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Jean Barbeyrac on the Virtues which all free Men should have (1718)

In his translation of Samuel Pufendorf’s treatise on natural law, The Whole Duty of Man (1691, 1718), Jean Barbeyrac included a number of essays and commentaries. In one, a “Discourse on the Benefits Conferred by the Laws”, he made the following observation:

There are other virtues which, while free from all constraint, nonetheless carry a clear and imperative obligation… humanity, compassion, charity, beneficence, liberality, generosity, patience, gentleness, love of peace, these are not empty names, nor are they indifferent things… they are sentiments which all reasonable persons in all times have counted among their duties…

If men are men, if they act as reasonable creatures, if they wish to conform to what their nature demands, if they are of a mind to show themselves worthy members of that universal society of which God is the author and protector, it is absolutely necessary that they be religious observers of justice, but not of justice alone. There are other virtues which, while free from all constraint, nonetheless carry a clear and imperative obligation. Conversely, this obligation is all the stronger for being free of coercion, since the man who imposes it thereby relies more on one’s willingness to fulfil the obligation. Yes, humanity, compassion, charity, beneficence, liberality, generosity, patience, gentleness, love of peace, these are not empty names, nor are they indifferent things; they are not even new commandments contained in the Gospel. Rather, they are sentiments which all reasonable persons in all times have counted among their duties; they are dispositions that one cannot but admire and praise in others, even in an enemy, though one may not feel them in one’s own heart nor wish to make the effort to install them there. Human laws, far from exempting us from such virtues, furnish a thousand occasions for their practice. Let us indicate some of these.

About this Quotation:

Jean Barbeyrac is important not only for making available to 18th century readers translations of important 17th century thinkers such as Grotius and Pufendorf, but also for providing extensive notes to these translation in which he expanded the ideas of the men he was translating. The quotation above is a good example of this.

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