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Obligation answers to right, taken in a manner above explained, and considered in its effects with regard to another person.
What we have already said concerning obligation is sufficient to convey a general notion of the nature of this moral quality. But in order to form a just idea of that which comes under our present examination, we are to observe that when reason allows a man to make a particular use of his strength and liberty, or, which is the same thing, when it acknowledges he has a particular right, it is requisite, by a very natural consequence, that in order to ensure this right to man, he should acknowledge at the same time that other people ought not to employ their strength and liberty in resisting him in this point; but, on the contrary, that they should respect his right, and assist him in the exercise of it, rather than do him any prejudice. From this the idea of obligation naturally arises; which is nothing more than a restriction of natural liberty produced by reason; inasmuch as reason does not permit an opposition to be made to those who use their right, but on the contrary, obliges everybody to favor and abet such as do nothing but what it authorizes, rather than oppose or traverse them in the execution of their lawful designs.
Right therefore and obligation are, as logicians express it, correlative terms; one of these ideas necessarily supposes the other, and we cannot conceive a right without a corresponding obligation. How, for example, could we attribute to a father the right of forming his children to wisdom and virtue by a perfect education, without acknowledging at the same time that children ought to submit to paternal direction, and that they are not only obliged not to make any resistance in this respect, but moreover to concur, by their docility and obedience, to the execution of their parents' views ? Were it otherwise, reason would be no longer the rule of human actions; it would contradict itself, and all the rights it grants to man would become useless and of no effect; which is taking from him with one hand what it gives him with the other.
Such is the nature of right, taken for a faculty, and of the obligation thereto corresponding. It may be generally affirmed that man is susceptible of these two qualities as soon as he begins to enjoy life and sense. Yet we must make some difference here between right and obligation in respect to the time in which these qualities begin to unfold themselves in man. The obliga
tions a person contracts as a man do not actually display their virtue till he is arrived to the age of reason and discretion. For, in order to discharge an obligation, we must be first acquainted with it; we must know what we do, and be able to square our actions by a certain rule. But as for those rights that are capable of procuring the advantage of a person without his knowing anything of the matter, they date their origin, and are in full from the very first moment of his existence, and lay the rest of mankind under an obligation of respecting them. For example, the right which requires that nobody should injure or offend us belongs as well to children, and even to infants that are still in their mothers' wombs, as to adult persons. This is the foundation of that equitable rule of the Roman law, which declares that infants who are as yet in their mothers' wombs are considered as already brought into the world whenever the question relates to anything that may turn to their advantage. But we cannot with any exactness affirm that an infant, whether already come or coming into the world, is actually subject to any obligation with respect to other men. This state does not properly commence, with respect to man, till he has attained the age of knowledge and discretion.
Various are the distinctions of rights and obligations; but it will be sufficient for us to point out those only that are most worthy of notice.
In the first place, rights are natural or acquired. The former are such as appertain originally and essentially to man, such as are inherent in his nature and which he enjoys as man, independent of any particular act on his side. Acquired rights, on the contrary, are those which he does not naturally enjoy, but are owing to his own procurement. Thus the right of providing for our preservation is a right natural to man; but sovereignty, or the right of commanding a society of men, is a right acquired.
Secondly, rights are perfect or imperfect. Perfect rights are those which may be asserted in rigor, even by employing force to obtain the execution, or to secure the exercise thereof in opposition to all those who should attempt to resist or disturb us. Thus reason would empower us to use force against any one who would make an unjust attack on our lives, our goods, or our liberty. But, when reason does not allow us to use forcible methods in order to secure the enjoyment of the rights it grants us, then these rights are called imperfect. Thus, notwithstanding reason authorizes those who of themselves are destitute of means of living to apply for succor to other men, yet they cannot, in case of refusal, insist upon it by force, or procure it by open violence. It is obvious, without our having any occasion to men. tion it here, that obligation answers exactly to right, and is more or less strong, perfect, or imperfect, according as right itself is perfect or imperfect.
