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Natural Rights on the Threshold of the Scottish Enlightenment

Gershom Carmichael

Publication Year: 2012

An important figure in the natural law tradition and in the Scottish Enlightenment, Gershom Carmichael defended a strong theory of rights and drew attention to Grotius, Pufendorf, and Locke.Gershom Carmichael was a teacher and writer who played an important role in the Scottish Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. His philosophy focused on the natural rights of individuals—the natural right to defend oneself, to own the property on which one has labored, and to services contracted for with others. Carmichael argued that slavery is incompatible with the rights of men and citizens, and he believed that subjects have the right to resist rulers who exceed the limits of their powers.Although he appealed to the authority of Grotius and Locke, the grounds on which he defended natural rights were distinctively his own. He drew upon the Reformed or Presbyterian theology to propose that, in respecting the natural rights of individuals, one shows one’s reverence for God’s creation. Inasmuch as all of mankind longs for lasting happiness, which can be found only in worship of or reverence for God, such reverence is the natural law which obliges all to respect the rights of all.Natural Rights includes Supplements and Observations on Pufendorf (1724), Natural Theology (1729), Logic (1722), two theses, and a manuscript on teaching, all in English for the first time.Gershom Carmichael (1672–1729) was the first professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow, preceding Hutcheson, Smith, and Reid. James Moore is Professor of Political Science at Concordia University in Montreal.Michael Silverthorne is Honorary University Fellow in the School of Classics at the University of Exeter.Knud Haakonssen is Professor of Intellectual History and Director of the Centre for Intellectual History at the University of Sussex, England.

Published by: Liberty Fund

Series: Natural Law Paper

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 1-4


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pp. v-vii

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pp. ix-xvi

It is a remarkable feature of the enlightenment in eighteenth-century Scotland that many of the most distinguished moral philosophers of that era assigned to their students texts based upon the writings of the early modern natural jurists. The works of Grotius, Pufendorf, and Locke were commented upon, supplemented, annotated...

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pp. xvii-18

Our appreciation of the contexts and significance of Carmichael’s thinking has been enhanced by discussions at many seminars and colloquia where we have presented our interpretations of the texts. The scholars who have assisted us in our understanding of his writings are too numerous to be mentioned here.We are...

I. Natural Rights

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pp. 1-24

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Editorial Note

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pp. 7-26

In the last paragraph of his preface (pp. 19–20), Carmichael refers his readers to an appendix located at the end of his commentary (pp. 211–17) in which he sets out the propositions of moral science in what he takes to be their proper order. The chapter headings and the sequence in which the chapters are arranged...

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1. On Moral Philosophy, or the Science of Natural Jurisprudence

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pp. 9-20

No one with the least tincture of learning can be ignorant of the fact that philosophy has been brought to a much happier condition in our own lifetime and in that of our parents than it had previously enjoyed. This has happened in two ways: philosophy has been purged of the absurdities of previous ages, and...

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2. On Lasting Happiness and the Divine Law

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pp. 21-29

1. It is natural for man to strive to be as happy as he can and to avoid misery so far as possible. It follows that he will use the faculties in which man excels so that his will may be determined to choose and perform those actions which he thinks will lead to his greatest happiness, and which will permit him most...

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3. On Human Action in the Divine Court

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pp. 30-38

We are taught by the light of nature as the fruit of acting well, to hope, and indeed to expect, not only felicity in this life in particular (although this is most closely attached to duties enjoined by natural law) but also, in general, some greater happiness or greater alleviation of misery, if not in this, at least...

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4. Law, Rights, and Justice

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pp. 39-45

The author is right to point out here that it contributes to the security of the human race that men’s actions be restrained by a certain rule; he illustrates the same point more fully at Of the Law of Nature and Nations, II.I. But the assertion that man actually is subject to such a rule needs to be proved from the supreme...

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5. On Natural Law

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pp. 46-53

Pufendorf ’s doctrine of the fundamental precept of natural law, which he lays out in chapter 3 [Pufendorf, On the Duty of Man and Citizen, I.3], has long been criticized by many grave and learned men as unsatisfactory and inadequate to the end it seeks to achieve. So instead of making individual notes on this chapter...

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6. On Duty to God

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pp. 54-58

Among the duties owed to God, our author is right to give first place to correct beliefs about him. Beneath the first elements of moral doctrine we must set a sure and certain knowledge of God, of his attributes, and of the dependence of all things upon him. (In this sense the distinguished Gerard de Vries in the last...

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7. On Duty to Oneself

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pp. 59-72

Pufendorf passes too lightly over the cultivation of the mind, a subject which has an important place among the duties which natural law prescribes. This seems to be virtually the only thing which some recent writers understand by ethics when they opt to distinguish ethics from natural jurisprudence. In various editions...

