John Locke:
Selections on Divine Authority and the Law of Nature

[Note: While Locke is evidently a divine command theorist of some sort, he clearly thinks God chooses what to command because the things commanded are independently reasonable and not vice versa; in particular, God’s commands are motivated by concern with human welfare. The reason that reference to God doesn’t simply drop out, leaving human welfare as the direct explainer as in the Euthyphro, is apparently that God’s motivation is universal human welfare while each person’s motivation is her own individual welfare; absent God’s rewards and punishments, these two would not always coincide – though Locke makes clear that what makes obedience to God reasonable is God’s authority as our creator and not his rewards and punishments.]


No Innate Practical Principles

Whether there be any such moral principles, wherein all men do agree, I appeal to any who have been but moderately conversant in the history of mankind, and looked abroad beyond the smoke of their own chimneys. Where is that practical truth that is universally received without doubt or question, as it must be if innate? Justice, and keeping of contracts, is that which most men seem to agree in. This is a principle which is thought to extend itself to the dens of thieves, and the confederacies of the greatest villains; and they who have gone farthest toward the putting off of humanity itself, keep faith and rules of justice one with another. I grant that outlaws themselves do this one amongst another: but ’tis without receiving these as the innate Laws of Nature. They practice them as rules of convenience within their own communities: But it is impossible to conceive that he embraces justice as a practical principle, who acts fairly with his fellow highwaymen, and at the same time plunders or kills the next honest man he meets with. Justice and truth are the common ties of society; and therefore, even outlaws and robbers, who break with all the world besides, must keep faith and rules of equity amongst themselves, or else they cannot hold together. But will anyone say that those that live by fraud and rapine have innate principles of truth and justice which they allow and assent to? ...

That men should keep their compacts, is certainly a great and undeniable rule in morality: But yet, if a Christian, who has the view of happiness and misery in another life, be asked why a man must keep his word, he will give this as a reason: Because God, who has the power of eternal life and death, requires it of us. But if an Hobbist be asked why, he will answer: Because the public requires it, and the Leviathan will punish you, if you do not. And if one of the old heathen philosophers had been asked, he would have answered: Because it was dishonest, below the dignity of a man, and opposite to virtue, the highest perfection of human nature, to do otherwise.

Hence naturally flows the great variety of opinions concerning moral rules which are to found amongst men, according to the different sorts of happiness they have a prospect of, or propose to themselves: Which could not be, if practical principles were innate, and imprinted in our minds immediately by the hand of God. I grant the existence of God is so many ways manifest, and the obedience we owe him so congruous to the light of reason, that a great part of mankind give testimony to the Law of Nature: But yet I think it must be allowed that several moral rules may receive from mankind a very general approbation, without either knowing or admitting the true ground of morality, which can only be the will and law of a God, who sees men in the dark, has in his hands rewards and punishments, and power enough to call to account the proudest offender. For God having by an inseparable connection joined virtue and public happiness together, and made the practice thereof necessary to the preservation of society, and visibly beneficial to all with whom the virtuous man has to do, it is no wonder that everyone should not only allow but recommend and magnify those rules to others, from whose observance of them he is sure to reap advantage for himself. He may out of interest as well as conviction cry up that for sacred which if once trampled on and profaned, he himself cannot be safe nor secure. This, though it takes nothing from the moral and eternal obligation which these rules evidently have, yet it shows that the outward acknowledgment men pay to them in their words proves not that they are innate principles .... (I.iii.2-6.)

Other Considerations Concerning Innate Principles

That God is to be worshipped is, without doubt, as great a truth as any can enter into the mind of man, and deserves the first place amongst all practical principles. But yet, it can by no means be thought innate, unless the ideas of God and worship are innate. That the idea the term worship stands for is not in the understanding of children, and a character stamped on the mind in its first original, I think, will be easily granted by anyone that considers how few there be amongst grown men who have a clear and distinct notion of it. ...

If any idea can be imagined innate, the idea of God may of all others, for many reasons, be thought so; since it is hard to conceive how there should be innate moral principles without an innate idea of a deity: Without the notion of a law-maker, it is impossible to have a notion of a law, and an obligation to observe it. ... The name of God being once mentioned in any part of the world to express a superior, powerful, wise, invisible being, the suitableness of such a notion to the principles of common reason, and the interest men will always have to mention it often, must necessarily spread it far and wide, and continue it down to all generations: though yet the general reception of this name, and some imperfect and unsteady notions conveyed thereby to the unthinking part of mankind, prove not the idea to be innate, but only that they who made the discovery had made a right use of their reason, thought maturely of the causes of things, and traced them to their original; from whom other less considering people, having once received so important a notion, it could not easily be lost again. (I.iv.7-10.)

Of Our Knowledge of the Existence of a GOD

Though GOD has given us no innate ideas of himself; though he has stamped no original characters on our minds, wherein we may read his being: yet having furnished us with those faculties our minds are endowed with, he hath not left himself without witness ....

