Of the principles, from which reason may deduce the
law of nature.
I. IF we should be afterwards asked, what principles ought reason to
make use of, in order to judge of what relates to the law of nature, and to
deduce and unfold it? Our answer is in general, that we have only to attend to
the nature of man, and to his states or relations; and, as these relations are
different, there may be likewise different principles, that lead us to the
knowledge of our duties.
But before we enter upon this point, it will be proper to make some
preliminary remarks on what we call principles of natural law: in order
to prevent the ambiguity or equivocation, that has often entangled this
II. 1. When we inquire here which are the first principles of natural
law, the question is, which are those truths or primitive rules, whereby we may
effectually know the divine will in regard to man; and thus arrive, by just
consequences, to the knowledge of the particular laws and duties, which God
imposes on us by right reason?
2. We must not therefore confound the principles here in question, with
the efficient and productive cause of natural laws, or with their obligatory
principle. It is unquestionable, that the will of the Supreme Being is the
efficient cause of the law of nature, and the source of the obligation, thence
arising. But, this being taken for granted, we have still to enquire how man
may attain to the knowledge of this will, and to the discovery of those
principles, which, acquainting us with the divine intention, enable us to
reduce from it all our particular duties, so far as they are discoverable by
reason only. A person asks, for example, whether the law of nature requires us
to repair injuries, or to be faithful to our engagements? If we are satisfied
with answering him, that the thing is incontestable, because so it is ordered
by the divine will; it is plain, that this is not a sufficient answer to his
question; and that he may reasonably insist to have a principle pointed out,
which should really convince him, that such in fact is the will of the Deity;
for this is the point he is in search of.
III. Let us afterwards observe, that the first principles of natural
laws, ought to be not only true, but likewise simple, clear, sufficient, and
proper for those laws.
They ought to be true; that is, they should be taken from the very
nature and state of the thing. False or hypocritical principles must produce
consequences of the same nature; for a solid edifice can never be raised on a
rotten foundation. They ought to be simple and clear of their own nature, or at
least easy to apprehend and unfold. For, the laws of nature being obligatory
for all mankind, their first principles should be within every body's reach, so
that whatsoever has common sense may be easily acquainted with them. It would
be very reasonable therefore to mistrust principles, that are farfetched, or of
too subtle and metaphysical a nature.
I add, that these principles ought to be sufficient and universal. They
should be such, that one may deduce from them, by immediate and natural
consequences, all the laws of nature, and the several duties thence resulting;
insomuch that the exposition of particulars be properly only an explication of
the principles; in the same manner, very nearly as the production or increase
of a plant is only an unfolding of the seed.
And, as most natural laws are subject to divers exceptions, it is
likewise necessary, that the principles be such, as include the reasons of the
very exceptions; and that we may not only draw from them all the common rules
of morality, but that they also serve to restrain these rules, according as
place, time, and occasion require.
In fine, those, first principles ought to be established in such a
manner, as to be really the proper and direct foundation of all the duties of
natural law; insomuch that whether we descend from the principle to deduce the
consequences, or whether we ascend from the consequences to the principle, our
reasonings ought always to be immediately connected, and their thread as it
were never interrupted.
[Whether we ought to reduce the whole to one single principle.]
IV. But, generally speaking, it is a matter of mere indifference whether
we reduce the whole to one single principle, or establish a variety of them. We
must consult and follow in this respect a judicious and exact method. All that
can be said on this head is, that it is not at all necessary to the solidify or
perfection of the system, that all natural laws be deduced from one single and
fundamental maxim; nay, perhaps the thing is impossible. Be that as it may, it
is idle to endeavor to reduce the whole to this unity.
Such are the general remarks we had to propose. If they prove just we
shall reap this double advantage from them, that they will instruct us in the
method we are to follow, in order to establish the true principles of natural
law; and at the same time they will enable us to pass a solid judgment on the
different systems concerning this subject. But it is time now to come to the
V. The only way to attain to the knowedge of natural law is to consider
attentively the nature and constitution of man, the relations he has to the
beings, that surround him, and the states thence resulting. In fact the very
term natural law, and the notion we have given of it, show, that the
principles of this science must be taken from the very nature and constitution
of man. We shall therefore law down two general propositions, as the foundation
of the whole system of the law of nature.
Whatever is in the nature and original constitution of man, and appears
a necessary consequence of this nature and constitution, certainly indicates
the intention or will of God with respect to man, and consequently acquaints us
with the law of nature.
