The Elements of Law/Part I/Chapter 16

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The Elements of Law
by Thomas Hobbes
Part I, Chapter 16

Chapter 16: Some of the Laws of Nature[edit]

1. It is a common saying that nature maketh nothing in vain. And it is most certain, that as the truth of a conclusion, is no more but the truth of the premises that make it; so the force of the command, or law of nature, is no more than the force of the reasons inducing thereunto. Therefore the law of nature mentioned in the former chapter, sect. 2, namely, That every man should divest himself of the right, &c. were utterly vain, and of none effect, if this also were not a law of the same Nature, That every man is obliged to stand to, and perform, those covenants which he maketh. For what benefit is it to a man, that any thing be promised, or given unto him, if he that giveth, or promiseth, performeth not, or retaineth still the right of taking back what he hath given?

2. The breach or violation of covenant, is that which men call INJURY, consisting in some action or omission, which is therefore called UNJUST. For it is action or omission, without jus, or right; which was transferred or relinquished before. There is a great similitude between that we call injury, or injustice in the actions and conversations of men in the world, and that which is called absurd in the arguments and disputations of the Schools. For as he, that is driven to contradict an assertion by him before maintained, is said to be reduced to an absurdity; so he that through passion doth, or omitteth that which before by covenant he promised not to do, or not to omit, is said to commit injustice. And there is in every breach of covenant a contradiction properly so called; for he that covenanteth, willeth to do, or omit, in the time to come; and he that doth any action, willeth it in that present, which is part of the future time, contained in the covenant: and therefore he that violateth a covenant, willeth the doing and the not doing of the same thing, at the same time; which is a plain contradiction. And so injury is an absurdity of conversation, as absurdity is a kind of injustice in disputation.

3. In all violation of covenant, (to whomsoever accrueth the damage) the injury is done only to him to whom the covenant was made. For example, if a man covenant to obey his master, and the master command him to give money to a third, which he promiseth to do, and doth not; though this be to the damage of the third, yet the injury is done to the master only. For he could violate no covenant with him, with whom none was made, and therefore doth him no injury: for injury consisteth in violation of covenant, by the definition thereof.

4. The names of just, unjust, justice, injustice, are equivocal, and signify diversely. For justice and injustice, when they be attributed to actions, signify the same thing with no injury, and injury; and denominate the action just, or unjust, but not the man so; for they denominate him guilty, or not guilty. But when justice and injustice are attributed to men, they signify proneness and affection, and inclination of nature, that is to say, passions of the mind apt to produce just and unjust actions. So that when a man is said to be just, or unjust, not the action, but the passion, and aptitude to do such action is considered. And therefore a just man may have committed an unjust act; and an unjust man may have done justly not only one, but most of his actions. For there is an oderunt peccare in the unjust, as well as in the just, but from different causes; for the unjust man who abstaineth from injuries for fear of punishment, declareth plainly that the justice of his actions dependeth upon civil constitution, from whence punishments proceed; which would otherwise in the estate of nature be unjust, according to the fountain from whence they spring. This distinction therefore of justice, and injustice, ought to be remembered: that when injustice is taken for guilt, the action is unjust, but not therefore the man; and when justice is taken for guiltlessness, the actions are just, and yet not always the man. Likewise when justice and injustice are taken for habits of the mind, the man may be just, or unjust, and yet not all his actions so.

5. Concerning. the justice of actions, the same is usually divided into two kinds, whereof men call the one commutative, and the other distributive; and are said to consist, the one in proportion arithmetical, the other in geometrical: and commutative justice, they place in permutation, as buying, selling, and barter. distributive, in giving to every man according to their deserts. Which distinction is not well made, inasmuch as injury, which is the injustice of action, consisteth not in the inequality of things changed, or distributed, but in the inequality that men (contrary to nature and reason) assume unto themselves above their fellows; of which inequality shall be spoken hereafter. And for commutative justice placed in buying and selling, though the thing bought be unequal to the price given for it; yet forasmuch as both the buyer and the seller are made judges of the value, and are thereby both satisfied: there can be no injury done on either side, neither party having trusted, or covenanted with the other. And for distributive justice, which consisteth in the distribution of our own benefits; seeing a thing is therefore said to be our own, because we may dispose of it at our own pleasure: it can be no injury to any man, though our liberality be further extended towards another, than towards him; unless we be thereto obliged by covenant: and then the injustice consisteth in the violation of that covenant, and not in the inequality of distribution.

