Front Page Titles (by Subject) DEFINITION XVIII: The quantity of moral actions is the estimative measure by which they are said to be of a certain degree. - Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence
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DEFINITION XVIII: The quantity of moral actions is the estimative measure by which they are said to be of a certain degree. - 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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The quantity of moral actions is the estimative measure by which they are said to be of a certain degree.
1.Moral actions are estimated either absolutely and in themselves, or relatively and in comparison with one another. In an absolute estimate of a moral action, and especially of a good one, speaking precisely and quasi-geometrically, there is no degree; but goodness itself consists, as it were, in a point and is a kind of coincidence, as it were, and congruence with the law, and as such has no measure. And so, also, considered formally and precisely, one good action is not better than another, since, forsooth, nothing can be more right than the right, although, considered materially and on the score of its object, one action is superior to and nobler than another. But, since an evil action declines from the law, it assuredly is at a certain distance from the law, greater or less, from which a sin obtains the character of greater or less degree, as one deviation from a straight line is greater than a second. Now this divergence from the law is like neither length, breadth, nor depth, which can be measured by a straight line; but it resembles a rectilinear angle, whose magnitude is measured by the arc of a circle described from the point of intersection of the two sides as a centre, and intercepted by the aforesaid sides. For, as a rule of law, which, like a straight line, marks out by its course precisely what is to be done, has the character of the first side; so the determination of our will, which is always joined by our conscience to the rule of the law in what resembles the point of an angle, is the other side, which, if the action swerve aside from the law, has a certain angular distance, as it were, from the first side, and by this the degree of bad actions is estimated. But, as around any point in space in which two or more lines unite, when treated as the centre of a sphere, an infinite number of tracts are conceived to be gathered, to which straight lines can run, diverging in different modes from one another; so the number of ways is infinite by which bad actions will be able to take their course, in diverging from a rule of the law. And so we shall not incongruously picture to ourselves the field of moral actions in the shape of a sphere, in whose centre gather the sides of the moral angle, like the radii of a circle; but on whose surface there are marked the points of the tracts to which the radii tend. Now as a sphere is marked by three cardinal circles, as they might be called, whose common circumferences, planes, and diameters strike each other at right angles, such as are the horizon, the meridian, and the prime vertical, in the mundane sphere, the first of which embraces the sphere’s tract of latitude and longitude, and the second its thickness, while the last divides the first two into two parts, and the whole sphere into a polar and an antipolar hemisphere; so, likewise, in the moral sphere, there are marked three cardinal circles, as they may be called, the first of which, like the horizon, represents the limits and object with which the moral action has to do, and represents the exercise itself; the second, like the meridian, suggests the elevation, as it were, and the intention of the mind of the agent; the third, like the prime vertical, divides the former two into two parts, and delimits the whole sphere into a polar and an antipolar hemisphere.
2. To understand this better, in the accompanying diagram, which represents a right sphere, let the circle BHEI be the right horizon; the circle BKEL be the meridian, here seen obliquely, and declining to an elliptical line; as also the circle HSIQ, the prime vertical, coinciding in a right sphere with the equator. Let B, the point of common contact of the horizon and the meridian, be the arctic pole, which we shall call the polar region; and let the other common point of these same circles, but opposite to this, namely E, be the antarctic pole, which will be called by us here the antipolar region. Let God, the searcher out of hearts and the most clear-sighted judge of human actions, be conceived of as seated at the centre of the moral sphere, A, as though in our heart, from which proceeds, and, be it noted, from the side of God, the radius of the law AB, the finger, as it were, of God, pointing out precisely to us the polar region, B, as though it were the cynosure of our actions, with the positive ordinance, indeed, that this be so; but let Him be conceived as leaving behind Him, as though He had turned his face away from it, the antipolar district E, opposite to this, and solemnly warning us by a negative ordinance, that is to say, a prohibition, that this shall not be done. Furthermore, from the same mid-point of the heart, as though from the centre of the moral sphere, let there be conceived to proceed, on the part of man, radii of moral actions, and, indeed, (1) by way of foundation, the radius of conscience, as a radius the offprint of the law, which, if it is straight, coincides throughout with the radius the archetype of the law, and, as a certain scintilla of the divine image, shares in the direction of the same towards the polar region. But, if it be less straight, supposing, for example, either because of the hardness and opacity of the heart it is turned back (this is erroneous conscience), or