Front Page Titles (by Subject) Remarks on This Chapter - A Methodical System of Universal Law: Or, the Laws of Nature and Nations
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Remarks on This Chapter - Johann Gottlieb Heineccius, A Methodical System of Universal Law: Or, the Laws of Nature and Nations 
A Methodical System of Universal Law: Or, the Laws of Nature and Nations, with Supplements and a Discourse by George Turnbull. Translated from the Latin by George Turnbull, edited with an Introduction by Thomas Albert and Peter Schröder (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2008).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Remarks on This Chapter
Tho’ our Author proceeds more distinctly and methodically than most other writers on the law of nature and nations, yet some steps of the reasoning of this chapter do not intirely satisfy me. For §8. he reasons thus, “A rule carrying along with it no more than internal obligation would be uncertain, and so would not deserve the name of a rule; because internal obligation only means the intrinsic goodness of an action, but man is so framed that he may mistake seeming for real good.”—Whence he concludes §9. “That no rule can be certain, and thus sufficient for our direction, but that which carries along with it an external obligation, i.e. according to his definition, the command of a superior invested with sufficient power to enforce his commands.” Now it is plain, that the command of God to do, or to forbear an action can only be inferred from the intrinsic goodness or pravity of that action, i.e. in our author’s language, the external obligation of an action can only be inferred from its internal obligation. Our author acknowledges this §5, and afterwards §60, and §77, & seq. But this being true, it evidently follows, That we cannot be more certain about the external obligation of an action, than we are about its internal obligation: whatever uncertainty our apprehensions of the latter are liable to, our apprehensions of the former must be liable to the same uncertainty. It appears to me very odd reasoning to say, That considering how obnoxious men are to mistakes about good and evil, there must be a more certain rule for human conduct than the intrinsic goodness of actions, even the divine will; when at the same time we are told, that we cannot come at the knowledge of the divine will with respect to our conduct, otherwise than by first knowing what an action is in itself; or that we can only infer the divine will concerning an action from its intrinsic nature, its intrinsic goodness or pravity. In order to cut off many verbal disputes, with which the moral science hath been hitherto perplexed in its very first steps, it ought in my opinion to set out in this manner. 1. If there be such a thing as good or evil belonging to, or arising from actions, there is an internal obligation or a sufficient reason to choose the one and to abhor the other. But that some actions are good and others evil, must be true if preservation and destruction, pain and pleasure, happiness and misery, perfection and imperfection, be not words without meaning, which will not be said. This is the substance of what our author says in his first section, and thus the better antients deduced and explained the essential differences of actions, or the natural difference betwixt virtue and vice. See my Principles of moral and christian philosophy, T. 1. c. 5. t. 2. §3. introduction. In other words, if there be any such thing as natural good and evil, there must be moral good and evil; for actions tending to good must be good, and actions tending to evil must be evil; or if there be any such thing as perfection and imperfection with respect to any quality, any being, as a vine, a horse, &c. there must likewise be such a thing as perfection and imperfection with respect to moral powers and moral agents and their acts or exertions. 2. If there be a God, he must will that we should regulate our actions by, and act conformably to the internal obligation of actions. But that there is a God is the universal plain language of nature. 3. Wherefore wherever there is internal obligation to act in such or such a manner, there is likewise an external obligation to act in the same manner, i.e. there is an extrinsic reason for acting so, arising from the will of God, who is infinitely perfect, and upon whom all our interests here and hereafter absolutely depend. 4. Whatever therefore in respect of its internal obligation may be called a proper rule of conduct, is at the same time a law, in the proper and strict sense of the word, i.e. it is the will, the command of a superior who hath right to command, and power to enforce the obedience of his commands, being the will of God the creator. 5. A system of rules or of directions for our conduct, having internal obligation, may be properly called a system of laws, of natural laws, of divine laws, because it is a system of precepts discoverable from their natural fitness, or internal obligation to be the will or laws of God concerning our conduct. And therefore the whole enquiry into rules of moral conduct, may be called an enquiry into the natural laws of God concerning our conduct.
It is not properly the business of such an enquiry to prove the being of a God, and that where there is internal obligation to an action, there must also be external obligation to it. It supposes that done, and proceeds to enquire into internal obligations; or to unfold the goodness and pravity of actions, and from hence to deduce general rules or laws of conduct. Now if the preceding propositions be attended to, and the difference between a rule and a law, or between internal and external obligation, according to our author’s definition, be kept in mind; it may be asserted without any ambiguity, that abstractly from all consideration of the will of the supreme Being, there is no law for our conduct; there is a rule, but that rule is not a law, in the strict sense of that word. It would have prevented much jangling about the foundations of morality, if writers had carefully distinguished, with a late excellent writer, Dr. Sykes,2 in his Essay on the Connexion of Natural with Revealed Religion, between the law and the sanction of the law. cap. 2.
Our author’s reasoning will proceed very clearly, if we understand the meaning of his 8 § to be to this purpose. “A rule of conduct while it is merely apprehended under the notion of reasonable, will not be sufficient to influence men; in order to have due influence upon them, it must be considered as having external, as well as internal obligation, arising from the will of God which never changes.” See how Puffendorf reasons, b. 2. of the law of nature and nations, ch. 3. §20. “But to make these dictates of reason obtain the dignity and power of laws, it is necessary to call into our consideration a much higher principle, &c.”
