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In the former set, you must vary the construction a little, when you introduce the definition instead of the term. Such a one has a right to this estate, that is, it is consistent with the will of God' that such a one should have it ;—parents have a'righť to reverence from their children, that is, it is 'consistent with the will of God' that children should reverence their parents ;-—and the same of the rest.
'Yet these assertions are intelligible and significant.' Arguing in a circle is very common ; with crafty. sophists, from design, and with bad reasoners, from confusion of thought. But the former are careful to conceal the fallacy; and the latter do not perceive it.
It is very strange that Paley should perceive and acknowledge that he is involved in a circle, and should yet adhere to it. The procedure is (as I have above remarked) something like that of the Mahometans, who give as a proof of the divine origin of the Koran, that its style is so eminently beautiful ; all other works being reckoned the better or worse Arabic according as they approach more or less to the style of the Koran. But then it comes out that they have made the Koran the standard of good Arabic, and have deduced from that all their rules of style. So that the argument when thus exposed, merely amounts to this, that'the style of the Koran is—the style of the Koran !'
On this point I have remarked in the Lessons on Morals that 'the sacred Writers always speak of God as just and good, and his commands as right and reasonable. Are not my ways,' said He by a prophet, ' equal ? Are not your ways unequal ?' And again, 'Why, even of yourselves judge ye not what is right ?' Now all this would have been quite unmeaning, if Man had no idea of what is good or bad in itself, and meant by those words merely what is commanded or forbidden by God. For then, to say that God's commands are just and good, would be only saying that his commands are his commands. If Man had not been originally endowed by his Maker with any power of distinguishing between moral good and evil, or with any preference of the one to the other, then, it would be mere trifling to speak of the divine goodness ; since it would be merely saying that 'God is what He is ;' which is no more than might be said of any Being in the universe.
Whenever, therefore, you hear any one speaking of our having derived all our notions of morality from the will of God, the sense in which you must understand him is, that it was God's will to create Man a Being endowed with conscience, and capable of perceiving the difference of right and wrong, and of understanding that there is such a thing as Duty. And if any one should use expressions which seem not to mean this, but to imply that there is no such thing as natural-Conscience -no idea in the human mind of such a thing as Duty-still you may easily prove that his real meaning must be what we have said. If any persons tell you that our first notion of right and wrong is entirely derived from the divine Law, and that those words have no meaning except obedience and disobedience to the declared will of God, you may ask them whether it is a matter of duty to obey God's will, or merely a matter of prudence, inasmuch as He is able to punish those who rebel against Him? Whether they think that God is justly entitled to obedience, or merely that it would be very rash to disobey one who has power to enforce his commands ?
They will doubtless answer, that we ought to obey the divine commands as a point of duty, and not merely on the ground of expediency—that God is not only powerful, but good
—and that conformity to his will is a thing right in itself, and should be practised, not through mere fear of punishment, or hope of reward, but because it is right.
Now this proves that they must be sensible that there is in the human mind some notion of such a thing as Duty, and of things being right or wrong in their own nature. For, when any persons submit to the will of another merely because it is their interest, or because they dare not resist, we never speak of this submission as a matter of duty, but merely of prudence. If robbers were to seize you and carry you off as a slave, threatening you with death if you offered to resist or to escape, you might think it advisable to submit, if you saw that resistance would be hopeless : but you would not think yourself bound in duty to do so. Or again, if you were offered good wages for doing some laborious work, you might think it expe. dient to accept the offer, but you would not account it a moral duty. And when a farmer supplies his cattle, or a slave-owner his slaves, with abundance of the best food, in order that they may be in good condition, and do the more work for himself, or fetch a better price, and not from benevolence to them, every one would regard this as mere prudence, and not virtue. And we judge the same in every case where a man is acting solely with a view to his own advantage.
You can easily prove, therefore, that when people speak of a knowledge of the divine will being the origin of all our moral notions, they cannot mean exactly what the words would seem to signify; if, at least, they admit at the same time that it is a matter of duty, and not merely of prudence, to obey God's will, and that He has a just claim to our obedience.