I think it is beyond question that man has a clear perception of his own being; he knows certainly that he exists, and that he is something. ... If therefore we know there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning, and what had a beginning must be produced by something else.

Next, it is evident that what had its being and beginning from another must also have all that which is in and belongs to its being from another too. All the powers it has must be owing to and received from the same source. This eternal source then of all being must also be the source and original of all power; and so this eternal being must also be the most powerful.

Again, a man finds in himself perception and knowledge. We have then got one step farther; and we are certain now that .... there has been also a knowing being from eternity. ... It being as impossible that things wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without any perception, should produce a knowing being, as it is impossible that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones. For it is as repugnant to the idea of senseless matter that it should put into itself sense, perception, and knowledge, as it is repugnant to the idea of a triangle that it should put into itself greater angles than two right ones.

Thus from the consideration of ourselves, and what we infallibly find in our own constitutions, our reason leads us to the knowledge of this certain and evident truth , that there is an eternal, most powerful, and most knowing being; which whether anyone will please to call God, it matters not. ...

For it is as impossible to conceive that ever bare incogitative matter should produce a thinking intelligent being, as that nothing should of itself produce matter. Let us suppose any parcel of matter eternal, great or small; we shall find it, in itself, able to produce nothing. For example, let us suppose the matter of the next pebble we meet with, eternal, closely united, and the parts firmly at rest together; if there were no other being in the world, must it not eternally remain so, a dead inactive lump? Is it possible to conceive it can add motion to itself, being purely matter, or produce anything? ... But let us suppose motion eternal too; yet matter, incogitative matter and motion, whatever changes it might produce of figure and bulk, could never produce thought .... Divide matter into as minute parts as you will .... They knock, impel, and resist one another, just as the greater do, and that is all they can do. (IV.x.1-10.)

Moralitv Capable of Demonstration

The idea of a supreme being, infinite in power, goodness, and wisdom, whose workmanship we are, and on whom we depend; and the idea of ourselves, as understanding, rational beings, being such as are clear in us, would, I suppose, if duly considered and pursued, afford such foundations of our duty and rules of action as might place morality among the sciences capable of demonstration: wherein I doubt not but from self-evident propositions, by necessary consequences, as incontestable as those in mathematics, the measures of right and wrong might be made out to anyone that will apply himself with the same indifferency and attention to the one as he does to the other of these sciences. ... Where there is no property, there is no injustice, is a proposition as certain as any demonstration in Euclid: For the idea of property being a right to any thing; and the idea to which the name injustice is given being the invasion or violation of that right, it is evident that these ideas being thus established, and these names annexed to them, I can as certainly know this proposition to be true, as that a triangle has three angles equal to two right ones. (IV.iii. 18.)

On the Division of the Sciences

[Definition of Practical (as opposed to Physical and Semiotic) Science:]
That which man himself ought to do, as a rational and voluntary agent, for the attainment of any end, especially happiness. ... The skill of right applying our own powers or actions, for the attainment of things good and useful. The most considerable under this head is Ethics, which is the seeking out of those rules and measures of human actions which lead to happiness, and the means to practise them. (IV.xxi. 1-3.)

Of Modes of Pleasure and Pain

Amongst the simple ideas which we receive both from sensation and reflection, pain and pleasure are two very considerable ones. ... Things then are good or evil only in reference to pleasure or pain. That we call good which is apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain in us; or else to procure or preserve us the possession of any other good, or absence of any evil. And on the contrary we name that evil which is apt to produce or increase any pain, or diminish any pleasure in us; or else to procure us any evil, or deprive us of any good. ... By pleasure and pain, delight and uneasiness, I must all along be understood ... to mean not only bodily pain and pleasure, but whatsoever delight or uneasiness is felt by us, whether arising from any grateful or unacceptable sensation or reflection. (II.xx.1-15.)

Moral Relations

Good and evil, as hath been shown ... are nothing but pleasure or pain, or that which procures pleasure and pain to us. Morally good and evil, then, is only the conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law whereby good or evil is drawn on us from the will and power of the law-maker; which good and evil, pleasure or pain, attending our observance or breach of the law by the decree of the law-maker, is that we call reward and punishment. ...

First, the Divine Law, whereby I mean that law which God has set to the actions of men, whether promulgated to them by the light of nature or the voice of revelation. That God has given a rule whereby men should govern themselves, I think there is nobody so brutish as to deny. He has a right to do it, we are his creatures; he has goodness and wisdom to direct our actions to that which is best: and he has power to enforce it by rewards and punishments of infinite weight and duration in another life: for nobody can take us out of his hands. This is the only true touchstone of moral rectitude; and by comparing them to this law it is that men judge of the most considerable moral good or evil of their actions; that is, whether as duties, or sins, they are like to procure them happiness or misery from the hands of the ALMIGHTY. (II.xxviii.5-8.)