But, in order to have a complete system of the law of nature, we must
not only consider the nature of man, such as it is in itself, it is also
necessary to attend to the relations be has to other beings, and to different
states thence arising. Otherwise it is evident we should have only an imperfect
and defective system.
We may therefore affirm, that the general foundation of the system of
natural law is the nature of man, considered under the several circumstances,
that attend it, and in which Gad himself has placed him for particular ends;
inasmuch as by this means we may be acquainted with the will of God. In short
since man holds from the hand of God himself whatever he possesses, as well
with regard to his existence, as to his manner of existing, it is the study of
human nature only, that can fully instruct us concerning the views, which God
proposed to himself in giving us our being; and consequently with the rules we
ought to follow, in order to accomplish the designs of the Creator.
VI. For this purpose we must recollect what has been already said of the
manner, in which man be considered under three different respects or states,
which embrace all his particular relations. In the first place we may consider
him as God's creature, from whom he has received his life, his reason, and all
the advantages he enjoys. Secondly man may be considered in himself as a being,
composed of body and soul, and endowed with many different faculties; as a
being, that naturally loves himself, and necessarily desires his own felicity.
In fine we may consider him, as forming a part of the species, as placed on the
earth near several other beings of a similar nature, and with whom he is
inclined, nay, by his natural condition, obliged to live in society. Such in
fact is the system of humanity, from which results the most common and natural
distinction of our duties, taken from the three different states here
mentioned; duties towards God, towards ourselves, and towards the rest of
VII. In the first place, since reason brings us acquainted with God, as
a selfexistent being, and sovereign Lord of all things, and in particular as
our creator, preserver, and benefactor; it follows, that we ought necessarily
to acknowledge the sovereign perfection of this supreme Being, and our absolute
dependance on him; which by a natural consequence inspires us with sentiments
of respect, love, and fear, and with an entire submission to his will. For why
should God have thus manifested himself to mankind, were it not, that their
reason should teach them to entertain sentiments, proportioned to the
excellence of his nature, that is, they should honor, love, adore, and obey
VIII. Infinite respect is the natural consequence of the impression, we
receive from a prospect of all the divine perfections. We cannot refuse love
and gratitude to a being supremely beneficent. The fear of displeasing or
offending him is a natural effect of the idea we entertain of his justice and
power, and obedience cannot but follow from the knowledge of his legitimate
authority over us, of his bounty and supreme wisdom, which are sure to conduct
us by the road most agreeable to our nature and happiness. The assemblage of
these sentiments, deeply engraved in the heart is called Piety.
Piety, if it be real, will show itself externally two different ways; by
our morals, and by outward worship. I say, 1. by our morals, because a
pious man, sincerely penetrated with the abovementioned sentiments, will find
himself naturally inclined to speak and act after the manner, he knows to be
most conformable to the divine will and perfections. This is his rule and
model; from which the practice of the most excellent virtues arises.
2. But besides this manner of honouring God, which is undoubtedly the
most necessary and most real, a religious man will consider it as a pleasure
and duty to strengthen himself in these sentiments of piety, and to excite them
in others. Hence external worship, as well public as private, is derived. For,
whether we consider this worship, as the first and almost only means of
exciting, entertaining, and improving religious and pious sentiments in the
mind; or whether we look upon it as an homage, which men, united by particular
or private societies, pay in common to the Deity; or whether in fine both these
views are joined, reason represents it to us, as a duty of indispensable
This worship may vary indeed in regard to its form; yet there is a
natural principle, which determines its essence, and preserves it from all
frivolous and superstitious practices; viz. that it consists in instructing
mankind, in rendering them pious and virtuous, and in giving them just ideas of
the nature of God, as also what he requires from his creatures.
The different duties, here pointed out, constitute what we distinguish
by the name of Religion. We may define it a connexion, which attaches
man to God, and to the observance of his laws, by those sentiments of respect,
love, submission, and fear which the perfections of a supreme Being, and our
intire dependance on him, as an allwise and allbountiful Creator, are apt to
excite in the human mind.
Thus by studying our nature and state, we find, in the relation we have
to the Deity, the proper principle, from which those duties of natural law,
that have God for their object, are immediately derived.
IX. If we search afterwards for the principle of those duties, that
regard ourselves, it will be easy to discover them, by examining the Internal
constitution of man, and inquiring into the Creator's views in regard to him,
in order to know for what end he has endowed him with those faculties of mind
and body, that constitute his nature.
Now it is evident, that God, by creating us, proposed our preservation,
perfection, and happiness. This is what manifestly appears, as well by the
faculties, with which man is invested, which alt tend to the same end; as by
the strong inclination, that promps us to pursue good, and shun evil. God is
therefore willing, that every one should labor for his own preservation and
perfection, in order to acquire all the happiness, of which he is capable
according to his nature and state.
This being premised, we may affirm, that self-love (I mean an
enlightened and rational love of ourselves) may serve for the first principle
with regard to the duties, which concern man himself; inasmuch as this
sensation being inseparable from human nature, and having God for its author,
gives us clearly to Understand in this respect the will of the supreme
Yet we should take particular notice that the love of ourselves cannot
serve us as a principle and rule, but inasmuch as it is directed by right
reason, according to the exigencies or necessities of our nature and state.
For thus it only becomes an interpreter of the Creator's will in respect
to us; that is, it ought to be managed in such a manner, as not to offend the
laws of religion or society. Otherwise this self-love would become the source
of a thousand iniquities; and, so far from being of any service, would prove a
snare to us, by the prejudice we should certainly receive from those very
X. From this principle, thus established, it is easy to deduce the
natural laws and duties, that directly concern us. The desire of happiness is
attended, in the first place, with the care of our preservation. It requires
next, that (every thing else being equal) the care of the soul should be
preferred to that of the body. We ought not to neglect to improve our reason,
by learning to discern truth from falsehood, the useful from the hurtful, in
order to acquire a just knowledge of things, that concern us, and to form a
right judgment of them. It is in this that the perfection of the understanding,
or wisdom, consists. We should afterwards be determined, and act constantly
according to this light, in spite of all contrary suggestion and passion. For
it is properly this vigour or perseverance of the soul, in following the
counsels of wisdom, that constitutes virtue, and forms the perfection of the
will, without which the light of the understanding would be of no manner of
From this principle all the particular rules arise. You ask, for
example, whether the moderation of the passions be a duty, imposed upon us by
the law of nature? In order to give you an answer, I inquire, in my turn,
whether it is necessary to our preservation, perfection and happiness? If it
be, as undoubtedly it is, the question is decided. You have a mind to know
whether the love of occupation, the discerning between permitted and forbidden
pleasures, and moderation in the use of such, as are permitted, whether, in
fine, patience, constancy, resolution, &c. are natural duties; I shall
always answer, by making use of the same principle; and, provided I apply it
well, my answer cannot but be right and exact; because the principle conducts
me certainly to the end, by acquainting me with the will of God.
[Man is made for society.]
XI. There remains still another point to investigate, namely. the
principle, from which we are to deduce those natural laws, that regard our
mutual duties, and have society for their object. Let us see whether we cannot
discover this principle, by pursuing the same method. We ought always to
consult the actual state of things, in order to take their result.
I am not the only person upon earth; I find myself in the middle of an
infinite number of other men, who resemble me in every respect; and I am
subject to this state, even from my nativity, by the very act of providence.
This induces me naturally to think, it was not the intention of God, that each
man should live single and separate from the rest; but that, on the contrary,
it was his will they should live together, and be joined in society. The
Creator might certainly have formed all men at the same time, though separated
from one another, by investing each of them with the proper and sufficient
qualities for this kind of solitary life. If he has not followed this plan, it
is probably because it was his will, that the ties of consanguinity and birth
should begin to form a more extensive union, which he was pleased to establish
The more I examine, the more I am confirmed in this thought. Most of the
faculties of man, his natural inclinations, his weakness, and wants, are all so
many indubitable proofs of this intention of the Creator.
[1. Society is absolutely necessary for man.]
XII. Such in effect is the nature and constitution of man, that out of
society he could neither preserve his life, nor display and perfect his
faculties and talents, nor attain any real and solid happiness. What would
become of an infant, were there not some benevolent and assisting hand to
provide for his wants? He must perish, if no one takes care of him; and this
state of weakness and ignorance requires even a long and continued assistance.
View him when grown up to manhood, you find nothing but rudeness, ignorance,
and confused ideas, which he is scarce able to convey; abandon him to himself,
and you behold a savage, and perhaps a ferocious animal; ignorant of all the
conveniences of life, sunk in idleness, a prey to spleen and melancholy, and
almost incapable of providing against the first wants of nature. If he attains
to old age, behold him relapsed into infirmities, that render him almost as
dependant on external aid, as he was in his infancy. This dependance shows
itself in a more sensible manner in accidents and maladies. What would then
become of man, were he to be in a state of solitude? There is nothing but the
assistance of our fellow creatures, that is able to preserve us from the divers
evils, or to redress them and render us easy and happy, in whatsoever stage or
situation of life.
We have an excellent picture of the use of society, drawn by
Seneca.On what, says he,
does our security depend, but on the services we render one another? It is
this commerce of benefits, that makes life easy, and enables us to defend
ourselves against any sudden insults or attacks. What would he the fate of
mankind were every one to live apart? so many men, so many victims to other
animals, an easy prey, in short, feebleness itself. In fact, other animals have
strength enough sufficient to defend themselves. Those that are wild and
wandering, and whose ferocity does not permit them to herd together, are born,
as it were, with arms; whereas man is on all sides encompassed with weakness,
having neither arms, nor teeth, nor claws to render him formidable. But the
strength he wants by himself, he finds when united with his equals.
Nature, to make amends, has endowed him with two things, which give
him a considerable force and superiority, where otherwise he would be much
inferior; I mean reason and sociability, whereby he, who alone could make no
resistance, becomes master of the whole. Society gives him an empire over other
animals; society is the cause, that, not satisfied with the element on which he
was born, he extends his command ever the sea. It is this same union, that
supplies him with remedies In his diseases, assistance in his old wee, and
comfort in his pains and anxieties; it is this, that enables him, as it were,
to bid defiance to fortune. Take away society and you destroy the union of
mankind, on which the preservation and the whole happiness of life
[2. Man by his constitution is very fit for society.]
XIII. As society is so necessary to man, God has therefore given him a
constitution, faculties, and talents, that render him very proper for this
state. Such is for example, the faculty of speech, which enables us to convey
our thoughts with facility and readiness, and would be of no manner of use out
of society. The same may be said with regard to our propensity to imitation,
and of that surprising mechanism, which renders all the passions and
impressions of the soul so easy to be communicated. It is sufficient a man
appears to be moved, in order to move and soften others. If a person accosts us with joy painted on
his countenance, he excites in us the like sentiment of joy. The tears of a
stranger affect us, even before we know the cause thereof; and the cries of a man related to us only by
the common tie of humanity, make us fly to his succour by a mechanical movement
previous to all deliberation.
This is not all. We see that nature has thought proper to distribute
differently her talents among men, by giving to some an aptitude to perform
certain things, which to others are impossible; while the latter have received,
in their turn, an industry denied to the former. Wherefore if the natural wants
of men render them dependant on one another, the diversity of talents, which
qualifies them for mutual aid, connects and unties them. These are so many
evident signs of man's being designed for society.
[3. Our natural inclinations prompt us to look out for society.]
XIV. But, if we consult our own inclinations, we shall likewise find
that our hearts are naturally bent to wish for the company of our equals, and
to dread an intire solitude, as an irksome and forlorn state. And though there
have been instances of people, who have thrown themselves into a solitary life,
yet we cannot consider this in any other light, but as the effect of
superstition, or melancholy, or of a singularity extremely remote from the
state of nature. Were we to investigate the cause of this social inclination,
we should find it is wisely bestowed on us by the author of our being; by
reason that it is in society man finds a remedy for the greatest part of his
wants, and an occasion for exercising most of his faculties; it is in society
he is capable of feeling and displaying those sensations, on which nature has
intailed so much satisfaction and pleasure;
I mean the sensations of benevolence, friendship, compassion, and
generosity. For such are the charms of social affections, that from them our
purest enjoyments arise. Nothing in fact is so satisfactory and flattering to
man, as to think he merits the esteem and friendship of others. Science
acquires an additional value, when it can display itself abroad; and our joy
becomes more sensible, when we have an opportunity of testifying it in public,
or of pouring it into the bosom of a friend. It is redoubled by being
communicated; for our own satisfaction is increased by the agreeable idea we
have of giving pleasure to our friends, and of fixing them more steadily in our
interest. Anxiety on the contrary is alleviated and softened by sharing It with
our neighbour; just as a burden if eased, when a goodnatured person helps us to
Thus every thing invites us to the state of society; want renders it
necessary to us, inclination makes it a pleasure, and the dispositions we
naturally have for it, are a sufficient indication of its being really intended
by our Creator.
[Sociability. Principle of natural laws relative to other men.]
XV. But, as human society can neither subsist, nor produce the happy
effects, for which God has established it, unless mankind have sentiments of
affection and benevolence for one another; it follows that our Creator and
common Father is willing, that every body should be animated with these
sentiments, and do whatever lies in their power to maintain this society in an
agreeable and advantageous state, and to tie the knot still closer by
reciprocal services and benefits.
This is the true principle of the duties, which the law of nature
prescribes to us in respect to other men. Ethical writers have given it the
name of Sociability, by which they understand that disposition, which
inclines us to benevolence to our fellow-creatures, to do them all the good,
that lies in our power, to reconcile our own happiness to that of others, and
to render our particular advantage subordinate to the common and general
The more we study our own nature, the more we are convinced, that this
sociability is really agreeable to the will of God. For, beside the necessity
of this principle, we find it engraved in our heart; where, if the Creator has
implanted on one side the love of ourselves, the same hand has imprinted on the
other a sentiment of benevolence for our fellow-creatures. These two
inclinations, though distinct from one another, have nothing opposite in their
nature; and God, who has bestowed them upon us, designed they should act in
concert, in order to help, and not to destroy each other. Hence goodnatured and
generous hearts feel a most sensible satisfaction in doing good to mankind,
because in this they follow the inclination, they received from nature.
[Natural laws, which flow from sociability.]
XVI. From the principle of sociability, as from their real source, all
the laws of society, and all our general and particular duties toward other
men, are derived.
[1. The public good ought always to be the supreme rule.]
1. This union, which God has established among men, requires that, in
every thing relating to society, the public good should be the supreme rule of
their conduct, and that, guided by the counsels of prudence, they should never
pursue their private advantage to the prejudice of the public; for this is what
their state demands, and is consequently the will of their common father.
[2. The spirit of sociability ought to be universal.]
2. The spirit of sociability ought to be universal. Human society
embraces all those with whom we can have possibly any communication; because it
is founded on the relations, they all bear to one another, in consequence of
their nature and state.
[3. To observe a natural equality.]
3. Reason afterwards informs us, that creatures of the same rank and
species, born with the same faculties to live in society, and to partake of the
same advantages, have in general an equal and common right. We are therefore
obliged to consider ourselves as naturally equal, and to behave as such; and it
would be bidding defiance to nature not to acknowledge this principle of equity
(which by the civilians is called ęquabilitas juris) as one of the
first foundations of society. It is on this the lex talionis is founded,
as also that simple but universal and useful rule, that we ought to have the
same dispositions in regard to other men, as we desire they should have toward
us, and to behave in the same manner towards them, as we are willing they
should behave to us in the like circumstances.
[4. To preserve a benevolence even towards our enemies. Self defence is
permitted, revenge is not.]
4. Sociability being a reciprocal obligation among men, such, as through
malice or injustice break the band of society, cannot reasonably complain, if
those, they have injured, do not treat them as friends, or even if they proceed
against them by forcible methods.
But, though we have a right to suspend the acts of benevolence in regard
to an enemy, yet we are never allowed to stifle its principle. As nothing but
necessity can authorise us to have recourse to force against an unjust
aggressor, so this same necessity should be the rule and measure of the harm we
do him; and we ought to be always disposed to reconcilement so soon, as he has
done us justice, and we have nothing farther to apprehend.
We must therefore distinguish carefully between a just defence of one's
own person, and revenge. The first does but suspend, through necessity and for
a while, the exercise of benevolence, and has nothing in it opposite to
sociability. But the other stifling the very principle of benevolence,
introduces in its stead a sentiment of hatred and animosity, a sentiment
vicious in itself, contrary to the public good, and expressly condemned by the
law of nature.
XVII. These general rules are very fertile of consequences. We should do
no wrong to any one, either in word or action; and we ought to repair all
damages by us committed; for society could not subsist, were acts of injustice
tolerated. We ought to be sincere in our discourse, and steady in our
engagements; for what trust could men repose in one another, and what security
could they have in commercial life, were it lawful to violate their plighted
We not only ought to do every man the good he properly deserves, but
moreover we should pay him the degree of esteem and honour, due to him,
according to his estate and rank; because subordination is the link of society,
without which there can be no order either in families, or in civil
But if the public good requires, that inferiors should obey, it demands
also, that superiors should preserve the rights of those, who are subject to
them, and should govern their people only in order to render them happy.
Again; men are captivated by the heart and by favours; now nothing is
more agreeable to humanity, or more useful to society, than compassion, lenity,
beneficence, and generosity. This is what Induced Cicero to say,there is nothing truer than that excellent maxim of Plato, viz. that we are
not born for ourselves alone, but likewise for our country and friends; and if,
according to the Stoics, the productions of the earth ate for men, and men
themselves fir the good and assistance of one another: we ought certainly, in
this respect, to comply with the design of nature, and promote her intention by
contributing our share to the general interest, by mutually giving and
receiving good turns, and employing all our care and industry, and even our
substance, to strengthen that love and friendship, which should always prevail
in human society.
Since therefore the different sentiments and acts of justice and
goodness are the only and true bonds, that knit men together, and are capable
of contributing to the stability, peace, and prosperity of society; we must
look upon those virtues, as so many duties, that God imposes on us, for this
reason, because whatever is necessary to his design is of course conformable to
[These three principles have all the requisite characters.]
XVIII. We have therefore three general principles of the laws of nature
relative to the abovementioned three states of man. And these are, 1. Religion.
2. Self-love. 3. Sociability or benevolence towards our fellow creatures.
These principles have all the characters above required. They are
true, because they are taken from the nature of man, in the constitution
and state, in which God has placed him. They are simple and within every
body's reach, which is an important point; because, in regard to duties, there
is nothing wanting but principles, that are obvious to every one; for a
subtlety of mind, that sets us upon singular and new ways, is always dangerous.
In fine these principles are sufficient and very fertile; by
reason they embrace all the objects of our duties, and acquaint us with the
will of God in the several states and relations of man.
[Remarks on Puffendorf's system.]
XIX. True it is, that Puffendorf reduces the thing within a less
compass, by establishing sociability alone, as the foundation of all natural
laws. But it has been justly observed, that this method is defective. For the
principle of sociability does not furnish us with the proper and direct
foundation of all our duties. Those which have God for their object and those,
which are relative to man himself, do not flow directly and immediately from
this source, but have their proper and particular principle. Let us suppose man
in solitude; he would still have several duties to discharge, such as to love
and honour God, to preserve himself, to cultivate his faculties as much as
possible, &c. I acknowledge, that the principle of sociability is the most
extensive, and that the other two have a natural connection with it; yet we
ought not to confound them, as if they had not their own particular force,
independant of sociability. These are three different springs, which give
motion and action to the system of humanity; springs distinct from one another,
but which act all at the same time pursuant to the views of the Creator.
[The critics have carried their censures too far.]
XX. Be it said nevertheless, in justification of Puffendorf, and
according to a judicious observation made by Barbeyrac, that most of the
criticisms on the former's system, as defective in its principle, have been
pushed too far. This illustrious restorer of the study of natural law declares,
his design was properly no more than to explain the natural dudes of
man. Now for this purpose he had
occasion only for the principle of sociability. According to him, our duties
towards God form a part of natural theology; and religion is interwoven in a
treatise of natural law, only as it is a firm support of society. With regard
to the duties, that concern man himself, he makes them depend partly on
religion, and partly on sociability. Such is Puffendorf's system; he would
certainly have made his work more perfect, if, embracing all the states of man,
he had established distinctly the proper principles agreeable to each of those
states, in order to deduce afterwards from them all our particular duties. For
such is the just extent we ought to give to natural law.
[Of the connexion between our natural duties.]
XXI. This was so much the more necessary, as notwithstanding our duties
are relative to different objects, and deduced from distinct principles, yet
they have, as we already hinted, a natural connexion; insomuch that they are
interwoven, as it were, with one another, and by mutual assistance the
observance of some renders the practice of others more easy and certain. It is
certain, for example, that the fear of God, joined to perfect submission to his
will, is a very efficacious motive to engage men to discharge what directly
concerns themselves, and to do for their neighbour and for society whatever the
law of nature requires. It is also certain, that the duties, which relate to
ourselves, contribute not a little to direct us with respect to other men. For
what good could society expect from a man, who would take no care to improve
his reason, or to form his mind and heart to wisdom and virtue? On the
contrary, what may we not promise ourselves from those, who spare no pains to
perfect their faculties and talents, and are pushed on towards this noble end,
either by the desire of rendering themselves happy, or by that of procuring the
happiness of others? Thus whosoever neglects his duty towards God, and deviates
from the rules of virtue in what concerns himself, commits thereby an injustice
in respect to other men, because he subtracts so much from the common
happiness. On the contrary, a person, who is penetrated with such sentiments of
piety, justice, and benevolence, as religion and sociability require,
endeavours to make himself happy; because, according to the plan of providence,
the personal felicity of every man is inseperably connected, on the one side
with religion, and on the other with the general happiness of the society, of
which he is a member; insomuch that to take a particular road to happiness is
mistaking the thing, and rambling quite out of the way. Such is the admirable
harmony, which the divine wisdom has established between the different parts of
the human system. What could be wanting to complete the happiness of man, were
he always attentive to such salutary directions?
[Of the opposition, that some times happens between these very
XXII. But as the three grand principles of our duties are thus
connected, so there is likewise a natural subordination between them, that
helps to decide which of those duties ought to have the preference in
particular circumstances or cases, when they have a kind of conflict or
opposition, that does not permit us to discharge them all alike.
The general principle to judge rightly of this subordination is, that
the stronger obligation ought always to prevail over the weaker. But to know
afterwards which is the stronger obligation, we have only to attend to the very
nature of our duties, and their different degrees of necessity and utility; for
this is the right way to know in that case the will of God. Pursuant to these
ideas, we shall give here some general rules concerning the cases above
1. The duties of man towards God should always prevail over any other.
For all obligations, that, which binds us to our all-wise and all-bountiful
Creator, is without doubt the nearest and strongest.
2. If what we owe to ourselves comes in competition with our duty to
society in general, society ought to have the preference. Otherwise we should
invert the order of things, destroy the foundations of society, and act
directly contrary to the will of God, who by subordinating the part to the
whole, has laid us under an indispensable obligation of never deviating from
the supreme law of the common good.
3. But if, every thing else equal, there happens to be an opposition
between the duties of self-love and sociability, self-love ought to prevail.
For, man being directly and primarily charged with the care of his own
preservation and happiness, it follows therefore that, in a case of intire
inequality, the care of ourselves ought to prevail over that of others.
4. But if in fine the opposition is between duties relating to
ourselves, or between two duties of sociability, we ought to prefer that, which
is accompanied with the greatest utility, as being the most
[Natural law obligatory, and natural law of simple permission. General
principle of the law of permission.]
XXIII. What we have hitherto explained properly regards the natural law
called obligatory, viz. that, which having for its object those actions,
wherein we discover a necessary agreeableness or disagreeableness to the nature
and stale of man, lays us under an indispensable obligation of acting or not
acting after a particular manner. But, in consequence of what has been said
above, we must acknowledge that
there is likewise a law of simple permission, which leaves us at liberty
in particular cases to act or not; and, by laying other men under a necessity
of giving us no let nor molestation, secures to us, in this respect the
exercise and effect of our liberty.
The general principle of this law of permission is, that we may
reasonably, and according as we judge proper, do or omit whatever has not an
absolute and essential agreeableness or disagreeableness to the nature and
state of man; unless it be a thing expressly ordained or forbidden by some
positive law, to which we are otherwise subject.
The truth of this principle is obvious. The Creator having invested man
with several faculties, and, among the rest, with that of modifying his
actions, as he thinks proper; it is plain that in every thing, in which he has
not restrained the use of those faculties, either by an express command or a
positive prohibition, he leaves man at liberty to exercise them according to
his own discretion. It is on this law of permission all those rights are
founded, which are of such a nature, as to leave us at liberty to use them or
not, to retain or renounce them in the whole or in part; and, in consequence of
this renunciation, actions, in themselves permitted, happen sometimes to be
commanded or forbidden by the authority of the sovereign, and become obligatory
by that means.
XXIV. This is what right reason discovers in the nature and constitution
of man, in his original and primitive state. But, as man himself may make
divers modifications in his primitive state, and enter into several
adventitious ones, the consideration of those new states fall likewise within
the object of the law of nature, taken in its full extent; and the principles,
we have laid down, ought to serve likewise for a rule in the states, in which
man engages by his own act and deed.
Hence occasion has been taken to distinguish two species of natural law;
the one primary, the other secondary.
