Anno Urbis - The Roman Empire Online


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  1. Explain how the social virtues are derived from the law of nature. How is charity or the love of one's neighbor a precept and application of it?

  1. By reason of equality and reciprocity; for when we injure another, we give him a right to injure us in return; thus, by attacking the existence of our neighbor, we endanger our own, from the effect of reciprocity; on the other hand, by doing good to others, we have room and right to expect an equivalent exchange; and such is the character of all social virtues, that they are useful to the man who practises them, by the right of reciprocity which they give him over those who are benefited by them.

  1. Charity is then nothing but justice?

  1. No: it is only justice; with this slight difference, that strict justice confines itself to saying, "Do not to another the harm you would not wish he should do to you;" and that charity, or the love of one's neighbor, extends so far as to say, "Do to another the good which you would wish to receive from him." Thus when the gospel said, that this precept contained the whole of the law and the prophets, it announced nothing more than the precept of the law of nature.

  1. Does it enjoin forgiveness of injuries?

  1. Yes, when that forgiveness implies self-preservation.

  1. Does it prescribe to us, after having received a blow on one cheek, to hold out the other?

  1. No; for it is, in the first place, contrary to the precept of loving our neighbor as ourselves, since thereby we should love, more than ourselves, him who makes an attack on our preservation. Secondly, such a precept in its literal sense, encourages the wicked to oppression and injustice. The law of nature has been more wise in prescribing a calculated proportion of courage and moderation, which induces us to forget a first or unpremediated injury, but which punishes every act tending to oppression.

  1. Does the law of nature prescribe to do good to others beyond the bounds of reason and measure?

  1. No; for it is a sure way of leading them to ingratitude. Such is the force of sentiment and justice implanted in the heart of man, that he is not even grateful for benefits conferred without discretion. There is only one measure with them, and that is to be just.

  1. Is alms-giving a virtuous action?

  1. Yes, when it is practised according to the rule first mentioned; without which it degenerates into imprudence and vice, inasmuch as it encourages laziness, which is hurtful to the beggar and to society; no one has a right to partake of the property and fruits of another's labor, without rendering an equivalent of his own industry.

  1. Does the law of nature consider as virtues faith and hope, which are often joined with charity?

  1. No; for they are ideas without reality; and if any effects result from them, they turn rather to the profit of those who have not those ideas, than of those who have them; so that faith and hope may be called the virtues of dupes for the benefit of knaves.

  1. Does the law of nature prescribe probity?

  1. Yes, for probity is nothing more than respect for one's own rights in those of another; a respect founded on a prudent and well combined calculation of our interests compared to those of others.

  1. But does not this calculation, which embraces the complicated interests and rights of the social state, require an enlightened understanding and knowledge, which make it a difficult science?

  1. Yes, and a science so much the more delicate as the honest man pronounces in his own cause.

  1. Probity, then, shows an extension and justice in the mind?

  1. Yes, for an honest man almost always neglects a present interest, in order not to destroy a future one; whereas the knave does the contrary, and loses a great future interest for a present smaller one.

  1. Improbity, therefore, is a sign of false judgment and a narrow mind?

  1. Yes, and rogues may be defined ignorant and silly calculators; for they do not understand their true interest, and they pretend to cunning: nevertheless, their cunning only ends in making known what they are--in losing all confidence and esteem, and the good services resulting from them for their physical and social existence. They neither live in peace with others, nor with themselves; and incessantly menaced by their conscience and their enemies, they enjoy no other real happiness but that of not being hanged.

  1. Does the law of nature forbid robbery?

  1. Yes, for the man who robs another gives him a right to rob him; from that moment there is no security in his property, nor in his means of preservation: thus in injuring others, he, by a counterblow, injures himself.

  1. Does it interdict even an inclination to rob?

  1. Yes; for that inclination leads naturally to action, and it is for this reason that envy is considered a sin?

  1. How does it forbid murder?

  1. By the most powerful motives of self-preservation; for, first, the man who attacks exposes himself to the risk of being killed, by the right of defence; secondly, if he kills, he gives to the relations and friends of the deceased, and to society at large, an equal right of killing him; so that his life is no longer in safety.

  1. How can we, by the law of nature, repair the evil we have done?

  1. By rendering a proportionate good to those whom we have injured.

  1. Does it allow us to repair it by prayers, vows, offerings to God, fasting and mortifications?

  1. No: for all those things are foreign to the action we wish to repair: they neither restore the ox to him from whom it has been stolen, honor to him whom we have deprived of it, nor life to him from whom it has been taken away; consequently they miss the end of justice; they are only perverse contracts by which a man sells to another goods which do not belong to him; they are a real depravation of morality, inasmuch as they embolden to commit crimes through the hope of expiating them; wherefore, they have been the real cause of all the evils by which the people among whom those expiatory practices were used, have been continually tormented.

  1. Does the law of nature order sincerity?

  1. Yes; for lying, perfidy, and perjury create distrust, quarrels, hatred, revenge, and a crowd of evils among men, which tend to their common destruction; while sincerity and fidelity establish confidence, concord, and peace, besides the infinite good resulting from such a state of things to society.