Revelation Must Be Judged of By Reason

God when he makes the prophet does not unmake the man. He leaves all his faculties in their natural state, to enable him to judge of his inspirations whether they be of divine original or no. When he illuminates the mind with supernatural light, he does not extinguish that which is natural. If he would have us assent to the truth of any proposition, he either evidences that truth by the usual methods of natural reason, or else makes it known to be a truth, which he would have us assent to, by his authority, and convinces us that it is from him by some marks which reason cannot be mistaken in. Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything. I do not mean that we must consult reason and examine whether a principle revealed from God can be made out by natural principles, and if it cannot, that then we may reject it: But consult it we must, and. by it examine whether it be a revelation from God or no: And if reason finds it to be revealed from GOD, reason then declares for it, as much as for any other truth, and makes it one of her dictates. Every conceit that thoroughly warms our fancies must pass for an inspiration, if there be nothing but the strength of our persuasions whereby to judge of our persuasions .... (IV.xix. 14.)


Whatsoever carries any excellency with it, and includes not imperfection, that must needs make a part of the idea we have of God. So that with being, and the continuation of it, or perpetual duration, power and wisdom and goodness must be ingredients of the perfect or super-excellent being which we call God, and that in the utmost or an infinite degree. But yet that unlimited power cannot be an excellency without it be regulated by wisdom and goodness; for since God is eternal and perfect in his own being, he cannot make use of that power to change his own being into a better or another state; and therefore all the exercise of that power must be in and upon his creatures, which cannot but be employed for their good and benefit, as much as the order and perfection of the whole can allow to each individual in its particular rank and station. And, therefore, looking on God as a being infinite in goodness as well as power, we cannot imagine he hath made anything with a design that it should be miserable, but that he hath afforded it all the means of being happy that its nature and state is capable of.


Does There Exist a Rule of Conduct or Law of Nature?

Since God shows himself everywhere present to us and, as it were, forces himself upon men’s eyes, as much now in the constant course of nature as in the once frequent testimony of miracles, I believe there will be no one, who recognizes that either some rational account of our life is necessary, or that there exists something deserving the name of either virtue or vice, who will not conclude for himself that God exists. Once it has been granted that some divine power presides over the world – something it would be impious to doubt, for he has commanded the heavens to turn in their perpetual revolution, the earth to abide in its place, the stars to shine, has fixed limits to the unruly sea itself, has prescribed for every kind of plant the manner and season of its germination and growth; and all creatures in their obedience to his will have their own proper laws governing their birth and life; and there is nothing in all this world so unstable, so uncertain that it does not recognize authoritative and fixed laws which are suited to its own nature – once this has been granted it seems proper to ask if man alone has come into this world entirely outside some jurisdiction, with no law proper to him, without plan, without law, without a rule for his life – something he who has given thought either to God, best and greatest, or to the universal agreement of the entire human race in every time and place or, finally, to himself or his own conscience, will not easily believe. ...

This Law of Nature can, therefore, be so described because it is the command of the divine will, knowable by the light of nature, indicating what is and what is not consonant with a rational nature, and by that very fact commanding or prohibiting. ... reason does not so much lay down and decree this Law of Nature as it discovers and investigates a law which is ordained by a higher power .... Nor is reason the maker of this law, but its interpreter .... the following arguments persuade that a law of this kind exists.

The first argument can be taken from the evidence of Aristotle at Nicomachean Ethics I c.7 where he says that “the proper function of man is the activity of soul according to reason”; for once he had proved by various examples that there is a proper function for each thing, he inquired what this proper function is in the case of man; this he sought through an account of all the operations of the faculties both vegetative and sentient, which are common to men along with animals and plants. He arrives finally at the proper conclusion that the function of man is activity according to reason; consequently man must necessarily perform those actions which are dictated by reason. ...

At this point, some object to the Law of Nature, claiming that no such law exists at all .... for if there were, in fact, a Law of Nature, knowable by the light of reason, how does it happen that all men who are endowed with reason know it not?

We reply ... because a blind man cannot read a notice displayed publicly, it does not follow that a law does not exist or is not promulgated, nor because it is difficult for someone who has poor sight to read it, nor because someone who is occupied with other matters does not have the time, nor because it is not to the liking of the idle or vicious to lift his eyes to the public notice and learn from it the statement of his duty. I allow that reason is granted to all by nature, and I affirm that there exists a Law of Nature, knowable by reason. But it does not follow necessarily from this that it is known to each and all, for some make no use of this light, but love the darkness and would not be willing to reveal themselves to themselves. But the sun itself reveals the way that must be taken to none but to him who opens his eyes and girds himself for the journey. Some men who are nurtured in vices scarcely distinguish between good and evil, since evil occupations, growing strong with the passage of time, have led them into strange dispositions, and bad habits have corrupted their principles as well. ...

The second argument by which it is proven that a Law of Nature exists can be derived from men’s consciences .... For if the Law of Nature did not exist, to which reason dictates that we should show ourselves obedient, how does it come about that the conscience of those who recognize the commands of no other law, by which they are either directed or bound, passes judgment on their very life and conduct and either acquits or condemns them of crime? ...

