Front Page Titles (by Subject) CHAPTER VIII: Concerning our imperfect duties towards others. - 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:
CHAPTER VIII: Concerning our imperfect duties towards others. - 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.
Concerning our imperfect duties towards others.
The order and connexion.We think our obligation not to hurt any person, and the nature of injury have been sufficiently cleared and demonstrated. The next thing would be to explain with equal care our obligation to render to every one his own, and the nature of that duty (§175); were not the nature of our hypothetical duties such, that they could not be explained without having first considered the nature of our imperfect absolute duties. But this being the case, it is proper to begin with them; and this premonition is sufficient to skreen us against being charged with the crime reckoned so capital among the critics of this age (ne ὕστερον πρότερον) transgressing order designedly, and with evil intention.
The foundation and division of imperfect duties.The source of all these duties is love of humanity or beneficence (§84), by which we cheerfully render him whom we love, not merely what we owe him by strict and perfect right, but whatever we think may conduce to his happiness. But because humanity commands us to be as good to others as we can be without detriment to ourselves; and beneficence commands us to do good to others even with detriment to ourselves (§83); therefore our imperfect duties are of two kinds, and may be divided into those of humanity, or unhurt utility, and those of beneficence or generosity. Both are, for many reasons, or on the account of many wants, so necessary, that it is impossible for men to live agreeably or conveniently without them.
Axioms concerning them.Since there can be no other measure with respect to these duties but the love of ourselves, and therefore we are obliged to love others as ourselves, (§93); the consequence is, that whatever we would have others to do to us, we ought to do the same to them (§88); whence above, in premising a certain principle to which all our duties to others might be reduced, we laid down this rule, Man is obliged to love man no less than himself, and not to do to any other what he would think inexcusable if done to himself, (from which principle we have deduced our perfect duties); but, on the contrary, to do to others what he would desire others to do to him (§93). Now hence we shall see that all our imperfect duties may be clearly inferred.
Our obligation to the duties which may be done to others without detriment to ourselves.First of all, none would have those things denied to him by others which they can render to him without hurting themselves; wherefore every one is obliged liberally to render such good offices to another; and consequently it is justly reckoned most inhuman for one, when it is in his power, not to assist another by his prudence, his counsel and aid; or not to do all in his power to save his neighbour’s goods; not to direct a wanderer into the right road; to refuse running water to the thirsty; fire to the cold; shade to those who languish with excessive heat; or to exact any thing from another to his detriment, which can more easily, either without hurting ourselves or any other, be procured some other way. This kind of benignity is so small and trivial, that either by law or custom, the duties of this class have passed almost every where into duties of perfect obligation.*
It extends to those things with which we abound.It belongs to the same class of unhurt utility to communicate such things to others as we can, (such is our abundance), spare them without any loss or hurt to ourselves; and to dispense among others things which would otherwise be lost and perish with us; insomuch, that they are very inhuman who suffer things to corrupt and spoil, who destroy in the fire, throw into the sea, or bury under ground things on purpose that no other may be the better for them.*
What if our humanity would be hurtful to ourselves?But since we are bound to render such good offices to others from the love we are obliged to entertain towards others by the law of an infinitely good and merciful God (§215), and yet none is obliged to love another more than himself (§93); the consequence is, that we may deny these good offices to others, if we foresee the doing them may be detrimental to ourselves or our friends; which, since it may easily happen in a state of nature, where there is no common magistracy to protect and secure us, if we readily render these good offices even to our manifest enemies; there is therefore a plain reason why the good offices, even of harmless use, may be refused to an enemy in that state, as being ill disposed towards us; whereas in a civil state to deny them rashly to others under that pretext, would be very blameable.*
Humanity is due to enemies.Yea rather, since the love which is the source of all these duties, is due, not for the merits of others, but on account of the equality of nature (§88), it is very evident, that even to enemies those things in which we abound, and which we can give them without any hurt to ourselves, ought to be given. And this humanity is so much the more splendid and noble, the less hope there is of our ever returning into great friendship with the enemy to whom such services are rendered.*
