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chapter 5: On Natural 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 Natural Law1
The basic precepts of natural law2
Pufendorf’s doctrine of the fundamental precept of natural law, which he lays out in chapter 3 [Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen, I.3], has long been criticized by many grave and learned men as unsatisfactory and inadequate to the end it seeks to achieve. So instead of making individual notes on this chapter we will attempt to give some idea, in the most summary form possible, of a doctrine of the precepts of Natural Law which may be seen to be less open to those criticisms.
1. In the first place, we must keep before our eyes the notion of the Divine Law and of the duty it prescribes which we established at pp. 24–25. That notion is that when God prescribes something to us, He is simply signifying that he requires us to do such and such an action, and regards it, when offered with that intention, as a sign of love and veneration toward him, while failure to perform such actions, and, still worse, commission of the contrary acts, he interprets as an indication of contempt or hatred. Since a man can give evidence in his actions of both of these sentiments toward God, either immediately and directly or mediately and indirectly, the duties prescribed to us by law are either immediate or mediate.
2. The immediate duties directly express the sentiment due to God, and insofar as they are prescribed by natural law, they are recognized as tending to signify that sentiment directly, or in their very notion. Such are the duties surveyed by our author in chapter 4 [Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen, I.4], and all of them may be summed up in this one precept, which we lay down as the first precept, that God is to be worshipped.
3. In the mediate duties, i.e., those which are directed not immediately toward God but toward created things, the same sentiment is declared to be due to God. The sum of these duties consists in this, that each man should treat the universal system of rational creatures with benevolence subordinated to love and reverence for God; and therefore each man should attempt to promote the common good of these creatures so far as his strength permits, and so long as he has no knowledge that it may interfere with the illustration of the divine glory. When we speak of rational creatures we mean creatures which are endowed not only with some capacity to reason, but with that kind of reason whose right use enables them to rise to knowledge of the great and good God and of their obligation to him. For rational creatures bear the image of their Creator in a special way. And in the divine dispensation toward them, there shine out those perfections of God, whose illustration is the aim of all divine works. Toward rational creatures God has dispensed the effects of his goodness with so generous a hand that, after the illustration of his own glories, he seems particularly to have intended their happiness, so far as they bear themselves with due subordination to him. Therefore, just as love toward the head of a household is shown through effective benevolence toward his servants, so devout affection for God, whom we cannot benefit or harm, is appropriately shown by exercising the greatest benevolence and beneficence we can toward his rational creatures, so far as they bear his image and are not contrary to him.
4. But, to bring this rule closer to practice, we must note two things. First, no consideration suggests that there are other rational creatures apart from men, whom men by any actions of theirs can either help or harm; much less can any loss or harm be inflicted on these others by the greatest happiness which men can procure for other men. Hence it follows, in the rule or summary of mediate duties given above, that for the universal system of rational creatures we may substitute the whole human race. We note, secondly, that there is no consideration which suggests that the greatest benefits which men can procure for men oppose the illustration of divine glory. For although the facts themselves proclaim only too obviously that the human race has fallen away from God, and has rendered itself liable to his righteous retribution, yet the whole series of divine dispensations toward the human race seems to prove that men are still in a state of probation and have not yet been thrust into the eternal abyss of the penal state while they live on earth. Furthermore, the good things which attend man’s state on this earth far exceed the ills mixed in with them (apart from sin), and would exceed them much more if individual men did not fail themselves and other men. So individuals, by doing the duties of which they are capable, will afford to themselves and to other men a richer use of the good things which the divine kindness has placed in their power, and will also obtain the best hope they can have of future goods. And thus far from hindering the manifestation of divine glory, they must very much contribute to proclaiming the praises of the wisdom and munificence of God.
5. Thus we deduce the second fundamental precept of Natural Law which embraces mediate duties (as the first embraced immediate duties). It is that each man should promote, so far as it is in his power, the common good of the whole human race, and, so far as this allows, the private good of individuals.
6. To answer the more particular question, by what actions one may promote the interests of the human race, one must split the second general precept into two which are directly subordinate to it. For in the first place there are certain things a man can do which benefit him or others but do not hurt anyone else’s interests; there is no room for doubt that such actions contribute to the common good of the human race. For what is of benefit to one part of the system, without harm or loss to any other part, is undoubtedly of benefit to the whole system. Since innumerable duties belong specifically to this class, which each man has a daily opportunity of doing for himself; and since duties which are to be done to others in any case can without difficulty be assigned to the precept of sociability, it is enough to say that the precepts given above entail the first subordinate precept which lays down that each man should take care to promote his own interest without harming others. Here belong the duties expounded at chapter 7, pp. 59 ff., which includes Supplement III.
