Front Page Titles (by Subject) DEFINITION XVI: A good action is one which agrees with law; a bad action is one which disagrees with the same. - Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence
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DEFINITION XVI: A good action is one which agrees with law; a bad action is one which disagrees with the same. - Samuel von Pufendorf, Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence 
Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, translated by William Abbott Oldfather, 1931. Revised by Thomas Behme. Edited and with an Introduction by Thomas Behme (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2009).
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A good action is one which agrees with law; a bad action is one which disagrees with the same.
1. The formal character of goodness and badness consists in a bearing, or in other words, a determinative relation to a directive norm which we call a law (by this we always understand here a law which necessitates, not permits, and, if it be a human law, one which is not repugnant to divine right). For, in so far as an action of free choice proceeds from the prescript of the norm, and is instituted in accordance therewith, in such wise that it agrees exactly with the norm, it is called good; in so far as it is undertaken contrary to the prescript of the norm, or disagrees with the norm, it is called bad, and, in a single word, designated a misdeed. Moreover, as each and every directive norm, for example the compass, is called the cause of itinerary correctness, and of arriving at the port, not so much in that the ship cuts that course which coincides with its pointing, as that the skipper directs his course according to its prescript;1 so a law is said to be the cause of correctness in an action, not so much because an action, undertaken from any cause at all, squares with the law, but primarily because the action proceeds from the dictate of the law, and from dependence upon the law, that is, with the intention of rendering obedience to the same. And so, if a man, led by chance, or by some reason other than to show himself obedient to the law, does that which the law bids, he can be said to have done rightly indeed (in a sense rather negative than affirmative, that is, not wrongly), yet not well in a moral sense; precisely as he who has brought down a bird by the accidental discharge of an escopette cannot be said to have shot expertly and skilfully.
2. Now, since the law determines either the quality or disposition of the agent, or the object, or the end, or, finally, the definite circumstances of an action; it follows thence that a certain action is morally good or bad, either because the agent has been so disposed as the law requires, or otherwise disposed; or because the action is directed to the object with the same purpose and circumstances as those with which the object is disposed by law, and the contrary. Here, however, it is to be noted, that, in order for some action to be good it is necessary for it both to agree with the law according to all quasi-material requisites, and also, as far as its formal character is concerned, to have been performed not from ignorance or from some other cause, but in order to render an owed obedience to the law. And so an action otherwise materially, as it were, good, is charged against the agent as a bad action, because of a bad intention. Thus he who, while intending to do harm, actually does good, deserves no reward. Thus he who uses his legitimate authority with a bad purpose (for example, a judge using his authority to exact punishment from the guilty, so as to glut a private passion), does wrong. And yet an action otherwise materially, as it were, bad, does by no means become good because of the good intention of the agent. Thence it follows that no one can use his own transgressions in the way of means, as it were, to attain a good end, and things bad are not to be done so that things good may result. For, to have an action made bad, it is sufficient that there be failure on the part of a single material or formal requisite to harmonize with the law. Hence an action becomes bad immediately, if either the quality of the agent, or the object, or the end, or some one of the circumstances, or the intention, be in disagreement with the law. And not merely is a complete misdeed, and one which has reached its end, regarded as a crime, but even the misdeed which has been only planned and begun,2 upon which even civil laws sometimes inflict the same punishment as they do upon the consummated misdeed, or a punishment not much lighter, according as they judge it to be expedient for some crime to be crushed, even in the first attempts.
3. From what has been said one gathers also the answer to the question, whether some moral action in an individual case, or, in other words, considered here and now, be indifferent. Here the question is properly not about licit actions, or such as have been neither ordained nor forbidden by laws, for that they are indifferent, or, in other words, are neither good nor bad in a moral sense, is beyond doubt; but about those which the laws ordain or forbid. It is no more possible for these to be indifferent in an individual case, than it is possible for something to exist intermediate between agreement and disagreement with the law. And it is a vain statement of some, that an action, as far as the substance of the deed is concerned can be good, even if a legitimate end be not intended by the agent.3 For the end is of the utmost pertinence in determining the essence of an action, forasmuch as it coheres with the intention, which is the principle that most of all distinguishes the quality of an action. And so it is not merely a misdeed, to refer actions to a bad end, but also to refer them to an end different from that prescribed by the laws.
4. Moreover, as this goodness and badness of an action consists in a formal way in what I have called accord and disaccord with the moral norm, so, in an efficient way, it depends exclusively upon the one by whom that action, prescribed or forbidden by the law, is performed, forasmuch as the determination of this point so constitutes an action in the class of moral entities, that it can be charged to him alone and not to another. And so they have been tormented by a vain fear who, in order to avoid the appearance of making God, the creator of all things, the author also of sin, have placed the formal basis of sin in a lack of congruence with law.4 For, in truth, although the establishment of any form whatsoever necessarily implies the lack or absence of the contrary form, nevertheless, the man who has sought the essence of the matter in that lack is utterly mistaken. Nor has he made much progress who recognizes that straightness is the lack of curvature, and curvature the lack of straightness. But that was a vain fear which drove them to such recourses. For, without doubt, God is the creator of all physical entities, but it would be utterly absurd for one to wish to make Him the creator of all moral and notional entities as well. Those, however, who, as a notable specimen of their subtlety, declare that they have intertwined God in any way whatsoever among the causes of sin, are suffering from an utterly profane itching of the intellect. For he who has any perception of moral entities, will judge nothing more absurd than the inquiry, whether he who forbids an action by law, and punishes it when committed against his interdict, be the cause of the action. But God’s concurrence in the physical aspect of the action can no more be called the cause of the misdeed, than, for example, he who furnishes the cloth for an article of clothing, can be called the cause of a deformity in the same, when it has been made up unskilfully by a tailor. Now to force the word “cause” here into an improper meaning, and one alien to the common understanding of it, is to make oneself to appear in no slight degree irreverent towards the Divine Spirit.
[1. ] Cf. Weigel, Analysis Aristotelica, sect. II, chap. XII, §24: “in the same manner as a house comes from the possessor, namely from an agent or moral cause who has legitimately ordered (i.e., caused) the house to be built, . . . arrival in port stems from the nautical compass, namely from an agent or notional cause that has directed the mind of the skipper by the objective arrangement of its parts (i.e., as by a cause).”
[2. ] Cf. JNG, 1, 7, §4, with reference to Seneca, De constantia sapientis [On the Steadfastness of the Wise Man], chap. 7: “All crimes, as far as concerns their criminality, are completed before the actual deed is accomplished.”
[3. ] Grotius, JBP, II.xxiii.2: “First of all we must hold to the principle that, even if something is in itself just, when it is done by one who, taking everything into consideration, considers it unjust, the act is vicious. This in fact is what the Apostle Paul meant by saying, ‘Whatsoever is not of faith, is sin,’ where ‘faith’ signifies the judgement of the mind on the matter.”
[4. ] An allusion to Augustine’s privative theory of sin. See, for example, Augustine, The City of God Against the Pagans, vol. 3, trans. David S. Wiesen, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1968), XII.9: “For evil has in itself no substance, rather the loss of what is good had received the name evil”; and idem, The City of God Against the Pagans, vol. 4, trans. Philip Levine, Loeb Classical Library (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1966), XII.7: “So too our mind glimpses objects of thought by thinking them; but where they are deficient in something, the mind is instructed through unknowing. For ‘who can discern lapses?’”