The degrees of relation and affinity ought to be considered.But because this love of humanity, from which these duties flow as their fountain or source, ought to have prudence for its director, which is that faculty by which things conducive to our own happiness and that of others is discerned; hence it is conspicuous, that regard ought to be had not only to persons, but to the necessities they labour under; and therefore in like circumstances, if it be not in our power to satisfy all, greater humanity is due to a good man than to a scelerate; more is owing to a friend than to an enemy; more to a kinsman and relative than to a stranger; and more to him who is in greater, than to him who is in less indigence of our assistance; and therefore so far the illustrious Leibnitz defines very justly, justice to be the love of a wise man.*
Our obligation to beneficence.That degree of love, which we called above love of beneficence (§214), is of a sublimer kind, because it excites us to exert ourselves to the utmost, and even with detriment to ourselves, to promote the good of others. Now, since what we would desire to be done to us by others we are obliged to do to them (§88), and many cases happen in which we ourselves would be very unhappy unless others should liberally bestow upon us what we want, and there is none who does not desire that others should so treat him; the consequence is, that we are obliged, in such cases, to supply others liberally with what they stand in need of, even with some detriment to ourselves.†
What is meant by beneficent, and what by officious.A benefit is a service rendered to one without hope of restitution or retribution; and therefore readiness to render such services we call beneficence; as readiness to do good offices, to lay on obligation of restoring or compensating by services to one’s self is called officiousness by Sidon. Apollin. 23. v. 478.1 But tho’ such services be not properly called benefits; yet they ought to be highly valued, and gratefully received, if they are greater than to admit of payment, or are rendered to us by one whom the nature of the good office did not oblige to do it.*
Beneficence ought to proceed from inclination to be useful to others.Since therefore beneficence is readiness to render such offices to others as we have reason to think will be serviceable to them (§222), every one must see that they have no title to the praise of beneficence, who, as the servant in Terence, Hecyr. 5. 4. v. 39. “do more good ignorantly and imprudently, than ever they did knowingly, and with design (§48),” or who do good with an intention to hurt; or who do good only, because they think the benefit will turn more to their own advantage than to that of the receiver. From all which it is manifest, that in judging of benefits the mind and intention of the benefactor are more to be considered than the act or effect itself.*
Benefits ought to be dispensed with prudence.Since benefits flow from love, which is always joined with prudence (§83), it is plain that whatever is not agreeable to reason is profusion, and any thing rather than liberality: nor are those offices deserving of the name of benefits, which proceed from ambition and vain-glory, more than from love, and are bestowed upon the more opulent, and not the indi-gent;† upon unworthy persons preferably to men of merit; or, in fine, which are done contrary to that natural order founded in natural kindred and relation, of which above (§220).
Benefits ought to be proportioned to the necessity and condition of persons.Besides, because benefits ought to be advantageous to persons (§222), it is evident from hence, that benefits ought to be suited to every one’s condition and necessities; and therefore that those are not benefits which do no good to a person; much less such as do him great hurt, or at least are attended with considerable inconvenience to him.*
The degrees of kindred and connexion are to be considered.Since that love of humanity and beneficence which binds to render good offices, extends even to enemies (§219), it is clear that those have a much better title to our love, who have done us all the kindnesses they had in their power; and that they are the worst of men, nay, more hard-hearted than the most savage brutes, who are not won to love by favours: they are so much the more unjust that it cannot be denied, that by accepting favours, we bind ourselves to mutual love (§221).
The obligation to gratitude.Love to benefactors is called a grateful mind or gratitude; wherefore, seeing one is obliged to love him from whom he hath received favours, the consequence is, that every one is obliged to shew gratude in every respect: yet this duty is imperfect, and therefore one cannot be compelled to perform it; an ungrateful person cannot be sued for his ingratitude in human courts, unless the laws of the state have expressly allowed such an action. Some such thing we have an example of in Xenophon’s institution of Cyrus, 1. 2. 7. p. 9. Edit. Oxon.* 2
The rules relating to it.Seeing gratitude is love to a benefactor (§227), it follows, that one is obliged to delight in the perfection and happiness of his benefactor; to commend and extol his beneficence by words, and to make suitable returns to his benefits; not always indeed the same, or equal, but to the utmost of his power; but if the ability be wanting, a grateful disposition is highly laudable.
The obligation to the other.In fine, since we are obliged, even to our own detriment, and without any hope of restitution or retribution, to do good to others (§221), the consequence is, that we ought much less to refuse favours to any one which he desires with the promise of restitution or retribution; and therefore every one is obliged to render to another what we called above officiousness (§222), provided this readiness to help others be not manifestly detrimental to ourselves (§93).
