It is upon the Trunk that a gentleman works.
– Analects of Confucius, 1.2
, C.S. Lewis
I had no idea what this meant, "the Trunk." I did some digging. I found a more complete passage: "…It is upon the trunk that the gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows."
This second chapter of Lewis's short book is entitled "The Way." But I still don't really get it. So I found this:
It is upon the trunk [the fundamental] that a gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows. And surly proper behavior towards parents and elder brothers is the trunk of Goodness.
The words "the fundamental" are inserted by the author of the paper. So, I at least learn that the trunk is fundamental and that the focus is on the family, with proper behavior toward parents and elders as "goodness."
But I still don't get the word "trunk." There is an image that I am missing. Then I found it:
The really wise man, his followers said, works on the "trunk" of the tree, he doesn't fuss with the endless little branches shooting off from it.
Don't mess with the details. Get the family right, and society will be right. Sorry for the diversion, but I had to understand why Lewis placed this quote from Confucius at the beginning of this chapter.
Lewis, for convenience, uses the term the Tao. He recognizes that others can refer to it as Natural Law, Traditional Morality, the First Principles of Practical Reason, or the First Platitudes. Whatever one labels it…
… [it] is not one among a series of possible systems of value. It is the sole source of all value judgements. If it is rejected, all value is rejected.
I will use the word Tao for this post, as Lewis does in his book; but you can read in its place (as I do) "Natural Law."
It is worth considering in our ongoing discussion of libertarianism or liberty and where I am headed (at least for now) in this idea that liberty will be found (at least for those of us living in the western tradition) in the convergence of natural law, Christian ethics, and the non-aggression principle. This, of course, suggests that a free society must first be made up of men who value such things – not subjectively, but objectively.
Lewis goes after the idea that value is subjective. A hard thing to read when one considers economics; yet, most can recognize (on what basis, I wonder…) that just because each of us hold subjective values, not each value held is necessarily beneficial. When faced with choosing one or the other, I might subjectively value that sixth Oban Scotch more than buying food for my family, but…. Well, you get my point.
Lewis returns to The Green Book, written by Gaius and Titius: despite its shortcomings as demonstrated by Lewis using the example of the waterfall, the authors must have had some end or purpose in mind – else why write the book.
Sure, the authors might say that the book was "necessary." But necessary toward what? Toward educating. But educating toward what? Eventually an answer must come that ends this line of wonder.
It all strikes me as very Aristotelian. And in line with Aristotle (and Aquinas, who developed this further), I don't think it is acceptable to suggest that my sixth Oban holds more value than feeding my family.
Certainly since Nietzsche (or at least since he announced it), man has been free to develop his own ethics – more specifically, the Übermensch has been given this charge: