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CHAPTER VI: Of those Things which are contain’d in the general Law of Nature. - 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).
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Of those Things which are contain’d in the general Law of Nature.
Two Questions propos’d. Having already establish’d the general Precept to promote the Common Good, it seems proper in what follows, to explain 1. What those Things are, which we comprehend within the Common Good? 2. What Actions any way tend to promote it, and are, therefore, directed by this Law?
The first answer’d.As to the First, it may be sufficient to make the few following Additions to what I have already laid down in the Chapter concerning Good. Since the Parts of that System, whose Good we here chiefly consider, are God and Men, it follows, “That all those Things come under this Head, which are contain’d in the Honour, or Glory of GodThe Common Good comprehends the Honour of God, and the Good of Men, viz. of, and in the whole compass of the Happiness of Men, or what Things soever tend to the Perfection, either of their Minds, or Bodies.” But, because the aggregate Body of Mankind (as are generally such collective Bodies) is most naturally resolv’d, first into its greater Parts, these afterwards into smaller Ones, and those at last into the least of all; namely, first into different Nations, then into Families, and lastly into Men consider’d singly;Nations} collectively, singly; for the same Reason, those Things which are good for Mankind, are, some of them, profitable to whole Nations, or to many such, or to them all; such are the Points about which Moral Philosophy, and the Law of Nations, (which two are very nearly related,) are conversant;Families, Men,} singly. others are profitable to a single State, or to those who live under the same Civil Government, which are the Subject of their Civil Laws; others respect the Advantages of only one Family, with respect to which the Rules of Oeconomy prescribe: Lastly, there are other Advantages proper to one Man only, which are the Subject, as of Logick, and the Regimen of Health by Diet, so of all the abovementioned Arts; of Ethicks, as it limits the Actions of particular Persons regarding their own private Advantages, by the respect due to the Good of all rational Beings, namely, the Honour of God, and the Rights of all other Men; of Civil Laws, as they limit every one, with respect to the Good of the State; of Oeconomical Rules, with regard to the Care of their Family. Yet one general Law of Nature at once provides, both for the whole System of rational Beings, and its Parts, according to the Proportion which they bear to the Whole.
The Good of the Greater Society ought to limit the Power and Actions of the Less.§II. It seems to have given Occasion to many Errors, “That some believ’d it the whole business of Ethicks, to instruct Man consider’d in a solitary State, without any respect to others”; whereas universal Justice, which is the Summary of all the Moral Virtues, almost wholly relates to others:1 Nay, if the Matter be throughly examin’d, it is evident, “That true Ethicks instructs Men to enter into, and keep up, the most enlarg’d Society with God and all Men.” Many of its Precepts do indeed abstract from the Consideration of Society, both Civil and Sacred, that is, are not limited to either; yet their Influence extends to every Society, and confers upon them all their chief Force and Ornament. For it is to be observ’d, “That all lesser Societies, their Powers and Actions, are limited with respect to the Good of the Greater and more worthy Society.” Thus States are oblig’d to enjoin nothing contrary to the Law of Nations, by which I understand those Natural Laws, by which the Actions of all States and private Men toward all of what State soever, are directed; or (if they are not yet consider’d as reduc’d into the Form of a State) such Laws of Nature as inforce an innocent Behaviour toward the Innocent, and Fidelity and Gratitude: In like Manner, neither are Civil Laws, by which the safety of the State is secur’d, to be violated, in order to promote the Advantages of a Family, much less of any one Man.