The third argument is deduced from the very fabric of this world, in which all things observe a fixed law of their operations and a measure suited to their own nature .... and each individual thing departs from the law set down for it not as much as a nail’s breadth. Since this is the case, it does not seem that man alone is free of laws, while all other things are bound by them, but he has a prescribed mode of action which suits his nature. Nor, indeed, does it seem fitting to the wisdom of the first artificer to fashion a most perfect and ever active animal, to provide him abundantly in comparison with all other creatures, with mind, intelligence, reason, and all else necessary to his activity, and yet to assign him no function, or to fashion man alone with a capacity for law that he should obey none.

The fourth argument derives from human society, since without this law there can be no association or union of men among themselves. ... for there would be no reason to expect a man to abide by an agreement, because he had made a promise, when a more advantageous arrangement offered itself elsewhere, unless the obligation to fulfill promises came from Nature and not from the will of men.

The fifth argument is that without the Law of Nature there would be no virtue or vice .... Everything would have to be referred to the will of men, and, since duty would demand nothing, it seems that a man would have to do nothing except what either interest or pleasure urged upon him .... But in truth, whatever virtue or turpitude the virtues and vices possess they owe entire to this Law of Nature, since their nature is fixed and eternal, not something to be valued by the public decrees of men or some private opinion. (Question I.)

Can Reason Arrive at a Knowledge of the Law of Nature Through Sense Experience?

Now, in order to discover how sense and reason, when they mutually assist each other, can lead us to a knowledge of the Law of Nature, some premises must first be set forth, which are necessary to the knowledge of any law whatsoever:

1. Thus, for anyone to know that he is bound by law, he must first know that there is a legislator, a superior; that is, some power to which he is rightfully subject.

2. We must also know that there is some will of that superior power as regards the things we must do; that is, that that legislator, whoever he may prove to be, wills us to do this, or to refrain from that, and demands of us that the conduct of our life be in agreement with his will. ...

We say, therefore, that it is evident from sense .... that this visible world exists, framed with wonderful art and order, of which we too, the human race, are a part .... We say that once the mind has carefully and exactly weighed the machine of this world, which has been received from the senses, and contemplated the appearance, order, the array, and motion of sensible things .... it is certain that it could not have been formed by chance and accident into a frame so fitting, so perfect everywhere and wrought with such skill. From this it is a certain inference that there must exist some powerful and wise creator of all these things, who made and constructed this whole world, and us men who are not the least part of it. ... it necessarily follows that there exists some creator other than ourselves, more powerful and wiser, who at his pleasure can bring us into being, preserve, and destroy us. ... reason dictates that there is some superior authority to which we are rightly subject, God, that is, who holds over us a just and ineluctable power, who, as he thinks proper, can lift us up or throw us down, and, with the same powerful command, make us happy or wretched .... From this it is perfectly clear that reason, with sense to show the way, can lead us to a knowledge of a legislator, or some superior power, to whom we are necessarily subject ....

It is obvious, therefore, that men can infer from sensible things that there exists some powerful and wise being who has power and jurisdiction over men themselves. Who, indeed, will say, that clay is not subject to the potter’s will and that the pot cannot be destroyed by the same hand that shaped it? ...

Therefore, since it is necessary to conclude from the testimony of the senses that there exists some creator of all these things, whom it is necessary to recognize not only as powerful but also as wise, it follows from this that he has not made this world at random and to no purpose, since it is repugnant for a wisdom so great to work with no end set out before it. Nor, indeed, since he perceives that he possesses a mind which is quick, receptive, ready for everything, and versatile, adorned with reason and knowledge, and a body too which is agile and can move to one place or another as the mind commands, can man believe that all of these things have been given to him by a most wise creator, ready for use, so that he can do nothing; that he is provided with all of these faculties so that with all the more brilliance he can remain idle and languish? From this is perfectly clear that God wills him to do something .... What it is we must do we can infer in part from the end and purpose of all things which, since they derive their origin from a divine decree and are the works of a most perfect and wise creator, do not seem to be destined by him to any other end than to his own glory, to which all things ought to be directed. In part too, we can infer the principle of our duty and its certain rule from the constitution of man himself and the equipment of the human faculties, since man is not made by accident, nor has he been given these faculties, which both can and ought to be exercised, to do nothing. It seems that the function of man is what he is naturally equipped to do; that is, since he discovers in himself sense and reason, and perceives himself inclined and ready to perform the works of God, as he ought, and to contemplate his power and wisdom in these works, and then to offer and render him the laud, honor, and glory most worthy of so great and so beneficent a creator.

Then, he perceives that he is impelled to form and preserve a union of his life with other men, not only by the needs and necessities of life, but he perceives also that he is driven by a certain natural propensity to enter society and is fitted to preserve it by the gift of speech and the commerce of language. And, indeed, there is no need for me to stress here to what degree he is obliged to preserve himself, since he is impelled to this part of his duty, and more than impelled, by an inner instinct, and no man has been found who is careless of himself, or capable of disowning himself. In this matter all men are perhaps more attentive than they ought to be. (Question V.)