Remarks on This Chapter
It is not improper to subjoin the few following observations upon our Author’s reasoning in this chapter.
1. When duty is defined to be something enjoined by the divine will under a sanction, duties cannot be distinguished into perfect and imperfect in any other sense but this: “That some precepts of God give a right to all mankind to exact certain offices or duties from every one. But other precepts do not give any such right.” Thus the precept of God not to hurt any one, but to render to every one his due, gives every one a right to exact his due, and to repel injuries. But the precept to be generous and bountiful, gives no man a right to exact acts of generosity and bounty, tho’ it lays every man under an obligation to be generous and bountiful, to the utmost of his power. So that he who sins against the former is more criminal, or is guilty of a higher crime than he who does not act conformably to the other. This is the only sense in which duties can be called, some perfect, and others imperfect, when duty is considered, with our Author, as an obligation arising from the divine will commanding or forbidding. For all such obligation is equally perfect, equally full. The distinction takes its rise from the consideration of what crimes do, and what crimes do not admit of a civil action, consistently with the good order of society; and it is brought from the civil law into the law of nature. But it would, in my opinion, be liable to less ambiguity in treating of the law of nature, instead of dividing duties into those of perfect and those of imperfect obligation, to divide them into greater or lesser duties, i.e. duties, the transgression of which is a greater crime, and duties the omission of which is a lesser crime: or, in other words, duties the performance of which may be lawfully exacted, nay compelled; and duties the performance of which cannot be compelled or even exacted. But our Author’s terms mean the same thing, and cannot, if his definitions be attended to, create any ambiguity. However, we may see from his reasoning in this chapter, the necessity (as we observed in our preceeding remarks) of having recourse to internal obligation (as our Author calls it) or the intrinsic goodness and pravity of actions, in deducing and demonstrating human duties.
2. Since our Author’s reasoning wholly turns upon the reasonableness of this maxim, “Do as you would be done by; and do not to another what you would not have done by any one to you in like circumstances.” Perhaps some may have expected from him demonstration of the reasonableness of this maxim. Now this truth, which is indeed as self-evident as any axiom in any science, as for instance, “That two things equal to some common third thing, are equal to one another”: and which therefore, it is as hard to reason about as it is to demonstrate any axiom, for the very same reason, viz. that it does not in the nature of the thing require or stand in need of any reasoning to prove it: This truth may however be illustrated several ways, in order to make one feel its evidence and reasonableness. As with Pufendorff, law of nature, &c. B. 3. cap. 2. §4.3 thus: “It as much implies a contradiction to determine differently in my own case and another’s, when they are precisely parallel, as to make contrary judgments on things really the same. Since then every man is well acquainted with his own nature, and as well, at least, as to general inclinations, with the nature of other men, it follows, that he who concludes one way as to his own right, and another way as to the same right of his neighbour, is guilty of a contradiction in the plainest matter: an argument of a mind unsound in no ordinary degree. For no good reason can be given, why what I esteem just for myself, I should reckon unjust for another in the same circumstances. Those therefore are most properly sociable creatures who grant the same privilege to others which they desire should be allowed themselves; and those, on the other hand, are most unfit for society, who imagining themselves a degree above vulgar mortals, would have a particular commission to do whatever they please.” He observes in another place, B. 2. c. 3. §13. “For the easy knowledge of what the law of nature dictates, Hobbes himself commends the use of this rule (De civ. c. 3. §26.)4 when a man doubts whether what he is going to do to another be agreeable to the law of nature, let him suppose himself in the other’s room. For by this means, when self-love, and the other passions which weighed down one scale, are taken thence and put into the contrary scale, ’tis easy to guess which way the balance will turn.” He afterwards shews us it was a precept of Confucius, and of Ynca Manco Capace, the founder of the Peruvian empire, as well as of our Saviour. And in answer to Dr. Sharrock, who is of opinion (De off. ch. 2. n. 2.)5 “That this rule is not universal, because if so, a judge must needs absolve the criminals left to his sentence, in as much as