The Good of the Whole is nothing else but Good communicated to all the Parts, according to their natural mutual Relation.§III. The Mind, while it rightly pursues these Advantages, proceeds wholly in the Analytick Method, from Things more compounded, to those that are more simple; that is, its first and principal Regard is to the Whole, the Parts are its second Care. Nor do they lose by this Method, they all reap their proportionable Share of Happiness from the Happiness of the Whole. For the Whole is nothing else but the Parts consider’d jointly, and in their proper Order and Relation to each other; and, consequently, “The Good of the Whole is nothing else but Good communicated to all the Parts, according to their natural mutual Relation.” Therefore, when it is requir’d, “That regard be first had to the Whole,” nothing more is intended, but “That we take Care in the first Place, that Fidelity, Gratitude, and the other Bonds of mutual Assistance, by which the Union and Order of all is establish’d and preserv’d, be not violated.” For by these, as by Blood-Vessels and Nerves, dispers’d thro’ the whole Body, the Parts of Mankind, like Members of the same Body, are united among themselves, and perform their mutual Offices; whether they be Members of the same State, or no. By means of these Ties, we often gain Wisdom by the Counsels and Prudence of others, become better by their Virtues, are enabled by their Strength to procure and preserve such Things as are of use to our-selves, and are enriched by their Wealth. But, because it is obvious, “That those Perfections of the Mind, which are distinguish’d by the Names of the intellectual and moral Virtues, and also the Powers of the Body, and Riches, are those Advantages, in Plenty whereof the Happiness of each particular Person is commonly and justly suppos’d to consist”; it follows, “That all these are common Advantages composing the Publick Happiness, when by observing Compacts, by Gratitude, Humanity, &c. they are thrown into the Publick Fund. He, I confess, encreases the common Stock of Happiness, who benefits even one, without hurting any other; but this cannot be deliberately done, without taking care, that the Rights of others be not violated; nor will this be taken care of, except we have universal Benevolence, which regards the Rights of God, of other Nations, our native Country, and Family; in all which consists the common Good of the Whole: This, therefore, must be taken care of, if we would innocently profit one; and the Care thereof will lead us to the Consideration and Observance of all Laws, (not Natural only, but Positive, which are promulged, whether Sacred, or Civil.) For it is certain, that all good Laws, nay, and all wise Admonitions of Parents, and Counsels of Philosophers, respect the same ultimate End; and do therefore, in proportion as they are more or less necessary to this End, and more or less evident from the Nature of Things, partake of the Force of natural Laws, or fall short thereof.
The Author’s Method proper, however Societies were first form’d.§IV. Lastly, if any one should find fault, “That I suppose the collective Body of all Mankind distinguish’d into different Nations, States, and Families, without explaining their Origin out of a confus’d Chaos.” I answer, 1. That it is not necessary to suppose so confus’d a State of Mankind, in order to explain the Origin of States and Families; nay, that, in the Judgment of Reason only, it is most probable, “That Mankind, and, consequently, all States and Families, have descended from one Man and one Woman,”2 and that, therefore, all Authority derives its Original from that which is most Natural, the Paternal. 2. That, though no mutual Relation were suppos’d among all Mankind, yet my Method is sufficient to account for the Original of all, both greater and lesser, Societies; because it is naturally evident, “That it is both a necessary and principal Means to procure the Common Good, that the collective Body of Mankind, (if they were not all willing to form one State, which we do not perceive at present to be the Case,) should be divided into different Political Societies, all subordinate to God alone; and that these should be distributed into lesser Societies and Families; that by that means some Things should become the Property of particular Persons, to be by them laid out upon the Publick, according to the Rules hereafter to be deliver’d”: Just as if we should consider, in an unhatch’d Egg, the Condition of Matter and Motions of Particles, necessary to form the Animal; it is manifest, that this only is wanting to the common Perfection of them all, “That they should be form’d into the distinct Parts of an Animal, and then to each should be assign’d their proper Offices, subservient to the sound State of the Whole.” But as Physicians suppose the Parts of Animals already form’d, so Moral Philosophers suppose Societies already establish’d. Yet what I have laid down concerning the Origin of Dominion over Things necessary,3 laying aside the Knowledge of those Things which are deliver’d in Scripture, does in the same Method explain the Original of Dominion over Persons, both Paternal over Families, and Civil over States; and, in consequence, the fundamental Principles (which only Reason can reach) of the Rights necessary in every Society.
