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chapter 2: On Lasting Happiness and the Divine Law 1 - Gershom Carmichael, Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment: The Writings of Gershom Carmichael 
Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment: The Writings of Gershom Carmichael, ed. James Moore and Michael Silverthorne (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2002).
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On Lasting Happiness and the Divine Law1
Which treats some of the more general and fundamental points of moral doctrine which Pufendorf omitted or did not explain with sufficient clarity2
1. It is natural for man to strive to be as happy as he can and to avoid misery so far as possible. It follows that he will use the faculties in which man excels so that his will may be determined to choose and perform those actions which he thinks will lead to his greatest happiness, and which will permit him most effectively to escape misery. And he will consider not only the good which he pursues and the evil he would avoid, but the reasonable expectation attending any action that it will lead to the one and not to the other.3
2. But man is also endowed with a faculty of reasoning which, when he employs it correctly, allows him to understand that he was created not by himself or for himself alone: that he and all he has derives from God, who is alone all that is both great and good. And since God has created all things and disposes them with supreme justice and wisdom for the manifestation of his glory, he must govern the human race to the same end, in a manner suitable to its nature.4
3. Man is able to recognize God as the source of all good things, and in light of his knowledge of the good to direct his actions by the power of his will. He is also able either so to arrange his actions as to testify to his love and veneration for his creator and Lord, and so in an active way to serve his glory; or on the other hand in such a way, that in betraying neglect or hatred of him, he obscures that glory, so far as he is capable of doing so.
4. That an agent of this kind may be directed to the glory of God agreeably with his nature, he must be so placed that his happiness is connected with the preservation of due subordination to God, and his misery with the violation of that subordination. Consequently, he can only acquire or preserve that happiness to which he constantly aspires by the original law of his nature, avoiding the misery which he no less shuns by the same law, when he signifies by his actions the highest esteem for the Deity, the most intense love, and the most devoted veneration.5 And so far as he turns aside from this norm (i.e., by actions or omissions which betray contempt, neglect, or hatred of God), so far he may wander from the path of his own happiness, and veer toward the corresponding misery. Man easily understands, therefore, that this condition has been given him by God. And if happiness and misery are not always dispensed in this life on these terms, he can quite clearly infer from this very fact that some future state of the soul is to be expected.6
5. Moreover, there is strong confirmation that each man has more regard for his own happiness, the more he gives evidence in his individual actions of a soul devoted to God. For the great and good God, as he is the supreme dispenser of every kind of happiness or misery for men, so is he also the unique object of the most consummate beatitude which can come to man. Man cannot achieve beatitude either in the consciousness of his own finite perfections, or in the possession of things of less value than himself, or in the contemplation of abstract truths. He can enjoy it only in an immediate vision of God himself which will last forever, a vision of God reconciled with him, and preserving him with fatherly care; and this is necessarily accompanied by the most ardent love and unspeakable joy.7
6. The desire which God has given man for the most consummate happiness is strong evidence that such beatitude is available to him if he perseveres in due subordination to God. But if he defects from that straight path (and each man finds within himself innumerable symptoms of such defection) and loses the right to obtain this beatitude, offered by divine grace, one must not conclude that the glory of the divine perfection in the determination of man’s eternal state will be diminished. Rather grace should be illustrated still more clearly, whether in mercifully restoring that lost beatitude or in inflicting a punishment, whose severity and duration may attest how great was the beatitude lost, and how great the offense of lèse-majesté against God.
7. It is not easy to determine from nature how far in this degenerate condition of the human race, any ordering of our actions can contribute to obtaining that beatitude or avoiding an equal misery. But it is clear enough that if any way is left to man to secure the one and avoid the other (and on this matter the kindly dispensation of divine providence toward the human race bids one not simply to despair altogether), each man is able to hope with some prospect of justice that he will obtain it the more he gives evidence of devoted affection toward the Deity in his individual actions. And even the least likelihood of obtaining infinite good or escaping infinite evil ought to have more influence with us than all the considerations opposed to it.
8. We are also led to the same conclusion by the fact that the human mind is fitted to feel the greatest pleasure and delight in actions which are most comformable to reason. Such actions are, above all, those which show love, esteem, and veneration for a most perfect object. By contrast we feel the greatest repining and remorse in their opposites. Hence it is rightly said from of old: virtue is its own reward, vice its own punishment.8
9. All the considerations we adduce seem to conspire to suggest that the key to the significance of actions within a man’s power to bring happiness and avoid misery lies in the evidence they give in individual actions of the most intense love and reverence for the great and good God, and scrupulous avoidance of anything that suggests the contrary sentiment.
