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chapter 7: On Duty to Oneself 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 Duty to Oneself1
It is not a superfluous obligation for a man to take care of himself with regard for the law and for the superior who has made the law. We have discussed the grounds on which a man is obliged by the law to look after himself at p. 53. [I.5.1.i]
Pufendorf passes too lightly over the cultivation of the mind, a subject which has an important place among the duties which natural law prescribes. This seems to be virtually the only thing which some recent writers understand by ethics when they opt to distinguish ethics from natural jurisprudence. In various editions of this treatise several commentators have corrected this defect from the author himself by placing the material from Of the Law of Nature and Nations, II.IV, in their text or in footnotes or appendices. We decided to insert the following supplement here, which is largely excerpted from that source,2 as we indicated in the preface. [I.5.2.i]
On the duties of a man toward his own mind3
The cultivation of the mind consists particularly in these things: to fill it with sound opinions in matters relating to duties; to learn how to judge rightly of the objects which commonly stimulate human desire; to be accustomed to command the passions by the norm of reason; and to be duly instructed in some honest skill appropriate to one’s conditions and manner of life.
1. Among the opinions or beliefs with which the mind must be filled, the most important is a sure and firm conviction of the topics surveyed in Of the Law of Nature and Nations, II.IV, on God as the Creator, Preserver and Governor of this Universe. This conviction not only implies a specific human duty (which that chapter impresses upon us), but is also the foundation of a kind of joyful peace, which pervades the human mind; it is also the mainstay of the practice of all integrity toward other men. Hence a right conviction about the existence and providence of the Deity is a duty, in different respects, toward God, toward ourselves, and toward other men.
2. After the knowledge of God, it is of the greatest possible value to every man that he properly know himself, as he relates to God and to other men. In the former respect, each man should know that he was created by God, and depends wholly on his effective providence; and he is thus held by a most sacred bond to worship him, and to conduct himself with God in view in all things, however contrary this may be to his own or other men’s desires. He ought also to know that he has been endowed by his Creator with a rational faculty, whose right use requires that he should not be carried along by blind impulse, like an animal; but should set before himself an end worthy of his nature, and should use means fitly chosen for its achievement; and thus not wander through this world but proceed purposefully, which is the prerogative of a wise man. With respect to other men, each man should recognize that, however great he seems to himself, he is but a small part of the human race; in which every other man naturally plays an equal part: and therefore, since sound reason teaches us to make similar judgments about similar things, he must permit to others in similar circumstances everything that he claims for himself; and should no more prefer his private convenience to the common good of the human race, than he would privilege the comfort of his smallest limb over the health of his whole body.
3. Next, what is relevant to a man’s due knowledge of himself is that he should have taken the measure of his own strength and the effect which his individual actions can produce on external things. He who has duly weighed this will readily acknowledge that there are some things which cannot be promoted or prevented by his own actions; others, which seem to depend somewhat on the influence of his own actions, but in such a way that innumerable other causes may intervene and frustrate his efforts; others finally which depend wholly on the determination of his will, and such are every man’s free actions. A man should give particular attention to the last, to bring them into line with the norm of sound reason, since they alone in themselves, can be imputed to him, for praise or blame, reward or punishment.
4. A man should give due attention to the things which do not wholly depend on human will, provided that they do not altogether exceed the influence of his actions, and if they tend toward his legitimate end and deserve to receive his attention. Everything else should be committed to divine providence; nor ought anyone to disturb himself on account of evils which have befallen him, or may befall him, without his fault. This eliminates no small part of human cares. And just as in those things which give scope to human foresight, we should not blindly entrust the matter to a throw of the dice, as it were, so, if we do what it is in our power to do, for the rest we cannot control an outcome which is unforeseen and not dependent on our direction. And just as it is the part of a wise man not only to see what is immediately before him, but also to foresee what will be, so far as the human condition allows, and constantly to pursue a policy duly formed by this consideration, so it is also the part of a wise man that he not easily allow himself to be turned away either by fear or by enticement of present pleasure. On the other hand, it is characteristic of a stolidly obstinate person to struggle against the stream, and not adapt to things when he cannot adapt them to himself. Finally, since the outcome of future events is uncertain, one must not have too secure a confidence in the present nor anticipate the future with too anxious concern; arrogance in prosperity and despair in adversity are to be equally eschewed.