Thirdly, another distinction worthy of our attention is that there are rights which may be lawfully renounced, and others that cannot. A creditor, for example, may forgive a sum due to him if he please, either in the whole or part; but a father cannot renounce the right he has over his children, nor leave them in an entire independence. The reason of this difference is that there are rights, which of themselves have a natural connection with our duties and are given to man only as means to perform them. To renounce this sort of rights would be therefore renouncing our duty, which is never allowed. But with respect to rights that no way concern our duties, the renunciation of them is licit, and only a matter of prudence. Let us illustrate this with another example. Man cannot absolutely, and without any manner of reserve, renounce his liberty; for this would be mani. festly throwing himself into a necessity of doing wrong, were he so commanded by the person to whom he has made this subjection. But it is lawful for us to renounce a part of our liberty if we find ourselves better enabled thereby to discharge our duties, and to acquire some certain and reasonable advantage. It is with these modifications we must understand the common maxim, that it is allowable for every one to renounce his right.
Fourthly, right in fine considered in respect to its different objects may be reduced to four principal species: 1. The right we have over our own persons and actions, which is called Liberty. 2. The right we have over things or goods that belong to us, which is called Property. 3. The right we have over the persons and actions of other men, which is distinguished by the name of Empire or Authority. 4. And, in fine, the right one may have over other men's things, of which there are several sorts. It suffices, at present, to have given a general notion of these different species of right.
From «The Principles of Natural Law.»
B RORD BURLEIGH wrote only one essay, but it gave him a dis
tinct place in English literature which certainly he did not K either expect or attempt. No handbook of English literature is considered complete without it. As prime minister of England for forty years under Elizabeth, who created him “Baron of Bur. leigh » in 1571, he helped to make English history at one of its most important periods, and in doing so won for himself enduring celebrity as one of the greatest of the statesmen who have made England what it is. He was born at Bourne, Lincolnshire, September 13th, 1520, and died at London, August 4th, 1598. Among the best known of his numerous political papers is that entitled “The Execution of Justice in England for the Maintenance of Public and Christian Peace.” He was in many things civilized beyond his day. His influence prevented the persecution of both Puritans and Catholics. When Catherine de Medici attempted to bribe him to become her secret agent in England he replied: "I serve only God, my mistress, and my country.”
THE WELL ORDERING OF A MAN'S LIFE
Son Robert :
The virtuous inclinations of thy matchless mother, by whose tender and godly care thy infancy was governed, together with thy education under so zealous and excellent a tutor, puts me in rather assurance than hope, that thou art not ignorant of that summum bonum, which is only able to make thee happy as well in thy death as life; I mean the true knowledge and worship of thy Creator and Redeemer, without which all other things are vain and miserable: so that thy youth being guided by so sufficient a teacher, I make no doubt but he will furnish thy life with divine and moral documents; yet that I may not cast off the care beseeming a parent towards his child, or that you should
have cause to derive thy whole felicity and welfare rather from others than from whence thou receivedst thy breath and being, I think it fit and agreeable to the affection I bear thee, to help thee with such rules and advertisements for the sqaring of thy life, as are rather gained by experience than much reading; to the end that entering into this exorbitant age, thou mayest be the better prepared to shun those scandalous courses whereunto the world and the lack of experience may easily draw thee. And because I will not confound thy memory, I have reduced them into ten precepts; and next unto Moses' tables, if thou imprint them in thy mind, thou shalt reap the benefit, and I the content; and they are these following:
When it shall please God to bring thee to man's estate, use great providence and circumspection in choosing thy wife; for from thence will spring all thy future good or evil; and it is an action of life, like unto a stratagem of war, wherein a man can err but once. If thy estate be good, match near home and at leisure; if weak, far off and quickly. Inquire diligently of her disposition, and how her parents have been inclined in their youth; let her not be poor, how generous soever, for a man can buy nothing in the market with gentility; nor choose a base and uncomely creature altogether for wealth, for it will cause contempt in others and loathing in thee; neither make choice of a dwarf, nor a fool, for by the one you shall beget a race of pigmies, the other will be thy continual disgrace, and it will yirke thee to hear her talk; for thou shalt find it, to thy great grief, that there is nothing more fulsome than a she-fool.
And touching the guiding of thy house, let thy hospitality be moderate and according to the means of thy estate; rather plentiful than sparing, but not costly; for I never knew any man grow poor by keeping an orderly table; but some consume themselves through secret vices, and their hospitality bears the blame. But banish swinish drunkards out of thine house, which is a vice impairing health, consuming much, and makes no show. I never heard praise ascribed to the drunkard, but for the well bearing of his drink, which is better commendation for a brewer's horse or a drayman than for either a gentleman or a serving man. Beware thou spend not above three or four parts of thy revenues, nor above a third part of that in thy house; for the other