Is the Law of Nature Binding on Men?

Since some have been found who refer the entire Law of Nature to the self-preservation of each individual and seek no deeper foundation for it than self-love and that instinct by which each man cherishes himself, and looks out, so far as he is able, for his own safety and preservation ... it seems worth our labor to inquire into the nature and extent of the obligation of the Law of Nature. For, if the care and preservation of one’s self should be the fountain and beginning of this entire law, virtue would appear to be not so much man’s duty as his interest, and nothing would be right for a man were it not useful. And keeping this law would be not so much a duty and debt to which we are bound by nature, as a private right and benefit to which we are led by our own advantage. ...

Legal authorities define obligation so as to make it the “bond of law” by which every man is constrained to discharge his debt .... To come to a true understanding of the origin of this bond of law it must be known that no one can oblige or constrain us to do anything unless he has right and power over us. .. . Thus, this bond would arise from that authority and power which any superior has over us and our actions. And to the degree we are subject to another, we are liable to an obligation. ... This obligation is twofold:

1. The obligation which comes from duty, that is, which one is bound to perform or refrain from on the command of a superior power. ... And this obligation seems to derive at times from the divine wisdom of the legislator, and at times from that right which the creator has over his creation. For every obligation can ultimately be referred back to God, to the command of whose will we must show ourselves obedient. We are obligated because we have received both our being and proper function from him, on whose will both depend, and we ought to observe the limit he has prescribed. Nor is it any less proper that we should do what has been decided by him who is all-knowing and supremely wise.

2. The debt of punishment, which arises from an obligation of a duty which has not been discharged and requires that those who in their conduct and the rectitude of their lives are unwilling to be led by reason and refuse to acknowledge themselves subject to a superior power are compelled to recognize that they are subject to this power by force and punishments, and to feel the force of him whose will they would refuse to obey. And the force of this obligation seems to be founded on the power of the legislator to make superior force compel those whom warnings cannot move. In truth, all obligation does not seem to consist in, and finally to be limited by, that power which can coerce those who fail to pay their debts and can punish the guilty, but rather in the power and that authority which someone holds over another ... since all things are rightly subject to that by which they have both first been created and continue to be preserved .... Every obligation binds our conscience and lays a bond upon the mind itself, and thus it is not fear of punishment that binds us but our determination of what is right ....

Since God is superior to all things, and he holds as much right and authority over us as we cannot hold over ourselves, since we owe to him and to him alone our body, soul, life, whatever we are, whatever we possess, and also whatever we can be, it is right that we live obedient to the prescription of his will. God has created us out of nothing and, if it is his pleasure, he will return us to nothing again. We are, therefore, subject to him alone by supreme right and absolute necessity. (Question VLII.)

Is the Obligation of the Law of Nature Perpetual and Universal?

[W]e say that the obligation of the Law of Nature holds its force undiminished and unshaken throughout all ages and over the entire globe .... For this is not a private or positive enactment which has arisen to meet a particular circumstance and a present advantage, but a fixed and eternal rule of conduct, dictated by reason itself, and for this reason something fixed and inherent in human nature. And it would be necessary for human nature to change before this law would either change or be abrogated. For there exists a harmony between the two of these, and what now conforms to a rational nature, insofar as it is rational, must necessarily conform eternally. And this same reason will dictate the same rules of conduct everywhere. ... In my opinion, some states of things seem to be immutable, and some duties, which cannot be otherwise, seem to have arisen out of necessity; not that Nature (or, to speak more correctly, God) could not have created man other than he is, but, since he has been created as he is, provided with reason and his other faculties, there follow from the constitution of man at birth some definite duties he must perform, which cannot be other than what they are. For it seems to me to follow as necessarily from the nature of man, if he be a man, that he is bound to love and reverence God, and to perform other duties which are in conformity with a rational nature – that is to observe the Law of Nature – as it follows from the nature of a triangle, if it be a triangle, that its three angles are equal to two right angles, even though there possibly exist very many men so indolent, so dense, who, since they pay no attention, are ignorant of both these truths ....

This Natural Law will never be abrogated, since men cannot alter this law. They are subject to it and it is not for subjects to refashion laws at their own pleasure. Nor surely would God will this, since out of his infinite and eternal wisdom he created man such that his duties would necessarily follow from his very nature. And surely he will hardly change man, once he has been created, and bring forth another generation of men who would have another law and another rule of conduct, inasmuch as the Law of Nature stands and falls together with human nature as it now exists. ...

That the obligation of the Law of Nature is not perpetual and universal can [supposedly] be proven in following manner: by the agreement of all, this is a Law of Nature – that to each should be given what belongs to him or that no one should seize what belongs to another and keep it for himself. But the obligation of this law can be suspended by the command of God, as we read was done in the case of the Hebrews when they came out of Egypt and entered Palestine.