With respect to what is said, §22. of the law of nations, ’tis well worth while to add an excellent remark of the author of the Persian Letters, 94 and 95.3 “As the law of nature and nations is commonly doctored, one would imagine there were two sorts of justice; one to regulate the affairs of private persons, which prevails in the civil law; the other to compose the differences that arise between people and people, which plays the tyrant in the law of nations: as if the law of nations were not itself a civil law, not indeed of a particular country, but of the world. The magistrate ought to do justice between citizen and citizen; every nation ought to do the same between themselves and another nation. This second distribution of justice, requires no maxims but what are used in the first. Between nation and nation, there is seldom any want of a third to be umpire; because the grounds of dispute are almost always clear and easy to be determined. The interests of two nations are generally so far separated, that it requires nothing but to be a lover of justice to find it out: it is not the same with regard to the differences that arise between private persons as they live in society, their interests are so mingled and confounded, and there are so many different sorts of them, that it is necessary for a third person to untangle what the covetousness of the parties strives to tie knots in, &c.”
Concerning the nature and distinguishing qualities or characteristics of human actions.
Transition to treat of human actions.From what hath been said of the foundation and origine of the law of nature and nations, it is obvious, that it hath for its object and scope the direction of human conduct; and therefore order makes it necessary to enquire accurately into the qualities and characteristics of human actions.
What is meant by action and what by passion? What by external and what by internal action?Experience, the fountain of all knowledge, teaches us, that various motions and changes happen in the human mind; but since no motion can be produced or conceived without a sufficient moving cause, the motions which happen in the mind of man must have some sufficient cause, which must either be within or without man. And therefore motions, the sufficient cause of which is in man himself, are called actions; and those the cause of which must be sought after without man, are termed passions. But because the motion called action, either produces nothing without the mind, but rests there, or produces by will some effect in the body, the former are denominated internal, the latter external actions.
Passions of what kinds are they?Passions not proceeding from us, but from some external cause, are so far without our power, and therefore are not unfrequently excited in us against our will or inclination; yet they may sometimes be as it were repulsed and prevented, if we are provided with sufficient force to resist the external exciting cause; and on the other hand, in certain circumstances we can assist the external mover, so as that the motion it tends to produce may be more easily excited in us. Whence it follows that some passions are within our power, and others are not.*
Whether they are subject to our direction or not?Because the law of nature hath only free actions for its object, (§4) it cannot have for its object, in order to be directed by it, passions which are not within our power. Tho’ it may lay down some rules relative to our passions, so far as they are in our power, yet, properly speaking, these rules are not directions to our passions, but to those free actions, by which we can resist or assist these passions, shewing what we ought to do with regard to hindering or forwarding them.†
Whether the law of nature extends to them?The law of nature therefore only extends to our actions; but let it be observed, that tho’ the sufficient cause of all these be in man himself, (§25) yet experience teaches us, that of some actions we are conscious and are absolute masters; others are of such a nature that they proceed from some mechanical disposition, in such a manner that we are not always conscious of them, nor have them not wholly in our power.*
Actions are either human or natural. Whether the latter are the object of the law of nature?Actions of which we are conscious, and which are within our power, and subject to our direction, are properly termed human or moral actions; those of which we are not conscious, or not masters, are called physical or natural actions; whence it is plain, that the former are free, the latter necessary; and therefore that human or moral actions alone can be directed by the law of nature (§4), and not natural ones, except so far as it is in our power to assist and promote, or contrariwise to avoid and prevent them.†
The understanding and will are the principles of human actions.Human or moral actions being free or within our power, and every thing being in our power which is directed by our will; it follows that human or moral actions are actions which may be directed by our will. But because the will never determines itself, unless it be excited to desire or reject by the understanding;* hence it is justly concluded, that the understanding likewise concurs in the exertion of free human actions; and therefore there are two principles of free human or moral actions; the understanding and the will.
What the understanding is?Understanding is the faculty by which the mind perceives, judges, and reasons. When this faculty takes the name of imagination, we have sufficiently shewn in another treatise, (in the elements of rational philosophy).
Without its concurrence an action is not moral.But since the will cannot exert itself, unless it be excited by the understanding, (§30) it follows that it cannot prefer a just action as such, nor abhor an unjust one as such, unless the understanding hath first distinctly perceived the action to be just or unjust, by comparing it with the rule of action, i.e. by reasoning. And therefore moral actions presuppose the capacity of perceiving a rule of action, and of comparing actions with the ideas of just and unjust.*
Hence conscience.That faculty by which we reason about the goodness or pravity of our actions is called conscience, concerning which we have discoursed at large in another treatise. Here however it is necessary to repeat, or rather add some observations upon conscience.
Which is reasoning.Because conscience reasons concerning the goodness and pravity of actions; (§33) but actions are called just, in respect of an external obligation arising from a law; conscience must therefore compare the one with the other, the law and the fact; that is, form two propositions, and from them deduce a third; which, since it cannot be done but by syllogism, it follows that every reasoning of conscience is a syllogism, consisting of three propositions, the law, the action, and the conclusion.††
It is divided into good and evil conscience.Since conscience in its reasonings always terminates in a sentence which it draws (§34): but every sentence either condemns or absolves according as the action is found to be conformable or disagreable to the law. Conscience, when it absolves, is called good, and when it condemns, it is called evil; the former is attended with tranquillity and confidence; the latter with suspiciousness and dread.*
It is likewise divided into antecedent and consequent.We may reason either about past or future actions, and therefore conscience reasoning about actions not yet performed, is called antecedent conscience, and when it reasons about actions already done, it is called consequent conscience.
