Front Page Titles (by Subject) SECTION XII - 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:
SECTION XII - 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.
Other affections in the human mind explained.But we will still perceive another security in our constitution against the degeneracy of family attachments into too narrow, confined, and partial benevolence, when we consider another determination in our nature, excellently adapted to check not only self-love, but partial affection of whatever sort, whether towards relatives by blood or friends; and admirably adapted to the circumstances of human life in general; which is the sympathy and pity distress immediately excites in the human breast, violently interesting us in the miseries of others. An embodied state must necessarily be liable to various calamities, in consequence of the very laws of matter and motion, which make the best, the most or-derly, convenient and beautiful system, as our mundan system is well known to natural philosophers to be. And nature hath, by wise and kind care, implanted in the human heart a principle of compassion, which is admirably well adjusted to such a condition. For by this we are impelled to sympathize with the afflicted, and to run without delay to their relief. And how much doth even sympathy itself alleviate pain and suffering! Such is the nature of compassion, that it considers or attends to no more but distress, is immediately excited, and directly pushes to give the relief which the calamity calls for, without counting kindred, or so much as asking who the sufferer is; and gives indeed no small pain, when help is not in our power. Now, surely nature could not have more clearly pointed out to us the order in which our benevolence ought to work, than by determining it to receive such an impression, such a tendency from distress. It is true, this affection may be too strong to answer its end, as it plainly is, when it quite overpowers and enfeebles one. And by pains taken to harden the heart, it may, on the other hand, become very weak, nay, be almost quite erazed out of the mind. But have we not reason to guide all our affections to their proper end, obedience to which is, as hath been observed, our first duty or obligation by the laws of our nature? And what can be more evident to a considering person, than that the end of this passion is to knit mankind together, and to give them a fellow-feeling with one another, that they might thus be kept from injuring one another, and be prompted to assist one another in the calamities and distresses to which all men in common are obnoxious? Or who will say, that tho’ there be a mixture of pain in this affection, yet it is not, notwithstanding, so agreeable an emotion of the mind, that the pleasures arising from the exercises of it, make a counterbalance to the bodily evils resulting from the necessity of nature sufficient to vindicate providence, when we reflect at the same time upon the many other goods arising from the same excellent laws which make these evils necessary? That the exercise of compassion is a high satisfaction, the tragic art, the principal charm of which lies in violently moving and agitating our pity, is a sufficient proof. And indeed, by the consent of all mankind, a breast quite devoid of compassion, is pronounced inhuman; i.e. unfit for human life; a stranger to the best feelings, the most agreeable and becoming emotions of the human heart. The reason is, because such are in fact found to be equally strangers to natural affections, to friendship, to a sense of honour, and consequently to all the richest sources of human delight; the richest sources of human delight for these affections being removed, what remains but the palate, and a few other organs of sense, in the whole list of human means or capacities of gratification? But wherever compassion prevails, there nature hath given a particular determination to our benevolence, the use of which to mankind in general is very evident; there nature hath made a connexion with regard to public and private happiness that merits our attention; there nature hath given a sense, a capacity of pleasure, that deserves our care and keeping: it cannot be impaired or corrupted, without sadly diminishing the provision nature hath made for our enjoyment, for the happiness of every individual, as well as the common happiness of our kind. Every road that nature hath made to true happiness, is a law of nature to us. And therefore, if natural affections belong to us, or if compassion belongs to us, they are, in this sense, laws of nature to man, that they indicate to us a certain course of affection and action, which nature hath made to be one considerable source of enjoyment to us. For can happiness be found but where nature hath placed it? Can we change and alter the natures of things at our pleasure, and make any thing painful or agreeable as we will? If we cannot, we must take nature’s paths, and seek happiness where nature has laid it. But nature hath placed it in industry, benevolence, natural affection, compassion, and the presidence of reason. These are the chief sources from which we must draw it. We can no more alter these connexions than we can change the laws of motion and gravity. They are therefore laws to us in the same sense, that the laws of motion are laws to human arts for the attainment of their ends.