The second Question answer’d. With respect to the Kind of Actions which promote the Common Good, they are all such as can be directed by Reason, &c. as Means to that End.§V. To the second Question, namely, “What Actions tend to promote the Common Good,” I give this general Answer. In my Opinion, “All Human Actions, as they can be regulated by Reason, Counsel, or any introduc’d Habit, as Means to the Common Good, do contribute to, or are Part of, the Pursuit thereof.” And they are either Acts of the Understanding, or Will and Affections, or Acts of the Body determin’d by the Will.4
First then it is enjoin’d by the Law of Nature, (which commands us to pursue, to the utmost of our Power, the Common Good,) “That we should exert the natural Powers of our Understanding about all Things and Persons, which we can any way direct to this End, in order to acquire that Habit of Mind, which above all others conduces to it, and is called Prudence.”Hence is enjoyn’d in the Understanding Prudence in all Kinds of Actions relating to God and Man. Its Foundation lies in a true Knowledge of all Nature, but especially the rational Part thereof; its chief Parts are a Knowledge of the chief Ends, (of which the greatest is that we are inquiring after,) and a practical Knowledge of the Means conducing thereto. For the whole thereof consists in giving assent to the practical Dictates of Reason. To the acquiring both these Parts are subservient the Operations of the Mind, 1. Invention, which consists in the Observation of Things present, and the pertinent Recollection of Things past: And 2. Judgment, whether Intuitive, or Discursive,5 which consists in the Deduction and methodical Ranging of Truth: We may hence infer, “That Nature recommends to us the Use of true Logick”; and we may hence also understand, “In what sense are naturally commanded those Acts and Habits, which in the Invention are called, Sagacity in investigating, Wisdom in deliberating, Caution, Presence of Mind, Subtilty, or quickness of Apprehension; and in the Judgment, Clearness in Judging, Rectitude in Determining, &c.6 If the Judgment is supported by artificial Arguments, it is called Science; but, if it makes use of sufficient Testimony, Belief. ”7 All these, so far as they are in the Power of particular Persons, and are necessary to the chief End, are commanded by that Law.
From Prudence arise 1. Constancy of Mind,§VI. The immediate, most general, and essential Effects of Prudence, are 1. Constancy of Mind, by which we adhere without wavering to its Dictates, as being of unchangeable Truth, and fitted to all Circumstances. For there is a kind of Immutability in the practical Judgment, concerning the best End and Means, and in the Will consequent thereupon, which proceeds immediately from the Perception of the immutable Truth of those practical Propositions, which relate to the End and the Means necessary. Prudence bears the same relation to Inconstancy, that Science does to the giving assent to contradictory Propositions at the same time. Constancy in the Prosecution of this great End, in opposition to foreseen Dangers and Difficulties, is Fortitude;And its various Modes, Fortitude and Patience. the same continuing under present Evils, Patience.
2. Moderation is “an effect of Prudence restraining our Affections and Endeavours within those Bounds, which are most suitable to the Goodness of the End, and the Necessity or Usefulness of the Means.”2. Moderation, But, because Prudence always directs the Mind to pursue the best End intire, or in all its Parts, and to use all the necessary Means; therefore true Moderation is inseparable from Integrity, and from Diligencewhich comprehends Integrity, and Diligence, or Industry., or Industry. I suppose in the foregoing Description of Moderation, that it is both known and allow’d, “That the most intense Affections and most earnest Endeavours of Men relating to the chief End, and the Means principally necessary to that End, are commanded by the general Law of Nature”: This being granted, by discovering the Proportion between any other End and the Chief, and also between the Use and Necessity of any other Means, we discover the Proportion, that ought to be between our Affections and Endeavours in those Cases.