In some persons both are found.In both cases conscience compares the action with the law. But because the good and upright man, who hath a due sense of virtue and duty alone sets himself to conform his future actions to the divine law; such only exercise antecedent conscience. The consequent exerts itself even in the breasts of the most profligate.††
Conscience either excites, admonishes, or reclaims.Further, as often as we compare a future action with the law, we find it either to be commanded, forbidden, or permitted. In the first case conscience excites us to perform the action. In the second it restrains us from it. In the third, having wisely examined all its circumstances, it advises what ought to be done. Conscience is therefore divided into exciting, restraining, and admonishing.*
Conscience is either right or erroneous.Moreover, because conscience is a reasoning, the same things agree to it which are true of a syllogism; wherefore as reasoning, so conscience may be either right or erroneous; and as every reasoning is either faulty in the form or in the matter, so conscience errs, either because the law, or because the action is not rightly represented; or because the rules of just reasoning are not observed.††
It is either certain or probable.Again, as in other reasonings, so likewise in those of conscience chiefly, it happens that an argument is sometimes taken from a certain principle, and sometimes from an hypothesis, a probable proposition, but yet merely hypothetical. Hence conscience is called certain, when it argues upon an indisputable law; and probable, when it founds upon the probable opinion of others.* Now, because there are various degrees of probability, conscience must sometimes be more, and sometimes less probable.
What doubtful and scrupulous conscience mean?Because what is probable may be true, or may be false (§40): therefore it happens that probable arguments present themselves to us on both sides of the question; now in this case we think more deliberation is required, the affair being dubious; and conscience is then said to be doubtful; but if the perplexity we are in, and cannot get totally rid of, be of smaller consequence, it is then called scrupulous.*
What free and less free conscience mean?Besides, it may happen that the mind, precipitated into vice by impetuous appetites, and as it were enslaved by evil habits, is not able to reason freely about actions; but is strongly biassed towards the side of its passions; in which servile state conscience is not a free and impartial reasoner. But the mind which hath delivered itself from such miserable bondage into a state of liberty is free. This distinction is accurately explained by Wolfius ’s Ethic. §84.††1
What sleeping, awakened and seared conscience mean?We know by experience that men are sometimes lulled so fast asleep by their vices, that they have no feeling of their misery, and never think upon duty, or right and wrong. Now, as we then say, conscience is in a deep lethargy; or if it is, by a long habit of vice, become quite obdurate and callous, we say it is seared as with a burning iron.* So conscience seems as it were to awake, when a person rouzed by calamity, or a sense of danger, begins to examine and ponder his actions with some attention, and to reflect and reason about their goodness or depravity.
What is meant by quiet, disturbed, anxious, disquieted conscience and remorse?We have already remarked that every one’s conscience condemns or absolves him (§35): but because absolution must be accompanied with the highest satisfaction of mind, and condemnation with the bitterest uneasiness and disquiet; hence it follows, that a good conscience, acting upon certain evidence, is for the most part quiet and easy; an evil conscience is disturbed by racking remorse; (which torment the antients compared to the burning torches of the furies): and a dubious one is very anxious and restless, to such a degree, that it knows not to what hand to turn itself. These affections however belong more properly to the effects of conscience than to conscience itself, as every one will immediately perceive.*
Whether conscience be the rule of human actions?Whence we see what judgment we are to form of the opinion of those who assert that conscience is to be held for the internal rule of human actions. For if a rule cannot answer the end of a rule unless it be right, certain, and invariable (§5); who will admit conscience to be a rule which is sometimes erroneous (§39); sometimes only probable (§40); sometimes doubtful and wavering; (§41) and frequently overpowered by perverse appetites (§42); wherefore, tho’ he be guilty who acts contrary to conscience, whether certain or probable; yet he cannot for that reason be said to act rightly and justly, who contends that he has acted according to his conscience.†
Why action ought to be suspended while conscience doubts?Hence we may conclude, that while conscience is uncertain, and fluctuates between contrary opinions, action ought to be suspended. This we assert in opposition to Ger. Gottl. Titus,2 in his observations on Puffendorf de off. hom. & civ. l. 1. C. 1. §6. And for one to do any thing with such an obstinate obdurate mind, as to be very little concerned about knowing the divine will, and determined to do the same, even tho’ he should find it to be prohibited by God, is the heighth of perverseness.*
The weaknesses or defects of the understanding, ignorance and error.From what hath been laid down, it is plain that ignorance and error are the great hinderances to conscience in the application of a law to a fact. By the former is understood the mere want of knowledge; by the other is meant the disagreement of an idea, a judgment, or a reasoning to truth, or the nature of the thing. One therefore is said to be ignorant who hath no idea before his mind; and one is said to err, who hath either a false idea of the object, that is, an idea not conformable to it; an obscure, confused, or unadequate idea. For an error in the idea must of necessity infuse itself into the judgment made concerning an object, and from thence into all the reasonings about it.
