On Recognition of the Natural Equality of Men

1. Man is an animal not only most devoted to self-preservation, but one in which has been implanted a sensitive self-esteem. And if this be in any way slighted, he is in general no less perturbed, than if an injury has been inflicted upon his person or property. Even the word man is thought to contain a certain dignity, so that the last and most effective argument in repelling the insolent contempt of others is this: "I am certainly not a dog, but a man as well as you." Inasmuch then as human nature is the same for all alike, and no one is perfectly willing or able to be associated with another, who does not esteem him as at least equally a man and a sharer in the common nature; therefore, among the mutual duties the second place is given to this: that each esteem and treat the other as naturally his equal, that is, as a man just as much as himself.

2. But this equality of men consists not only in the fact that adult men are about equal in strength, in so far as the weaker can inflict death upon the stronger by ambush, or with the help of dexterity, or an effective weapon; but also in this, that, although one has been fitted out by nature with various gifts of mind and body beyond the other, he must none the less practice the precepts of natural law toward other men, and himself expects the same treatment from others; and in the fact that no more freedom is given the man to injure others on that account. So, conversely too, niggardliness of nature or straitened circumstances do not of themselves condemn a man to a lot inferior to that of others as regards the enjoyment of the common right. But what one can demand or expect from another, that others too must demand of him, other things being equal. And it is eminently proper that one should himself practice the law which he has set up for others. For the obligation to cultivate the social life with others binds all men equally, and one is no more permitted than another to violate the natural laws in their dealings with each other. And yet popular arguments are not lacking to illustrate that equality; for example, that we all descend from the same stock, and are born, fed, and die in the same manner; and that God has given no man assurance of a stable and unshaken fortune. So also the injunctions of the Christian religion do not commend nobility, power, or wealth, as a means of gaining the favor of God, but sincere piety, which can be found in the humble, just as well as in the great.

3. Moreover, it follows from this equality that he who wishes to use the services of others for his own advantage, is bound in turn to spend himself, that their wants may be satisfied. For the man who demands that others serve him, but on the other hand desires to be always immune himself, is certainly considering others not equal to himself. Hence, as those who readily allow the same permission to all as to themselves, are the best adapted to society, so those are plainly unsociable who, thinking themselves superior to others, wish to have all things permitted to themselves alone, and arrogate honor to themselves above the rest, and the lion's share of the things common to all, to which they have no better right than the others. Accordingly this too is one of the common duties of the natural law: that no one, who has not acquired a peculiar right, arrogate more to himself than the rest have, but permit others to enjoy the same right as himself.

4. The same equality shows how a man should conduct himself, when he must assign their various rights to others, viz., that he must treat them as equals, and not indulge the one as against the other, except on the merits of the case. For if this is not done, the man not favored is affronted as well as injured, and the esteem Nature gave him is taken away. It follows then that a common thing must be duly divided in equal portions among equals. When it does not admit of division, those who have an equal right ought to use it in common, and this as much as each shall please, if the amount permits. But if this is impracticable, they should then use the thing after a manner prescribed, and in proportion to the number of the users. For no other method of respecting equality can be devised. But if the thing can neither be divided nor held in common, let the enjoyment of it be alternate; or if this also fails, or no equivalent can be furnished the rest, the thing must be awarded to one by lot. For in cases of this kind no better remedy than the lot can be found, since this takes away the sense of a slight, and if it fails to favor a man, it does not detract from his esteem.

5. Men sin against this duty by arrogance, thanks to which a man, for no reason, or an insufficient one, prefers himself to others, and despises them, as though they were not his equals. I say "for no reason"; for when a man has duly acquired a right, which gives him preference over others, he is justified in exercising and maintaining it, short of vain conceit, however, or contempt for others. So, conversely, anyone does well in yielding to another the precedence and honor which is his due. For the rest, true generosity always has as its companion a certain humility, which consists in reflecting upon the weakness of our nature, and the errors we may have formerly committed, or may hereafter commit, — errors not less than those which others may commit. The result of this humility is that we do not prefer ourselves to anyone, reflecting that the rest can use their free will quite as well as ourselves, as the same power is theirs. And its legitimate use is the one thing which a man can count as his own, and by which he is enabled to esteem or despise himself. But to be puffed up for no reason, is a fault truly ridiculous; because it is foolish in itself to think much of one's self for nothing; and also because one is judging all others fools, as if they would esteem you without reason.

6. A greater sin still is committed, if one show contempt for others by outward signs, acts, words, countenance, a laugh, or any kind of slur. And this sin is to be rated the worse, in proportion as it excites men the more fiercely to anger and lust for revenge. So much so, that many are found who prefer to expose their lives to immediate danger, — much more to break the peace with others, — than to let an insult go unavenged. For this damages reputation and esteem, upon whose maintenance and strength depends all their inward pleasure.

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