To this we reply by denying the minor premise. For were God to command a person not to return a thing he has received as a loan, the obligation of the Law of Nature would not cease, but rather the ownership of the thing itself. The law is not broken, but the owner changes, for along with his possession of the thing the former owner loses his right to the thing. For the goods of fortune are never our possessions in such a way that they cease to belong to God. He is the supreme master over all things; he can grant a gift from his own possession to whomever he pleases without injury, according to his own judgment. (Question X.)

Does the Private Interest of Each Individual Constitute the Foundation of the Law of Nature?

When we claim that the private interest of each individual is not the foundation of the Law of Nature we do not want to be understood to claim that the common right of men and the private interest of each individual are things opposed to one another, for the Law of Nature is the greatest defense of the private property of the individual. Were it not observed, no one could possess his own property or labor for his own benefit. Thus, to whoever considers and weighs properly the human race and men’s customs it will appear certain that nothing is as conducive to the common advantage of the-individual, nothing so protective of the safety and security of men’s possessions, as the observance of the Law of Nature. But we deny that each individual is free to judge by himself what would be of advantage to himself as the occasion arises [and] that nothing in nature is binding except insofar as it is something which carries with it some immediate advantage. ...

For there are many virtues, and the greatest virtues, which consist only in our helping others at our own expense. By virtues of this kind heroes were once elevated to the stars and included in the roll of the gods. ... They did not pursue their own private gain, but the public interest and that of the entire human race. ... But if the primary Law of Nature directed each to take thought of himself and his own private affairs, those great examples of virtue which have been consecrated in the monuments of literature should be relegated to oblivion ....

That law whose violation is necessary cannot be the primary Law of Nature. But, if the interest of each individual is the foundation of this law, it must necessarily be overthrown since it would be impossible to take into account the interest of all at one and the same time. ... The human race has only one patrimony and this is always the same and it is not increased in proportion to the number of births. Nature has been generous with a fixed abundance of things for the benefit and use of men. ... And, whenever the desire or the need for possessions increases among men, the limits of the world are not automatically extended. Food, clothing, adornment, riches and all other such goods of this life are placed in common. And whenever one man seizes for himself as much as he can, he takes away from another as much as he piles up for himself. Nor is it possible for anyone to grow wealthy except through someone else’s loss. ... [Locke seems to change his mind about this in the Second Treatise on Government.]

But the objection can be made that, if, upon the observation of the Law of Nature and every duty of life, there always follows some benefit, and we can do nothing in following the Law of Nature which does not bring with it some great advantage either directly or indirectly, the foundation of the Law of Nature is therefore the interest of the individual. But the minor premise is obvious; for from the keeping of this law peace arises, concord, friendship, freedom from punishments, security, the possession of our own property, and, to embrace all these in a single word, happiness.

To these objections we make this response: interest is not a foundation of law or a basis of obligation, but the consequence of obedience. It is one thing if an action entails some benefit by itself, another if it should be advantageous by reason of the fact that it is in conformity to the law; but were this law repealed, there would be no benefit whatsoever in acting in this way. To give an example: to abide by one’s promises might be granted disadvantageous. Now, one must distinguish between an action taken by itself and obedience; for the action itself can be disadvantageous, as for example, the return of a deposit which diminishes our wealth. Obedience is useful to the extent that it averts punishment which must be paid for a crime. ...- So the rightness of an action does not depend on interest, but interest follows from rectitude. (Question XI.)


Though the works of nature, in every part of them, sufficiently evidence a Deity; yet the world made so little use of their reason, that they saw him not, where, even by the impressions of himself, he was easy to be found. ... So much virtue as was necessary to hold societies together, and to contribute to the quiet of governments, the civil laws of commonwealths taught, and forced upon men that lived under magistrates. ... But natural religion, in its full extent, was nowhere, that I know, taken care of by the force of natural reason. It should seem, by the little that has hitherto been done in it, that ’tis too hard a task for unassisted reason, to establish morality, in all its parts, upon its true foundations, with a clear and convincing light. And ’tis at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a King and law-maker, tell them their duties, and require their obedience, than leave it to the long, and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them: such strains of reasonings the greatest part of mankind have neither leisure to weigh, nor, for want of education and use, skill to judge of. ... Experience shows that the knowledge of morality, by mere natural light (how agreeable so ever it be to it), makes but a slow progress, and little advance in the world. And the reason of it is not hard to be found in men’s necessities, passions, vices, and mistaken interests, which turn their thoughts another way. And the designing leaders, as well as the following herd, find it not to their purpose to employ much of their meditations this way. Or whatever else was the cause, ’tis plain in fact, that human reason unassisted failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never, from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the Law of Nature. ...