Whether ignorance and error of all sorts be culpable?But because all men are not under an obligation to find out the more abstruse truths which may be said to lie at the bottom of a deep well; and in reality the ignorance of some things is rather attended with advantage than detriment;* (yea, as Terence observes, Hecyra.3 the ignorant and illiterate often do more good in one day, than ever the learned and knowing do;) hence it may be inferred, that ignorance and error of every kind is not evil and blameable.
What kind of ignorance and what kind of error is culpable?Yet since the will makes no election unless it be excited to it by the understanding; and therefore the understanding concurs in producing moral actions (§30), the consequence from this is, that they are not blameless who are grosly ignorant of those truths relative to good and ill, just and unjust, which it was in their power easily to understand, or who err with regard to these matters, when error might have been avoided by due care and attention to acquire right and true knowledge.
Ignorance is either vincible or invincible, voluntary or involuntary, efficacious or concomitant.Hence arise various divisions or classes of ignorance and error, so far as it is or is not in our power to escape ignorance, it is vincible or invincible.* So far as one is or is not the cause of it himself, it is voluntary or involuntary. Finally, if one does any thing he would not have done had his mind not been obscured by ignorance, such ignorance is called efficacious or effectual. But if he would have done the same action tho’ he had not been in the state of ignorance in which he did it, it is called concomitant. Repentance is the mark of the former; but the latter discovers itself by the approbation given to the action done in a state of ignorance, when that ignorance no longer takes place. Now all this is equally applicable to error.
What will is?We proceed now to consider the other principle of human or moral free actions, viz. the will, (§30) which is that faculty of our mind by which we choose and refuse. Hence it is justly said, that truth and falshood are the objects of the understanding; but that the will is conversant about good and ill. For the will only desires truth as it is good, and is averse to falshood only as it is ill.*
Its nature and acts.From this definition we may conclude that the will cannot choose any thing but what is exhibited to it by the understanding under the shew of good, nor turn aside from any thing but what appears to it to be ill. The greater good or ill there seems to be in any thing, the stronger in proportion is our inclination or aversion; and therefore the desire of a lesser good or a lesser evil may be overpowered by the representation of a greater good or evil. Aversion does not consist in a mere absence of desire, but hath something positive in it, which is called by Koehler, exerc. jur. nat. §167.4noluntas vel reclinatio, refusing or aversion.†
Its spontanity and liberty.From the same definition it is clear that man, with regard to his will, acts not only spontaneously but freely. For spontaneity being the faculty of directing one’s aim to a certain end, but liberty being the power of choosing either of two possibles one pleases; it is plain from experience, that both these faculties belong to our minds. The servile subjection one is under to his perverse appetites and affections till virtue makes him free, is not inconsistent with these properties. For these obstacles are of such a kind, as hath been observed, that they may be removed and overpowered by the representation of a greater good or evil to the understanding (§52).*
Do temperament or bodily constitution affect it?Hence it is evident, that bodily constitution, (which philosophers call temperament) does not infringe upon the liberty of human will. For tho’ the mind be variously affected by the body, so as to be rendered by it more propense to certain vices; yet that propensity hath no more of compulsion or force in it than there is in the inducement to walk out when fine weather invites one to it. But who can deny that the will is left intire, and not hindered or prevented from choosing either to walk out or not as it shall appear most reasonable, when inticed by all the charms of spring?
Whether affections and habits encroach upon it?The same is true concerning all the affections and motions excited in the mind by the appearances of good and ill. For tho’ the mind, with respect to the first impression, be passive, every thing else is however intirely in its power; to resist the first impulse, not to approve it, nor to suffer it to gain too much force. And it likewise holds with regard to habits, i.e. propensions confirmed by long use and practice. For tho’ these gradually become so natural, that tho’ expelled with never so much force, they recoil, Hor. ep. 1. 10. v. 24. (si expellas furca, tamen usque recurret)5 yet they are not incorrigible, but may be amended, if one will but exert his liberty.*
What may be said of external force.External violence is so far from taking away the liberty of the human mind, that it affords a strong proof of our liberty. For tho’ one may be hindered by force from doing what he chooses to do; yet no force can make one will what he does not will, or not choose what he chooses.* If the understanding represents the good attending an action as greater than the imminent evil, no external violence can force one to quit his resolution, he will remain unshaken by all the menaces of power or cruelty.
The will is divided into consequent and antecedent.Hence we see that the distinction between antecedent and consequent will ought not to be rejected; the former of which decides without a view of all the circumstances which may happen at the time of acting; the other suits itself to the circumstances which appear at that instant. The one therefore is not opposite to the other, tho’ they be very different. Thus it is true that God loves peace, and yet that in certain circumstances he does not disapprove war.
Actions are spontaneous, forced, voluntary, and mixed.Further, it is equally plain that those actions are spontaneous which are performed by a mind determining itself to a certain known proposed end; these are not spontaneous which do not proceed from such a determination of the mind, but are done without intention. Again, even spontaneous actions are voluntary, to perform which no external necessity compels; and such are forced, to which one is necessitated by some external urgent circumstances. We need not add mixed, because actions called such, being performed under some external necessity urging to it, coincide with those which are called forced actions.*
Actions not spontaneous are involuntary. Forced actions are voluntary.Hence it is obvious that no action which is not spontaneous is voluntary (§58); but forced actions may be voluntary. For tho’ we would rather not act were not a very great evil set before us, yet it is the will which determines to act; whence it follows, that the antient lawyers were in the right when they affirmed, that one who is forced, wills. D. l. 21. §5. quod met. causa, “coactum etiam velle.”