7. But it happens often enough that the interests of different men, including our own and those of others, conflict, so that we are not able to do good to all men at the same time. In this case, it may not be quite clear what kind of action is more useful for the human race as a whole. There is a place therefore for the reasoning which Pufendorf uses in his third chapter. Pufendorf argues that the nature of men is so constituted that, on the one hand, individuals need the help of others (1) to preserve their lives (and every individual has an acute concern and anxious devotion to his own life), and (2) to lead their lives agreeably (on this compare Cicero, On Duties, bk. II, ch. 3 and 4).3 On the other hand, men are endowed, above all other animals, with the ability to be of assistance to others and are at the same time disposed to do so (see Cumberland, On the Laws of Nature, ch. II, sec. 23 ff.).4
By the same token, the constitution of human nature is such that men can abuse all these prerogatives of their nature to hurt each other in a very effective manner, and are liable to attacks of provocation which incite them to do so. It follows from this that it is necessary for the safety of the human race that it be sociable, that is, that men readily unite with one another, and behave with due consideration not for self alone but also for others. And by this union, individuals, insofar as it is in them, may obtain and encourage mutual benevolence and mutual trust. These are the two hinges on which depends the willing performance of all those mutual duties which tend to the preservation of human life and the improvement of its advantages.
8. So, from the general precept of promoting the common good of the human race, this second subordinate precept is deduced: sociability is to be cultivated and preserved by every man, so far as in him lies; that is, social inclination and social life are to be encouraged and promoted by every man, so far as it is in his power, both in himself toward others, and in others toward himself, and in all men toward each other mutually.
9. By this train of reasoning, sociability is not subordinated to self-love. It is not necessary to consider here whether the objection which Titius5 makes against Pufendorf is right or wrong. For we do not say that each man ought to live sociably only because he cannot otherwise be secure. We say that because social life is necessary to the safety and preservation from harm of the human race as a whole, and every violation of it tends to its harm, therefore each man ought to do his part, so far as he can, to encourage and strengthen it.
10. Our method makes it unnecessary to give a lengthy argument for the divine authority of these precepts. For we have shown above that it pertains to the showing of love and veneration toward God that each man should try to benefit the human race so far as he can. And it is likewise convincingly shown that innocuous care for oneself and sociability make for the common good of the human race. And therefore it is quite evident that God requires both from men as a sign of due sentiment toward him and that he intends to reward performance of the relevant duties, or at least punish their neglect and violation. Moreover since we learn these things from the nature which God has made for man’s contemplation, by using the reason which He has also given us, it is clear that the same considerations by which we argued for the divine authority of natural law in general (p. 28) are abundantly evident in these general precepts, and consequently in all the derivations from them.
11. Furthermore, that there is a sanction to these precepts is proven not only by those general reasons by which, at pp. 21–24, we demonstrated that it is in a man’s highest interest to obey every precept derived from the Divine Law, but also because reason and daily experience confirm the special rewards which flow from the observation of these precepts and the penalties which naturally flow from their violation. It is unnecessary to point these out in the case of a man’s duties toward himself. As for the social duties which we do for others, they are naturally followed by serenity of mind and a healthy state of the body (which even apart from consideration of moral good, usually accompanies kindly and agreeable sentiments), benevolence to other men, and the security which frequently arises from it. The contrary actions are frequently succeeded by perpetual anxiety (which is accompanied by emotions which even undermine the health of the body), by contempt or hatred for other men, and by the innumerable dangers that arise from them. Consult Cicero, On Duties, book II, where he inculcates these points at length. And because these sentiments are connected by a kind of natural entailment with observation of or contempt for the law of sociability, they have the same status as rewards or punishments seeing that this natural connection itself was established by God, the author both of nature and of the natural law.
12. As the basis of the natural laws we place not one fundamental precept, as Pufendorf does, but three: that God is to be worshipped; that each man should pursue his own interest without harming others; and that sociability should be cultivated. To the first of these we refer the duties which are to be performed directly toward God; to the second those duties of man toward himself which do not conflict with the interest of any other person; and to the third, all the duties of a man toward other men, as well as such duties toward himself as a man should only do after he has fully satisfied the demands of sociability, as they are prejudicial to the claims of certain other men.