Whatsoever should thus be universally useful, as a standard to which men should conform their manners, must have its authority either from reason or revelation. ... He that anyone will pretend to set up in this kind, and have his rules pass for authentic directions, must show that either he builds his doctrine upon principles of reason, self-evident in themselves, and that he deduces all the parts of it from thence, by clear and evident demonstration; or he must show his commission from heaven, that he comes with authority from God, to deliver his will and commands to the world. In the former way, nobody that I know before Our Saviour’s time ever did, or went about to give us a morality. ’Tis true, there is a Law of Nature: but who is there that ever did, or undertook to give it us all entire, as a law; no more nor no less than what was contained in and had the obligation of that law? Who ever made out all the parts of it, put them together, and showed the world their obligation? Where was there any such code that mankind might have recourse to, as their unerring rule, before Our Saviour’s time? If there was not, ’tis plain, there was need of one to give us such a morality; such a law, which might be the sure guide of those who had a desire to go right .... Such a law of morality, Jesus Christ hath given us in the New Testament; but by the latter of these ways, by revelation. We have from him a full and sufficient rule for our direction, and conformable to that of reason. But the truth and obligation of its precepts have their force, and are put past doubt to us, by the evidence of his mission. He was sent by God: his miracles show it; and the authority of God in his precepts cannot be questioned. Here morality has a sure standard that revelation vouches, and reason cannot gainsay, nor question; but both together witness to come from God the great law-maker. ...

The greatest part of mankind want leisure or capacity for demonstration, nor can carry a train of proofs .... And I ask whether one coming from heaven in the power of God, in full and clear evidence and demonstration of miracles, be not likelier to enlighten the bulk of mankind, and set them right in their duties, and bring them to do them, than by reasoning with them from general notions and principles of human reason? ... The healing of the sick, the restoring sight to the blind by a word, the raising and being raised from the dead, are matters of fact which they can without difficulty conceive; and that he who does such things must do them by the assistance of a divine power. (§§ 238-243.)


[T]he care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another as to compel anyone to his religion. Nor can any such power be vested in the magistrate by the consent of the people, because no man can so far abandon the care of his salvation as blindly to leave it to the choice of any other, whether prince or subject, to prescribe to him what faith or worship he shall embrace. For no man can, if he would, conform his faith to the dictates of another. All the life and power of true religion consists in the inward and full persuasion of the mind; and faith is not faith without believing. ...

In the second place, the care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force; but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God. And such is the nature of the understanding that it cannot be compelled to the belief of anything by outward force. ...

It may indeed be alleged that the magistrate may make use of arguments, and thereby draw the heterodox into the way of truth, and procure their salvation. I grant it; but this is common to him with other men. ... But it is one thing to persuade, another to command; one thing to press with arguments, another with penalties. ... Every man has commission to admonish, exhort, convince another of error, and by reasoning to draw him into truth: but to give laws, receive obedience, and compel with the sword, belongs to none but the magistrate. And upon this ground I affirm that the magistrate’s power extends not to the establishing of any articles of faith, or forms of worship, by the force of his laws. For laws are of no force at all without penalties, and penalties in this case are absolutely impertinent, because they are not proper to convince the mind.


Of Adam’s Title to Sovereignty by Donation

Our A— [= author, i.e., Robert Filmer] tells us ... that Adam by donation from God, Gen. 1. 28, was made the general lord of all things .... and having dominion given him over all creatures, was thereby the monarch of the whole world; none of his posterity had any right to possess anything but by his grant or permission, or by succession from him ....

Whatever God gave by the words of this grant, 1 Gen. 28, it was not to Adam in particular, exclusive of all other men: whatever dominion he had thereby; it was not a private dominion, but a dominion in common with the rest of mankind. That this donation was not made in particular to Adam appears evidently from the words of the text, it being made to more than one, for it was spoken in the plural number, God blessed them, and said unto them, Have dominion. God says unto Adam and Eve, Have dominion; thereby, says our A., Adam was monarch of the world: But the grant being to them, i.e. spoke to Eve also ... must not she thereby be lady, as well as he lord of the world? If it be said that Eve was subjected to Adam, it seems she was not so subjected to him as to hinder her dominion over the creatures, or property in them: for shall we say that God ever made a joint grant to two, and one only was to have the benefit of it? ...

Thus we have examined our A’s argument for Adam’s monarchy, founded on the blessing pronounced, 1 Gen. 28, wherein I think ’tis impossible for any sober reader to find any other but the setting of mankind above the other kinds of creatures .... But yet, if after all anyone will have it so, that by this donation of God, Adam was made sole proprietor of the whole earth, what will this be to his sovereignty? And how will it appear that property in land gives a man power over the life of another? Or how will the possession even of the whole earth give anyone a sovereign arbitrary authority over the persons of men? The most specious thing to be said is that he that is proprietor of the whole world may deny all the rest of mankind food, and so at his pleasure starve them, if they will not acknowledge his sovereignty and obey his will. If this were true, it would be a good argument to prove that there never was any such property ... since it is more reasonable to think that God who bid mankind increase and multiply should rather himself give them all a right to make use of the food and raiment and other conveniences of life, the materials whereof he had so plentifully provided for them, than to make them depend upon the will of a man for their subsistence, who should have power to destroy them all when he pleased . ...

