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Humility, Knowledge, and Truth

In The Abolition of Man, CS Lewis used the title “tao” to describe the objective, moral law and set it in opposition to what he called subjectivism along with a number of other names such as debunked emotion, false sentiments, men without chests, mere sentiments, innovation, and starved sensibilities.

He speaks of thinking about life from inside the tao, a place where you can make legitimate judgments about the value of things, and outside the tao, whence no judgment is legitimate.

It seems to me that humility makes a good test case for the tao (of objective values and the torah of God) versus subjectivism. Within the tao, humility is an appropriate placing of oneself in subordination to something higher. It is objective.

Outside the tao, humility is a subjective state, a feeling, that one has about oneself, and it may well be inappropriate. It may well be a mental disorder.

Within the tao, humility is a matter of submission to reality. For example, the humble person, when he asks what is true, is receptive, does not impose his vision of reality on reality. He is gentle in his receptiveness.

Apart from objective values, there is no way to avoid imposing oneself on reality because reality is, for the pure subjectivist, not knowable. It does not exist as something that can be submitted to, for if I cannot know it there is nothing to submit to.

It is true that we must adapt to our environments as a matter of survival and flourishing. But this is not what the law of nature offers as genuine, though limited, knowledge.

True knowledge is the product of humility before the facts, of submission to them. All such submission and humility begins with faith – either faith in science, or in revealed truth, or in “common sense,” or in a combination of these or of something else. But it is a faith that knows, even if it can’t explain what it knows.

Pride and arrogance are prompted and sustained by the haughty claim to doubt everything, which really means to trust oneself too much even while isolating and diminishing the self in which one trusts.

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