[2 ] Arthur Ashley Sykes (1684–1756) was an Anglican clergyman and latitudinarian controversialist who wrote The Principles and Connexion of Natural and Revealed Religion Distinctly Considered.
[3 ] Montesquieu, Persian Letters, letters 94 and 95.
[* ] All this may be illustrated by clear examples. To be warmed is a passion; sometimes we cannot avoid it, as when we are making a journey in very warm air: sometimes we can, as when in winter we remove farther from the fire: and sometimes we can as it were assist the cause, as by drawing nearer to a fire that we may become warmer. To be warmed is therefore sometimes in our power, and sometimes without our power.
[† ] Thus laws cannot be prescribed to the passion of anger, but reason can give rules to our free actions, and directs us not to give loose reins to anger, but to resist its first motions, lest it should become impetuous and ungovernable, and to forbear acting while the mind is in too great a ferment and perturbation, &c. Who will deny that he acts contrary to the law of reason who does not observe these rules? Nothing can be more true than what Cicero says, Tusc. qu. l. 3. “All the diseases and disturbances of the mind proceed from the neglect or despight of reason, i.e. from not observing those prescriptions which reason dictates to us for hindering the mind from being overpowered by violent commotions.” [[Cicero, Tusculanae disputationes (Tusculan Disputations), bk. 4, xiii.31.]]
[* ] Thus it is in our power to sit, stand, or walk; to be silent or speak, to give or not give, &c. as we will. And of all these actions we are conscious when we perform them; but, on the other hand, the playing of the lungs, the peristaltic motion of the intestines, the circulation of the blood, &c. do not depend on us; they are motions which we often neither feel nor know to be performed in us. The Stoicks use that distinction somewhat differently when they assert that some things are τὰ ἐϕ’ ἡμῖν within our power; and others are τὰ οὐκ ἐϕ ’ἡ μῖν, without our power. To the former class they refer opinion, appetite, desire, aversion, in one word, all our actions; to the other they refer bodily goods, possessions, glory, power, and whatever in fine is not our own acquisition or work. Epict. Enchirid. c. 1. [[Epictetus, “Manual,” chap. 1, in Discourses and Manual, vol. 2. Their division is therefore a distribution of things, and not of actions only.]]
[† ] Tho’, as we have just now observed, we have no command over the circulation of our blood, the motion of the heart, &c. yet it is plain from experience that we can assist those motions by temperance and medicines; and that we can disturb them by intemperance, or put a period to them by poison, the sword, and other methods. Who therefore can doubt, but the law of nature may prohibit whatever tends to disturb or destroy these natural motions, and with them life itself? The ancient philosophers have agreed to this truth. For tho’ some have commended self-murder as noble and heroic; yet Democritus elegantly says in Plutarch de sanitate tuenda, p. 135. “If the body should bring an action of damage against the soul, for an injury done to it, it could not escape condemnation.” [[Plutarch, “De tuenda sanitate precepta” (“Advice about Keeping Well”), in Plutarch, Moralia, vol. 2, 213–93.]]
[* ] The will hath good or evil for its object, and therefore it always tends towards good, and flies from evil. Whence it is plain, it cannot choose but what is represented to it by the understanding, under the appearance of good, just, or advantageous; nor reject but what is exhibited to it under the semblance of evil, unjust, or hurtful. So Simplicius upon Epictetus, cap. 1. “But it is certain that the acts of the willing power, are preceded by some judgment or opinion. If an object be represented to the mind as good or evil, propensity or aversion are excited, and appetite or desire succeeds, For before we desire any agreeable object and embrace it, or fly from any thing contrary to what is desirable, the mind must necessarily be previously prone or averse towards it.” [[Simplicius, On Epictetus’ Handbook, vol. 1, 41.]]
[* ] Hence it is manifest that the law of nature does not extend to infants incapable of discerning good from evil; much less to the actions of mad persons, changelings, or such as are disordered in their judgments by any disease; because such cannot reason about just and unjust. Aristotle therefore justly observes, Ethic. c. 34. “With respect to things of which ignorance is the cause, man is not unjust. For in the case of inevitable ignorance, one is as an infant that beats its father without knowing what it does. On account of this natural ignorance children are not reckoned unjust. Whenever ignorance is the cause of acting, and one is not the cause of his ignorance, men are not to be deemed culpable or unjust.” [[This is presumably from Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics, though the reference is not clear.]]
[† ] Such was that reasoning of Judas’s conscience, Mat. xxvii. 4. “I have sinned in that I betrayed innocent blood.” In which the first proposition expresses a law, the second Judas’s action, and the last the conclusion or sentence of his conscience. Nor does any thing else pass in our mind when conscience reasons within us. It is therefore most wickedly misrepresented by Toland [[John Toland (1670–1722); Heineccius presumably refers to Toland’s controversial Christianity Not Mysterious of 1696 and others, as an empty name, made a bug-bear by priests.]]
[* ] Hence St. Paul, Rom. ii. 15. calls the acts of conscience λογισμοὺς, &c. thoughts excusing or accusing; and St. John, 1 Ep. iii. 21. says, if our hearts condemn us not, then have we confidence towards God, &c. So speak the Poets likewise,Prima haec est ultio, quod, seJudice, nemo nocens absolvitur: improba quamvisGratia fallaci Praetoris vicerit urna.Juv. Sat. 13.