else, because of the surrounding atmosphere, it is refracted (this is probable conscience), or else has a fluctuating scintillation (this is a doubtful and anxious conscience), it turns thither to the opposite regions, and hither towards the polar region, indeed, but by certain roundabout ways, as it were, and not in such a direct manner; here around the polar region it wavers on this side and on that. (2) The formal radii of moral actions, which, in a physical sense, indeed, that is, as far as regards their natural principle, are coterminous in a central point, A, with the radius of the law, that is to say, dependent at the same time upon God, as the universal cause moving in nature; but morally, that is to say, as far as concerns the determination of mobility and course, are left free to men, and so are capable of being drawn freely from the heart, as though from the point of an angle, around towards all the regions of the moral sphere, so that if a man will, the radius of his moral action can coincide with the right radius of the law, or can decline to a greater or less degree towards either side, or else turn about to the diametrically opposite. Now, although actions may have an infinite number of radii, nevertheless, there are two quasi-cardinal radii, from whose location the moral quantity principally depends. One of them is the horizontal radius, as it were, which can be called the radius of execution; the other, as though running down in the meridian, the radius of intention. The other radii which fall outside both of these circles are quasi-collateral, and have the character of possible, rather than necessary, radii.
3. All this being so determined, if, as regards the first, the radius of execution strike at the very polar region on the horizon, it will have no horizontal declination from the rule of the law, and, in so far, will not be a sin. But, if it decline from that region, on the score of execution it will be a sin, and, indeed, if the radius of action should turn to the opposite point, E, that is, if man does not merely omit to do what the law bids, but also at the same time commits its contrary, which the law, by facing in the opposite direction, is understood to be prohibiting, we shall call this an action’s maximum horizontal declination from the law. But, if the radius of human action run out to the point H, or I, where it is perpendicular to the line of the syzygies of conjunction and opposition with the law, BE, and does not lean any more towards the positive quarter, B, than towards the negative quarter, E, that is to say, if a man merely omits what the law orders done, we shall call this a median horizontal declination from the law, and a sin of omission. But, if the radius of action be between B and H, or between B and I, for example, in the point C, or G, where it comes closer to B than to E, we shall say that there is done, indeed, what the law bids, but imperfectly, in that the action does not express everything which is ordered in that law, but omits something large or small. This sin is to be judged less than the crime of omission, to the degree that the action omits less. But, if the radius of the action be placed between H and E, for example, in the point D or F, where it comes closer to E than to B, that is, when, what the law bids, is not merely omitted, but even a certain element of those things which the law at the same time prohibits (although this element be not quite diametrically opposed to the law), is expressed in action, it is now a sin of commission, and the closer the radius of action comes to the opposite of the law, the greater is the degree of the sin.
4. Now here it should be noted that the objects of laws, which are located on the horizon, as it were, have a twofold difference. For some are indivisible, some divisible; that is, some are so constituted that it is necessary for them to be either totally expressed in action, or wholly omitted, or the absolute opposite take place; but in some others only a certain part can be expressed, and the rest can be omitted, or merely some part of the opposite can take place. And in these again there is an element of discrimination. For some divisible objects of laws include those things into which they can be divided, as species. Thus, the affirmative law of the fifth commandment is, “Meet the needs of your neighbour’s body.” This comprehends under it, like species, as it were, the preservation of life, limbs, and health, warding off of pains, supplying food in time of famine, &c. But the opposite law, which prohibits us from hurting our neighbour’s body, comprehends under it homicide, mutilation, wounding, beating, &c. Thus, the affirmative law of the sixth commandment, which orders chastity, contains under it purity of thought, modesty of speech and gesture, purity of the body, &c. The opposite law prohibiting sexual immodesty, includes adultery, whoremongering, shameless gestures and movements, obscene words, &c.1 Here, for instance, properly speaking, shameless words do not occupy a grade equal to adultery, nor purity of mind one equal to purity of bodies. But, because legislators, in order to be brief, wished to comprehend under one general act many special acts, it results that the radius of execution will fall upon the point B, if a man preserve purity of language, quite as much as it will, if he preserve purity of body, and, on the contrary, the same radius will fall equally on the point E, if a man has wrongly inflicted a blow of his fist upon his neighbour, quite as much as if he has killed him. And so the indivisible part of these actions, as also of those which have an object, cannot be a horizontal declination, except through a quadrant or a semicircle, that is, when that is not done which is ordered by the law, or the thing is to be omitted, or the contrary is to be done.