  1. Does it prescribe mildness and modesty?

  1. Yes; for harshness and obduracy, by alienating from us the hearts of other men, give them an inclination to hurt us; ostentation and vanity, by wounding their self-love and jealousy, occasion us to miss the end of a real utility.

  1. Does it prescribe humility as a virtue?

  1. No; for it is a propensity in the human heart to despise secretly everything that presents to it the idea of weakness; and self-debasement encourages pride and oppression in others; the balance must be kept in equipoise.

  1. You have reckoned simplicity of manners among the social virtues; what do you understand by that word?

  1. I mean the restricting our wants and desires to what is truly useful to the existence of the citizen and his family; that is to say, the man of simple manners has but few wants, and lives content with a little.

  1. How is this virtue prescribed to us?

  1. By the numerous advantages which the practice of it procures to the individual and to society; for the man whose wants are few, is free at once from a crowd of cares, perplexities, and labors; he avoids many quarrels and contests arising from avidity and a desire of gain; he spares himself the anxiety of ambition, the inquietudes of possession, and the uneasiness of losses; finding superfluity everywhere, he is the real rich man; always content with what he has, he is happy at little expense; and other men, not fearing any competition from him, leave him in quiet, and are disposed to render him the services he should stand in need of. And if this virtue of simplicity extends to a whole people, they insure to themselves abundance; rich in everything they do not consume, they acquire immense means of exchange and commerce; they work, fabricate, and sell at a lower price than others, and attain to all kinds of prosperity, both at home and abroad.

  1. What is the vice contrary to this virtue?

  1. It is cupidity and luxury.

  1. Is luxury a vice in the individual and in society?

  1. Yes, and to that degree, that it may be said to include all the others; for the man who stands in need of many things, imposes thereby on himself all the anxiety, and submits to all the means just or unjust of acquiring them. Does he possess an enjoyment, he covets another; and in the bosom of superfluity, he is never rich; a commodious dwelling is not sufficient for him, he must have a beautiful hotel; not content with a plenteous table, he must have rare and costly viands: he must have splendid furniture, expensive clothes, a train of attendants, horses, carriages, women, theatrical representations and games. Now, to supply so many expenses, much money must be had; and he looks on every method of procuring it as good and even necessary; at first he borrows, afterwards he steals, robs, plunders, turns bankrupt, is at war with every one, ruins and is ruined.

Should a nation be involved in luxury, it occasions on a larger scale the same devastations; by reason that it consumes its entire produce, it finds itself poor even with abundance; it has nothing to sell to foreigners; its manufactures are carried on at a great expense, and are sold too dear; it becomes tributary for everything it imports; it attacks externally its consideration, power, strength, and means of defence and preservation, while internally it undermines and falls into the dissolution of its members. All its citizens being covetous of enjoyments, are engaged in a perpetual struggle to obtain them; all injure or are near injuring themselves; and hence arise those habits and actions of usurpation, which constitute what is denominated moral corruption, intestine war between citizen and citizen. From luxury arises avidity, from avidity, invasion by violence and perfidy; from luxury arises the iniquity of the judge, the venality of the witness, the improbity of the husband, the prostitution of the wife, the obduracy of parents, the ingratitude of children, the avarice of the master, the dishonesty of the servant, the dilapidation of the administrator, the perversity of the legislator, lying, perfidy, perjury, assassination, and all the disorders of the social state; so that it was with a profound sense of truth, that ancient moralists have laid the basis of the social virtues on simplicity of manners, restriction of wants, and contentment with a little; and a sure way of knowing the extent of a man's virtues and vices is, to find out if his expenses are proportionate to his fortune, and calculate, from his want of money, his probity, his integrity in fulfilling his engagements, his devotion to the public weal, and his sincere or pretended love of his country.

  1. What do you mean by the word country?

  1. I mean the community of citizens who, united by fraternal sentiments, and reciprocal wants, make of their respective strength one common force, the reaction of which on each of them assumes the noble and beneficent character of paternity. In society, citizens form a bank of interest; in our country we form a family of endearing attachments; it is charity, the love of one's neighbor extended to a whole nation. Now as charity cannot be separated from justice, no member of the family can pretend to the enjoyment of its advantages, except in proportion to his labor; if he consumes more than it produces, he necessarily encroaches on his fellow-citizens; and it is only by consuming less than what he produces or possesses, that he can acquire the means of making sacrifices and being generous.

  1. What do you conclude from all this?

  1. I conclude from it that all the social virtues are only the habitude of actions useful to society and to the individual who practices them; That they refer to the physical object of man's preservation; That nature having implanted in us the want of that preservation, has made a law to us of all its consequences, and a crime of everything that deviates from it; That we carry in us the seed of every virtue, and of every perfection; That it only requires to be developed; That we are only happy inasmuch as we observe the rules established by nature for the end of our preservation; And that all wisdom, all perfection, all law, all virtue, all philosophy, consist in the practice of these axioms founded on our own organization:

Preserve thyself; Instruct thyself; Moderate thyself; Live for thy fellow citizens, that they may live for thee.

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