restricted access Dissertation on This Question: “Can Natural Law Bring Society to Perfection Without the Assistance of Political Laws?”
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773 Dissertation on This Question: “Can Natural Law Bring Society to Perfection Without the Assistance of Political Laws?” Translated by T. J. Hochstrasser I. This question, proposed in 1742 by the Academy of Dijon, struck me as chosen with real wisdom; for any reliable and principled handling of this topic requires reflection on the foundation of the nature and goal of politics. Men are not often given the chance to undertake such researches. II. So as to advance this interesting subject in a clear and precisemanner, and to determine the issue unambiguously, it is necessary above all to define the meaning of terms precisely, and to make clear and distinct the concepts that match them. That is the key point in matters of moral theory, and once it is resolved, thesolutionfollowsnaturallyandpresents itself. Let us see therefore what are the perfection of society, natural law, and political laws. III. The perfection of a thing consists generally in the harmony or agreement of everything within it in the direction of a common goal; so we need to see what is the goal of society if we want to get to know exactly what constitutes its perfection. IV. Man naturally desires perfection and happiness, and he enjoys gifts of intelligence and free will to attain them. But he cannot work toward that goal without a peaceful life, and the resources to provide for his security and all his needs. There is no one who can obtain these advantages without the help of others. This is what induced men to create a society in which they promised such reciprocity. The perfection of this society therefore consists in the provision of arrangements such that not 774 additional essays only do all members enjoy personal security, but also their labor yields the necessities and even the comforts of life; as a result there are no obstacles to each pursuing his own perfection, in accordance withtheviews of God. V. So that a society can be well founded, so that everything is in order, and each individual can pursue his own business in peace, there must be rules of conduct based on wise reasoning and to which all the members submit. These rules are laws. We recognize two forms of them: natural and civil law. VI. Natural law comprises rules of conduct based on the nature of things, and in particular on the nature of man. We get to know it through reason. This faculty of the soul reveals to us the agreement or disagreement which exists between free actions and the nature of things and man in particular. Moreover, it demonstrates that if we want to act as rational beings, we must scrutinize carefully these different relationships that actions have with the nature of things, and above all with the nature of man—relations between good and evil, and the good and the bad. Reason teaches us that we are under obligation to practice the former and avoid the latter. Finally, we cannot doubt that in so acting we are fulfilling the will of the Creator, who has imposed the rule of law on us by the same means that he has established the world as it is. VII. The ancient philosophers had the same idea of the law of nature as we do. Here is the definition that they gave of it: Law is the height of reason innate in nature, which commands those actions which must be undertaken and forbids the contrary.1 Cicero adds in the same place: The same reason, when itfindsconfirmation andcompletioninthemindof man, is law. And the same philosopher, in the company of the wisest men of the ancient world, relates the whole of natural law to this general rule thatmanmustliveinawaythatconformstohisnature,livinginharmony with nature. Indeed, from the nature of man can be deduced all the duties and commands of natural law, in the same way that mathema1 . Cicero, de Legib. I. 1. can natural law perfect society? 775 ticians deduce all the laws of movement from this single proposition based on the nature of bodies: “Every body remains in its state of rest or movement so long as no external force compels it to leave that condition.” VIII. From there it follows that natural law is universal. Since it requires us to do all that is most suited to our nature, there is no situation in which it can let us down; for in every situation in which there is a better option to take, we are ordered to take it; and...


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Subject Headings

  • International law.
  • War (International law).
  • Natural law.
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