On Natural Law

1. What is the character of the natural law, what its necessity, and of what precepts it consists in the present state of mankind, are most clearly seen, after one has thoroughly examined the nature and disposition of man. For, just as for an accurate knowledge of civil laws, it is very important to have a clear understanding of the condition of the state, and of the habits and interests of its citizens, so if we have examined the common disposition of men and their condition, it will be readily apparent upon what laws their welfare depends.

2. Now man shares with all the animals that have consciousness the fact that he holds nothing dearer than himself, and is eager in every way to preserve himself; that he strives to gain what seem to him good things, and to reject the evil. This feeling is regularly so strong that all the others give way to it. And one cannot but resent it, if any man make an attack upon one's life, so much so that, even after the threatened danger has been averted, hatred usually still remains, and a desire for vengeance.

3. But in one respect man seems to be in a worse state even than the brutes, — that scarcely any other animal is attended from birth by such weakness. Hence it would be a miracle, if anyone reached mature years, if he have not the aid of other men, since, as it is, among all the helps which have been invented for human needs, careful training for a number of years is required, to enable a man to gain his food and clothing by his own efforts. Let us imagine a man brought to maturity without any care and training bestowed upon him by others, having no knowledge except what sprang up of itself in his own mind, and in a desert, deprived of all help and society of other men. Certainly a more miserable animal it will be hard to find. Speechless and naked, he has nothing left him but to pluck herbs and roots, or gather wild fruits, to slake his thirst from spring or river, or the first marsh he encountered, to seek shelter in a cave from the violence of the weather, or to cover his body somehow with moss or grass, to pass his time most tediously in idleness, to shudder at any noise or the encounter with another creature, finally to perish by hunger or cold or some wild beast. On the other hand, whatever advantages now attend human life have flowed entirely from the mutual help of men. It follows that, after God, there is nothing in this world from which greater advantage can come to man than from man himself.

4. Yet this animal, though so useful to his kind, suffers from not a few faults, and is endowed with no less power to injure; which facts make contact with him rather uncertain, and call for great caution, that one may not receive evil from him instead of good. First of all, there is generally a greater tendency to injure found in man than in any of the brutes. For the brutes are usually excited by the desire for food and for love, both of which, however, they can themselves easily satisfy. But having stilled that craving, they are not readily roused to anger or to injure people, unless someone provokes them. But man is an animal at no time disinclined to lust, and by its goad he is excited much more frequently than would seem necessary for the conservation of the race. And his belly desires not merely to be satisfied, but also to be tickled, and often craves more than nature is able to digest. That the brutes should not need clothing nature has provided. But man delights to clothe himself, not for necessity only, but also for display. Many more passions and desires unknown to the brutes are found in man, as the desire to have superfluities, avarice, the love of glory and eminence, envy, emulation, and rivalry of wits. Witness the fact that most wars, in which men clash with men, are waged for reasons unknown to the brutes. And all these things can, and usually do, incite men to desire to injure one another. Then too there is in many a notable insolence and passion for insulting their fellows, at which the rest, modest though they be by nature, cannot fail to take offense, and gird themselves to resist, from the desire to maintain and defend themselves and their freedom. At times also men are driven to mutual injury by want, and the fact that their present resources are insufficient for their desires or their need.

5. Moreover men have in them great power for the infliction of mutual injuries. For though not formidable because of teeth or claws or horns, as are many of the brutes, still manual dexterity can prove a most effective means of injury; and shrewdness gives a man the opportunity to attack by cunning and in ambush, where the enemy cannot be reached by open force. Hence it is very easy for man to inflict upon man the worst of natural evils, namely death.

6. Finally, we must also consider in mankind such a remarkable variety of gifts as is not observed in single species of animals, which, in fact, generally have like inclinations, and are led by the same passion and desire. But among men there are as many emotions as there are heads, and each has his own idea of the attractive. Nor are all stirred by a single and uniform desire, but by one that is manifold and variously intermixed. Even one and the same man often appears unlike himself, and if he has eagerly sought a thing at one time, at another he is very averse to it. And there is no less variety in the tastes and habits, the inclinations to exert mental powers, — a variety which we see now in the almost countless modes of life. That men may not thus be brought into collision, there is need of careful regulation and control.