10. In every duty which has reference to God and in which his approval is expected, the intention of the divine will is of the first importance; and the will of God demands certain actions of men as a sign of love and veneration of himself and interprets contrary actions as indications of contempt or hatred, connecting the offering of the one or the absence of the other with the happiness of man, and the commission of the one or the neglect of the other with his misery; and therefore that will, declared by suitable signs, is called the divine law.9 And from what has been said it is clear that this law must be recognized as the highest norm of human actions. The actions which the law requires as a sign of love and devoted affection toward God are said to be prescribed by law. Actions, on the other hand, which the law requires us to interpret as indications of contempt, neglect, or hatred toward God are said to be forbidden by law. He who performs prescribed actions because they are prescribed (and as so performed they are called morally good), or omits forbidden actions, because they are forbidden, is said to obey the law; but he who commits forbidden actions (which are usually called morally bad), or omits prescribed actions, is said to transgress or violate the law. If an action prescribed by law is done, by someone either in ignorance that it is prescribed, or without regard to the prescription, that action is said to be not formally but materially good.
11. From this, we may determine those actions or omissions of men which are liable to the direction of law, and thus capable of moral good or evil. It is those actions and omissions which are done by men knowingly and voluntarily and not involuntarily or, which comes to the same thing, which are in the power of the agent to do or not to do, or depend on the determination of his will. Those sorts of actions and omissions, popularly called free, where there is a law laid down by which they are prescribed or forbidden, are imputable to man, for praise or for censure, reward or punishment; seeing that there may be in each and every one of them an appropriate or inappropriate sentiment toward God the author of the law.
12. Therefore no one can be held responsible for necessary things because they happen, or impossible things, because they do not. Only those things should be regarded as necessary which happen whether anyone wishes them to or not; not all these things are effectively determined by the mind willing them. Equally, those things alone should be said to be impossible which do not occur, whether anyone wishes them or not; not by any means all the things which the mind lacks the requisite disposition to will seriously.
13. But for any human action, or omission of it, to become a moral act, and thus imputable to man as good or evil according to what was said above, a law must exist which prescribes or forbids that action. This law is the will of God, as we described it in section 10, declared by suitable signs: that is, signs by which a man would be able to know the will of God and the duty which is incumbent on him in this respect according to the law, if he employed his reason rightly upon them and with due attention, as well as on the existence of the conditions which perhaps that law presupposes. That is, when these conditions are present, a man is not to be considered blameless if he is ignorant of the morality of his action, and, if he does that action, he is also to be regarded as consenting in some way to the morality involved in it.
14. We infer that where there is a law, the morality of every one of our free actions or omissions is to be judged on three heads: first, from the value of what is done or omitted, both considered in itself and clothed in all the circumstances which may urge that it be done or omitted here and now; second, from the manner and measure of knowledge which one may have about the action or its omission morally considered; i.e., about the law and the circumstances just mentioned; third, from the greater or lesser inclination of the will to what is done or aversion from what is omitted; including the motives by which the will is directed to the one or to the other.
15. As regards the first, it is certain that no circumstances of an action or omission, no effects or consequences, have any power to constitute, intensify, or reduce its morality, before God and conscience, further than these things could be known or foreseen by the agent, if he brought due attention to bear. Nor is it less certain that all circumstances (at least those of any importance) are relevant to the morality of any human action, insofar as they can be known or guessed; and therefore all consequent goods and evils, however remote, even those caused more directly by other men, so far as they could be foreseen with appropriate diligence by the man on the point of action, as in all probability more likely to follow that action than its omission. Likewise consequences are also relevant to the morality of an omission, so far as they could be foreseen as more likely to happen in all probability, if the proposed action were omitted, than if it were performed.
16. However, this should not be taken to mean that all the effects which it was given to us to foresee as more likely to follow an action or omission of ours than its contrary, should be imputed to us, to the same degree (as often happens) or even in the same way, as if they had been produced directly by us; we mean only that all consequences of this kind ought to be included in the more general calculation, if not in the particular calculation. Hence it would not be a right action if it were likely that some evil would be caused or some good prevented; nor would it be right to forgo an action by which evil could possibly be avoided or good procured; the greater prospect of obtaining some good or avoiding some evil must determine our choice of action.
17. Both knowledge and intention are relevant, as we indicated in the second and third points above [sec. 14] to estimate the morality of an action or its omission. In order that an action or omission be good in these respects in the eyes of God (that is, in order that it be accepted by him as a sign of love and veneration toward him), it is required both that what is done be prescribed by law in the given circumstances, and what is omitted forbidden; and that this can be known by the man who acts or refrains from acting. It is also required that he actually know, or at least judge with probability, that the thing is so, and he must not only agree to conform to the law but also must be primarily concerned, in his action or omission, to show regard for the law. For no one can be said to be obeying the law, or showing devout affection toward God, who is doing what is prescribed by the law in ignorance or without contemplation of God and his law.
18. The evil of an action or of an omission admits various degrees based on these factors. On the basis of knowledge, it varies according to the different degrees of knowledge or suspicion that what is done is forbidden by law, or what is omitted is prescribed; or, if this is not known, in accordance with various reasons for that ignorance. On the basis of intention, it varies in accordance with the different degrees of inclination or aversion of the will; in accordance with the more estimable or more odious nature of the reasons by which one is induced to sin; and by the various degrees of weight which the consideration of moral evil has in checking the impulse to sin.