13. To understand the use and application of the precept on cultivating sociability more clearly, we think that one should take note of three points which define the limits of what should be done and what not done in cases in which men’s differing interests seem to prompt them to different courses.
14. In the first place we note that there are certain advantages or pleasures which men can get either from their own actions or from external objects or from the actions of other men, and which it is to the interest of human society to secure to them in certain circumstances, and which should not be obstructed, withdrawn, or intercepted, since they contribute to preserving and strengthening social inclination and social life among men. This is why these advantages and pleasures are fortified by the general precept of cultivating sociability, and become rights, either perfect or imperfect, according as they are necessary for preserving sociability or merely conduce to strengthening it.
15. Secondly, we note that these rights are equal for all in similar circumstances; hence, if they are given by nature, they belong to all men equally so far as they have not forfeited them; or if they are acquired by means of some human act, they can be acquired equally by all in similar circumstances, by means of similar acts.
16. Thirdly, we note that it is not contrary to the nature of social life but is essential for sustaining it, even in cases where men’s interests conflict, that each man should take a certain particular care of himself and his own, though subordinate to the cultivation of sociability. If this were not so, there would be massive general confusion, since most men would rely on someone else to help them, while idling their time away and neglecting to cultivate the resources which nature had given them. Hence, from the other point of view, it would follow that no one could have a firm expectation of anything from other people or count on their help in advancing his own claims.
17. We conclude, therefore, that the right cultivation of social life consists in each man protecting his own right with due consideration for every man’s right, perfect or imperfect, in accordance with the assumption of the natural equality which belongs to every other man. It follows that, in order to define the duty which is incumbent on each man with respect to other men, we cannot pursue a better course than to weigh carefully, in due order, the various rights which belong or may belong to individuals, to groups of men, or even to the human race as a whole, and the different foundations on which each rests. For it will be immediately evident what obligations correspond to each right.
18. In the appendix6 we have given a general idea of the method which we think should be followed in doing this; it is rather different from that of Pufendorf.
Worship of God the first law of nature7
It is clear from what we have said that Pufendorf’s method of deducing our duties toward God [i.e., indirectly from sociability] ought by no means to satisfy us. On the contrary, it is a prior and more evident principle that God is to be worshipped than that one should live sociably with men. This is particularly so since, as the distinguished author admits at section 10 of this chapter, for the precept on cultivating sociability to obtain the force of law, one must necessarily presuppose that there is a God, and that he rules all things by his Providence. And it is not true, as the author adds here, that reason alone can progress no further in religion than so far as it serves to promote the peace and sociability of this life. For even though the religion which effectively procures the salvation of souls originates in a particular divine revelation, yet reason itself teaches that in worshipping God and offering universal obedience to the divine laws, one must have before one’s eyes something more than the good things of the present life, especially if these good things are only regarded as flowing by a certain natural consequence from the performance of those duties. See pp. 22 and 24 and compare p. 30. [I.3.13.i]
Care of self the second law of nature
There is no reason to deduce care of self from sociability, for any man would be bound to care for himself even though he were alone in the world. Similarly there seems to be no better reason why care for self should be deduced from religion in the narrow sense more than sociability should. Obviously duties of both kinds must be performed with regard for God; but despite that, all duties, apart from direct worship of God, are appropriately deduced from their own principles established above. Thus one must admit that there is such a close bond between the duties of man toward God, toward himself, and toward other men that there will always be a temptation to change the order and try to deduce them from any one of the three principles given above.8 [I.3.13.ii]
[1.] Supplement II, and notes from bk. I, ch. 3, “On Natural Law.”
[2.] Supplement II.
[3.] Cicero, De Officiis [On Duties], II.[iii and iv]. 11–15.
[4.] Cumberland, De Legibus Naturae (1672); references are to A Treatise of the Laws of Nature, pp. 143 ff.
[5.] Titius, Observationes, no. 78.
[6.] See ch. 23, pp. 211–17.
[7.] From the notes to bk. I, ch. 3, “On Natural Law.”
[8.] It was a persistent theme of Carmichael’s jurisprudence that one should avoid attempts to reduce duties to God, self, and others to the cultivation of sociability. See below, Philosophical Theses, 1699, “On directing the mind to lasting happiness,” sec. 30, pp. 348–49, and on sociability, pp. 73 ff.