It is urged by some that Man's judgment on Moral questions. is an utterly incompetent tribunal, because his notions of right and wrong have been grievously perverted by the fall. Now it is very true that the Moral-faculty is imperfect and fallible: but the same may be said of the Reasoning-faculty also. And there is no need of putting in the qualification of 'since the fall;' because our first parents manifestly showed an imperfection, both moral and intellectual, in listening to the arguments of the Tempter. Had they been perfect both in point of conscience and of reason, they would never have transgressed the divine command. If then, on the ground of the imperfection of the Moral-faculty, we are to forego all employment of it, we must do the same by the Reasoning-faculty also ; and then Revelation itself would be of no use to us. How do you know, it may be asked, that so and so is declared in the Bible ? You will say,
I so understand the words :' but it may be answered, ' Lean not to thine own understanding. How do you know that the Bible itself contains the revelation of God's will ? or that there is a God at all? You think you have good reason for the belief; your Reason leads you to that conclusion : but your Reason is imperfect, fallible, and impaired; and is therefore 'an utterly incompetent tribunal. Your argument therefore is completely suicidal; it leaves you no ground to stand on; no just assurance for believing anything at all.
But in truth. the Reasoning-faculty, and the Moral-faculty,
and in short every faculty of the human mind, though imperfect and fallible, are to be employed, but with due allowance for that imperfection and fallibility, and with caution to guard against their occasional errors.
THE DIVISION OF RIGHTS..
Alienable or unalienable :
Perfect or imperfect.
Natural rights are such as would belong to a man, although there subsisted in the world no civil government whatever.
Adventitious rights are such as would not.
Natural rights are, a man's right to his life, limbs, and liberty ; his right to the produce of his personal labour; to the use, in common with others, of air, light, water. If a thousand different persons, from a thousand different corners of the world, were cast together upon a desert island, they would from the first be every one entitled to these rights.
Adventitious rights are, the right of a king over his subjects; of a general over his soldiers ; of a judge over the life and liberty of a prisoner ; a right to elect or appoint magistrates, to impose taxes, to decide disputes, direct the descent or disposition of property ; a right, in a word, in any one man, or particular body of men, to make laws and regulations for the rest. For none of these rights would exist in the newly inhabited island.
And here it will be asked, how adventitious rights are created; or, which is the same thing, how any new rights can accrue from the establishment of civil society; as rights of all kinds, we remember, depend upon the will of God, and civil society is but the ordinance and institution of Man ? For the solution of this difficulty, we must return to our first principles. God wills the happiness of mankind; and the existence of civil society, as conducive to that happiness. Consequently, many things, which are useful for the support of civil society in general, or
for the conduct and conservation of particular societies already established, are, for that reason, 'consistent with the will of God,' or 'right,' which, without the reason, i. e. without the establishment of civil society, would not have been so.
From whence, also, it appears, that adventitious rights, though immediately derived from human appointment, are not, for that reason, less sacred than natural rights, nor the obligation to respect them less cogent. They both ultimately rely upon the same authority, the will of God. Such a man claims a right to a particular estate. He can show, it is true, nothing for his right, but a rule of the civil community to which he belongs; and this rule may be arbitrary, capricious, and absurd. Notwithstanding all this, there would be the same sin in dispossessing the man of his estate by craft or violence, as if it had been assigned to him, like the partition of the country amongst the twelve tribes, by the immediate designation and appointment of Heaven.
II. Rights are alienable or unalienable. · Which terms explain themselves.
The right we have to most of those things which we call property, as houses, lands, money, &c., is alienable.
The right of a prince over his people, of a husband over his wife, of a master over his servant, is generally and naturally unalienable.
The distinction depends upon the mode of acquiring the right. If the right originate from a contract, and be limited to the person by the express terms of the contract, or by the common interpretation of such contracts (which is equivalent to an express stipulation), or by a personal condition annexed to the right; then it is unalienable. In all other cases it is alienable.
The right to civil liberty is aliénable ; though, in the vehemence of men’s zeal for it, and the language of some political remonstrances, it has often been pronounced to be an unalienable right. The true reason why mankind hold in detestation the memory of those who have sold their liberty to a tyrant, is, that, together with their own, they sold commonly, or endangered, the liberty of others; which certainly they had no right to dispose of.
III. Rights are perfect or imperfect.
Perfect rights may be asserted by force, or, what in civil society comes into the place of private force, by course of law..