5. We have said that it is also relevant to the right cultivation of the mind that each man should accustom himself to judge rightly of those things which commonly stimulate men’s desires. In the forefront of these is reputation, which has always been valued by men of good character, men who are made of the right stuff. Every man should take the greatest care to preserve, so far as he can, his simple reputation,4 that is, the character and report of being an honest man. If it should be assailed by slander, he should do everything he can to restore its luster. But if, after every effort, an unfavorable opinion prevails with the public, a good man may be satisfied with the consciousness of his own innocence, whose witness is God. A wise man should not seek an intensive reputation, which is founded in special honors and marks of honor, except so far as it arises from a distinguished ancestry or opens a wider field to illustrious action by which he will deserve well of the human race. When honor is won, he should not boast of it arrogantly, much less should he canvass for undeserved honors; least of all should he intrigue for them by evil and shameful practices. And if we should not win honors equal to our merits, our spirit should not be cast down, nor the zeal for doing well abandoned.
6. In addition various external objects are necessary to the support of life; and duty sometimes also obliges us to provide them for others. And so we are right to strive to obtain them, so far as strength, opportunity, and honesty permit. But here every man must remember that a finite, even a small store of these things is enough for his own use and his family’s, so that he should learn not to give too much scope to his desires and ambitions. What we have acquired should be considered as supports for our needs and material for doing good to others, not as things we may pile up without end to gratify our imagination. One must also remember that nature does not cease to be fertile in things which are useful to men. Likewise, what we lay away against the future is liable to all kinds of accidents, so that a restless anxiety often tortures men as much in the protection of their goods as in their acquisition. And everything must be abandoned when we die. So just as one should not neglect an opportunity of justly acquiring external things, so too one ought not to lose heart if they are stolen or lost. And just as they should be expended readily, if duty requires, so they are not to be wasted beyond necessity; for it would be equally stupid to withhold them from a use for which they were intended, as prodigally to consume them in unsuitable and superfluous ways.
7. Next we turn to the pleasures of the senses which also entice men’s appetites, and the pains appended to them. So far as possible we should avoid unnecessary pains, since they harm the body’s health, at least in some part, and by engrossing the mind’s capacity, make it less capable of performing its functions. We should welcome objects that please the senses, at least to some degree; for when these are used with moderation, they conduce both to health of body and to the mind’s ability to perform its functions. Exquisite sensual pleasures, however, should not be cultivated, since they weaken the strength of the body and stifle the vigor of the mind, and commonly make it useless for doing any serious business at all, as well as using up time meant for better purposes, and wasting the stock of external goods which are necessary for living life comfortably; and in other ways are often associated with sin. Therefore just as it would be close to insane to give oneself unnecessary pains, so it is the part of a wise man rather to sip modestly at the pleasures of the senses than to drink deeply of them. Above all one must beware of allowing oneself to fall into a violation of duty for the sake of pleasure.
8. We have pointed out above that it belongs to the cultivation of the mind, to accustom ourselves to be restrained in our passions. For if they shake off the rein of reason, and become excessive, they waste the vigor of both mind and body, blunt the edge of the judgment, and drive one headlong into innumerable deviations from duty. Here it would be useful to offer a more detailed discussion.
9. It is widely known that love and hatred are the springs of all the passions; hence the moderation of all the passions depends on governing them rightly. The rightness of love and hatred may be said to consist in two points: (1) their direction to appropriate objects; (2) the appropriateness of their intensity to the value and importance of their objects. But since love and hatred, in a certain special way, are directed toward persons, it is important to know that in the love of persons, an apt distinction is commonly made between the love which consists in benevolence, by which we intend the welfare of others, and the love of sexual attraction, by which we seek to enjoy the company of others in whatever way we can. In the former kind of love, indeed we do not so easily stray beyond the olive trees, provided we submit the interests of others, equally as our own, to the dispensation of divine providence, and do not wish upon them false and imaginary rather than true goods. But one must be careful to direct the love of sexual attraction to a worthy object, so that it does not develop into “chambering and wantonness,” nor interfere with other duties or degenerate into disease. And finally if we aspire to the enjoyment of an object which we cannot get or keep, we must be careful that our love is not so intense that if the object is withdrawn or lost, the mind will completely collapse.