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8. On Duty to Others, or Sociability

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pp. 73-76

We are always bound to employ the most scrupulous diligence that the nature of the business admits, to avoid causing harm or loss to others. The different degrees of diligence which are required in different contracts concern the custody or care due to someone else’s property by virtue of these contracts. Their effect...

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9. Natural Rights and Agreements

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pp. 77-90

Our author’s method relies heavily on the distinction [between “absolute” and “hypothetical” duties]. But he does not explain it with sufficient clarity nor apply it at all skillfully. And since there is the same variety of obligations or duties as of rights to which they correspond, in place of this distinction one may...

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10. On the Right of Property

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pp. 91-105

Surely there is a purpose in God having given man a life which cannot be preserved without the use of external things, and in his creation of things which cannot be imagined to have any use as worthy of Divine Wisdom as this, and among them things which are suitable for use in themselves but which would soon...

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11. Contracts and Quasi Contracts

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pp. 106-117

For a thing to have value, the first requisite is this suitability, either real or imaginary [“to make a direct or indirect contribution to the needs of human life and to render it fuller and more agreeable” (Pufendorf)]; however the justification of the value is not the same as the reason for the suitability, as the author...

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12. Dissolution of Obligations

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pp. 118-123

Several of the means [of dissolving obligations] which are reviewed here may also dissolve other obligations than those that arise from agreements. The dissolution of an obligation (as may be understood from our observation on p. 79 is simply the reversion of the corresponding personal right to its original subject, and...

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13. The State of Nature

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pp. 124-127

A state [status] is a condition of man considered morally, that is, a condition which involves certain rights and obligations, and which does so not merely with respect to an isolated act or omission but to a whole series of acts. In the previous book and in our notes to it, we outlined all the general sources of rights and...

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14. On the Rights of Husbands and Wives

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pp. 128-133

It is obvious that none of these pollutions have anything whatsoever to do with the procreation of human offspring; they are contrary to the order of nature and are accordingly condemned by natural law. The law of sociability also requires men to temper the natural union of the sexes for the good of human society. For...

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15. On the Rights of Parents and Children

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pp. 134-137

Since everyone obviously needs the care and protection of others because of the condition in which he enters the world, it is appropriate that the persons who were the authors of his taking his first breath should provide him with the necessities of life. But they should not only supply what is necessary for the preservation...

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16. On the Rights of Masters and Servants

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pp. 138-145

Among most Europeans today, slavery has been abolished. And it has been the universal practice of Christians, when war has arisen among them, not to make slaves of their prisoners in a way that would allow them to be sold and forced to work and made to endure the other sufferings of slaves, as Grotius points...

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17. On the Origin of Civil Society, or the Original Contract

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pp. 146-156

I do not know why the distinguished jurists Titius and Barbeyrac reject the fundamental cause of the origin of civil society given by Pufendorf;2 certainly they put nothing equally probable in its place.3 I do not doubt that crafty and ambitious men used their arts to promote the institution of new societies, no doubt promising...

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18. On the Constitution of Civil Government

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pp. 157-161

The celebrated Locke (Second Treatise of Government, ch. 12)2 neatly reduces all the parts of sovereign power to three: legislative (as it is commonly, though improperly, called),3 executive, and federative. It belongs to the legislative power not only to command what is to be done and not done, but also to say what...

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19. On the Limits of Sovereign Power and the Right of Resistance

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pp. 162-174

The author has not included the words by a superior without a purpose. For while sovereign power is indeed derived from the consent of the citizens, once it has been conferred it makes the person on whom it has been conferred truly superior to the rest of the citizens not only as individuals but as a whole. Hence...

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20. On Conquest and Patrimonial Kingdoms

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pp. 175-187

Many opinions are current on this question of the acquisition of power or government. They need to be carefully scrutinized. It has been established above2 that whatever is owed by the vanquished even to a just victor, beyond the fact that he had given cause for war, is owed either as compensation or as a...

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21. On the Rights of Citizens

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pp. 188-198

There are in general two kinds of civil laws (and the same may be said of natural laws, so far as they are reduced to definite propositions enunciated in words). Some expressly prescribe what is to be done or not to be done, often with the explicit addition of a penal sanction, though the latter is quite commonly...

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22. On the Rights of War and Peace

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pp. 199-210

This is not the place to put forward a general doctrine of war, which should be derived from On the Duty of Man and Citizen, I.5; although Pufendorf has only discussed defense there, we have added some notes to section 17 on the prosecution of one’s rights by force which, we suggested, is relevant to the...

23. Appendix: The Rights and Duties of Men and Citizens

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pp. 211-217

II. Natural Theology

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pp. 219-240


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pp. 223-225

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Preface: Natural Theology and the Foundations of Morals

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pp. 227-232

I would not expect even my kindest readers to forgive me for putting before the public today this small and unpolished textbook on the most difficult and sublime of subjects, and I would certainly never forgive myself for publishing it, if I did not think that it was necessary to do so. I feel obliged to...