he would certainly spare his own life, were he in their place; and I must needs give a poor petitioner what sum soever he desires, because I should wish to be thus dealt with, if I was in his condition, &c.” He replies, “The rule will still remain unshaken, if we observe, that not one scale only, but both are to be observed; or that I am not only to weigh and consider what is agreeable to me, but likewise what obligation or necessity lies on the other person, and what I can demand of him without injuring either of our duties.” Thus Pufendorff reasons about this principle. But both he and our Author seem to consider it not as a fundamental or primary principle of the law of nature, but rather as a Corollary of that law, which obliges us, To hold all men equal with ourselves. But it cannot be so properly said to be a Corollary from that principle, as to be the principle itself in other words. For what is the meaning of this rule, To hold all men equal with ourselves, but to hold ourselves obliged to treat all men as we think they are obliged to treat us? The equality of mankind means equality of obligation common to all mankind, with regard to their conduct one towards another. Now, if any one seeks a proof of the reasonableness of holding all men equal in this sense, that it is reasonable for us to do to others what it is reasonable for them to do, or for us to expect they should do to us in like circumstances; if any one, I say, should seek a proof of this maxim, he really seeks a proof to shew, that like judgments ought to be given of like cases, i.e. that like cases are like cases;—and if, owning the truth of the proposition, he asks why it ought to be a rule of action, does he not ask a reason why a reasonable rule should be admitted as a reasonable rule; or why reason is reason, as we had occasion to observe in another remark?
3. But in the third place, that we are made for benevolence because we have benevolent affections, and our principal happiness consists in the exercise of the social affections, or the social virtues; and our greatest and best security for all outward enjoyments, and for having and possessing the love of others, is by being benevolent;—that upon these and many other accounts, we are made and intended for benevolence, is as evident as that a clock is made to measure time, and in consequence of the same way of reasoning, viz. the way we reason about any constitution, or any final cause. We see what sad shifts they are reduced to, who would explain away into certain selfish subtle reflexions, all that has the appearance of social, kindly and generous in our frame; and the perplexity and subtlety of such philosophy is the same argument against it, which is reckoned a very good one against complicated, perplexing hypotheses in natural philosophy, compared with more simple ones. (See some excellent observations on Hobbes’s account of pity in Dr. Butler’s excellent sermon on compassion, in a marginal note.)6 Who feels not that we are naturally disposed to benevolence, and what is the way in which our natural benevolence operates, and so points us to the proper exercises of it, while Cicero thus describes it: “There is nothing,” says he, “so natural, and at the same time so illustrious, and of so great compass, as the conjunction and society of men, including a mutual communication of conveniencies, and general love for mankind. This dearness begins immediately upon one’s birth, when the child is most affectionately beloved by the parent; from the family, it by degrees steals abroad into affinities, friendships, neighbourhoods; then amongst members of the same state; and amongst states themselves, united in interests and confederacies; and at length stretcheth itself to the whole human race. In the exercise of all these duties, we are farther disposed to observe what every man hath most need of, and what with our help he may, what without our help he cannot attain; so that in some cases the tye of relation must yield to the point of time; and some offices there are which we would rather pay to one relation than to another. Thus you ought sooner to help a neighbour with his harvest, than either brother or a familiar acquaintance; but, on the other side, in a suit at law, you ought to defend your brother or your friend before your neighbour, &c.” Cicero de fin. l. 5. c. 23. Who feels not that this is the language of nature; that thus our affections work; that thus nature moves, prompts and points us to work? And who can consider this natural tendency or course of our affections without perceiving by his reason, the advantage, the usefulness of this their natural tendency, with regard to ourselves and others equally; and consequently the fitness of our taking care that they should always continue to operate according to this rule, according to this their natural tendency? Or who does not feel that indeed this is the true account of human happiness, the happiness nature intended for us, our best and noblest happiness?
But if nature points out this course, this regular course of our affections; if it is felt to be the state of mind that alone affords true happiness; and if the general happiness of mankind plainly requires this direction and course of our affections: If, in one word, nature dictates it, and reason must approve of it in every view we can take of it, in what sense can it be denied to be our natural duty and the will of our Creator? And is it any wonder, that this rule of conduct hath been known to thinking men in all ages (as we cannot look into ancient authors without clearly seeing it hath been) since every heart dictates it to itself? This rule, “Do as you would be done by,”8 is a rule of easy application, and it is universal, or it gives an easy, ready and clear solution in all cases. This appears from our Author’s preceding and following applications of it to cases: for it is from it alone he reasons throughout all his deductions of duties. And that it is an equal, just, or reasonable rule, cannot be denied without asserting this absurdity, That what is true and just in one case, is not always and universally true and just in all similar cases. Again, that we are made to love mankind, and to live in the exercise of love and benevolence, is plain from our make and frame, and the intention of our Maker thereby discovered to us, according to all the received rules of reasoning about final causes. And therefore the principles upon which our Author builds, are in every view of them beyond all dispute. He now proceeds to enquiries of a more complex nature; but he still continues to argue from the same self-evident truths.
[* ] Thus, among the Athenians, it was reckoned a most attrocious crime not to direct one who wandered, into his right road. Hence that saying of Diphilus, “Don’t you know that it is amongst the most execrable things, not to shew one his way.” So by the Roman laws, one could by an action compel another, who was neither bound to him by any compact, nor by delinquency, to exhibit a thing. Latona in Ovid. Metamorp. 6. v. 349. appeals to custom,
Quid prohibetis aquas? usus communis aquorum est.
[[Ovid, Metamorphoses, bk. 6, l. 349: “Why do you deny me water? The enjoyment of water is a common right.” (trans. Miller)
And Seneca, Controv. 1. says, “It is barbarous not to stretch out our arms to one who is falling, this is the common right of mankind,” (commune jus) that is, a common right or duty by the consent of all nations. “Iniquum est conlapsis manum non porrigere: commune hoc ius generis humani est.” Seneca (the Elder), Controversiae 1.1.14, in Declamations.]]
[* ] This is also a very common sort of humanity, or another very low degree of it. As therefore, they are very cruel and inhuman, who refuse such good offices to others, so they are very unequal prizers of their actions, who expect very great thanks on account of any such good deeds. Terent. And. 2. 1. v. 31. says well, “It is not a mark of a liberal cast of mind, to desire thanks when one hath merited none.” [[Terence, The Woman of Andros, lines 330–31, in vol. 1 of Terence. But who thinks the Calabrian did any considerable favour to his guest? to which Horace alludes. Ep. 1. 7. v. 14.Non quo more piris vesci Calaber jubet hospes.Tu mefecisti locupletem. Vescere sodes.Jam satis est. At tu quantumvis toile. Benigne:Non invisa feres pueris munuscula parvis.Tam teneor dono, quam si dimittor onustus.Ut libet: haec porcis hodie comedenda relinques.Prodigus & stultus donat, quae spernit & odit.
Horace, Epistles 1.7.14–19, in Satires, Epistles, and Ars Poetica: “’Twas not in the way a Calabrian host invites you to eat his pears that you have made me rich. ‘Eat some, pray.’ ‘I’ve had enough.’ ‘Well, take all you please.’ ‘No thanks.’ ‘Your tiny tots will love the little gifts you take them.’ ‘I’m as much obliged for your offer as if you sent me away loaded down.’ ‘As you please; you’ll be leaving them for the swine to gobble up today.’ The foolish prodigal gives away what he despises and dislikes.”
He is inhuman who can deny such things to those who stand in need of them: and he is more than inhuman, who when he gives them, appears to himself so wonderfully beneficent, that he would have a person think himself under perpetual and unpayable obligation to him on that account.]]
[* ] Thus in war we deny our enemies the benefit of watering, and have even a right to corrupt provisions, that they may be of no advantage to our invaders. But all these things we have only a right to do as they are enemies. For otherwise, when they cannot hurt us, it is humanity that deserves praise to assist enemies, e.g. when they are in captivity or in sickness. And seeing in a civil state, an enemy cannot easily hurt us, whom at least the magistrate cannot reduce into order, he is most inhuman who refuses to an enemy, to a scelerate, the offices of innocent profit or unhurt utility, since he is an object of commiseration: “If not the manners, yet the man, or if not the man, at least humanity,” according to that excellent saying of Aristotle in Diogenes Laert. v. 21. For which reason, the inhumanity of the Athenians is scarcely excusable, “who had such an aversion to the accusers of Socrates, that they would neither lend them fire, nor so much as answer them when they spoke, nor bath in the same water which they had used, but would order their servant to pour it away as polluted and defiled, till impatient of such a miserable state of reproach, the wretches became their own executioners.” Plutarch. de invid. & odio. p. 538. [[Plutarch, De invidia et odio (“On Envy and Hate”), in Moralia: in Fifteen Volumes, vol. 7, p. 107.]]
