On First and Second Things

I came to suspect I was perceiving a universal law. The woman who makes a dog the center of her life loses, in the end, not only her human usefulness and dignity but even the proper pleasure of dog-keeping.

The man who makes alcohol his chief good loses not only his job but his palate and all power of enjoying the earlier (and only pleasurable) levels of intoxication.

It is a glorious thing to feel for a moment or two that the whole meaning of the universe is summed up in one woman—glorious so long as other duties and pleasures keep tearing you away from her. But clear the decks and so arrange your life (it is sometimes feasible) that you will have nothing to do but contemplate her, and what happens?

Of course this law has been discovered before, but it will stand re-discovery. It may be stated as follows: every preference of a small good to a great, or partial good to a total good, involves the loss of the small or partial good for which the sacrifice is made.

. . . You can’t get second things by putting them first. You get second things only by putting first things first. From which it would follow that the question “What things are first?” is of concern not only to philosophers but to everyone. What is the first thing? The only reply I can offer here is that if we do not know, then the first and only true practical thing is to set about finding out.

—C.S. Lewis, “First and Second Things,” in God in the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics

“Put first things first and we get second things thrown in: put second things first and we lose both first and second things. We never get, say, even the sensual pleasure of food at its best when we are being greedy.” —C.S. Lewis

When I read this, it made a lot of sense to me and helped me to prioritize things better. (Always brings to mind Matthew 6:33.) I have only put in the ‘meat’ of the matter, but the whole essay is definitely worth reading (as is almost anything C.S. Lewis) and gives a much fuller picture of the idea.

~ Watergirl