But, in truth, certain objects of laws are so divisible that they contain in the manner of integral parts those things into which they can be divided. Here the radius of execution does not immediately decline through the entire quadrants, but it can strike intermediate grades, and as many of these can be constituted as is the number of the more notable parts into which one cares to divide the object. Thus, for example, when I owe a workman for his labour 24 units, if I deny his pay absolutely, the radius of execution will strike the prime vertical; if I give him merely a part, and subtract the balance, the less I take from the sum due, the closer will the radius verge towards the polar point. But such grades appear to exist merely in the polar hemisphere. For when the radius of execution has struck the other hemisphere, that is, if, in addition to denying his pay, I take away something wrongly from the workman, it becomes an action of an utterly different kind, which has nothing to do with the former action, but is prohibited by a special law.
5. As for what concerns the other [radius], if the radius of intention has struck the polar point itself, the action will have no meridian declination from the law, that is, it will have no elevation or depression of the pole, and so no obliquity of intention. But if the radius of intention should remain in the polar semicircle of the meridian, to be sure, and so verge towards the pole, indeed, a line of estimation being drawn through the vertical point and through the region of the intention (as they habitually estimate, who are outside the sphere, and refer everything to the horizon as the limit of vision), but yet not strike exactly on the polar point B, the intention, indeed, will be said to be swinging to that which the law bids, but with a relaxation which is greater, the closer the radius of intention comes to the prime vertical. For, in that case, since the constituted radius AK, AL, is perpendicular to the line of syzygies BE, and inclines no more to B than to E, a man will have neither the intention of that which the law bids nor the intention of the opposite. And when that happens, it is understood to have taken place from ignorance of what the law disposes, or as a result of coercion. But if the radius of an action has been between the points of the meridian KB, or LB, the intention, indeed, will be swinging towards that which the law prescribes, but with a greater or less relaxation, as, starting from the negation of the same, the radius has, according to different grades, come more or less close to the full intention.
6. Furthermore, the more notable grades of intention in both hemispheres can be not inaptly fixed at twelve in number, which, in the diagram, the belt of the meridian represents, although we would by no means bring suit against the man who wanted to make a larger or a smaller number. When, therefore, the radius of human intention begins to move from the point L towards B, it must necessarily strike some one of these grades which seem to follow in this order. (1) The idea of a good action admitted to the mind. (2) The simple approbation of the same as being honourable. (3) Deliberation whether it should be done here and now. (4) Inclination to action aroused by some extrinsic violence. (5) Inclination to action aroused by fear of loss. (6) Inclination to action aroused unexpectedly by the convenience of a favourable opportunity. (7) Inclination to action as something useful, that is to say, for a gain. (8) Intention partial, languid, and easily responding, with a legitimate end, that is, to render obedience to the law. (9) Intention partial, united with an impulse. (10) Intention complete, easily responding, that is, which can easily be changed by setting before it a different object. (11) Intention full, not easily responding. (12) Intention full, and most firm, which strikes precisely upon the point B.
Now when the movement is from the point L towards the point E the same number of grades seem to appear. (1) The idea of sin admitted into the mind. (2) The simple approbation of sin as useful or pleasant. (3) Deliberation whether it ought to be done. (4) Inclination to sin aroused by extrinsic violence. (5) Inclination to sin for fear of loss. (6) Inclination to sin by the seduction of others, due to lack of consideration. (7) Inclination to sin for some apparent utility. (8) Intention partial, languid, and easily responding, due to lack of obedience. (9) Intention partial, conjoined with impulse or emotion. (10) Intention complete, easily responding. (11) Intention full, not easily responding. (12) Intention full and most firm which strikes on the very point E.
We admit, nevertheless, that the first three grades on both sides are certain acts, preliminary, as it were, to eliciting inclination or intention, rather than grades of intention properly so called. Therefore, if the radius of intention advancing along the same meridian strike its antipolar semicircle, KEL, which, with the point E, embraces the opposite of that which the law prescribes, the intention is understood to be swinging towards the opposite; and, indeed, if the radius strike precisely on the point E, the whole opposite will be perpetrated with the utmost intent. But if, on the same semicircle of the meridian, the radius of action fall on intermediate points, whose notable differences are marked by grades, the action will be said to have been done with a less or greater relaxation of intention, in proportion to the closeness to or remoteness from the point E of the grade upon which the radius falls.
7. From what has been said thus far it is apparent: I. That for an action to be perfectly good, it is required that each radius, namely, that of execution as well as that of intention, fall precisely upon the point B, that is, that not only everything be done which the law prescribes, but also with such an intention and such a mind as the law requires. Now, indeed, those men who enact civil laws in the commonwealth of men, are completely satisfied if the acts prescribed by the laws are done, whatever in the last analysis the intention of the agents may be, since, forsooth, with their laws they regard the advantage of the commonwealth, which, for the most part, results sufficiently from the external performance of the act, even though, perchance, the agent may not directly intend this advantage; although, on the other hand, in actions contrary to laws, human courts of law are extremely solicitous to determine the intention of the agent, so that they rarely impose a penalty, where it is proved that there was no guile. But God who has greatly desired to bind in obedience to Him the minds of men by means of His law, does not so much regard the external act, as the intention of the agent, whereby he binds himself to obey the law. And so, in that compendium of the divine law we are bidden to love God with all our heart, with all our mind, and with all our strength, and our neighbour as ourselves.2
8. II. If each radius, that of execution as well as that of intention, swings precisely to the opposite point E, it is the greatest sin in that category, since not only is it the direct opposite of that which the law orders, but it is also done with that firmness of intention which the law otherwise was wont to require for the performance of a good action.
9. III. But if either of these two radii, or both, have declined from the point B, yet in such wise that each still remains in the polar hemisphere, in itself, indeed, the action will not be good, nevertheless, among men, in one way or another, it will be reckoned as good. For men are also in the habit of calling an action in which each radius is closer to the point B, better than an action of the same kind in which the radii are farther away from the said point; although the former should properly be called less bad than the latter. But, when each radius strikes in the antipolar hemisphere, not even in a human court of law will it be judged that there is any goodness in such an action. But it also happens that the radius of execution strikes in the polar hemisphere, the radius of intention in the antipolar, and vice versa. The former comes about when an action, good on the score of the object, is undertaken with an evil end, as if some one with the intention of wounding another, cuts with his sword an otherwise incurable abscess, and by that cut the other person is restored to health. The latter occurs, when, with an erroneous understanding, but with a good intention, a good action is undertaken, which, although in itself bad, the agent thought to be good.
10. Now the quantity of a bad action is determined by the quantity of the angle which the two radii of execution and of intention make with the radius of the law; the greater this angle is, the greater becomes the sin and vice versa. And so attention must be paid not merely to the amount of the bidden action which a man has omitted, or to that of the forbidden action which he has performed, but also to the intention with which he has done the same. And, indeed, the quantities of both angles are to be added together. Thus, let us suppose the semicircle of the horizon to include 24 grades, and the quadrant of the meridian 12. In this way, if both radii strike E, it will be understood that the sin is of grade 36. But, if the radius of execution strike, for example, on grade 15, and that of intention on 9, the sin will be of grade 24, and so on. But, since the quantity of the sin, absolutely considered, increases or decreases primarily because of the intention, therefore this latter will also have to be most particularly regarded in determining that quantity.
11. From what has been said there flow also the following consequences: (1) God, situated in the centre of the sphere, notes with the utmost accuracy even the most minute aberration, and is not content merely with a tendency, but requires coincidence of action in every way with the rule of the law, quite as much touching the radius of execution as that of intention. When this has been duly weighed, there will be none who will undertake to boast of his uprightness in the presence of God. (2) Since human judges are placed outside the centre of the sphere, that is to say, since they cannot penetrate into the heart of the agent, they cannot judge so accurately of the degree of actions. This is primarily because they cannot know the intention of the agent (which is, however, the consideration of utmost consequence here) except from signs which strike the senses, and these signs never produce an absolutely infallible knowledge of the things which were meditated within. Hence these judges estimate the degree of actions only by sense perception, that is, as best the state of human sagacity allows; just as in astronomy the parallax which goes beyond tens of seconds is regarded as imperceptible, and the position seen is supposed to coincide with the true position, although an indefinite number of lesser arcs may lie between the two, because, of course, our eye does not consist of a point, but is surrounded by thick humours and several lenses which refract the rays, so that it is unable to perceive such extreme minuteness. Thus, in a human court of law, that part of the intention which eludes the acumen of our judge, nay, even the declination of the execution, are not attended to, in the spirit of the trite principle: “The Praetor does not concern himself with trifles.” Nay more, there you hear, that, in regard to evil actions, the intention is scarcely divided into more grades than two, to wit, full and half-full. (3) Considered formally and in itself, there is absolutely no merit in a good action; but in a bad action, the demerit is greater, the farther each radius retires from the point B. And this formal defect of an action, unless it be condoned, will have to be compensated for by a satisfactory equivalent. Also what we have said hitherto can and ought to be applied to individual moral actions.
12. Actions contrasted and compared with one another are estimated, according as one is said to be superior, or worse, or more harmful than another, and, as regards good actions, according as one ought to yield to the other, when both cannot be performed at the same time. Now this relative degree of actions is determined: I. By their object. For, according as this object is noble and precious, so also will one action be reckoned eminent and noble in comparison with a second whose object is less so; and, on the contrary, the more eminent the good which has been violated, the more serious and the worse an action is thought to be. Now, among those objects, just as God, the Best and Greatest, infinitely excels in nobility, so that action is deservedly to be detested far beyond others, which tends directly to His contumely. And just as His worship, existing primarily in the mind, ought to temper the action of the whole life, so, through His will, those actions by which the external aspects of His worship are displayed, yield precedence to these which bring some notable advantage to men. The grade next to these is held by those actions which touch the universal society of men, and after them, those which touch the public society of the state. Then follow individuals. In regard to them, those of us who have professed the Christian faith reckon the greatest good to be the eternal salvation of the soul, and the greatest evil its ruin. This is followed by life, which is the foundation of all temporal goods. Almost side by side with life come modesty, civil respectability or reputation, and whatever is so necessary to life, that, without it, life either cannot be preserved at all, or can be dragged out only in the most miserable estate. Here belong bodily members not vital, but which are esteemed by virtue of the nobility of their use. Among the other goods which merely render life more ornate and pleasant, and such as one can in any event do without, the goods of fortune yield precedence to the goods of the body, and these in turn to those of the mind. Now, in truth, most good or evil things admit of various intensifications and relaxations, according to the disparity of the subjects on which they are exhibited or inflicted, this disparity being of status, good or ill fortune, age, seasons or necessities, a special affection by which they are inclined to some particular good, or shrink away from some definite species of evil, &c., all of which are accurately observed in determining the merit of actions which are not owed, and, in part, also, in imposing punishments.
13. II. From the status and condition of the agent. Here applies the trite saying: “Every fault of the mind has about it a more conspicuous blame, the higher the person of the delinquent is held.” Thus it is notorious that the same kind of sin committed by a priest is reckoned as graver than that committed by another. Thus a kindness shown by an enemy is judged to be greater than that shown by a friend, and, on the contrary, the wrong done by a friend hurts more severely than that inflicted by a foe. And it is a more serious thing to be mocked by some sordid fellow, than by an equal or superior, by your own children and your own servants, than by strangers. And it makes a great deal of difference whether something be done by a wife, or a woman, by a husband, or a youth and a boy, an old man, or a young man, a magistrate, or a private citizen, a famous, or an obscure man, a barbarian, or a citizen of some civilized nation. For the natural strength of the spirit intensifies the badness of an action, just as the weakness of the same sheds a lustre upon the goodness of actions. And splendour of status lends an element of baseness to misdeeds, while obscurity of status bestows admiration upon things brilliantly done.
14. III. From the condition of the action, according as it could be performed with ease or difficulty. A good action, other things being equal, is more beautiful, the more difficult it is; a bad action, on the contrary, the easier it is to avoid, the worse it is reckoned to be, in comparison with another action of the same kind which was not of the same character. Here also the consideration whether the mind of the agent was free from an emotion, or disturbed by the same, has some bearing. For, where emotions tend toward the object of an action, they make it easy; if they tend in the opposite direction, they make it difficult. Of these emotions the ones aroused by the idea of evil generally apply sharper spurs, and certainly command more favour or pity than those which the idea of good excites. And so, there is a great deal of difference, in the baseness of the act, between perjury committed through fear of death, and that whereby one refuses to return a deposit for the sake of gain. Also the thief who steals what is another’s because of hunger or need, is regarded as less base than he who pillages others because of an insatiable lust for gold. And the consideration whether you have done something under a fresh emotion, or under one long cherished, has no small bearing; since, forsooth, fresh impulses sweep more violently, and it is so much more difficult not to be carried away by them, but the delay produced by lapse of time renders them more amenable to the sway of reason. Thus, also, he who is the first to commit a certain crime in some state and teaches it, as it were, sins more grievously than he whom the surrounding multitude of wrongdoers has robbed of the sense of shame.
15. IV. From the effect and consequences of an action, these being either good or bad. If good, the more excellent and greater they are, the more excellent is the action; if bad, the more numerous and grave they are, so much the worse is an action reckoned than another of the same kind not attended by these circumstances. V. From the circumstances of place and time, which contribute greatly towards making an action more grave or less serious. Thus the same crime committed in a public place and in the presence of witnesses is more serious than that in which an effort is made to have it concealed, and this partly because what is hidden does less harm by example, at least, and partly because his wickedness is judged to be very intense who makes an open display of his crime and seeks to win glory therefrom. Thus, since some reverence is due to matters which look to the worship of God, it is more base to practise debauchery in a temple than in a tavern. Thus it is a graver thing to be beaten at a sitting of judges, than within one’s private walls. Thus he who gets drunk on an ordinary day, other things being equal, commits a lesser sin than he who wantons on a day peculiarly set aside for prayers or penitence, &c.
16. Now the more or less frequent repetition of an action of the same kind does not in itself render the action better or worse, except in so far as it is an indication that the action proceeds from habit. And, as a habit, in the case of moral actions, is most carefully considered (since, forsooth, actions habitually undertaken are understood to be done for the most part with full intention), it is clear enough why a good action which one has frequently done before, is commonly regarded as superior to that which is now being done for the first time, or vice versa; because, of course, the latter is judged to have been undertaken not with such full intention as the former; likewise, why an evil action very frequently repeated is judged to be more grave than that which has been committed only once or twice by the same person, and this notwithstanding the fact that a good habit facilitates a good action, while a bad habit, on the contrary, makes it hard to refrain from a bad action. For the effort spent in acquiring a good habit causes the action which is done easily, and with pleasure, by the good man, to be of no less value; and the odium of the evil man is so much the greater, because, by acting badly, he has brought it about that he can scarcely act otherwise than ill. And this consideration is observed in the demand for punishment which men make. For the delinquent on his first offence (unless, perchance, it be a monstrous crime) is more easily accorded pardon, or else punished more lightly, than the man who over and over again strikes upon the same stone, and this is because of the intensity of the free moral choice by which, as is evident, such a misdeed has been undertaken. Also, when pardon for former misdeeds depends conditionally upon reformation in the future, and that fails to take place, the punishment for all past crimes is exacted at the same time as the penalty for repeating that particular one. From this it becomes apparent in what sense there is truth in the common saying: “The estimation of a past misdeed is never increased by any subsequent act.”3
17. As far as concerns the special comparison of good actions and of duties, it will be easy to decide the question of just which one ought to yield precedence to the other, when it is impossible for both to be performed at the same time, if the following points be kept in mind.4 (1) An affirmative precept always yields to a negative, that is, no one can rightly do anything ordered by the law of nature, with the result that he must necessarily do at the same time something forbidden by the same. The reason for this is to be sought in the nature of affirmative precepts and of negative precepts, because the obligation of the latter is perpetually uniform and equally efficacious, whereas the obligation of the former presupposes for them an occasion which is not understood to exist, when something cannot be done without a violation of law. And so such things are judged to be morally impossible. Hence, no one can do a wrong to a second person, or break faith with him, so as either to advance his own personal advantage or that of his intimates, or to obtain the means for gratitude and benefac-tions. (2) An imperfectly mutual obligation yields to a perfectly mutual obligation which concerns both parties. Thus what is owed on a contract is rather to be paid than what is owed on a gratuitous promise or on the law of gratitude, if it be impossible for both to be satisfied at the same time. (3) Other things being equal, the law of beneficence yields to the law of gratitude. Because gratitude to that object has a kind of prior right, as it were, and one that has more to be said in its favour than has beneficence, since, forsooth, the former requires you to pay back, the latter to be the first to give; and so, in such a case, it is understood that the object of beneficence is wanting because of the competing necessity of gratitude. And this holds so far that beneficence even towards our kinfolk, unless, perchance, it be connected with some closer debt, ought to be rendered after gratitude. (4) Among those to whom we owe something on the basis of an affirmative precept, with the force merely of a natural, and not a civil law, the propinquity of the persons is the deciding consideration, and this is commonly regarded so, that, after caring for one’s own person, come children, parents, kinsmen, and finally all men whatsoever, and, among these, in the degree to which they are either suffering from indigence, or appear likely to become helpful to others in their turn, if they be helped by us. Here, in the same kind of need or help, late-comers are understood to be excluded by predecessors, although a greater need of beneficence in the late-comers makes even the predecessors yield place to them, especially when it is possible to satisfy the latter more conveniently at another time.
Appendix to Definition XVIII in Which the Moral Sphere Is Explained
For the sake of more copious instruction and illustration, by means of exterior orbs there can be represented in the diagram, in addition to the grades of intention and execution, also the objects of moral action divided into definite classes. This can be done in quite the most convenient fashion, it appears, if, according to the guidance of the Decalogue, the orbs, as it were, of human actions be constituted, and each orb be divided into two hemispheres, to wit, a polar hemisphere which includes actions enjoined, and an antipolar hemisphere, in which are located actions opposed to the injunctions. And, indeed, according to the analogy of the Copernican system, the sun can be placed in the very centre of the universe, inasmuch as it will represent to us God, Best and Greatest, whose nature one will otherwise scarcely illustrate by means of a more convenient simile than that derived from the centre and the periphery of the circle. For, aside from the fact that, as the periphery is produced from the centre, so are all other things produced by God, there is also a very great appropriateness, in that, with respect to the centre, nothing in the periphery ascends, and nothing descends, nothing is added, and nothing passes away, nothing is closer, and nothing more remote, nothing is on the right hand, and nothing on the left, nothing is set above, and nothing placed below, but all are present at the very centre in the same way, however much the circle move around and around in continuous motion; so, in respect to God, there is nothing past, nothing future, nothing more close, nothing more remote, although, in the continuous succession of duration, created things move round about, as it were, ascend, and descend, come into being, and perish. Consult Erhard Weigel’s Disputation on Duration, Leipzig, 1652, thesis no. 40.5 It was this among other things which the Pythagoreans, men without doubt far wiser than they are commonly thought by some to be, had in mind, when they defined God as a sphere, with its centre everywhere, and its periphery no where. And, in a special way, God can be called the centre of moral actions, as has been said above already, while, established in the heart of man as in a centre, not only does He flow into the physical being of actions, and with His finger point out the pole, that is, the rectitude of an action, but also while all human actions run back to Him, as to the centre from the periphery. Now we apprehend that the finger of God first of all points out Himself, and so constitutes God Himself as the prime object of moral actions. And as in the sun we see three things principally, substance, warmth, and light, so our actions towards God fall