[* ] We know this is inculcated upon Christians, Mat. v. 45. Luke vi. 35; and before their eyes the example of our heavenly Father is set, “Who maketh the sun to arise, and his rain to fall upon the just and the unjust.” But that right reason, from the consideration of the equality of human nature, may discover this truth, is plain from hence, that Socrates set himself expressly to refute this vulgar maxim, “That we are to do good to our friends, and hurt to our enemies.” So Themistius tells us, Orat. ad Valent. de bello victis. [[A speech addressed by Themistius to the emperor Valens (in Themistius, Orationes quae supersunt). And what could have been wrote by one unacquainted with the sacred books, more excellent than this passage of Hierocles on the golden verses of Pythagoras, p. 69. “Whence it is justly said, that a good man hates no person, but is all love and benignity. For he loves the good, and does not regard the evil as his enemies. If he seeks out for a virtuous man, in order to associate with him, and loves an honest man above all things, yet in his love and goodness he imitates God himself, who hates no person, tho’ he delights in the good, and embraces them with a peculiar affection.” Hierocles of Alexandria (fl. ad 430), author of Commentary on the Golden Verses of the Pythagoreans.]]
[* ] Hence it is that Pythagoras has distinguished certain degrees of love in his golden verses, v. 4. &c. which are excellently interpreted by Hierocles, p. 46.Inde parentis honos sequitor: tum sanguinis ordo:Post alii sunto, virtus ut maxima, amici, &c.
[[Hierocles, interpreting Pythagoras, Elements of Ethics (Fragmenta philosophorum Graecorum 1.408): “Then the honour of the father follows, then the blood-line; after, let there be other friends, as their virtue is the greatest.”
[† ] We are said to give liberally, not what we lend, or give for hire, but what we bestow on others, without hope of restitution or retribution. If I give that I may receive, such an action is a kind of contract. But if I give without any desire of, or eye to retribution or restitution, this is bounty or liberality. Seneca of benefits, c. 14. says, “I will entirely pass those whose good services are mercenary, which, when one does, he does not consider to whom, but for how much he is to do them, and which therefore terminate wholly in self. If one sells me corn when I cannot live without buying, I do not owe my life to him, Because I bought it. I do not consider so much the necessity of the thing to my life, as the gratuity of the deed, and in such a case I would not have got, had I not bought; and the merchant did not think of the service it would do me, but of his own profit: what I buy I do not owe.” [[Seneca, “On Benefits,” 6. 14, in vol. 3 of Seneca, Moral Essays. But tho’ benefits ought not to be done with selfish views, yet none does good to another, without desiring to bind the person he obliges to him by mutual love; and therefore the receiver by receiving tacitely obliges himself to mutual love.]]
[1 ] Apollinaris Sidonius, Poems and Letters, vol. 1, p. 314.
[* ] This likewise is observed by Seneca, c. 15. “According to this way, one may say he owes nothing to his physician but his petty fee: nor to his preceptor, because he gave him money. But among us, both these are greatly reverenced and loved. To this it is answered, some things are of greater value than what is paid for them. Do you buy from your physician life and health, which are above all price; or from your instructor in useful arts and sciences, wisdom, and a well cultivated mind. Wherefore, to them is paid not the value of the thing, but of their labour and their attendance on us; they receive the reward, not of their merit, but of their profession.” Afterwards he gives another reason why we owe gratitude to those who render us such good offices, cap. 16. “What then? why do I still owe something to my physician and preceptor, after I have given them a fee; why have I not then fully acquitted my self? because from being my physician and preceptor, they become my friend: and they oblige us not by their art, which they sell, but by their generous and friendly disposition.” [[Seneca, “On Benefits,” 6. 15–16, in vol. 3 of Seneca, Moral Essays.]]
