Front Page Titles (by Subject) THE TRANSLATOR'S PREFACE - A Treatise of the Laws of Nature
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
THE TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE - Richard Cumberland, A Treatise of the Laws of Nature 
A Treatise of the Laws of Nature, translated, with Introduction and Appendix, by John Maxwell (1727), edited and with a Foreword by Jon Parkin (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2005).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
THE TRANSLATOR’S PREFACE
The Original ofMoral Obligation, and the fundamental Principles ofLawsDivine and Human, ofSociety, ofVirtue, and ofReligion, are Points, which, in my Opinion, best deserve our Consideration, of any, which the Mind of Man can contemplate. ’Tis to these we chiefly owe all the Happiness we enjoy here, or hope for hereafter. ’Tis from Enquiries of this kind, that we learn our Duties of every sort, to God, our Creator and supreme Governor, our Fellow-creatures, and Ourselves; that we learn that unerring Rule and Standard of right Reason, by pursuing whose Dictates we regulate our Passions, and preserve them in a due Subordination. Whilst we preserve them under the Conduct of that governing Principle in the Mind of Man, which they were form’d to obey, they are our chief Instruments of Happiness; as, when they grow exorbitant, headstrong, and irregular, they are the Causes of all our Misery.
For these Reasons, being led as much by Inclination, as in pursuance of the Profession which I have undertaken, I was willing to inquire into what those Authors had offer’d, who had treated upon this Subject, among whom BishopCumberlandseems to me, to have handled it in the most masterly and rational Manner, and to have gone farthest in the Argument, of any I have had the good Fortune to meet with. But at the same time that I own myself an Admirer of his Reasoning in the main, I cannot but acknowledge, that his Periods are very perplex’d and intricate, and that his Language is too Scholastick and Philosophical; which have deterr’d many from reading him, and have been the Occasion of his valuable Work’s not being so universally known as it deserv’d. His Book labour’d also under another Dis-advantage; his Manuscript was transcrib’d for the Press (as he himself says) by a Person unskillful in such Matters, whose Performance was, in consequence, very incorrect;1and the Author, living in the Country at a distance from London, where the Book was printed, left the Care of the Edition to a Friend, who was not at sufficient Pains, to see that it came out correctly,2as whoever examines the Original with attention, will perceiveinevery Sheet of the Book, in which many of the Errata are more than literal Mistakes, or Mispointings, and disturb the Sense extremely, which are a great Hinderance to the Reader, especially in an Argument otherwise intricate. This Fault has not been corrected in the subsequent Editions, but in the last greatly increas’d.3His Paragraphs also, in many places, are not divided in such a manner as to give the most Light to his Argument, sometimes joining them where they should be divided, and dividing them where the Reasoning requires that they should be join’d. All these Circumstances conspire to make the Reading of his valuable Work, a laborious Task, which, therefore, few Readers will be at the Pains to do. This I thought well deserv’d a helping Hand, to which I have, therefore, contributed what lay in my power.
In order to remedy these Inconveniences, I thought it would be no disservice to the Publick, to publish his Work in English; Morality and the Law of Nature being Subjects, which many, who don’t understand Latin, would willingly inquire into; and the Poison, which Mr. Hobbes and other Writers of his Stamp, have spread far and wide, subversive of the Principles of all Morality and all Religion, having strongly infected many, who don’t understand that Language; beside, that many, who are conversant in other Latin Authors, don’t care to be at the Pains of readingCumberland.