into three classes principally, (1) as we recognize in Him a Being supreme, one, best, and greatest, which, for its Majesty, is to be loved by us, cherished and honoured above all things. (2) As He is a benevolent being, by whose heat we are, as it were, warmed and animated, in consideration of which His name is to be invoked alone by us and treated with reverence. (3) As He is a most glorious being, which wishes the splendour of His praise and glory to be seen and celebrated by men. These matters are contained in the first three commandments of the Decalogue, and occupy the first three orbs of our system. Mother Earth follows the sun, and by her we designate the persons of men from whom we depend, for example, our superiors as such, who are made of the same earth as we are, and whose majesty is constrained within the limits of earth. Such are parents, and they who are equal to parents, namely guardians, magistrates, rulers, lords, to whom we are bound to show due honour, and whose legitimate commands we are bound to execute; and these are ordained in the fourth commandment. In the fifth place follows the sphere of Mars, which indicates the actions of man concerning both his life and his body, which is violated and destroyed by martial activities. These matters are contained in the fifth commandment. After Mars follows Venus, and thereby we suggest that the actions deriving their designation from her, are so to be regulated, that we preserve our body and our mind pure from every illicit lust, and do not molest the limits of another’s bed. Warning is given against this in the sixth commandment. Mercury holds the seventh Sphere, among astrologers the indicator both of those who make wealth by commerce, and of those for whom things not utterly lost are found. And thus disposition is here made concerning those actions which arise from commutative justice, and in regard to which every one is forbidden to have it appear that he desires to derive his lineage from Mercury by emulating the pitch-covered hands of Autolycus.6 This is the substance of the seventh commandment. By the eighth, or Jupiter, is indicated he, who, by the decree of horoscopes, when well disposed, promises good repute, when injured or weakened, accuses man of having a virulent tongue, and being a backbiter, bearing a serene countenance, but after he has mollified the credulous by flattering them to their face, delighting to cast infamy upon their backs when they are absent. So a bridle is here set upon the tongue, that it dare not attack wickedly the good name of others or riot in falsehoods, but that it cover their blemishes rather with honourable excuses, and give each his due praise. Those matters are promulgated in the eighth commandment. We assign the ninth orb to Saturn, the tenth to the moon; of which the former, in the understanding of the astrologers, is the index of a domicile, the latter, of marriage and children. On the former of these disposition is made in the ninth commandment, on the latter, in the tenth, that is to say, that we do not set our mind on them with the intention of defrauding our true Lord thereby. But if, according to the opinion of many theologians,7 we decide that, by the ninth commandment, actual concupiscence is forbidden, by the tenth, original concupiscence, the planets just mentioned will possess their orbs by a different title. For not inappropriately can that cold and sluggish and gloomy Saturn denote those appetites in man which make him cold and languid towards doing every good thing, and arouse sadness among the upright, who grieve that they cannot here be utterly freed from this low estate. But the moon, the mistress of fruitfulness and humours, indicates that fatal poison deeply infused in our nature and ever fruitful in a countless offspring of sins. And this poison, furthermore, causes our reason to have some brightness and penetration only in the darkness of things terrestrial, but to be utterly blind in the spiritual light; just as the moon dares to put forth her pallid countenance at night, indeed, but through the day fades away to the appearance of an obscure cloudlet. But all this, ὡς ἐν παρέργῳ [as a side issue], is merely for the sake of instruction, and to render the quantity of moral actions so much the clearer.
[1. ] The distinction of the particular commandments into affirmative and negative precepts is probably modeled upon Martin Luther’s interpretation of the Decalogue with a list of their respective fulfillments and transgressions (“Eine kurze Erklärung der zehn Gebote” (1518), in W.A., first department, vol. 1, pp. 247ff).
[2. ] Matthew 22:37–40.
[3. ]Dig., L.xvii.138, §1.
[4. ] See bk. I, Def. 12, §37, “How do concurrent obligations yield to one another?”
[5. ] Erhard Weigel, Dissertatio metaphysica posterior de modo existentiae qui dicitur duratio (Jena, 1652).
[6. ] Autolycus, son of Hermes and Chione, father of Anticleia, the mother of Odysseus, was delegated the task of theft and of swearing by Hermes (Homer, Odyssey, trans. Stanley Lombardo, intro. Sheila Murnaghan [Indianapolis: Hackett, 2000], XIX.395).
[7. ] See, for example, Johann Gerhard (1582–1637), professor of theology in Jena, in his Loci theologici, ed. Eduard Preuss (repr. Berlin, 1865), vol. 3, loc. 12 “De lege dei,” pp. 20ff).