[[Juvenal, Satires, 13.2–4, in Juvenal and Persius: “This is the first vengeance: no one who is guilty is acquitted by his own verdict, even though the praetor’s corrupt favor may have won the case with a rigged vote.”
[† ] Virtue is always united with an earnest indefatigable care to understand the divine law. The greater progress one has made in virtue, the more ardent is this desire in his breast. And hence it is, that rightly disposed minds are strict inspectors into the nature even of those actions which appear trivial and indifferent to others; for which reason, their conscience is said to be tender and delicate. Plutarch says elegantly, de profectu virt. sent. p. 85. “Let this likewise be added, if you please, as a mark of no small moment, that he who is making proficiency in virtue, looks upon no sin as venial, but carefully shuns and avoids every appearance of evil.” [[Plutarch, “How a Man May Become Aware of His Progress in Virtue,” in vol. 1 of Plutarch, Moralia: in Fourteen Volumes, p. 455.]]
[* ] Thus conscience excited Moses and Zippora to circumcise their son, recalling to their mind the divine precept about circumcision, Exod. iv. 24. Conscience restrained David from perpetrating his intended murder of Nabal, setting before him the divine command, “Thou shalt not kill.” 1 Sam. xxv. 32. Finally, conscience admonished St. Paul not to eat meat which he knew had been consecrated to idols, and to give the same counsel to the Corinthians. For tho’ he knew that christians could not be defiled by meats and drinks; yet his conscience advised him to act prudently, lest he should give offence to any one, 1 Cor. x. 28. and hence his golden maxim: “All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful, but all things edify not.”
[† ] To illustrate this by examples. The Jews erred in the matter, when they thought they could without sin with-hold from their parents what was due to them, provided they devoted it to God. For the major, in their reasoning, set forth a false law. “But ye say, whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, it is a gift by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me.” Mat. xv. 5. So likewise Abimelech, when he imagined he could innocently take Sarah into his bed. For he made a false state of the fact, imagining he was to lie with an unmarried woman, Gen. xx. 2. To conclude, the Pharisees erred in the form, when they inferred from the law relative to the sabbath, this false conclusion, that no work of necessity and mercy was to be done on it. Mat. xii. 10.
[* ] Probable conscience must not therefore be opposed to right conscience, because probable conscience may be right. But it may be false; for as in reasoning we may be deceived by a specious shew of certainty, and mistake a paralogism for a demonstration; so we are much more liable to have a false appearance of probability put upon us by sophisms: whence we see the slipperiness of that doctrine maintained by certain modern casuists concerning the sufficiency of probable conscience, to exculpate from sin, of which see Lud. Montalt. Litt. ad provincial. Ep. 5. and Sam. Rachel. Disser. de probabilismo. [[Pascal, Ludovicii Montaltii litterae provinciales de morali & politia Jesuitarum disciplina. The 1664 Helmstedt edition includes the dissertation by Rachel to which Heineccius refers. For unless we admit a rule which is a mere proteus to be a good one: We cannot possibly imagine we have done our duty, if we take probable conscience for our guide, which is neither always right, nor certain, nor constant (§5): especially, since these doctors measure probability by the opinions of others; whereas the apostle forbids us to trust to the judgment of others in matters of so great moment. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.” Rom. xiv. 5.]]
[* ] That doubting of the mind, which suspends it between two opinions, is not improperly called by the learned Wolfius Scrupulus: [[Christian Wolff (1679–1754) was professor of mathematics and then of philosophy at the University of Halle and one of the key figures of the German Enlightenment. Wolff had to leave Halle in 1723 because of controversies with the Lutheran Pietists and went to the University of Marburg, returning to Halle in 1740 as a protégé of Frederick the Great. But our definition seems more agreeable to the primitive meaning of the word. For Scrupulus signifies a very small pebble, which yet getting into the shoe creates no small pain. So Servius explains it, ad Aen. 6. v. 236. Servius (fourth century ad) was the author of a commentary on Virgil’s Aeneid (Servii Grammatici qui feruntur in Vergilii carmina commentarii). Apuleius opposes (scrupulum) to a more perplexing anxiety which he commonly calls lancea. See Scip. Gent. ad Apuleii Apolog. p. 150. Presumably Scipione Gentili, In L. Apuleii Philosophi & Advocati Romani Apologiam. This appeared in an edition in Hanau in 1607, though it is not certain whether this is the edition Heineccius used.]]
[† ] Hence that paradox of the Stoics: “Every wise man only is free: and every fool is a slave.” Cicero. Parad. 5. [[Cicero, Paradoxa Stoicorum, “Paradox V,” 285. He whose virtue hath rescued him from slavery to vice, into a state of freedom, despises and tramples upon every disorderly passion, and says with great magnanimity: “I will not receive arbitrary commands: I will not put my neck under a yoke: I must know what is greatest and noblest; what requires most strength of mind: the vigour of the soul must not be relaxed: If I yield to pleasure, I must succumb to pain, to toil, to poverty. Nay, ambition and anger will claim the same power over me,” Seneca. Ep. 51. Seneca, Ad Lucilium epistulae morales, vol. 1, 341. Upon which place Lipsius ad Philos. Stoic. l. 3. Disser. 12. Justus Lipsius (1547–1606), Flemish humanist scholar; the work referred to is his Manuductio ad stoicam philosophiam libri tres, first published in Antwerp in 1604 discourses to this purpose: “Mark, says he, how many masters he had already rid himself of? Add to these, lust, avarice, and other vicious passions, and you will have a multitude of what may properly be called tyrants. How wretched is the slave who is in subjection to them! How free and great is he who hath put them under his feet? What liberty can we say remains to a conscience which so many vitious disorderly appetites and passions have fettered and enshackled?”]]
