CS Lewis’s Desires

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis gives the oft quoted, manipulated, and paraphrased statement, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” It’s in the context of desires which cannot be satisfied.

I’ve always thought this attitude was flawed, much like Ivan Karamazov’s attitude that just because he wants something, he is entitled to have it. There is no particular reason a desire must have an attainable object. Lewis mentions swimming, food, and sex all as attainable objects of desire, and from them extrapolates all such desires must have objects. But this is flawed logic. First of all, one can desire something that is a negative: misery on others. One can desire things that are clearly impossible: spending 12 hours a day on fun projects, spending 12 hours a day on different projects, and getting enough sleep, food, and personal required time.

If you take the counter premise as valid, there is no afterlife to desire, then the counter argument becomes consistent.

0) There is no god or afterlife.
1) Mankind desires things.
2) Some of those desires are impossible/unachievable.
3) Some of mankind’s desires imply an afterlife or divinity.
4) Those specific desires are impossible/unachievable.

Likewise, one could easily see a fourth case in Lewis’s analysis. His are the fool’s proposition, if I desire a woman and this woman doesn’t satisfy me, I need a new woman; the bitter proposition, yearning for things is foolish; and the Christian proposition, my desires aim at something beyond this world, so I must be intended for things beyond this world. But one could easily say that the desire for more, improvement, greater perfection is a useful, worthwhile desire. It keeps things moving. And by seeking improvement, one improves things for the self, others, and culture.

A couple days ago I quoted the oldest joke in the English language. It’s a dick joke. As of this writing, the oldest known humorous statement is a fart joke. People haven’t really changed in the last few thousand years. Yet society certainly has, and I attribute much of that to institutional growth. Institutional growth certainly isn’t perfect, but it is a net good. Medicine is a good example: far from perfect, but I’d rather not die of dysentery even if they can’t cure rabies. Things have changed, and the abstract desire for change, specifically change for the better, is something that could support that. It would be a desire that is passed along positively, even if it could easily become negative for the bearer.

Takeaway? I don’t know. I like Lewis’s writings a great deal, but I don’t find his apologia convincing.

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