Other affections adapted to our dependencies and necessities explained.But the human mind is a very complicated structure: It is composed not of one, but many principles of action, all of which are sources of very considerable enjoyment, and at the same time mutual checks or poises one to another, in order to point and lead us into, and keep us in the course of behaviour, which is at once the interest of every individual, and of the whole species. Several such have been already mentioned, and there are yet two others, the use of which in our frame well deserve our attention. 1. The first is a principle of resentment. By this we mean not merely sudden anger, which is nothing else but the necessary operation of self-defence, or sensibility to danger and hurt, and hath hurt as such for its object; for this is common to man with all sensible creatures: But we understand that indignation which injury or wrong, as such, necessarily excites in our mind, which supposes a sense of injustice or injury, and can only take place in minds capable of distinguishing equity and iniquity. In this do these two principles, which are often confounded together, in treating of the human affections, differ, that one hath suffering for its object and motive cause, the other that suffering only which is apprehended to be injurious. It is opposition, sudden hurt, violence, which naturally excites sudden or momentary anger; reflexion on the real demerit or fault of him who offers that violence, or is the cause of that opposition or hurt, is not necessary to occasion this mere sensation or feeling. It is mere instinct, as merely so, as the disposition to shut our eyes upon the apprehension of something falling into them, and no more necessarily implies any degree of reason. For it works in infants, in the lower species of animals, and (not seldom) in men towards them, in none of which instances this passion can be imagined to be the effect of reason, or any thing but mere instinct or sensation. And no doubt the reason and end for which man was made thus liable to this passion, was to qualify and arm him to prevent (or perhaps chiefly) to resist and defeat sudden violence, considered merely as such, and without regard to the fault of him who is the author of it.
But resentment, which on account of what it hath in common with sudden anger, may be called deliberate anger, is not naturally excited by mere harm, but in order to move it, harm must be apprehended as injurious or wrong. “This is so much (says an excellent author) understood by mankind, that a person would be reckoned quite distracted, who should coolly resent an harm, which had not to himself the appearance of injury or wrong.”19 Now that the reason and end for which this principle is implanted in us by nature, is to fill us with indignation against injury, and to excite us to resist, defeat and punish it, is evident; for this is the end to which it naturally tends. And therefore, with regard to it, it is plain, that it is in its nature a social affection: it is a fellow-feeling which each individual hath in behalf of the whole species. For tho’ injury to ourselves must affect us more intimately than injury done to others, in consequence of the nearer sensibility to one’s self, which is inseparable from the constitution of every sensible being; yet we find that the way in which injuries to others affect us, is exactly the same in kind. To be convinced of this, we need only attend to the manner in which a feigned story of baseness and villainy works up this passion in us. And such being the nature of this passion, it is far from being any defect or fault in our constitution, or from being in the least degree a-kin to malice: It is, on the contrary, so connected with a sense of moral good and evil, or of virtue and vice, that it could not take place without it; and may be properly said to be resentment or indignation against vice and wickedness. Far less still can this affection in our constitution be reckoned of a pernicious tendency, when we consider it as united in our frame with the other affections we have already mentioned, as compassion in particular; for as it is counter-balanced by them, and intended to co-operate with them, it can be designed for no other end but to make the resistance and opposition to vice which vice demerits, and not to give pain for the sake of tormenting others. For our compassion being moved by the suffering of another as such, and our resentment being only excited by wrong as such, we are thus by nature equally furnished for repelling injuries, and for commiserating innocent sufferers. Reason hath thus, as it were, two handles to guide us by, whether in repelling injuries, or in pitying sufferers, by each of which the other is kept within due bounds. Compassion is of use to moderate resentment, and resentment to hinder compassion from misplacing its tenderness upon the undeserving and vicious, to the prejudice of innocence and merit. So social then is our frame, that there is no passion in our nature which delights immediately in misery as such. But, on the contrary, misery always excites compassion, unless when it is apprehended as the just desert of injury. And so far is resentment generally from being too strong in human nature, that however eagerly it may desire and pur-sue the punishment of injustice, yet the punishment, which is the end of the passion, is no sooner gained, than commonly it gives way to compassion to such a degree, that it requires keeping the injustice of the sufferer very fully and strongly in our view, not to succumb entirely to pity. 2. But I have chiefly mentioned this principle in our nature here, as it, together with what I am now to take notice of, viz. the love of fame and power, renders mankind capable of several great actions. For if we examine narrowly into what it is that impels the human mind to dangerous and bold atchievements, and gives heroic spirits such high delight in pursuits seemingly so opposite to self-love, we will find that these are the sources in our nature, from whence the delight in them, and the motives to them principally flow; I say, principally flow, because no doubt a moral sense of beauty in actions (of which afterwards) hath no small share in true heroism; and religious principles, as they are of a very proper nature to promote true fortitude, patience and courage, so they have often produced the greatest actions, the bravest heroes.