(Moderation the same with the celebrated Mediocrity of the Peripateticks.)From this Moderation, which I have prov’d consistent with the greatest Earnestness about the best End and Means, differs nothing (in my Opinion) that Mediocrity, (which the Peripateticks celebrate as the Essence of all Kinds of Virtue,8 ) provided it receive a favourable Interpretation. I own, Moderation is more conspicuous in Acts of the Will and Affections; yet, because the discovering and determining the Measure and Proportion, which is essential thereto, is a power proper to the Understanding; and beside, because some Measure is to be fixt to the Inquiries of the Understanding, lest Doubt and Caution should degenerate into perpetual Scepticism; and lest a diligent Endeavour to search out Causes should turn to impertinent Curiosity; I thought it proper to shew, that Moderation was enjoin’d here, and from them to pass to those Acts of the Will, which are enjoin’d by the same Law.
In the Will is enjoin’d Universal Benevolence;§VII. They may all be comprehended in the general Name of the most extensive and operative Benevolence. For this exerts itself in all kinds of Affections and Endeavours to effect Things acceptable both to God and Men, or to remove Things disagreeable to either of them. It belongs to the same Benevolence, to endeavour that nothing be done contrary to the Common Good, and to correct and amend it, if there has; hence Equity(from a Concurrence of which with Prudence, arises Equity.) is an essential Branch of this Virtue; by Equity I mean, “A Will prepared by the Rules of Prudence to correct those Things, which were determin’d by the Law, or civil Judicature, perhaps otherwise than the Nature of the Common Good in such Circumstances requir’d.” For it often happens, that by means of Expressions too general, or some human Weakness, even in Legislators and Judges, which cannot provide for all possible Cases, Rulers miss that Mark at which they sincerely aimed. But the Love of the Common Good requires, “That” (after they have more exactly consider’d the Circumstances of the present Case, than was possible for them, when they beheld it at a Distance,) “they should amend those Things, from a more perfect Knowledge of the Circumstances now in full View, which had been less happily establish’d, with respect to the same Circumstances view’d more imperfectly from afar.”
From this Law of Nature, equitable Judgment derives all its Authority, and, therefore, this is the true Foundation of Equity; nor is it impertinent to mention it in this Place; tho’ I own, that its most remarkable Use in correcting Civil Laws, cannot here be so distinctly explain’d, the establishment or original of Civil Laws having not been yet explain’d. Yet, because it has other Uses, in Cases where Civil Laws are Silent, and in the making Civil Laws, which ought to be equitable, it was not in this Place to be pass’d over in Silence.
And the Government of the Passions, which are§VIII. The Sum of what I have hitherto advanc’d comes to this, “That a Prudent Benevolence toward all Rational Beings, fulfils the most general Law of Nature.” This will propose the best End to our Affections and Endeavours of all Kinds, and prescribe that Measure to them, which will be most effectual to the obtaining that best End, which, upon this Account, is naturally their best Measure.
here accounted for;There is no Necessity, (tho’ many seem to think otherwise,) that we should assign a distinct Virtue to the Government of every Affection, since the same Care of attaining any End will cause us, to love those Things which promote it; to desire them, if absent; to hope for them, if they seem probable; to joy in them, when present: And on the contrary, to hate those Things which stand in opposition thereto; to shun them, when absent; fear them, when probable; and grieve, when they are present. Therefore, if we seek that End which the Law of Nature directs, and our Care to acquire it be conformable to the same Law, the Motions of all our Affections, (as what depend thereon from the Condition of Human Nature,) will naturally be in proportion to that Care, unless the Understanding be blind, in distinguishing their particular Objects, or Causes; which yet that due Love (that is suppos’d) of the End, will move every one to endeavour to prevent as much as he can.