Similarly hatred of persons is either the hatred of malevolence or the hatred of aversion. Hatred of the former kind is always bad; and one must strive against it with all one’s strength as a most destructive mental disease. But the hatred of aversion, by which we avoid the company or even the mention of a person, is also quite a disturbing emotion to anyone who suffers from it. We should therefore get control of it, and not direct it toward someone who does not deserve to be avoided, and not let it lead us to hurt anyone contrary to duty. We should also free ourselves from it by simple neglect, by avoiding the mention or company of any person whom we properly avoid rather than by frequent repeating of any act of hatred. However much a person may deserve to be hated we should not draw the poison into ourselves in this way.
10. From what has been said it is readily apparent what the moderation of the individual passions consists in. In the first place, desire, which is nothing other than love or hatred exercising itself with respect to future time, is kept within just limits, if the simple love or hatred, from which it is born, keeps proportion with the dignity of the object. When desire settles on an object which can be stolen or lost from without, it is essential to the tranquillity of life not to allow the mind to be too fixed in the contemplation of that object; nor to permit it to turn into a sickness by repeating too anxiously the act of desire; for if we should be deprived of the desired object, it will end eventually in the worst of all the passions. I mean sadness, which, as an enemy to our nature, we can scarcely too much resist; except so far as piety demands that we grieve for sins committed by us or by others, and humanity that we grieve for calamities befalling other men. Most to be detested is the sadness brought on by inappropriate causes, as, for example, by the prosperity of others; whence arises the sadness called envy, which often produces pernicious effects both in others and in the envious man himself; for the envious man is corroded by his own character as iron is by rust.
Related to sadness is fear, a passion as painful as it is pernicious and destructive of the mind’s capacity to act; and therefore only to be indulged so far as it prompts us to take timely measures to ward off imminent danger, so far as we can; anything beyond such precaution is useless and harmful. Anger too belongs among the gloomy passions: it is a violent passion, the Stoics called it a short insanity.5 We do not go so far as to condemn it altogether, but we think it is plainly wasted labor to celebrate its usefulness, as some have done; how many people need a spur here rather than a rein? Certainly, it is very difficult to keep anger within just bounds, and an excess of it must be regarded as one of the things which most of all makes human life unsocial, and has pernicious effects for the human race. Thus we can scarcely be too diligent in restraining our anger. But we must take especial care not to do anything in a state of blazing wrath which will bring a long train of consequences after it; if we cannot wholly rid ourselves of the sickness of anger, which in itself is sufficiently serious, at least we need not bring on ourselves or others its pernicious consequences.
11. The leader of the chorus of the kinder emotions is cheerfulness, a friendly passion indeed to human nature. But it must be under control, so that it does not show itself at the wrong times, or for unsuitable reasons (especially for the misfortunes of others) nor degenerate into frivolity nor destroy our sense of the evils to which we are still subject or liable; and that it does not exclude thoughtful care for the future. Related to cheerfulness is hope, which, however agreeable, must be held in check so that the mind does not suffer by it. For in busily embracing objects which are vain, uncertain, or beyond our powers, we may wear ourselves out for nothing; and hope, prolonged to infinity, may impede our capacity to enjoy the good things we already have.
12. To counter all the immoderate assaults of the passions, we must make careful and intelligent inquiry about the things which come before us with a particular significance for ourselves (for these are the only things that have the power to excite the passions in us). We should refrain a while from passing judgment on them, if the case allows, until the hot assault of passion cools down at least to the point where it does not refuse to admit the governance of sound reason. To this end, our thoughts should be diverted elsewhere for a while, until time and quiet shall have soothed to some extent the commotion of the blood and the animal spirits. But if the passion presses, and the nature of the situation before us does not admit delay in action, contrary considerations should be suggested to the mind, so that the impulse of passion may drive us from the straight path as little as possible. Even if they are of too little significance to determine the mind’s direction altogether, they will be able to blunt the former impulse, and set the mind as it were in equilibrium, and so make it more fit to perceive the real dictates of sound reason. If by these and other means (on which there is no time to dwell) our passions are reduced to a reasonable temperature and subjected to the power of reason, it cannot be denied that they acquire an admirable utility, as they alert both mind and body to speedily obey and expeditiously perform what reason prescribes.