[1 ] Wolff, Philosophia moralis sive ethica, vol. 1.
[* ]Cauterío usta, an emphatical way of speaking by St. Paul, 1 Tim. iv. 2. For as the finger, or any member of the body burnt with a hot iron loses all sensibility; so the mind inured to a vitious course, does not feel its misery which others behold with horror: the same apostle, Ephes. iv. 19. calls such persons past feeling. See Beza’s commentary on the place. [[Theodor Beza (1519–1605), Calvinist theologian; his commentary on the New Testament first appeared in 1565.]]
[* ] So Cicero pro Sex. Rosc. Amer. cap. 24. [[Cicero, Pro Roscio Amerino, chap. 24, in Cicero, Defence Speeches. Now these remorses of conscience are an irrefragable argument against those who absurdly maintain, that the uneasiness of conscience arises wholly from the fear of civil punishment, to which criminals are obnoxious. For in the first place, ’tis not private persons only who are harrassed day and night by these terrible furies; but even those whom birth and grandeur have set above all liableness to punishment in this world, such as a Nero, according to Sueton. cap. 34 Suetonius (ca. 69–ca. 140), author of several biographies of Roman emperors (Suetonius, Suetonius, vol. 2, 171). And secondly, if any should rather imagine he feared the just resentment of the people, there are not wanting examples of persons who in their dying moments, when they could have nothing to fear from men, have been inexpressibly tortured by a secret consciousness of crimes unknown to the world: as Chilo Lacedemonius, who in Aulus Gell. Noct. Att. l. 3. thus speaks, “I surely,” said he, “at this moment do not deceive myself, when I think I have committed no crime the remembrance of which can create me any uneasiness, one only excepted,” &c. Aulus Gellius, Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights), vol. 1, bk. I, chap. iii, 3. And Sueton relates a saying of the emperor Titus to the same purport. Tit. cap. 10.]]
[† ] Conscience is not the rule, but it applies the rule to facts and cases which occur; wherefore, it is safer to omit an action concerning the pravity of which we reckon ourselves fully convinced, than it is to do an action which conscience esteems just and good, without being certain of the law. He then who follows an erroneous conscience sins on this very account, that he follows it rather than the will of the legislator: tho’ he be more excusable than one who acts directly against conscience, yet he is guilty. For which reason, I cannot go along with the opinion of Limborch, who in his Christian Theol. l. 5. c. 2. §8. maintains, that even an erroneous conscience must be obeyed. [[Philipp Limborch (1633–1712), Dutch Arminian theologian and friend of John Locke. His Theologia Christiana first appeared in 1686 in Amsterdam.]]
[2 ] Gottlieb Gerhard Titius (1661–1714) was professor of law at the University of Leipzig. He developed Pufendorf’s and Thomasius’s natural law theories and advocated the reform of criminal law. Heineccius refers to Titius’s Observationes in Samuelis L. B. de Pufendorfii De officio hominis et civis juxta legem naturalem libros duos.
[* ] To this purpose it is well said by Cicero de Off. l. 9. “For this reason it is a good precept which forbids us to do any thing, of the goodness or iniquity of which we are in doubt. For honesty quickly would shew itself by its own native brightness: and the doubting about it is a plain intimation that at least we suspect some injustice in it.” i.e. He who ventures to do what he doubts whether it be honest or dishonest, by so doing bewrays a propension to do an injury. Hence the apostle says, Rom. xiv. 23. “And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith, and whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”
[* ] An example of this might be brought from the ignorance of certain crimes, which ought not so much as to be named; for there the maxim holds, ignotorum nulla cupido; what is unknown is undesired. Who would not wish many were in a state of ignorance, which would effectually shut out and render the mind quite inaccessible to certain vile concupiscences? Justin. Hist. 2. 2. says, “the Scythians were better through their ignorance of several vices than the Greeks were by their knowledge of virtue.” [[Marcus Junianus Justinus’s History, bk. 2, at the end of chap. 2 (Justini Historiae Philipicae). Nor does Quintilian seem to have less admired the ancient Germans, when speaking of a most enormous vice, he says “they were totally ignorant of it: their manner of living was more pure, &c.” Marcus Fabius Quintilianus (ca. 35–ca. 100), Roman rhetorician and author of the Institutio oratoria (Education of an Orator).]]
[3 ] Terence, The Mother-in-Law, lines 879–80, in vol. 2 of Terence.