and those Virtues, which respect the special Laws of Nature, Innocence, Gentleness, Repentance, Restitution, Self-denyal, Candour, Fidelity.This same Universal Benevolence, as it restrains and corrects in us all voluntary Motions opposite to the Common Good, those especially, by which we would prefer our own private Advantages to those of the Publick, comprehends Innocence, Gentleness, Repentance, Restitution, and Self-denial: As it includes a constant effectual and avow’d Intention to do Good, it will cause us to think favourably of others, which is Candour; and both to promise and perform good Offices to others, which is Fidelity. The same Benevolence, because it loves, in a greater Measure, known Causes of the common Good, will make Men highly Grateful. For Gratitude is nothing else than “Benevolence heighten’d towards those, who have been first Benevolent to us,” nor does it oblige any one, unless when the Benefit is conferr’d without injuring another: It excites us to repay Benefits receiv’d, to our Power, but without Prejudice to the Publick Good.Gratitude;
Our Duty to our God, our Governors, our selves, and our Family.Finally, the same Universal Love, tho’ it endeavours to do Things acceptable to all the Parts of the System of Rational Beings, will, in an especial manner, regard those who both can and will most profit the whole Community, (such are God, and they who preside over Things Civil and Sacred by his Appointment;) or who, by the Condition and State of our Nature, may be most profited by us, as every one can be of greatest Benefit to himself and his own Family, to his Posterity and Kindred.
In these few Heads are contain’d the Primary Special Laws of Nature, and the fundamental Principles of all Virtues and all Societies, whether Sacred, Civil, or Oeconomical; it is likewise shewn, how the same Affection toward the Common Good is naturally sufficient for all these Offices, because it naturally opposes contrary Motions, and assists Affections, which are Causes and Parts of it-self.9 Whence it is evident, that the same Law which enjoins this Affection, does at the same time command, that Motions opposite thereto should be restrain’d with our utmost Efforts; that the Causes conspiring therewith should be assisted; and that all the Parts of its proper Object, those especially now mention’d, should be regarded.
The Distinction explain’d between Actions necessary and indifferent, in which there is room for Liberty, and the interposition of the supreme Powers by positive Laws.§IX. Lastly, I thought it proper to suggest in this Place, “That the Distinction between Actions necessary and indifferent takes its Rise from the Relation, which they naturally have to the Effect, or End propos’d by this Universal Law.” Those Actions, without which it is impossible to obtain the End propos’d, are necessary. Those, to which there are others equivalent, or equally effectual to promote this End, are Indifferent; as concerning which the Law of Nature does not determine, whether we ought to act after this, or that Manner, solicitous only, that we contribute as much as we can to the Publick Happiness by some Method or other. In these Cases there is room for the greatest Liberty; and also for Positive Laws, contracting such Liberty within narrower Bounds.10 I, usually in my own Mind, illustrate this Distinction between necessary and indifferent Actions, by comparing them with the Methods of Practice subservient to the Construction of Geometrical Problems. Of these, some are so necessary, that the Construction of a Problem is impossible without them: Yet, in many Questions, various Methods of constructing the given Problem, without transgressing the Rules of Geometry, offer themselves; so that the Geometrician is at liberty, to use this, or that Method of Construction; yet still with this Limitation, that, whatever Method of Practice he follows, he must observe certain Rules, necessary to bring him in the end to the same Solution. As it is free, now that the Earth is well-peopled, for a Man to live Single, or Married; yet our equal Obligation in both States, not to violate, but pursue, the Common Good, lays us in either, under the Restraint of certain Laws.
How to reduce any moral Virtue to the Form of a Law of Nature.§X. I have not, however, thought it necessary, “To reduce all those Particulars, which I have prov’d to be contained in one General Law, into the Form of Laws of Nature, and so to lay them before the Reader.” Every Reader may, by his own Skill, form the Law enjoyning the Acquisition, and Exercise (always in order to promote the Common Good,) of Prudence, Constancy, Moderation, Benevolence, &c. provided he remembers, that their Form, made evident from the Appearances of Nature, is this, or to this Purpose. The first Cause of Nature would have it known to all, that it is necessary to the common Happiness, and to the private Happiness of every particular Person, which is to be expected only from the Prosecution of the Common Good, That every one ought to pursue it with Prudence, Constancy, &c. or, a Law being given to prosecute the Common Good according to our Abilities; a Law is likewise given, commanding Prudence, Constancy, Fidelity, &c. Nor is there a different Reason of the Laws commanding us to plight and keep Faith, and to practice Gratitude; for these also take place in our Actions towards all Rational Beings whomsoever. There are many other Human Actions, which, tho’ they promote the Good of the whole Society of Rational Beings, are yet immediately and in a peculiar Manner appropriated to certain Parts thereof; the Origin, therefore, of Property and Dominion (in a somewhat larger sense of the Words, than what is in use among the Civilians) is next to be enquir’d into.