13. But all this and everything else that aims at the moral cultivation of the mind, has the particular purpose of filling the mind with love of the right and with the proper disposition to perform every duty. This cannot be achieved in this depraved state of the human race without the special assistance of the Deity, and all genuine dispositions of this kind assume a sound and rightly founded conviction of the sure means of obtaining the favor of God and the supreme happiness which lies in him. And this conviction, in corrupt men, can only rest on a really firm foundation through a special revelation of the divine will. It is therefore evident that each man is bound by the prescription of natural law to seek that revelation at all costs, and to fashion his conduct by it when found; and thus natural religion itself in a certain way leads to revealed religion.
14. A final point: since with regard to his own cultivation every man also has the duty to make a timely choice of some manner of life which is honorable, advantageous, and suited to his capacity and fortune, he is also bound to apply his mind at an early age to learning what will be useful in the kind of life he intends. Those whom a kinder fortune allows to live their lives without earning their income by their own labors, may not regard themselves as completely exempted from this obligation. For although they do not seem to be obliged by law to practice a skill for the sake of an income, they are nevertheless not only obliged to take good care of their property and to administer it prudently (and this cannot be done without some education), but they must also apply themselves to promote in some way the advantages and benefits of human society, and especially of the country to which they belong and of the men with whom they have to do. It would be exceedingly unworthy in men of great fortune, who claim higher reputation and greater authority than others, to offer no benefits to the human race, to be useless burdens on the earth, drones born to feed off the fruits of other men’s labors. To the contrary, the more they expect to be held in esteem above others, the more they should be anxious to deserve that special honor by conferring exceptional benefits on their dependents, their country, and the human race; otherwise their claim to honor for themselves on the ground of birth or fortune would be empty indeed. Since therefore their own happy position gives men of superior fortune, more leisure and the other prerequisites of study than other men have, and also offers them an opportunity to perform duties of greater importance to their country (duties which cannot be properly discharged without a variety of knowledge), it cannot be doubted (provided nature has not denied them the intelligence which few will admit to not having) that such men should aspire to achieve a wide range of knowledge. See Locke, Essay, IV.XX.6.
The right of self-defense
[Pufendorf says: “Despite the dictum that one is not justified in resorting to killing when the danger can be averted in a milder manner, it is not usual to be scrupulous about details because of the mental turmoil caused by imminent danger.” Carmichael comments:]
The distinguished Titius rightly observes that the doctrine of this paragraph should apparently refer especially to the civil state, which the author had been discussing in the previous paragraph.6 But several provisos which are introduced here for restricting the license of violent defense, may well be applied to both states, provided they are properly explained. For not even in the natural state is it right (at least by the law of charity) to rush precipitately into killing when the danger, both present and future, may be deflected by a more appropriate means. Hence in that state too it is rash to descend from a safe place to meet a challenger, when the provocation comes from a sudden attack which will perhaps soon disappear, or when there is hope that the aggression of the attacker will be checked later with less danger to ourselves or others.
Finally, the hatefulness of duels asserted by the author at the end of this paragraph is largely valid in both states, both against the challenger and against a man who has been challenged and voluntarily stands firm and obstinately remains in the same mind. Even in the natural state a declared contest is not a completely acceptable mode of asserting one’s right and may only be excused by necessity (see Grotius, Rights of War and Peace, III.XX.43). And likewise so-called injuries, in the proper meaning of that word (injuriae), i.e., the insults which normally involve fellow citizens in duels with each other (for duels which are entered upon to settle a doubtful question, or claim an object which is not due by perfect right, are manifestly unjust); insults, I say, do not afford a just cause for extreme violence even in natural liberty. For it is utterly abhorrent to equity, to humanity, and to justice itself to attempt to repel or vindicate them in that manner. That is, the restoration of an injured reputation, which they usually say is the point of this ferocious avenging of injuries, is a pure and unadulterated fantasy in the minds of men of outrageous vanity. Such men need to learn that true reputation (which is nothing but the opinion of one’s excellence on the part of other men, particularly of good and sensible men) can be neither got nor kept except by doing good and deserving well of human society; and that it cannot be weakened by insults, except so far as they raise a suspicion that one deserved to be so badly treated; hence reputation can only be restored and renewed by measures which altogether remove that suspicion. No one but a madman could convince himself that violence leveled by private assault against the author of the insult would contribute to this one little bit. By this sacrilegious attack therefore, they deliberately profane two most sacred words: they are not ashamed to proclaim their wicked customs as laws of honor. But these customs are diametrically opposed to divine and human laws, and have been transmitted to us from barbarian peoples and centuries, to the great dishonor of human nature, to say nothing of the Christian name. [I.5.13.i]
Apart from what the author mentions, the victim can require nothing else by his own right from the attacker. But it is a good question whether, even in the state of natural liberty and equality, physical punishment cannot be inflicted on those who have openly violated the law of nature, in the name of the human race, so to speak, as a measure pertaining to its common security. With Grotius (Rights of War and Peace, II.XX.40 ff.) and Locke (Second Treatise of Government, ch. 2), we think this question should be answered emphatically in the positive, at least in the case of the more atrocious crimes, which have been committed with malice. However great moderation should be shown here. For punishment should not be inflicted suddenly or secretly, in case greater disturbances arise in a society and make the remedy more disastrous than the disease. In particular one must be careful to prevent the injured man himself, still seething with anger, from trying to keep on punishing and using force to assert his right.
Here the author ends his discussion of defense against unjust aggression, but prematurely; he should first have made a clear statement on the nature of human rights and on the foundations on which they rest before discussing the license permitted in their defense. This is the point that Titius (Observationes, no. 119) seems to suggest in his own way, when he points out that the precepts of self-love and sociability should be treated separately before they can be compared with each other. Thus one should add the teaching about the prosecution of one’s right to the teaching on the defense of one’s right. Pufendorf could not have referred less appropriately to this passage. For (as we said above at p. 45) we not only have a right to do something or hold it simply, but often also have a right to require something of another person. As the former right is properly asserted in resisting someone who unjustly attacks us or our property, so the latter right is no less properly asserted, in the natural state, by forcibly seizing what is ours or due to us from someone who is refusing to offer it of his own accord. Therefore in the former case a violent defense of one’s own right, in the latter case a violent prosecution of it (always assuming appropriate circumstances), is a duty which a man owes to himself. We should add a few points about this.
It is clear in the first place that as a violent defense of right in the civil state is restricted to rather narrow limits, so a violent prosecution of it is utterly forbidden to individual citizens, as plainly repugnant to nature and the end of civil society. It is appropriate on a regular basis only in the natural state in which, when just cause requires, it is to be exercised with the same force against persons, as far as they oppose the satisfaction of our right, as Pufendorf rightly teaches that the natural state permits in its defense. Moreover, since in this case, something of ours or something which is owed to us and not freely tendered, is presumed to give grounds for war, we not only rightly take possession of our own property, if it can be done, but also appropriate something that belongs to another person; if a particular object is owed to us, we seize that; if the debt is nonspecific, we seize as much as is owed. For want of these things, we can appropriate any property belonging to the enemy in compensation for the debt. Further, since neither defensive nor offensive war can be waged without expense and multiple loss, we rightly demand from an unjust enemy restitution for this, and rightly claim in compensation for them whatever is taken from him. However, all these things ought to be understood as due without detriment to