[* ] To illustrate these conclusions by examples; none will say, that a person is benefited by one, who not knowing any thing of the matter, delivers him letters with agreeable news; or by one who praises him merely to get him out of his place, that he may be lord of the hall; or by one who planted trees for his own pleasure, when he enjoys the shade of them, without or contrary to his intention. To such cases belongs the elegant fable in Phaedrus, 1. 22. of the weasel, who being catched by a man, when it urged him to spare its life, because it had cleared his house from troublesome mice, had this answer:Faceres, si caussa mei:Gratum esset, & dedissem veniam supplici:Nunc quia laboras, ut fruaris reliquiis,Quae sint rosuri, simul & ipsos devores,Noli imputare vanum beneficium mihi.
[[Phaedrus, Fabulae 1.22 (“The Man and the Weasel”): “If you were doing this for my sake, it would be something to thank you for, and I should have granted you the pardon for which you ask. But as it is, since you do the job to profit by the scraps that the mice would have nibbled, as well as to feed on the mice themselves, don’t set me down as your debtor for imaginary services.”
For this fable, according to the interpretation of Phaedrus himself, ought to be applied to them who serve their own ends, and then make a vain boast to the unthinking of their merit.]]
[† ] For besides, that such benefits are snatched from the indigent, they are likewise not unfrequently baits to catch; and for that reason likewise they do not merit to be called benefits, Mat. v. 46, 47. Luke vi. 32. Besides, as to the more opulent, whatever benefit is rendered to them is neither grateful, nor has it the nature of a benefit. Thus we know Alexander the Great mocked at the pretended favour, when the Corinthians offered him the right of citizenship, tho’ they boasted of having never made the compliment to any but Hercules and Alexander. Seneca of benefits, 1. 13. But the memory of benefits formerly received from one yea: the customs of the state in which we live, and other reasons, may excuse such benefits: and therefore, at Rome none could blame this liberality of clients, because the right of patronage there established, required such liberality from the clients to their patrons, Dionys. Halic. 2. p. 84. Plutarch. Romul. p. 24. [[Dionysius Halicarnassus, Roman Antiquities; Plutarch, “Romulus” in his Lives, vol. 1, 90–187 Polyb. Hist. 6. p. 459. Nor were the Persians blameable for bringing gifts to their king, since there was a law, “That every one should make presents to the king of Persia according to his ability.” Aelian. var. hist. 1. 31.]]
[* ] He is not beneficent who gives a hungry person a jewel, to a thirsty person a fine garment, to a sick person a feast. Bessus did not surely deserve to be called a benefactor, who put chains of gold upon Darius, Curt. l. 5. cap. 12. Finally, that Roman, who being saved from proscription was carried about for a shew in a ludicrous manner, had reason thus to reproach his benefactor, and to say, “He owed him no obligation for saving him, to make game and a show of him.” Seneca of benefits, 2. 11.
[* ] Ingratitude is commonly distinguished into simple, of which he is guilty who does not do good to his benefactor to his utmost power: and pregnant, of which he is guilty who injures his benefactor. The former, Pufendorff of the law of nature and nations, 3. 3. 17, says, a man cannot be sued for at the civil bar; but mixed ingratitude he thinks not unworthy of civil punishment. But if we may say the truth, in this case the ungrateful person is not animadverted upon as such, but as having done an injury; and he is liable to punishment who does an injury even to a person from whom he never received any favours. However, we readily grant, that an injury is much more attrocious, when it is joined with that basest of vices, ingratitude. And therefore they are justly reckoned more wicked who are injurious to parents, instructors, patrons, than those who only wrong strangers, to whom they are under no special ties.
[2 ] The edition used here presumably is Xenophon, De Cyri institutione libri octo, ed. Hutchinson.
[3 ] The translations here are those of Basil Kennet (see Pufendorf, Of the Law of Nature and Nations).
[4 ] See Hobbes, On the Citizen (De cive), 3.26: “All these natural precepts are derived from just one dictate of reason, that presses on us our own preservation and security.. . . This rule is not only easy; it has long been famous in the words: Do not do to another what you would not have done to you.”
[5 ] Sharrock, ‘Yπόεθσιςἐθική de officiis secundum naturae jus.
[6 ] Butler, Fifteen Sermons, p. 81.
[7 ] Pope, Essay on Man, epistle 4, l. 360–61.
[8 ] This is the so-called “golden rule” to which Turnbull referred above in the quotation from Pufendorf citing Hobbes. For the golden rule see Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31, as well as Kant’s criticism in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in I. Kant, Practical Philosophy, ed. Gregor, 80f.