In my Translation I have us’d my utmost Endeavours, throughout, religiously to preserve my Author’s Sense, and at the same time to free him from as many of his Scholastick Terms as I could, without hurting the Sense, explaining such of the restasseem’d most to require it, altering and increasing the Breaks into Paragraphs, where it seem’d necessary, and giving the Heads of each Section at the Beginning of it, in order to render more clear the Connexion of the Author’s Reasoning, and his Transitions; for which purpose I have likewise frequently made use of “inverted Commas” and a difference of Character, adding at the End a particular Analysis of the whole Work, and a copious Index. In the Notes at the Bottom of the Page, I have endeavour’d, either to explain, illustrate, or confirm, what the Author has advanc’d, and in some places where I differ’d from him, to give my Reasons for it, which are submitted to the Judgment of the Reader, with all due deference to the Character of so Judicious and Learned a Writer. I have added, likewise, at the End of most of the Chapters general Remarks, with the same View.
The Appendix which I have added, consists of two Parts. The Author, in the Beginning of his second Chapter, which is concerning the Nature of Man, where he comes to touch upon the Distinctness of the Soul from the Body, refers, for the Proof of it, to Several Authors, Des-Cartes, More, Digby, andWard, whom the Reader may, perhaps, not have at hand, nor Leisure and Inclination to consult ’em, if he had:4And, as that is a most important Point in the present Inquiry, and has, in my Opinion, been set in a clearer and stronger Light by Dr. Clark, than by any other Writer I have met with, I have reduc’d into as narrow a Compass as I could, the Substance of his Controversy upon that Head, with an Anonymous Adversary; as to which, I dare venture to appeal to both the Gentlemen themselves, whether or no I have not fairly represented their Arguments.5The second Part of the Appendix is a Discourse concerning the Promulgation, Obligation, and Observance of the Law of Nature, in which I have endeavour’d to supply what seem’d to me wanting inCumberland’s Scheme, in order to render it more compleat.
Inquiries of the present kind and upon the present Argument, are such as can be made concerning the Will of God, as discoverable by the Light of Nature; but yet, tho’, by the help of Reason only, we may discover many and important Truths, with respect to our moral and religious Conduct, Human Reason alone and unassisted is not sufficient to inform us of all those Truths, which it greatly concerns us to know, with such a degree of Certainty, as that the Mind of Man can acquiesce therein with Satisfaction; and, consequently, a farther Light, the Light of Revelation I mean, must be added to crown our Inquiries, without which we do but still grope in the Dark, as I have endeavour’d clearly to make out in my Introduction; for I would lay no greater stress upon any thing, no, not even upon Reason itself, than I think it can bear. If we strain the String too high, it will crack, and then it is of no farther Service. In order to discover the true Foundation of all Religion and Piety, and what our Duty to God is, we must first know who he is; that is to say, we must first learn so to distinguish him from all other Beings, whether Real or Imaginary, as not to give his Glory to another. The Heathens, indeed, plainly discover’d, what it was impossible they should avoid discovering, that there was a God, a wise, powerful, and good Governor of the World, but yet they did not discover the one true God; for their supreme God was only the Imperial Head of their Polity of Gods, whom they set at the Head of their Heathen Religion; so that their supreme God was as different from the true God, as their Heathen Religion was from the true Religion. And the better Sects of the Heathen Philosophers, such as thePythagoreans, Platonists, andStoicks, made God no better than the Soul of the World, so deifying the World as a part of God, and his Body; and this Notion introduc’d the Worship of the Universe, and of the Heavenly Bodies among them. And as forAristotle, he made no more of Religion, than a mere Civil or Political Institution. Thus the true God and the true Religion were Strangers among them all. As for their Morality, I have likewise shewn how imperfect that was. Thus were their Notions defective, with respect to God, Religion, and Morality; and without the Knowledge of the true God it is as impossible to form a true Religion, as it is impossible for a blind Man to take a true Aim, or for an Architect to raise a firm Building without a Foundation. This, therefore, is the Scope of my Introduction; for, as great a value as I set upon Reason, I would not over-rate her: Where she convinces me, that she is a sufficient Guide, I will follow her Directions; but where she owns herself at a loss, and that another Guide is necessary, I will follow her Directions in the Choice of that Guide, among the Pretenders, and in explaining the Directions and Institutions given me by that Guide. Thus is Reason justly subservient to, and consistent with, Religion; and thus, if our Practice be suitable, we make a right Use of both.