Whence the hazardous enterprizes with which the history of all ages and countries is filled, that strike us with such admiration and amazement? To what do historians ascribe them? And to what source does every reader chiefly refer them in his own mind? Is it not to the love of power or empire, and the love of fame? Now surely, if these be the main incentives to atchievements, in which life and all its advantages are so boldly risked; we may justly conclude, that the love of power and fame may arrive to a very great pitch of vigour and force in the human mind. And such indeed are the circumstances of several most renowned actions in history, that so much of the motives to them must needs be ascribed to these sources, as makes it very proper in an analysis of the human affections, to give particular attention to the love of fame and power, and the ends for which they are implanted in us by nature. Now, into whatever extravagancies the love of fame and power may run; (as what passion in our nature may not be perverted, and so degenerate into something very wild, foolish and hurtful) yet they are implanted in us for very useful purposes. Let us consider the two separately. 1. The love of fame. Is it not a passion that takes its rise from sociability, and that strongly cements us to the interests of our kind? For what is it at bottom but regard to the esteem and love of mankind? Can we love mankind without desiring to be respected, esteemed and honoured by them? or can we like actions which tend to gain us the love of mankind, without liking the love they tend to gain? Love of fame is inseparable from sociality; and true honour consisting in the merited real esteem of mankind, is a noble aim; not a mean or mercenary view, but a truly generous and laudable motive. Nay, so nearly allied is this praise-worthy ambition to virtue, that he who despises fame will soon forsake the paths which lead to it. And therefore Cicero justly says, Vult plane virtus honorem nec est virtutis alia merces.20 2. As for the love of power. It is absolutely necessary to beings made for progress in perfection, and to extend and enlarge their faculties. For what else is it at bottom, but desire to expand and enlarge ourselves, to dilate and widen our sphere of activity? Without this impulse, without being made to receive high delight from the consciousness of our growing and advancing in perfection, in knowledge, in authority, in power to serve others, and promote their interests, how listless and inactive would our minds be? And how listless indeed, sluggish and inactive are the minds, where the love of encreasing all their powers, the desire of being as independent of others, and as sufficient to themselves as they can be, does not prevail in some degree! 3. And in a life subject to evils of various sorts, to many natural calamities, and many greater moral ones, arising from the perverted, corrupt affections of men, how necessary are both these principles to fortify our minds with patience and courage, and to qualify us to oppose and defeat these evils? Where these passions do not obtain in a great degree, how easy a conquest are a people to every proud usurper or tyrant; how tamely and submissively do they yield their necks to the yoke of arbitrary power? But as useful as these noble principles are in our nature, and as great a share as they have in the great actions which chiefly render the history of human life capable of attracting or detaining our attention, yet all must not be ascribed to them. For that just resentment against injury, just indignation against oppression, tyranny and despotic insolence, often kindle the heroe’s breast with a generous ardour to destroy and root out these enemies of mankind, and make him rush intrepidly into the thickest dangers to rescue his fellow-creatures, his country, from slavery and misery;—that this passion is often the patriot’s chief motive in his most perilous and brave enterprizes, almost the only thing he hath in his view to animate and invigorate him, might be proved by many shining instances from history. But all that it belongs to our present purpose to observe is, that none of these passions are inconsistent with a social principle, but on the contrary take their rise from it: it is the only root from which they can spring: Nor are these affections weakened or perverted by any other means than those which equally weaken or pervert every other generous or great affection in our minds. Thus, the same long subjection to arbitrary power, which almost quite effaces all ideas of liberty, all greatness, boldness and freedom of mind, is it not likewise observed to render them, who have been long inured to it, sluggish, indolent, ungenerous, revengeful, and rather nearer to the temper of monkeys or buffoons in all respects, than to the spirit and temper of men? However these principles or dispositions may be corrupted, they are to us, as they naturally stand in our frame, sources of very noble pleasures, and motives to very great and laudable activity. We cannot suppose them removed out of our constitution, without reducing mankind to a very low and contemptible creature, in comparison of what it is the natural tendency of these affections to render us, as they are united in our frame with benevolence, compassion, and natural affections to our parents and offspring. They cannot be taken from us, without cutting off from mankind all capacity of the greater pursuits that now adorn and bless human life. Nor can they indeed be objected against in our frame, when they are thus considered. And when the Author of nature is blamed by any philosopher for having implanted them in our frame, they are represented by such as making the only principles of action in our minds; and are thus disjoined from other principles in us, with which they are naturally united, and consequently intended by nature to co-operate. But certainly, in order to judge of a constitution, we must consider all its parts as they mutually respect one another, and by these mutual respects make a whole. Thus we judge of all other constitutions or structures, natural or artificial. And thus likewise ought we to judge of the fabric of the human mind.
[19 ] Butler, Sermon VIII, “Upon Resentment,” Fifteen Sermons, 145. There are minor discrepancies between the original text and Turnbull’s quotation.
[20 ] “Virtue clearly desires honour, and has no other reward.” Cicero De re publica, III, xxviii, 40.