That man, thus constituted, is a creature capable of
moral direction, and accountable for his actions.
I. AFTER having seen the
nature of man, considered in respect to right, the result is, that he is a
creature really susceptible of choice and direction in his conduct. For, since
he is capable, by means of his faculties, of knowing the nature and state of
things, and of judging from this knowledge; since he is invested with the power
of determining between two or several offers, made to him; in fine, since, with
the assistance of liberty, he is able in certain cases to suspend, or continue
has actions, as he judges proper; it evidently follows, that he is master of
his own actions, and that he exercises a kind of authority and command over
them, by virtue of which he can direct and turn them which way he pleases.
Hence it appears how necessary it was for us to set out, as we have done, with
inquiring previously into the nature and faculties of man. For how could we
have discovered the rules, by which he is to square his conduct, unless we
antecedently know in what manner he acts, and what are the springs, as it were,
that put him in motion?
II. Another remark, which is a consequence of the foregoing, is, that,
since man is the immediate author of his actions, he is accountable for them;
and injustice and reason they can be imputed to him. This is a pout, of which
we think it necessary to give here a short explication.
The term imputing is borrowed of arithmetic, and signifies
properly to set a sum down to somebody's account. To impute an action therefore
to a person is to attribute it to him, as to its real author; to set it down as
it were to his account and make him answerable for it. Now it is evidently an
essential quality of human actions, as produced and directed by the
understanding and will, to be susceptible of imputation; that is, it is plain
that man can be justly considered, as the author and productive cause of those
actions, and that for this very reason it is right to make him accountable for
them, and lay to his charge the effects, that arise from them, as natural
consequences. In fact, the true reason, why a person cannot complain of being
made answerable for an action, is that he has produced it himself knowingly and
willingly. Every thing almost, that is said and done in human society, supposes
this principle generally received, and every body acquiesces in it from an
III. We must therefore lay down, as an incontestable and fundamental
principle of the imputability of human actions, that every voluntary action is
susceptible of imputation; or to express the same thing in other terms, that
every action or omission, subject to the direction of man, can be charged to
the account of the person, in whose power it was to do it or let it alone; and
on the contrary every action, whose existence or nonexistence does not depend
on our will, cannot be imputed to us. Observe here, that omissions are ranked
by civilians and moralists among the number of actions; because they apprehend
them, as the effect of a voluntary suspension of the exercise of our faculties.
Such is the foundation of imputability, and the true reason, why an
action or omission is of an imputable nature. But we must take particular
notice, that, though an action is imputable it does not ensue from that only,
that it merits actually to be imputed. Imputability and imputation are two
things, which we should carefully distinguish. The latter supposes, besides the
imputability, some moral necessity of acting or not after a certain manner; or,
which amounts to the same, some obligation, that requires a thing to be done,
or omitted, that can be really done or omitted.
Puffendorf does not seem to
have sufficiently distinguished between these two ideas. It is enough for our
present purpose to point out the distinction, defering to treat of actual
imputation, and to establish principles thereof, till we have explained the
nature of obligation, and shown that man is actually obliged to conform his
actions to rule.
What has been hitherto advanced, properly regards the nature of the
human mind; or the internal faculties of man, as they render him capable of
moral direction. But in order to complete our knowledge of human nature, we
should view it likewise in its extrinsic condition, in its wants and
dependancies, and in the various relations, wherein it is placed; in fine, in
what we may call the different states of man. For it is our situation in life,
that decides the use, we ought to make of our faculties.
1. See the Law of nature and nations, book i.
chap. v. § 5, and the Duties of man and a citizen, book i. § 17.
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