[* ] Ignorance and error are said to be invincible, either in regard of their cause or in themselves; or in both respects at the same time. Thus the ignorance of a drunken person is in itself invincible, so long as his madness continues; but not in respect of its cause, because it was in his power not to have contracted that madness. On the other hand, the hurtful actions of mad men proceed from ignorance, which is invincible, both in itself and in regard of its cause, since they not only do not know what they are doing, but it was not in their power to have escaped their madness. All this is true, and hath its use in the doctrine of imputation: But the first cannot so properly be called invincible, since it might and would have been avoided, had not the mind been very regardless of duty. The matter is admirably explained by Aristotle in his books to Nicomachus, 3. 7. where speaking of that law of Pittacus which inflicted a double punishment upon the crimes committed by drunken persons, he immediately adds: “A double punishment is appointed for the crimes of drunken persons; because these actions are in their source from them. It was in their power not to get drunk. But drunkenness was the cause of their ignorance.” Concerning this law of Pittacus see Diogenes Laertius, 1. 76. [[Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers, vol. 1, 79 and Plutarch in Conviv. sept. sap. p. 155 Plutarch, “Septem Sapientum Convivium” (Dinner of the Seven Wise Men), in Plutarch, Moralia, vol. 2, 403.]]
[* ] Thus no wise man desires to know his future calamities, because it would only serve to anticipate his suffering. And therefore, however true his foreknowledge might be, it would not be good. Children, on the other hand, are very fond of fables, even tho’ they know they are feigned, because they perceive them to be fit lessons for their instruction; or at least very entertaining: and on these accounts, they look upon them as good.
[4 ] Koehler, Exercitationes juris naturalis.
[† ] As the Civilians accurately distinguish between non nolle & velle, l. 3. D. de reg. Juris; so we ought to distinguish between not willing, and not desiring and refusing, or having an aversion. There are many things which a wise man does not choose or will, tho’ he does not abhor them. Thus he does not desire immortality on earth, because nature hath not granted it; nor empire, because fortune hath not allotted it to his birth: But he has no aversion to these things, but on the contrary pronounces them great and noble goods. He does not desire what his rank puts beyond his power to attain, but he would not dislike it if he could obtain it. Thus Abdolominus, intent upon his daily employment, dressing and weeding his little garden, had no thoughts of royalty: he did not desire it, yet he did not refuse and despise it, when he was saluted king, and presented with the royal robes and ensigns. Cur. de gest. Alex. 4. 1. [[Curtius Rufus, De gestis Alexandri Magni (History of Alexander, Rolfe, vol. 1, 167).]]
[* ] Thus, whatever propension a thief may have to steal, yet he would not yield to that wicked cupidity, could he set before his eyes the dismal effects of his crimes, the horrors of a dungeon and shackles, and the ignominy of a gibbet. And those who are most highly charmed with indolence and voluptuousness, would quickly be inflamed with the love of a nobler life and more honourable pursuits, if, calling in reason to advise them, they could fully perceive the excellence of wisdom, its agreeableness and manifold advantages on the one hand, and on the other side the irreparable ignominy and detriment which are inseparable from sloth and ignorance. Epictetus dispatches the whole matter with great brevity. Arrian. l. 17. “Can any thing overcome an appetite? Another appetite can. Can any thing get the ascendant of an inclination or propensity? Yes really another can.” And he illustrates it by the same example of a thief we have just now made use of. [[Epictetus, The Discourses as Reported by Arrian, the Manual, and Fragments, vol. 1, 1.17.24.]]
[5 ] Horace, Epistles 1.10.24, in Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica: “You may drive out Nature with a pitch-fork, yet she will ever hurry back.”
[* ] Habits are affections and propensities become strong by daily repetition or custom. Now what has been contracted by practice may by disuse be abolished and erazed, if we will but give as great pains to destroy it as we did to establish it into strength. There is an elegant passage to this effect in Aristophanes in Vespis. thus translated into Latin.Usus quo fueris diu,Mutare ingenium, grave est.Multos invenias tamen,Qui mores moniti suosMutarunt melioribus.
[[Aristophanes, Wasps (Vespae), 1457ff.; trans. (though not exactly) into Latin. Aristophanes, Wasps, ed. MacDowell: “It is a serious matter to change the nature of a habit which you’ve had for a long time. However, you would find that many people who have taken advice and changed their ways have done so for the better.”
[* ] This is likewise observed by Epictetus in Arrian, l. 1. 17. After he had asserted, that an appetite can only be overcome by another appetite, he adds: “But it may be said, he who threatens me with death forces me. Truly the cause is not that which is threatened, but it is owing to your thinking it better to do the action than to run the risk of dying: it is therefore your opinion which forces you, i.e. one appetite overcomes another.”
[6 ] Horace, Odes 3.3.2–4 in Odes and Epodes: “The man of integrity who holds fast to his purpose is not shaken from his firm resolve by hot-headed citizens urging him to do wrong, or by the frown of an oppressive despot.”
[* ] Those are called by some mixed actions, which one does under an urgent necessity, so as that he would rather not do them. Such as that case described by Lucretius de rer. nat. l. 2. v. 277.Jamne vides igitur, quamquam vis extima multasPellit, & invitos cogit procedere saepe,Praecipitesque rapit, tamen esse in pectore nostroQuiddam, quod contra pugnare obstareque possit?
[[Lucretius, De rerum natura 2.77–80: “In this case do you see then that, although an external force propels many men and forces them often to move against their will and to be hurried headlong, yet there is in our breast something strong enough to fight against it and to resist?”
The same happens in every forced action. For no external violence can force us to will or not to will (§56) and therefore there is no use for the distinction between compelled or forced and mixed actions.]]