the right of the innocent. Beyond these limits (although it cannot be denied that infinite license is permitted against an enemy who perseveres in wrongdoing, of devastating his property, and of taking it away, especially if it may be useful in war), we have no right to acquire anything, however just our cause in fighting, and to retain the advantage we derive from it, after the enemy has agreed to peace terms (and we may understand from this the nature of the peace terms). See Locke, Second Treatise of Government, chapter 16. However we may retain some of the property of an enemy in our custody, as a means to guarantee against the launching of similar attacks in the future, but it must be in such a way that the fruits and profits of the property, beyond what is spent on its custody, are preserved for the owner, as long as he keeps the peace. From the point of view of bare natural right, the situation is the same, whether it is two men living in natural liberty who are in conflict with each other or two states.7 [I.5.17.i]
The rights of extreme necessity
[Pufendorf has explained that “the case of necessity is not included in the general scope of the law.” Carmichael comments:]
But the two general laws of worshipping God and of promoting the interests of the human race admit of no exception; they are themselves the foundation of such exception as is to be admitted in the more particular laws. This is not to be taken to mean that there is no necessity which might rightly draw us away from any particular act of divine worship, especially external worship, which otherwise would have to be performed, but that one may not in any case undertake an act which is contrary to worship, an act, that is, which would betray contempt or hatred of God. Such acts are denial of God, blasphemy, idolatrous worship, and (here the distinguished Titius vainly and wrongly resists) the giving of a promissory oath without the intention to put oneself under an obligation.8 I add that the positive obligation of the precept about worshiping God is so far universal that man may not in any case completely abandon direct worship of God, or suspend it for so long that he ceases to have Him habitually before his eyes, or even intermit a particular act of external worship when the intermission would be taken as a denial of God (cf. Daniel 6.10). It is quite evident that neither the precept on promoting the common interests of the human race nor the two directly subordinate to it on every man’s seeking his own innocent advantage and on furthering sociability, as we have explained them above,9 can admit any exception of necessity. Hence we reject the conflict between self-love and sociability which Titius so frequently teaches.10 For all the cases in which that distinguished man finds this conflict are to be explained merely on the basis of the law of sociability. For according to the variety of circumstances, this law assigns more to an individual’s own benefit in one case, more to that of others in another, and thus determines which particular precepts admit the exception of necessity, and in what cases. [I.5.18.i]
One should say rather with Grotius (who treats this whole matter at II.II.6–10) that an extreme necessity which can be met in no other way, makes a perfect right; i.e., in this case it revives, for this purpose, the right of primitive community. However this is not in virtue of an agreement (as Grotius teaches, in conformity with his false hypothesis about the origin of ownership, on which see below),11 but because of the very nature of the case and the manifest interest of human society. The arguments brought against this by our author at Of the Law of Nature and Nations, II.VI.6, are excessively weak.12 [I.5.23.iii]
[1.] From the notes to bk. I, ch. 5, “On the Duty of Man toward Himself”; and Supplement III.
[2.] Carmichael’s account of the duties of a man toward his own mind is an adaptation of Pufendorf’s treatment in Of the Law of Nature and Nations, II.IV, pp. 151– 80, which ignores Pufendorf’s many classical allusions and recasts the discussion in accordance with Carmichael’s moral psychology. His discussion is also indebted to Locke’s Essay, as he acknowledges below, p. 67.
[3.] Supplement III.
[4.] For Pufendorf’s account of “simple reputation,” see On the Duty of Man and Citizen, II.14; see also below, ch. 21 (iii), p. 194.
[5.] Horace, Epistles, I.2.62.
[6.] Titius, Observationes, no. 134.
[7.] Carmichael considered his reasons for the right of self-defense important enough to be regarded as a supplement. See below, appendix, sec. 20, p. 215. While his argument (against Pufendorf) was indebted to Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, his primary concern was not, as with Locke, defense of property. Carmichael’s emphasis was defense of the liberty of individuals and of societies. See below, p. 142 and n. 6, and p. 179, nn. 6, 7.
[8.] Titius, Observationes, no. 141.
[9.] See Supplement II.5–8, pp. 48–49.
[10.] On the conflict between self-love and sociability in the natural law theory of Titius, see above, p. xiv.
[11.] See below, pp. 92–96; see also p. 97.
[12.] Pufendorf distinguished, as Carmichael did not, between relief of necessity as a duty of humanity and relief of necessity as an obligation under the law of nature. In On the Duty of Man and Citizen, p. 55, Pufendorf declared that “a rich man ought to help someone in … necessity as a duty of humanity.” In Of the Law of Nature and Nations, II.VI.8, he described admission of a necessitous man to one’s estate or house as conduct which is “not such as can be fairly defended on the Grounds of Natural Law” (p. 210). Carmichael’s treatment of duties of humanity as rights and obligations under the law of nature (in the case of extreme necessity as perfect rights) was a frequent point of contention between Barbeyrac (who agreed with Pufendorf) and himself. See below, p. 179, n. 6.