[1. ]Cumberland’s original use of Greek at this point (De Legibus Naturae, p. 326), αλλότριον αγαθον, identifies Cumberland’s source as Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, V.1.17.
[2. ][Maxwell] “See Note on Chap. 2. §. II” [see ch. 2, n. 2].
[3. ]Cf. Cumberland, A Treatise of the Laws of Nature, 1.21, 22.
[4. ]Maxwell cites Cumberland’s Latin in a footnote: “Actus Eliciti” and “Actus Imperati.”
[5. ]Maxwell cites Cumberland’s Latin in a footnote: “Noeticum” and “Dianoeticum.”
[6. ]Cumberland’s original Greek terminology follows Aristotle’s discussion of the components of prudence in Nicomachean Ethics, VI.10–13; Eudemian Ethics, V.9–12.
[7. ][Maxwell] “In the Original here is evidently some Word wanting, answering to Fides, and which should be the nominative Case to Dicitur, as Fides is to Appellatur: Which Word wanting appears plainly by the Sense to be Scientia (probably omitted by the Fault of the Transcriber of the Manuscript for the Press) or some other Word signifying SCIENCE, which I have accordingly inserted.” There is no correction in Cumberland’s own copy, and Barbeyrac (Traité Philosophique, p. 338n) is right to suggest that Maxwell’s addition has damaged the sense of the text. Cumberland’s original simply appears to be drawing a distinction between judgment based upon artificial arguments (intelligence, good sense) and judgment based upon sufficient testimony (belief), without requiring the mention of science at all; Cumberland, De Legibus Naturae, p. 329: “In Judicio sngesic, σνγεσις, γιώμη &c. si artificialibus nitatur argumentis, dicitur; at si Judicium idoneo nitatur testimonio, Fides appelatur.”
[8. ]Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, II.6–9.
[9. ]Barbeyrac (Traité Philosophique, p. 342, n. 3) identifies a fault in the original text, which also escaped Bentley. The original has “& [idem affectus] causas partesque sui affectus juvat.” Barbeyrac suggests that the copyist may have mistranscribed “sui affectus” for “sui objecti.” This gives Barbeyrac’s more plausible rendering: “and because it assists the causes capable of procuring the good that is its object, and the parts of which that good is composed.”
[10. ][Maxwell] “Indifferent Actions, in this Explication, are indeed one part of the Materials of Human Laws, but not the only Subject of them. For as the Civil Laws order a particular Form for the Prosecution, or Defense of Rights given by the Law of Nature, in that Manner which is most convenient for the Society, and not intirely Indifferent; so they particularly determine the Obligations arising from the Constitution of the Society, which often are not Indifferent: And, in order to the regular Defense, or Prosecution of Rights, or even the Management of our Goods, make some general Limitations of some Points, which in the Whole are most convenient, different from what was determin’d by the Laws of Nature. An Instance will explain this. The Law of Nature requires, ‘That no Contract shall be valid, if one of the Parties, by reason of Child-hood, could not understand what he was doing;’ and also requires ‘That Men of full Understanding should have the Administration of their own Affairs.’ Now ’tis impossible for Courts to make particular Inquiries into the Abilities of every Youth; ’twas therefore necessary to determine a precise Age, which should, in the Whole, be most expedient, by excluding as few Persons of ripe Judgment, and yet including as few of unripe Judgment, as possible. It cannot be called wholly Indifferent, where the Bounds shall be set, whether at the Age of 10 Years, or 30, or 40. ’Tis plain, from universal Experience of civilized Nations, that the former would be too early, and the latter, too late; that, consequently, between 20 and 25 is really most convenient, and not an Arbitrary or Indifferent Decision; excluding few Men of Judgment, and including as few without it, as possible.”