Michael Ward spoke last Thursday. Courtesy | Jack Cote

Many modern people have developed into cynics: people who know the price of every­thing and the value of nothing, said Uni­versity of Oxford pro­fessor Michael Ward at a lecture March 24. 

The Drummond Lecture Series in Christ Chapel explores the rela­tionship between faith and reason. As a part of the series, Ward spoke on “To See or Not to See: C.S. Lewis & the Objec­tivity of Value.” He focused on C.S. Lewis’ view of the nature of value – essen­tially, what is good, true, and beau­tiful – and how to per­suade others to rec­ognize that value. 

“The modern cynic is … someone who under­stands human life as nothing more than a form of trade … someone who’s always on the lookout for various kinds of power play,” Ward said. 

Pro­fessor of English David Whalen agreed with Ward’s inter­pre­tation of the modern cynic.

“In many cases, cynics are dis­ap­pointed romantics who have gone from one extreme to the other,” Whalen said. “Proper appre­ci­ation of value would mean a steady grasp of two truths: value is real, and the world is fallen.”

How does one make a cynic see the reality of value? Ward drew from C.S. Lewis’ classic children’s book, “The Last Battle,” to show how dif­ficult it may be to con­vince a hardened cynic that objective value exists.

“He depicts a group of radical cynics – a dozen or so per­ma­nently sus­pi­cious and dis­gruntled dwarves,” Ward said.

The dwarves, sitting in a tight huddle in the midst of a beau­tiful sunlit field, receive a visit from Lewis’ lit­erary heroes, Lucy Pevensie and her cousin Eustace Scrubb. 

Despite Lucy and Eustace’s assur­ances, the dwarves are con­vinced that they are not in an open field, but in a small, dank, dark stable. 

Ward quoted, “‘Can’t you see?’ Lucy said. ‘Look up; look around; can’t you see the sky, and the trees?’ 

“How in the name of all humbug could I see what ain’t there?” the dwarf replied. 

While goodness, truth, and beauty are clearly real and apparent to some people, others cannot be con­vinced that they exist, and insist on seeing a dark, limited world instead of the beau­tiful and free one that is actually there.

According to Ward, to help people appre­ciate value requires careful strategy and a heart full of love and compassion.

“Love is the great opener of eyes,” Ward said. 

Ward said insisting or demanding one’s view is not effective.

“It will almost cer­tainly not work, and very probably will backfire,” Ward said. “No one likes to be men­tally or morally bludgeoned.”

So is it pos­sible to con­vince someone of the truth in a loving way? Ward said it is. 

“One of Lewis’ most notable char­ac­ter­istics … was his mag­na­nimity, his gen­erous accep­tance of a variety of dif­fer­ences, sure of his own stan­dards, but tol­erant of others,” Ward said, quoting a student of Lewis.’ 

Lewis’ respect for others’ opinions, while arguing on behalf of his own, helped him win over people who dis­agreed with him. 

“Tol­erance reas­sures the other person that their inde­pen­dence has been respected,” Ward said. “And if they feel respected, they’ll feel more inclined to respect in return – to listen to you – to learn from you.”

Senior Ceanna Hayes, who attended the lecture, said she was inter­ested to hear Ward’s prac­tical appli­cation of tol­erance since she had usually heard tol­erance dis­cussed in the­o­retical contexts.

“His advice on remaining humble and respectful in con­tentious debates was an unex­pected but welcome aspect of the lecture,” she said.

On the other hand, Whalen expressed doubts that people could really be won over through tol­erance. While he thought Ward’s ideas could be useful in some cir­cum­stances, they may not work in others.

“Some­times bad will is not moved by goodwill,” he said. “The oblig­ation to be good-willed even in dis­agreement, then, ulti­mately comes from the good inherent in good will, not its mere utility in persuasion.”

Some people may never be won over, and, like Lewis’ dwarves, will sit forever in an open field, con­vinced that it’s a stable. But Ward said others might be per­suaded, and will learn to appre­ciate the values of goodness, truth, and beauty that Lewis knew and loved.