Thursday, November 19, 2009

The Law of Nature - Sir William Blackstone, Knight

Excerpts from Commentaries on the Laws of England

Man, considered as a creature, must necessarily be subject to the laws of his Creator, for he is entirely a dependent being. A being independent of any other, has no rule to pursue, but such as he prescribes to himself; but a state of dependence will inevitably oblige the inferior to take the will of him on whom he depends as the rule of his conduct; not, indeed, in every particular, but in all those points wherein his dependence consists. This principle, therefore, has more or less extent and effect, in proportion as the superiority of the one and dependence of the other is greater or less, absolute or limited.
And consequently, as man depends absolutely upon his Maker for everything, it is necessary that he should, in all points; conform to his Maker’s will.

This will of his Maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it will a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion, so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.

Considering the Creator only as a being of infinite power, he was able unquestionably to have prescribed whatever laws; he pleased to his creature, man, however unjust or severe. But, as he is also a being of infinite wisdom, he has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept. These are the eternal immutable laws of good and evil, to which the Creator himself in all his dispensations conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such, among others, are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to every one his duel to which thee general precepts Justinian (a) has reduced the whole doctrine of law.

But if the discovery of these first principles of the law of nature depended only upon the due exertion of right reason, and could not otherwise be obtained than by a chain of metaphysical disquisitions, mankind would have wanted some inducement to have quickened their inquiries and the greater part of the world would have rested content in mental indolence, and ignorance, its inseparable companion. As, therefore, the Creator is a being not only of infinite power, and wisdom, but also of infinite goodness, he has been pleased so to contrive the constitution and frame of humanity, that we should want no other prompter to inquire after and pursue the rule of right, boy only our own self-love, that universal principle of action. For he has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter.
In consequence of which mutual connection of justice and human felicity, he has not perplexed the law of nature with a multitude of abstracted rules and precepts, referring merely to the fitness of unfitness of things, as some have vainly surmised, but has graciously reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept, “that man should pursue his own true and substantial happiness.” This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural law; for the several articles into which it is branched in our system, amount to no more than demonstrating that this or that action tends to man’s real happiness, and therefore very justly concluding that the performance of it is a part of the law of nature; or, on the other hand, that this or that action is destructive of man real happiness, and therefore that the law of nature forbids it.

This law of nature, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original.

But, in order to apply this to the particular exigencies of each individual, it is still necessary to have recourse to reason, whose office is to discover, as was before observed, what the law of nature directs in every circumstance of life, by considering what method will tend the most effectually to our own substantial happiness. And if our reasons were always ,as in our first ancestor before his transgression, clear and perfect, unruffled by passions, unclouded by prejudice, unimpaired by disease or intemperance, the task would be pleasant and easy; we would need no other guide but this. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understating full of ignorance and error.

This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine Providence, which in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, at sundry times and in divers manners, to discover and enforce its laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the Holy Scriptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found upon comparisons to be really a part of the original law of nature, as they tend in all their consequences to man’s felicity, But we are not from thence to conclude that the knowledge of these truths was attainable by reason, in its present corrupted state; since we found that, until they were revealed, they were hid from the wisdom of ages. As then the moral precepts of this law are indeed of the same original with those of the law of nature, so their intrinsic obligation is of equal strength and perpetuity. Yet undoubtedly the revealed law is of infinitely more authenticity than the moral system which is framed by ethical writers, and denominated the natural law; because one is the law of nature, expressly declared so to be by God himself; the other is only what, by the assistance of human reason, we imagine to be that law. If we could be as certain of the latter as we are of the former, both would have an equal authority; but, till then, they can never be put in any competition together.

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation depend all human laws; this is to day, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.

2 comments:

Daniel said...

Can you tell me which volume and page number these words can be found? Thank you.

City-On-A-Hill said...

I am using "The American Student's Blackstone", Commentaries of THE LAWS OF ENGLAND: in four books by Sir William Blackstone, Knight...with notes, and references to American Students by George Chase, LL. B. 1894

Introduction, of the Nature and Extent of the Laws of England. Section 1 [Blackstone's Commentaries - Introduction. - Section II] Of the Nature of Laws in General, p.3