Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Liberty, Part XIV

Nathaniel Chipman, from Principles of Government, a Treatise on Free Institutions, Including the Constitution of the United States:

“Self preservation is at least one of the first duties. It nevertheless, sometimes, becomes the duty of one man to expose his own life, to a certain degree, to save the life of another in imminent danger. There are other instances, in which it may be the duty of one man to make no inconsiderable sacrifices to relieve the necessities of others. Such instances will readily occur, and must be left to every man's conscience.”

“The first rule for the attainment of this end, is that rule of the civil law,—‘so use your own right, that you injure not the rights of others.’ This is not only a rule of the civil law, but I is a general rule of the law of nature, subordinate to the more general rule, which requires that all the actions of individuals be so directed as to promote the good of the whole. Each individual is supposed best to understand what will contribute to his own interest and happiness, and the individuals of any society, what will most contribute to the interest and prosperity of their society, and they will pursue their own interest with more alacrity as well as knowledge. All have an equal right to the pursuit, and to make use of the proper means; but if no limits are set to the manner of pursuit, some may usurp or monopolize the means to the deprivation of others. They may, temporarily, increase their own enjoyments, but are constantly exposed to the same deprivation by a more powerful usurper.”

“The law of nature furnishes a remedy for this state of things, in the application and observance of the general rule above mentioned,—‘so use your own right, that you injure not the rights of others.’ A general observance of this rule affords to every one the liberty of pursuing, by all just means, his own interest, in the way he judges most suitable to his situation, and in that peace and security which constitutes no inconsiderable portion of individual happiness. It is, however, a mere rule of forbearance, and embraces only that prudence, which is required by the municipal law. But to fulfil the plan of nature something further is necessary, and that is benevolence, which augments and gives a peculiar zest to social and individual happiness. To unite benevolence with prudence, which is the consummation of the law of nature, that all the actions of man be directed in their tendency to general utility, or in other words, to promote the happiness of his species, becomes indispensable; and, as the happiness of the whole, consists in the happiness of all its parts, this rule is emphatically expressed in that command,—‘Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.’ It was said that the rule of forbearance, above mentioned, is a subordinate part of this more general rule; and it may be added that it is preparatory to it, as the forbearance of injuries, in the order of things, precedes acts of benevolence.”

“It was, indeed, before observed that general rules, although very important in forming a system of ethics, do not come in immediate contact with human action. To explain this more clearly, it is a rule that every man be holden to perform his agreements with others; it is also a rule that he shall make reparation for injuries. These may be called specific rules of immediate application; and although they tend to the same end,—the general utility; yet a man, in fulfilling his agreement, or making a reparation for injuries, may have no regard to the general utility, nor respect for the common good; but may yield to compulsion, or act solely from a regard to his own private interest, under present circumstances. But although general rules are not the immediate rules of action, yet they are intended to have an important and extensive influence on human conduct.”


“The external law considers those duties, only as man is accountable to his fellow men for their performance. In this view, duties are distinguished into two classes,—perfect duties, or duties of perfect obligation, and imperfect duties. To every duty there is a corresponding right, that is, if one person owes a duty to another, that other has a corresponding right to demand the performance. In all cases of perfect duties, he, to whom the duty is owing, has a perfect right, aright to constrain him who owes the duty, to perform it. This class comprehends all the duties and rights of justice, which are the great objects of all civil institutions and laws. If one owes to another an imperfect duty, that other may ask as a favor, but has no right to compel the performance. This class comprehends all the duties of benevolence. The rules of the external law exempt this class of duties from the jurisdiction of all civil laws and human tribunals. No man is holden accountable in the sense of being amenable to any of his fellow men or to society, for their neglect or performance. This distinction is founded in the highest reason and utility. It was before observed to be a general rule of natural law, ‘that each should do for others what their necessities require, and they are capable of doing, without neglecting what he owes to himself,’ which includes his natural and necessary connexions in society. As far as relates to his fellow men, each is by the law of nature constituted on this subject the sole judge; he is amenable only to God and his own conscience. It is a case, in which from the very nature of the thing, others are incompetent to judge. The law of nature has therefore denied to man the right of enforcing these duties by constraint. Were it otherwise, natural liberty would no where be found among men. Indeed it would change the nature of the duties, and reduce; acts of benevolence, from the rank which they now hold among the highest virtues, to the grade of necessary actions. This we constantly see exemplified in those laws, by which the community make provision for the necessitous and the relief of the unfortunate. The individuals who are called to contribute to the relief, act under the constraint of law, and however cheerfully they may contribute, it is a necessary act of obedience to the law. The benevolent act is the act of the community, which being composed of moral beings, sustains the character of a moral person, and is a subject of moral obligation.”

“When it is said that man is not accountable to his fellow men for the performance or neglect of these duties, it is meant only he is not amenable to them or to any human tribunal; yet from the deep interest which every one feels in his own character, from the irrepressible desire of the approbation and dread of the censure of his fellow men, which nature has implanted in the breast of every human being, there still remains a strong sense of accountability; but it is a moral, not a legal accountability. From this view of the subject it will be readily perceived that the rules of the external, do not in any way operate as an exception to the obligation of the internal law, or in any way to diminish its force. The laws of nature and the obligations which they impose, are as immutable as the Supreme Being by whom they are ordained.”

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