On the Common Duties of Humanity

1. Among the duties of men in general to others in general, and those which are to be practiced for the sake of the common sociability, the third place is taken by this: that every man promote the advantage of another, so far as he conveniently can. For since Nature has established a kind of kinship among men, it would not be enough to have refrained from injuring or despising others; but we must also bestow such attentions upon others, — or mutually exchange them, — that thus mutual benevolence may be fostered among men. Now we benefit others either definitely or indefinitely, and that with a loss, or else without loss, to ourselves.

2. A man tends to promote the advantage of others indefinitely, if he thoroughly cultivates his own soul and body, so that useful actions may emanate from him to others; or if by ingenuity he finds the means of making human life better equipped. Hence it is against this duty that they are to be thought sinners, who learn no honorable art, pass their life in silence, and have a soul "only as so much salt, to keep the body from decay," [7] — "mere numbers," and " born to consume the fruits of earth."[8] Also those who, content with the riches left by their ancestors, think they may with impunity offer sacrifice to indolence, since the industry of others has already gained for them means to live upon; "Or brooded selfishly o'er hoards of gold, Nor spared a portion for their kindred."[9] So also those who, like swine, cheer no one except by their death; and other such cumberers of the ground.

3. But to those who endeavor to be benefactors of the human race, the rest owe this in return, that they be not envious, throw no obstacle in the way of their noble efforts. Also that, if there be no other way of compensating them, they at least promote their fame and memory, this being the chief reward of labors.

4. But especially is it regarded as contemptible malignity and inhumanity, not to bestow willingly upon others those blessings which can be accorded without loss, trouble, or labor to ourselves. These are usually called mere favors, that is, benefiting the recipient, and not burdening the giver. Examples are: not to exclude from running water, to allow taking fire from our fire, to give honest advice to one in doubt, to point out the way kindly to him who has lost it. So if a man does not wish to possess a thing any longer, on account of an embarrassment of riches, or because maintenance is a burden to him, why should he not prefer to leave the thing intact, so that he can give the use of it to others, public enemies excepted, rather than spoil it. Thus it is not right to waste food, after we have sated ourselves, nor to stop up a spring, or hide it, after we have had enough to drink; nor to destroy aids to navigation or road-marks after we have used them. Here belong moderate alms bestowed by the rich upon the needy; also that kindness which is shown for good reason to travelers, especially when some misfortune has overtaken them; and other things of the sort.

5. A higher form of humanity is bestowing freely upon another, and out of rare benevolence, something costing money or painful effort, designed to meet his needs, or win for him some signal advantage. These are called benefits par excellence, and they offer the best opportunity to gain praise, if only nobility of spirit and prudence duly control them. The dispensing of these and their proper limits are governed generally by the situation of the giver and that of the recipient. And here we must take special care that our generosity do not injure both those to whom we think we are doing a kind turn, and the others too; also that the generosity be not greater than our means; and again that we give to each in proportion to his worth, and above all to those who have deserved well; also in proportion to their need of our help, and with regard also to the different degrees of closeness in the relations of men. We must also consider what each needs most, and what he can accomplish or not, with or without us. The manner of giving too adds much to the acceptability of favors, if we give with cheerful face, readily, and with assurance of our good-will.

6. In return there must be gratitude in the mind of the recipient. Thus he shows that the gift was acceptable to him, and for that reason he favors the giver, and seeks an occasion to make an equal or larger return, in so far as be can. For it is not necessary to return precisely the amount of the gift; but often zeal and endeavor satisfy the obligation. However there must be no reasonable exception which we can take, as against the man who claims to have done us a favor. For example, I owe nothing to the man who has pulled me out of the water, if he first threw me in.

7. But the better suited favors are to attach the affections of men to the giver, the more earnestly must the recipient devote himself to showing his gratitude. At least we must not allow a man who, trusting us, has forestalled us in a kind deed, to be on that account in a worse situation. Nor should we receive a favor, except with the purpose of preventing the giver from repenting of his gift with good reason. For, if for a certain reason we are particularly unwilling to be under obligations to a man, it will be permissible to decline the favor tactfully. And certainly if there were no necessity of showing gratitude, it would be unreasonable for a man to throw away his property recklessly, and hasten to confer a favor which he foresees will be lost. In this way all beneficence and confidence between men would be destroyed, and likewise all benevolence; and there would be no gratuitous assistance, nor any first step in winning men.

8. Again, although there is in itself no injury in ingratitude, still it is considered more shameful, odious, and detestable, to be called ungrateful than unjust. For it is thought the mark of a very low and degenerate mind, to show one's self unworthy of the favorable judgment which the other has passed upon one's character, and to be incapable of rousing one's self to feelings of humanity in return for kindnesses which charm even the brutes. But in a civil court no action is usually granted for simple ingratitude, or if a man forgets a mere favor, and when opportunity is given, still neglects to requite it. For if an action be allowed, as for a certain sum of money, the best part of the favor perishes, as it will now begin to be a loan. And whereas it is now a most honorable thing to be grateful, it will cease to be so conspicuously honorable, if it be necessary. Finally, all the courts in the world would hardly suffice for this one law, on account of the difficulty of appraising the circumstances which increase or diminish a favor. And the very reason why I gave the favor, i.e., why I did not stipulate that it should be repaid, was that the other man might have an opportunity to show that he has been grateful, from the love of what is honorable, not from the fear of human punishment or compulsion; and, on my part, that I may be understood to have bestowed it, not in hope of gain, but in order to practice humanity, being unwilling to demand security for the return of the gift. But he who not only does not repay a favor, but also actually requites his benefactor with evil, deserves all the more severe penalty for so doing, in proportion as he shows a more infamous malignity within.

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