consistency of a literary style which is supple and expressive and, when need arises, rhetorical.

[The New Jerusalem Bible (Study ed., paperback (Darton, Longman & Todd, ltd., 1985, 1994), p. 1042]

9. The NJB is the The New Jerusalem Bible. See note 8.

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