Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Our impulses are like notes on the piano

There is none of our impulses which the Moral Law may not sometimes tell us to suppress, and none which it may not sometimes tell us to encourage. It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses—say mother love or patriotism—are good, and others, like sex or the fighting instinct, are bad. All we mean is that the occasions on which the fighting instinct or the sexual desire need to be restrained are rather more frequent than those for restraining mother love or patriotism. But there are situations in which it is the duty of a married man to encourage his sexual impulse and of a soldier to encourage the fighting instinct. There are also occasions on which a mother’s love for her own childrentom_26_jerry-piano_concerto[1] or a man’s love for his own country have to be suppressed or they will lead to unfairness towards other people’s children or countries. Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses. Think once again of a piano. It has not got two kinds of notes on it, the ‘right’ notes and the ‘wrong’ ones. Every single note is right at one time and wrong at another. The Moral Law is not any one instinct or set of instincts: it is something which makes a kind of tune (the tune we call goodness or right conduct) by directing the instincts.

Quotes from Mere Christianity, Part 7
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (1952, this edition: 2001) 11.


  1. I am so excited that I found this blog!  I've added it to my igoogle home page.  I've been a  loyal fan of "Jack" for many years.  My children give me his books (the few I still do not own) for Christmas.  The first Lewis book I owned was "Mere Christianity" in my teens (back in the dark ages).  Yes, even before I was swept away into the land of Narnia.  I love this post re notes on the piano for I have studied and taught piano for a number of years.  I want to encourage you to please do not abandon this blog!  There are those of us out here who thoroughly ravish this place, a place of refuge, encouragement, and strength for the days that lie ahead.  Ken Symes, thank you so very much!  

  2. Welcome to Mere C.S. Lewis, Gramma J. I'm very happy you found this blog, maybe you could share how you happened upon it. It's always good to have a new reader. C.S. Lewis has so much to offer us. We're currently working through Mere Christianity and I enjoy finding good pictures to illustrate Lewis's best illustrations. Thanks for you comment :)