There is only one thing more, with which I think it proper to acquaint the Reader, and I have done. In the last Page but one of the Introduction I affirm, “That the Knowledge of the Being and Attributes of God are previously necessary to the Belief of a Revelation;” and I have before in the same Introduction prov’d, “That the Heathens were ignorant of the true God;” my Meaning, which is perfectly consistent, is this. It is plain, that they may believe in a God, who are ignorant of the true God, as was the Case of the Heathens. All that is necessary for me to know, in order to give a firm Assent to a Revelation, is, to be convinc’d that the Revelation comes from one, who neither can be deceiv’d himself, nor will deceive me; for, otherwise, how can I give a firm Assent to any thing upon his Testimony, if either He himself may be mistaken, or He be willing to misguide me? But more than this is not necessary, in order to the Belief of a Revelation. And so far the Heathens might and did know without the help of Revelation, by the Light of Nature only, tho’ at the same time they were ignorant of the true God. For tho’ they believ’d in a wise, powerful, and good Governor of the World, in consequence of which they must believe, that his Wisdom could not be deceiv’d, and that his Goodness would not suffer him to deceive; and tho’ all this was a true Notion of God, yet it was not a Notion of the true God, because they tack’d to it one or both of these Notions, “That he was the Soul of the World;” and, “That he was the supreme of their Heathen Deities;” both which, being equally false, could be no parts of the Notion of the true God. If then this wise and good Governor of the World, in whom they before believ’d without a Revelation, thought fit to give proper Credentials to any Missionaries, as coming from him, by whom they were inform’d, that this Governor of the World was the supreme God (contrary to whatPlatotaught,) and that he was the only God (contrary to what was taught by thePlatonistsandStoicks,) and that he was the Creator of the World, not the Soul of it (contrary to what was taught by thePlatonists, Pythagoreans, andStoicks;) and if these Missionaries should likewise inform them, that Religion was not a merely Civil and Political Institution (asAristotlemade it;) would not they, in Reason and Duty, be bound to believe all this, and to practice accordingly? Yes undoubtedly. And thus both parts of my Assertion are very consistent.
I know not, whether it be worth while to take notice here of a Passage in Page 12th of the Introduction,6where I say, “That the Canaanites, among whom the Patriarchs sojourn’d ’till their Descent into Aegypt, were all of them Idolatrous Nations;” I do not mean, that all the Canaanites were then Idolaters, but only all the Canaanites, among whom the Patriarchs sojourn’d; because it is certain, that Melchizedek, and probably his People, were no Idolaters then; but then we have no Account that the Patriarchs ever sojourn’d in Salem.
[1. ]In the errata to the first edition of De Legibus Naturae, Cumberland blames the inaccuracies upon the youth who did the typesetting.
[2. ]Cumberland lived in Stamford in the early 1670s and left the printing in the hands of his friend Hezekiah Burton. See also Burton’s “Alloquium ad Lectorem,” reproduced as appendix 2 to the current volume.
[3. ]Maxwell refers to subsequent editions of the Latin text; slightly improved second and third editions were published in Lu¨beck and Frankfurt by Samuel Otto and Johann Wiedermeyer in 1683 and 1694. The problematic fourth edition, based upon the 1672 edition, was published in Dublin by James Carson in 1720.
[4. ]René Descartes, Henry More, Kenelm Digby, and Seth Ward. For the works referred to, see ch. 2, n. 2.
[5. ]Maxwell’s piece summarizes the arguments that emerged from Samuel Clarke’s attack upon Henry Dodwell; the anonymous adversary was Anthony Collins, who attacked Clarke’s work in turn. See “A Summary of the Controversy Between Dr. Samuel Clark &c.,” in Cumberland’s appendix 1, below, pp. 759–93.
[6. ]Maxwell refers to p. xii of his opening essay (p. 39 of this work).