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A Treatise of the Laws of Nature

Richard Cumberland

Publication Year: 2012

A Treatise of the Laws of Nature, originally titled De Legibus Naturae, first appeared in 1672 as a theoretical response to a range of issues that came together during the late 1660s. It conveyed a conviction that science might offer an effective means of demonstrating both the contents and the obligatory force of the law of nature. At a time when Hobbes’s work appeared to suggest that the application of science undermined rather than supported the idea of obligatory natural law, Cumberland’s De Legibus Naturae provided a scientific explanation of the natural necessity of altruism. Through his argument for a moral obligation to natural law, Cumberland made a critical intervention in the early debate over the role of natural jurisprudence at a moment when the natural law project was widely suspected of heterodoxy and incoherence. Liberty Fund publishes the first modern edition of A Treatise of the Laws of Nature, based on John Maxwell’s English translation of 1727. The edition includes Maxwell’s extensive notes and appendixes. It also provides, for the first time in English, manuscript additions by Cumberland and material from Barbeyrac’s 1744 French edition and John Towers’s edition of 1750.Richard Cumberland (1632–1718) was bishop of Peterborough.Jon Parkin is a Lecturer in Politics at the University of York, United Kingdom.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

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xix

The seventeenth century witnessed what has been called the “heroic” period in the development of modern natural law theory.1 Beginning with Hugo Grotius, Protestant thinkers began to experiment with scholastic natural law ideas to produce a distinctive and highly successful tradition of natural jurisprudence ...

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A note on this edition

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p. xx-xx

The current edition reproduces Maxwell’s complete text, together with additional material taken from Cumberland’s copy of De Legibus, Barbeyrac’s Traité Philosophique, and Towers’s Philosophical Enquiry. The only substantial changes to Maxwell’s text are to the footnotes. ...

A Treatise of the Laws of Nature


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pp. 3

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The Translator’s Preface

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pp. 4-10

The Original of Moral Obligation, and the fundamental Principles of Laws Divine and Human, of Society, of Virtue, and of Religion, are Points, which, in my Opinion, best deserve our Consideration, of any, which the Mind of Man can contemplate. ’Tis to these we chiefly owe all the Happiness we enjoy here, or hope for hereafter. ...

Names of Subscribers

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pp. 11-22

Two Introductory Essays

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pp. 23-24

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Essay I. Concerning the City, or Kingdom, of God in the Rational World, and the Defects in Heathen Deism

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pp. 25-67

Know thy-self, ” was certainly the Wisest of the Sayings of the seven Wise-Men of Greece; that Knowledge being the greatest Wisdom, as being the only Method, by which we are enabled to discharge those Duties and Obligations we lie under, and to obtain Happiness.

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Essay II. Concerning the Imperfectness of the Heathen Morality; from Both Which, the Usefulness of Revelation May Appear

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pp. 68-234

I. To begin with the Stoicks, whose pretentions ran highest in this way, and who acknowledg’d Virtue to be the only Good. Their Principles shall be extracted from Epictetus, M. Antoninus, Seneca, and Plutarch; and, to do them Justice, we shall begin with what is excellent in their Doctrine. …

A Philosophical Inquiry into the Laws of Nature

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The Contents

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pp. 237-246

In the first Chapter, the State of the Question is propos’d, and all the Laws of Nature are reduc’d to that one, of Benevolence towards all Rationals; and the Sanction of that Law is briefly deduc’d from the Consequences which attend such a Benevolence, at the Appointment of the Author of Nature. ...

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The Introduction

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pp. 247-288

§I. It concerns us both, friendly Reader, “That you should be briefly acquainted with the Design and Method of this Treatise”; for thence you will immedately perceive, “What I have perform’d, or, at least, attempted; and what is further to be supply’d from your own Understanding, or the Writings of others.” …

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Chapter I. Of the Nature of Things

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pp. 289-362

Altho’ the Scepticks and Epicureans of old denied, and others of like Principles still persist in denying, that there are any Laws of Nature; 1 we are, nevertheless, on both sides agreed, what is intended by that Name; for we both understand thereby, certain Propositions of unchangeable Truth,

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Chapter II. Of Human Nature, and Right Reason

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pp. 363-461

By the Word [Man], I understand an Animal endow’d with a Mind; and Hobbes himself, in his Treatise of Human Nature, acknowledges the Mind to be one of the principal Parts of Man1. Natural Philosophers, both antient and modern, Des-Cartes, Digby, More, ...

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Chapter III. Of Natural Good

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pp. 462-480

Good, is that which preserves, or enlarges and perfects, the Faculties of any one Thing, or of several. For, in these Effects, is discover’d that particular Agreement of one thing with another, which is requisite to denominate any thing good, to the Nature of this thing, rather than of others.1 ...

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Chapter IV. Of the Practical Dictates of Reason

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pp. 481-494

I must begin this Chapter with observing, that not all the Actions of Men are grounded upon the Dictates, or upon Notions equivalent to the Dictates, of Reason. For our first Apprehensions, and certain Motions of the Spirits, or Imagination, sometimes also muscular Motions, as the winking of the Eyes, ...

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Chapter V. Of the Law of Nature, and Its Obligation

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pp. 495-650

Having prepar’d the Way for all that is to follow, I shall begin this Chapter with the Definition of the Law of Nature.1 The Law of Nature is a Proposition, proposed to the Observation of, or impress’d upon, the Mind, with sufficient Clearness, by the Nature of Things, from the Will of the first Cause, ...

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Chapter VI. Of Those Things Which Are Contain’d in the General Law of Nature

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pp. 651-662

Having already establish’d the general Precept to promote the Common Good, it seems proper in what follows, to explain 1. What those Things are, which we comprehend within the Common Good? 2. What Actions any way tend to promote it, and are, therefore, directed by this Law? …

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Chapter VII. Of the Original of Dominion, and the Moral Virtues

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pp. 663-683

As the Animal Oeconomy is truly, tho’ not sufficiently, explain’d by saying, That the whole Fabrick of the Body is supported by the continual Circulation of the Blood; so the Society of all Rational Agents is truly said to be preserv’d by a Circulation of Good Offices for the benefit of the Publick; ...

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Chapter VIII. Of the Moral Virtues in Particular

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pp. 684-707

Having explain’d the Original of Dominion, and, by the way, declar’d its Progress thro’ all Society, whether Sacred, or Civil, or between different States, or between the different Parts of the same Family;I will now “proceed to a particular Description of the more limited Moral Virtues.” ...

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Chapter IX. Corollaries

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pp. 708-752

Having drawn, from Nature, the most general Moral Precepts, and thence explain’d the Moral Virtues in particular; I shall now briefly shew, “How these most general Precepts, which I have deliver’d, may lead us to others more limited, and of more common Use”; ...

Editor’s Note

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pp. 753-756


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pp. 757-960

Selected Bibliography

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pp. 961-972


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pp. 973-1009

E-ISBN-13: 9781614877912
E-ISBN-10: 1614877912
Print-ISBN-13: 9780865974739

Page Count: 1029
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: None

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Subject Headings

  • Ethics.
  • Christian ethics.
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