19. I have everywhere related the morality of actions to the divine law alone, since by itself it obliges and every obligation of human laws is ultimately to be resolved into it. Divine law is declared by two means. It may be declared by express signs, for example by voices and writing, and when declared by this means it is called the positive law of God. It may also be declared by the very constitution of human nature and of the other things which are open to men’s observation by these things and by the transcendent perfections of the Deity which shine forth from them, certain actions of men, in certain circumstances, necessarily signify in the one case love and veneration toward the Deity and in the other case contempt and hatred; and thus they must be regarded by God Himself as signs of moral sentiment: and when the will of God is signified in this latter mode, it is called the natural law.
20. Since therefore the will of God himself is made known to us by these natural means of producing obligation; since God himself has placed the same means within the sphere of our observation (means, that is, by which are declared to us both the distinction between actions prescribed by law and actions forbidden by law, and also the importance which the former have for bringing happiness and the latter for misery); since finally the same God has allowed us a rational faculty, by whose right use we may have the power to reflect on the things presented to us and from observation of them and continual comparison of one with another to deduce true and certain conclusions about the morality of our actions and thus of their moral effects; it is clear that the natural law is the true and divine law in the proper sense, seeing that it is ordered, sanctioned, and promulgated by God himself.
21. The discipline which teaches the prescriptions of the natural law in themselves, i.e., which elicits them from nature herself and demonstrates them, or, and this comes to the same thing, which directs human actions in conformity with that law is that very discipline which is called ethics or moral philosophy; and therefore we find no reason to distinguish it from natural jurisprudence.
[1.] Supplement I of the 1724 edition of Supplements and Observations.
[2.] The argument of this chapter had been used by Carmichael to expound the first principles of his moral philosophy from a very early stage in his teaching career. The same line of reasoning appears in “Dictates” of his ethics recorded in 1702–3 in the first chapter of his “Ethics, part one” (Glasgow University Archives MS. Gen. 168, fols. 12–20). This discussion became the first supplement in his Supplements and Observations (Supplementa et observationes). The presentation in the second edition (1724), translated here, follows the 1718 edition, with four minor verbal changes.
[3.] The assumption that it is natural for a man to seek the most lasting happiness available to him was a common premise of treatises in scholastic ethics (see below, p. 23, n. 7).
[4.] Eustache, Ethica, p. 18; Burgersdyck, Idea Philosophiae, p. 37; Heereboord, Collegium Ethicum, p. 5.
[5.] Carmichael understood the relation between God and man as a relation of signification by word and deed. His insistence on signification is consistent with the emphasis in his natural theology on the incommunicable attributes of the deity (see Synopsis, ch. 2): certain properties or attributes of the deity cannot be shared; they can, however, be signified. In this respect Carmichael’s understanding of the relation between God and man differed from that of his scholastic predecessors insofar as they held (with Aquinas and other Aristotelian scholastics) that the relation between God and man was a relation of participation.
[6.] Carmichael disagreed fundamentally with Pufendorf’s opinion that natural law must abstract from belief in the immortality of the soul and an afterlife. See ch. 3, p. 30.
[7.] In treatises of scholastics ethics, the distinction between God as “the unique object of the most consummate beatitude” and “the immediate vision of God which will last forever” was expressed in the distinction between objective beatitude and formal beatitude. The scholastic moralists were also unanimous in thinking that the proper object of beatitude cannot be discovered in external goods or in the goods of the body or in the goods of the mind; but only in a vision of God (beatific vision) and in actions consistent with that vision: Eustache, Ethica, pp. 20–23 and 24–27; Burgersdyck, Idea Philosophiae, pp. 20–21 and 28–38; Heereboord, Collegium Ethicum, pp. 13–17 and 17–22. Carmichael had already made explicit use of this distinction between objective and formal beatitude in his “Dictates” on moral philosophy: in 1702–3, sec. 21 (Glasgow University Library MS. Gen. 168, fol. 17).
[8.] The ancient Stoic idea that virtue alone is conducive to happiness, and vice is itself the greatest misery, may be found in various classical sources: Zeno, in Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, VII.94; Cicero, Tusculan Disputations, V.5; Epictetus, The Discourses, as reported by Arrian, III.7; Marcus Aurelius, Meditations, IX.42. For commentary, see Davidson, The Stoic Creed, p. 159. The scholastic moralists thought that happiness cannot consist in moral virtue alone; virtue must also be directed to knowledge and love of God (Burgersdyck, Idea Philosophiae, p. 37).
[9.] The notion that actions are morally right or good only when they signify love and veneration of God, i.e., only when they are in conformity with the divine will or the divine law, would have appeared perfectly correct to any student or reader reared upon the teachings of Calvin and the Reformed or Presbyterian Churches. John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, ch. 1: “Seeing our condition, the Lord has provided us with a written law to teach us what perfect righteousness is and how it is to be kept: that is, firmly fixed in God, we turn our gaze to him alone, and to him aim our every thought, yearning, act, or word” (p. 17). The same primacy of the divine or moral law was impressed upon Presbyterians in the Confession of Faith; see esp. pp. 110–13, 246– 48, 414–15.