The primary or primitive natural law is that, which immediately arises
from the primitive constitution of man, as God himself has established it,
independant of any human act.
Secondary natural law is that, which supposes some human act or
establishment; as a civil state, property of goods, &c.
It is easy to comprehend, that this secondary natural law is only a
consequence of the former; or rather it is a just application of the general
maxims of natural law to the particular states of mankind, and to the different
circumstances, in which they find themselves by their own act; as it appears in
fact, when we come to examine into particular duties.
Some perhaps will be surprised, that in establishing the principles of
natural law, we have taken no notice of the different opinions of writers
concerning this subject. But we
judged it more adviseable to point out the true sources, from which the
principles were to be drawn, and to establish afterwards the principles
themselves, than to enter into a discussion, which would have carried us too
far for a work of this nature. If we have hit upon the true one, this will be
sufficient to enable us to judge of all the rest; and, if any one desires a
more ample and more particular instruction, he may easily find it by consulting
Puffendorf, who relates the different opinions of civilians, and accompanies
them with very judicious reflections.
1. See on this, and the following chapter,
Puffendorf's Law of Nature and Nations, book ii. chap. iii.
2. We meet with this division in Cicero.
Philosophy, says he, teaches us in the first place the worship of the deity;
secondly, the mutual duties of men, founded on human society; and in fine
moderation and greatness of soul. "Hęc (philosophia) nos primum ad
illorum (deorum) cultum, deinde ad jus hominum, quod situm est in generis
humani societate, tum ad modestiam magnitadinemque animi erudivit, Cic.
Tusc. quest. lib. 1 cap. 26.
3. Quo alio tuti summus, quąm quņd
mutuis juvamur officiis? Hoc uno instructior vita contraque incursiones subitas
munitior est, beneficiorum commercio. Fac nos singulos, quid sumus? Pręda
animalium et victimę, ac bellissimus et facillimus sanguis. Quoniam
cęteris animalibus in tutelam sui satis virium est: quęcunque vaga
nascuntur, et actura vitani segregem, armata sunt. Hominem imbecilitas cingit;
non unguium vis, non dentium, terribilem cęteris fecit. Nudum et infirmum
societas munit. Duas res dedit quę illum, obnoxium cęteris,
validissimum facerent, rationem et societatem. Itaque, qui par esse nulli
poterat, si seduceretur, rerum potitur. Societas illi dominium omnium animalium
dedit. Societas terris genitum in alienę naturę transmisit
imperium, et dominari etiam in mari jussit. Hęc morborum impetus arcuit,
senectuti adminicula prospexit, solatia contra dolores dedit. Hęc fortes
nos facit, quod licet contra fortunam advocare. Hanc societatem tolle, et
unitatem generis humani, qua vita sustinetur, scindes. Senec. de Benef,
lib. 4. cap. 18.
4. Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto.
5. Ut ridentibus adrident, ita flentibus adsunt
Humani vultus ............ Hor. de arte poet. v. 151.
6. See Puffendorf, Law of Nature and Nations, book
ii, chap, iii. sect. 15.
7. Sed quoniam (ut pręclarč scriptum
est a Platone) non nobis solłm nati sumus, ortusque nostri partem patria
vindicat, partem amici; atque (ut placet Stolcis) quę in terris gigantur,
ad usum hominum omnia creari, homines autem hominum causa esse generatos, ut
ipsi inter se alii prodesse possent; in hoc naturam debemus ducem sequi, et
communes utilitates in medium afferre mutatione officiorum, dando, accipiendo;
tum artibus, tum opera, tum facultatibus devincire hominum inter homines
societatem. Cic. de Offic. lib. i. cap. 7.
8. See the Law of Nature and Nations book ii.
chap. iii. § 19. Specim. controver, cap. 5 sect. 25. Spicilegium
controversiarum, cap. 1. sect. 14.
9. See the Duties of Man and a Citizen, book i.
chap. iii. sect. 13.
10. See Barbeyrac's fifth note on sect, 15. of the
third chapter, book ii. of the Law of Nature and Nations.
11. See part i. chap. x. § 5 and 6.
12. See Grotius, Rights of War and Peace, book i.
chap. i. sec. 10. and Puffendorf, Law of Nature and Nations, book ii. chap.
iii. sec. 22.
13. See Puffendorf, Law of Nature and Nations,
book ii. chap. iii. sec. 1. 14.
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