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On the Scope of Natural Theology

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pp. 233-251

The knowledge of God which is drawn from nature itself is usually called natural theology. As it contemplates the most noble of all objects, so it greatly exceeds in the gravity and sublimity of the truths which it sets forth all other parts of human knowledge (excepting only the teaching which is divinely inspired...

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1. On the Existence of God

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pp. 234-247

That something exists, we here assume as certain, and rightly so; for each man is intimately conscious to himself of at least his own existence as a thinking being; and hardly anyone doubts the existence of physical objects, perceived by sense. But that which is assumed to exist is either independent or...

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2. On the Attributes of God and First, on the Incommunicable Attributes

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pp. 248-256

In the last chapter we demonstrated the existence of a Supreme Deity, that is, an independent spirit, supremely perfect, from whom all things have their being. The next step is to give an outline, however briefly, of certain particular perfections of the Deity which are contained by necessary connection in the idea we...

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3. On the Communicable Attributes of God

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pp. 257-269

It naturally tends to enhance our devotion to God to consider him as a spirit, a spirit in whom all the individual prerogatives of supreme Deity which we surveyed above are attached to each of the common properties of spirits.This attachment of incommunicable attributes to communicable attributes is neatly...

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4. On the Divine Operations, or Actions Involving External Objects

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pp. 270-281

In the first chapter we demonstrated the existence of God from the visible operations of God. We should therefore look rather more closely at the modes and conditions of his operations. It is not necessary at this point to prove that all that exists outside of God owes its being to divine efficacy. We believe this has...

III. Logic

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pp. 283-304

Editorial Note

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pp. 287-288

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pp. 289-291

There is no need to speak at length about the scope of this little work. Anyone may readily see that it is a short and simple course of instruction designed merely to prepare the minds of beginners for a deeper understanding of logic and for the more fruitful approach to other branches of knowledge which...

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A Short Introduction to Logic

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pp. 292-310

Logic is the science which exhibits the method of discovering truth and of expounding it to others. Since we can be said to attain truth or deviate from it, strictly speaking, only by the act of judging, it is clear that the purpose of teaching it is the formation of true and, so far as possible, certain judgments about...

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1. On Apprehension

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pp. 293-297

Apprehension is the act of the mind by which it merely perceives a thing or simply thinks about it, neither affirming nor denying it, neither desiring nor avoiding it. The representation of a thing in the mind which enables us to perceive it, is called an idea. A fuller inquiry into the relation of an idea to the...

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2. On Judgment in General, and on Immediate Judgment in Particular

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pp. 298-303

The relationship of the ideas so compared is learned either from their immediate juxtaposition (without the intervention of any third idea) or with the assistance of one or more intermediate ideas, with which both of the given ideas are compared. Therefore, one kind of judgment is immediate, by which...

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3. On Mediate Judgment or Discourse

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pp. 304-308

Whenever the mutual relationship of any two ideas is not adequately understood by the direct comparison of them, some other intermediate idea has to be brought in (as we have pointed out above), so that one may infer the relation of these ideas to each other from the perceived relation of both of the ideas...

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4. On Method, and Logical Practice

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pp. 309-317

To investigate the truth or expound it to others with success, we need to do more than look at individual acts taken separately, we must also arrange them in due order among themselves. We would not wish this compend to omit any of the essential parts of logic, and so we have included here the three following...

IV. Early Writings: Philosophical Theses

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pp. 319-342

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Philosophical Theses, 1699

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pp. 325-352

I. It is universally acknowledged that reason is the highest prerogative of human nature above any other part of the visible world. Accordingly, it has been repeated ad nauseam in the schools of philosophy that man is a rational animal. Nothing more is meant here by the term reason than the power or faculty...

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Philosophical Theses, 1707

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pp. 357-376

In the previous series of inaugural theses which were defended eight years ago under the same President,1 it was argued that the duties by which Nature itself teaches that indirectly and mediately we are to give evidence of a due sentiment of love and veneration for the supreme being, are appropriately reduced...

V. Gershom Carmichael’s Account of His Teaching Method

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pp. 377-396

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Gershom Carmichael’s Account of His Teaching Method

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pp. 379-387

In November, so soon as I could get them furnish’d with ye first sheet of my Compend of Logick (which was then printing) I began them to it, largely exploring every Lesson, when I gave it out, & afterwards examining them upon it, with a repeated explication. Thus I went thro’ ye Compend two or three times...


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pp. 389-396


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pp. 397-405

E-ISBN-13: 9781614877875
E-ISBN-10: 1614877874
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865973206

Page Count: 430
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None
Series Title: Natural Law Paper