7. Thus then man is indeed an animal most bent upon self-preservation, helpless in himself, unable to save himself without the aid of his fellows, highly adapted to promote mutual interests; but on the other hand no less malicious, insolent, and easily provoked, also as able as he is prone to inflict injury upon another. Whence it follows that, in order to be safe, he must be sociable, that is, must be united with men like himself, and so conduct himself toward them that they may have no good cause to injure him, but rather may be ready to maintain and promote his interests.

8. The laws then of this sociability, or those which teach how a man should conduct himself, to become a good member of human society, are called natural laws.

9. So much settled, it is clear that the fundamental natural law is this: that every man must cherish and maintain sociability, so far as in him lies. From this it follows that, as he who wishes an end, wishes also the means, without which the end cannot be obtained, all things which necessarily and universally make for that sociability are understood to be ordained by natural law, and all that confuse or destroy it forbidden. The remaining precepts are mere corollaries, so to speak, under this general law, and the natural light given to mankind declares that they are evident.

10. Again, although those precepts have manifest utility, still, if they are to have the force of law, it is necessary to presuppose that God exists, and by His providence rules all things; also that He has enjoined upon the human race that they observe those dictates of the reason, as laws promulgated by Himself by means of our natural light. For otherwise they might, to be sure, be observed perhaps, in view of their utility, like the prescriptions of physicians for the regimen of health, but not as laws; since these of necessity presuppose a superior, and in fact one who has actually undertaken the direction of another.

11. But that God is the author of the natural law, is proved by the natural reason, if only we limit ourselves strictly to the present condition of humanity, disregarding the question whether his primitive condition was different from the present, or whence that change has come about. The nature of man is so constituted that the race cannot be preserved without the social life, and man's mind is found to be capable of all the notions which serve that end. And it is in fact clear, not only that the human race owes its origin, as do the other creatures, to God, but also that, whatever be its present state, God includes the race in the government of His providence. It follows from these arguments that God wills that man use for the conservation of his own nature those special powers which he knows are peculiarly his own, as compared with the brutes, and thus that man's life be distinguished from the lawless life of the brutes. And as this cannot be secured except by observing the natural law, we understand too that man has been obliged by God to keep the same, as a means not devised by will of man, and changeable at their discretion, but expressly ordained by God Himself, in order to insure this end. For whoever binds a man to an end, is considered to have bound him also to employ the means necessary to that end. And besides, we have evidence that the social life has been enjoined upon men by God's authority, in the fact that in no other creature do we find the religious sentiment or fear of the Deity, — a feeling which seems inconceivable in a lawless animal. Hence in the minds of men not entirely corrupt a very delicate sense is born, which convinces them that by sin against the natural law they offend Him who holds sway over the minds of men, and is to be feared even when the fear of men does not impend.

12. The common saying that that law is known by nature, should not be understood, it seems, as though actual and distinct propositions concerning things to be done or to be avoided were inherent in men's minds at the hour of their birth. But it means in part that the law can be investigated by the light of reason, in part that at least the common and important provisions of the natural law are so plain and clear that they at once find assent, and grow up in our minds, so that they can never again be destroyed, no matter how the impious man, in order to still the twinges of conscience, may endeavor to blot out the consciousness of those precepts. For this reason in Scripture too the law is said to be "written in the hearts" of men.[4] Hence, since we are imbued from childhood with a consciousness of those maxims, in accordance with our social training, and cannot remember the time when we first imbibed them, we think of this knowledge exactly as if we had had it already at birth. Everyone has the same experience with his mother tongue.

13. Of the duties incumbent upon man in accordance with natural law the most convenient division seems to be according to the objects in regard to which they are to be practiced. From this standpoint they are classified under three main heads: the first of which instructs us how, according to the dictate of sound reason alone a man should conduct himself toward God, the second, how toward himself, the third, how toward other men. Although those precepts of natural law which concern other men may be derived primarily and directly from sociability, which we have laid down as a foundation, indirectly also the duties of man to God as creator can be derived from the same, since the ultimate confirmation of duties toward other men comes from religion and fear of the Deity, so that man would not be sociable either, if not imbued with religion; and since reason alone cannot go further in religion than in so far as the latter subserves the promotion of peace and sociability in this life. For, in so far as religion promotes the salvation of souls, it proceeds from a special divine revelation. But duties of man to himself spring from religion and sociability conjointly. For the reason why he cannot determine certain acts concerning himself in accordance with his own free will, is partly that he may be a fit worshiper of the Deity, and partly that he may be a good and useful member of human society.

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