The Principles of Natural and Politic Law (1748)

Jean Jacques Burlamaqui

Of the principles, from which reason may deduce the law of nature.1

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 subject.

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.

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 point.

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 lay down two general propositions, as the foundation of the whole system of the law of nature.

First Proposition.

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.

Second Proposition.

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 mankind.2

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 him?

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 necessity.

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 Being.

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 iniquities.

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 use.

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, etc. 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.

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 amongst men.

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.

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.3 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 depends.

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.4 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;5 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.

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 bear it.

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.

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 good.

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.

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. 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. 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.6

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 æquabilitas 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. 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 faith?

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 governments.

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,7 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 his will.

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.

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, etc. 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.

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.8 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.9 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.

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?

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 mentioned.

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 important.10

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,11 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, etc.

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.12 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.13


   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. ” Hæc (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, quàm quòd mutuis juvamur officiis? Hoc uno instructior vita contraque incursiones subitas munitior est, beneficiorum commercio. Fac nos singulos, quid sumus? Præda animalium et victimæ, ac bellissimus et facillimus sanguis. Quoniam cæteris animalibus in tutelam sui satis virium est: quæcunque vaga nascuntur, et actura vitani segregem, armata sunt. Hominem imbecilitas cingit; non unguium vis, non dentium, terribilem cæteris fecit. Nudum et infirmum societas munit. Duas res dedit quæ illum, obnoxium cæteris, 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 alienæ naturæ transmisit imperium, et dominari etiam in mari jussit. Hæc morborum impetus arcuit, senectuti adminicula prospexit, solatia contra dolores dedit. Hæc 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. Ter. Heauton.
   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 præclarè scriptum est a Platone) non nobis solùm nati sumus, ortusque nostri partem patria vindicat, partem amici; atque (ut placet Stolcis) quæ 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.