6. It happeneth many times that a man benefitteth or contributeth to the power of another, without any covenant, but only upon confidence and trust of obtaining the grace and favour of that other, whereby he may procure a greater, or no less benefit or assistance to himself. For by necessity of nature every man doth in all his voluntary actions intend some good unto himself. In this case it is a law of nature, That no man suffer him, that thus trusteth to his charity, or good affection towards him, to be in the worse estate for his trusting. For if he shall so do, men will not dare to confer mutually to each other's defence, nor put themselves into each other's mercy upon any terms whatsoever. but rather abide the utmost and worst event of hostility. by which general diffidence, men will not only be enforced to war, but also afraid to come so much within the danger of one another, as to make any overture of peace. But this is to be understood of those only, that confer their benefits (as I have said) upon trust only, and not for triumph or ostentation. For as when they do it upon trust, the end they aimed at, namely to be well used, is the reward; so also when they do it for ostentation, they have the reward in themselves.

7. But seeing in this case there passeth no covenant, the breach of this law of nature is not to be called injury; it hath another name (viz.) INGRATITUDE.

8. It is also a law of nature, That every man do help and endeavour to accommodate each other, as far as may be without danger of their persons, and loss of their means, to maintain and defend themselves. For seeing the causes of war and desolation proceed from those passions, by which we strive to accommodate ourselves, and to leave others as far as we can behind us: it followeth that that passion by which we strive mutually to accommodate each other, must be the cause of peace. And this passion is that charity defined chap. IX, sect. 17.

9. And in this precept of nature. is included and comprehended also this, That a man forgive and pardon him that hath done him wrong, upon his repentance, and caution for the future. For PARDON is peace granted to him, that (having provoked to war) demandeth it. It is not therefore charity, but fear, when a man giveth peace to him that repenteth not, nor giveth caution for maintaining thereof in the time to come. For he that repenteth not, remaineth with the affection of an enemy; as also doth he that refuseth to give caution, and consequently is presumed not to seek after peace, but advantage. And therefore to forgive him is not commanded in this law of nature, nor is charity, but may sometimes be prudence. Otherwise, not to pardon upon repentance and caution, considering men cannot abstain from provoking one another, is never to give peace; and that is against the general definition of the law of nature.

10. And seeing the law of nature commandeth pardon when there is repentance, and caution for the future; it followeth that the same law ordaineth, That no revenge be taken upon the consideration only of the offence past, but of the benefit to come; that is to say, that all revenge ought to tend to amendment, either of the person offending, or of others, by the example of his punishment; which is sufficiently apparent, in that the law of nature commandeth pardon, where the future time is secured. The same is also apparent by this: that revenge when it considereth the offence past, is nothing else but present triumph and glory, and directeth to no end; for end implieth some future good; and what is directed to no end, is therefore unprofitable; and consequently the triumph of revenge, is vain glory: and whatsoever is vain, is against reason; and to hurt one another without reason, is contrary to that, which by supposition is every man's benefit, namely peace; and what is contrary to peace, is contrary to the law of nature.

11. And because all signs which we shew to one another of hatred and contempt, provoke in the highest degree to quarrel and battle (inasmuch as life itself, with the condition of enduring scorn, is not esteemed worth the enjoying, much less peace); it must necessarily be implied as a law of nature, That no man reproach, revile, deride, or any otherwise declare his hatred, contempt, or disesteem of any other. But this law is very little practised. For what is more ordinary than reproaches of those that are rich, towards them that are not? or of those that sit in place of judicature, towards those that are accused at the bar? although to grieve them in that manner, be no part of the punishment for their crime, nor contained in their office; but use hath prevailed, that what was lawful in the lord towards the servant whom he maintaineth, is also practised as lawful in the more mighty towards the less; though they contribute nothing towards their maintenance.

12. It is also a law of nature, That men allow commerce and traffic indifferently to one another. For he that alloweth that to one man, which he denieth to another, declareth his hatred to him, to whom he denieth; and to declare hatred is war. And upon this title was grounded the great war between the Athenians and the Peloponnesians. For would the Athenians have condescended to suffer the Megareans, their neighbours, to traffic in their ports and markets, that war had not begun.

13. And this also is a law of nature, That all messengers of peace, and such as are employed to procure and maintain amity between man and man, may safely come and go. For seeing peace is the general law of nature, the means thereto, such as are these men, must in the same law be comprehended.