But we know God hath not let one man so to the mercy of another that he may starve him if he please: God the lord and father of all has given no one of his children such a property in his peculiar portion of the things of this world but that he has given his needy brother a right to the surplusage of his goods; so that it cannot justly be denied him when his pressing wants call for it. And therefore no man could ever have a just power over the life of another, by right of property in land or possessions, since ’’twould always be a sin in any man of estate to let his brother perish for want of affording him relief out of his plenty. As justice gives every man a title to the product of his honest industry and the fair acquisitions of his ancestors descended to him, so charity gives every man a title to so much out of another’s plenty as will keep him from extreme want, where he has no means to subsist otherwise; and a man can no more justly make use of another’s necessity, to force him to become his vassal by withholding that relief God requires him to afford to the wants of his brother, than he that has more strength can seize upon a weaker, master him to his obedience, and with a dagger at his throat offer him death or slavery.

Should anyone make so perverse an use of God’s blessings poured on him with a liberal hand, should anyone be cruel and uncharitable to that extremity, yet all this would not prove that propriety in land, even in this case, gave any authority over the persons of men, but only that compact might; since the authority of the rich proprietor and the subjection of the needy beggar began not from the possession of the lord, but the consent of the poor man, who preferred being his subject to starving. And the man he thus submits to can pretend to no more power over him than lie has consented to upon compact. (IV. 21-43.)

Of Adam’s Title to Sovereignty by the Subjection of Eve

The next place of scripture we find our A. builds his monarchy of Adam on is 3. Gen. 16. And thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee. Here we have (says he) the original grant of government, from whence he concludes ... that the supreme power is settled in the fatherhood, and limited to one kind of government, that is to monarchy. ... The words are the curse of God upon the woman for having been the first and forwardest in the disobedience, and if we will consider the occasion of what God says here to our first parents, that he was denouncing judgment, and declaring his wrath against them both, for their disobedience, we cannot suppose that this was the time wherein God was granting Adam prerogatives and privileges, investing him with dignity and authority, elevating him to dominion and monarchy ... and ’twould be hard to imagine that God in the same breath should make him universal monarch over all mankind, and a day labourer for his life; turn him out of Paradise to till the ground ... and at the same time advance him to a throne and all the privileges and ease of absolute power. ... This was not a time when Adam could expect any favours, any grant of privileges, from his offended maker. ...

Farther it is to be noted that these words here of 3 Gen. 16 which our A. calls the original grant of government were not spoken to Adam, neither indeed was there any grant in them made to Adam, but a punishment laid upon Eve: and if we will take them as they were directed in particular to her, or in her as their representative to all other women, they will at most concern the female sex only, and import no more but that subjection they should ordinarily be in to their husbands: But there is here no more law to oblige a woman to such a subjection, if the circumstances either of her condition or contract with her husband should exempt her from it, than there is that she should bring forth her children in sorrow and pain, if there could be found a remedy for it, which is also a part of the same curse on her .... And will anyone say that Eve or any other woman sinned if she were brought to bed without those multiplied pains God threatens her here with? ... God, in this text, gives not, that I see, any authority to Adam over Eve, or to men over their wives, but only foretells what should be woman’s lot, how by his providence he would order it so, that she should be subject to her husband, as we see that generally the law of mankind and customs of nations have ordered it so; and there is, I grant, a foundation in nature for it. (V. 44-47.)

Of Adam’s Title to Sovereignty by Fatherhood

The argument I have heard others make use of to prove that fathers, by begetting them, come by an absolute power over their children, is this: that fathers have a power over the lives of their children because they give them life and being .... 1. I answer, That everyone who gives another anything has not always thereby a right to take it away again. But, 2. They who say that the father gives life to his children are so dazzled with the thoughts of monarchy that they do not, as they ought, remember God, who is the author and giver of life .... How can he be thought to give life to another, that knows not wherein his own life consists? ... Can any man say he formed the parts that are necessary to give life to the child? ... To give life to that which has yet no being is to frame and make a living creature, fashion the parts, and mould and suit them to their uses, and having proportioned and fitted them together, to put into them a living soul. He that could do this might indeed have some pretence to destroy his own workmanship. But is there anyone so bold that dares thus far arrogate to himself the incomprehensible works of the Almighty? ... What father of a thousand, when he begets a child, thinks farther than the satisfying of his present appetite? ...

But grant that the parents made their children, gave them life and being, and that hence there followed an absolute power. This would give the father but a joint dominion with the mother over them. For nobody can deny but that the woman hath an equal share, if not the greater, as nourishing the child a long time in her own body out of her own substance. ... and so the absolute power of the father, will not arise from hence. Our A— indeed is of another mind; for he says, We know that God at the creation gave the sovereignty to the man over the woman, as being the nobler and principal agent in generation .... I remember not this in my Bible .... (VI. 52-55.)

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