I.1 On law in its relation to various beings

Laws, in the broa­dest sense, are the neces­sary rela­tions which derive from the nature of things ; and in this sense all beings have their laws : the deity has its laws,1 the mate­rial world has its laws, intel­li­gen­ces higher than man have their laws, beasts have their laws, man has his laws.

Those who have said that a blind fate has pro­du­ced all the effects that we see in the world have utte­red a great absur­dity ; for what grea­ter absur­dity is there than a blind fate that had pro­du­ced intel­li­gent beings ? There is the­re­fore a pri­mor­dial rea­son ; and laws are the rela­tions that exist bet­ween it and the dif­fe­rent beings, and the rela­tions of those various beings to each other.

God has a rela­tion­ship with the uni­verse as crea­tor and as pre­ser­ver ; the laws by which he crea­ted are those by which he pre­ser­ves ; he acts accor­ding to those rules because he knows them ; he knows them, because he made them ; he made them, because they have a rela­tion­ship with his wis­dom and might. As we see that the world, for­med by the move­ment of mat­ter, and lacking intel­li­gence, ever sub­sists, its move­ments must have inva­ria­ble laws ; and if we could ima­gine a world dif­fe­rent from this one, it would have cons­tant rules, or it would be des­troyed.

Thus crea­tion, which appears to be an arbi­trary act, sup­po­ses rules as inva­ria­ble as the fata­lity of atheists. It would be absurd to say that the crea­tor could govern the world without those rules, because the world would not sub­sist without them. Those rules are a conti­nually esta­bli­shed rela­tion­ship. Between one body in motion and ano­ther body in motion, it is in accor­dance with rela­tions of mass and velo­city that all move­ments are absor­bed, increa­sed, dimi­ni­shed, or lost : every diver­sity is uni­for­mity ; every change is cons­tancy.

Individual intel­li­gent beings can have laws they have made ; but they also have some which they have not made. Intelligent beings, before they exis­ted, were pos­si­ble ; they the­re­fore had pos­si­ble rela­tions, and conse­quently pos­si­ble laws. Before any laws had been made, there were pos­si­ble rela­tions of jus­tice. To say that there is nothing just or unjust but what spe­ci­fic laws ordain or for­bid is to say that until a cir­cle had been drawn all radii were not equal.

We must the­re­fore allow rela­tions of equity prior to the spe­ci­fic law that esta­bli­shes them ; as for exam­ple, sup­po­sing there were socie­ties of men, it would be just to fol­low their laws ; that if there were intel­li­gent beings who had recei­ved some bene­fit from ano­ther being, they ought to have some gra­ti­tude for it ; that if an intel­li­gent being had crea­ted an intel­li­gent being, the crea­ted one ought to remain in the depen­dency it has been in since its ori­gin ; that an intel­li­gent being who has done harm to an intel­li­gent being deser­ves to incur the same harm ; and so forth.

But the intel­li­gent world is far from being gover­ned as well as the phy­si­cal world. For though it too has laws which by their nature are inva­ria­ble, it does not fol­low them cons­tantly as the phy­si­cal world fol­lows its own laws. The rea­son for this is that indi­vi­dual intel­li­gent beings are limi­ted by their nature, and conse­quently sub­ject to error ; and on the other hand, it is in their nature to act by them­sel­ves. Therefore they do not cons­tantly fol­low their pri­mor­dial laws, nor do they always fol­low even those they have given them­sel­ves.

We do not know whe­ther beasts are gover­ned by the gene­ral laws of move­ment, or by a par­ti­cu­lar motion. However that may be, they do not have a more inti­mate rela­tion with God than the rest of the mate­rial world ; and fee­ling is of use to them only in the rela­tion­ship they have amongst them­sel­ves, either with other indi­vi­dual beings, or with them­sel­ves.

By the attrac­tion of plea­sure they pre­serve their indi­vi­dual being, and by the same attrac­tion they pre­serve their spe­cies. They have natu­ral laws because they are uni­ted by fee­ling ; they have no spe­ci­fic laws, because they are not uni­ted by cons­cious­ness. Nevertheless they do not inva­ria­bly fol­low their natu­ral laws : plants, in which we observe nei­ther cons­cious­ness nor fee­ling, fol­low them bet­ter. Beasts have not the supreme advan­ta­ges we have, but they have some which we have not. They do not have our hopes, nor do they have our fears ; they expe­rience death as we do, but without kno­wing it ; most of them even pre­serve them­sel­ves bet­ter than we do, and do not make such a poor use of their pas­sions.

Man, as a phy­si­cal being, is like other bodies gover­ned by inva­ria­ble laws. As an intel­li­gent being, he is fore­ver vio­la­ting the laws which God has esta­bli­shed, and he chan­ges those which he him­self esta­bli­shes. He must deter­mine his conduct, and yet he is a limi­ted being, he is sub­ject to igno­rance and error like all finite intel­li­gen­ces ; addi­tio­nally he loses, as a sen­si­tive crea­ture, what fee­ble know­ledge he has : he beco­mes sub­ject to a thou­sand pas­sions. Such a being could at every moment for­get his crea­tor ; God has cal­led him back to him­self through the laws of reli­gion. Such a being could at every moment for­get him­self ; phi­lo­so­phers have war­ned him through the laws of mora­lity. Made to live in society, he could for­get others ; legis­la­tors have res­to­red him to his duties through poli­ti­cal and civil laws.

The law, says Plutarch, is the queen of all mortals and immortals : in the treatise “That it is required of a prince that he be a scholar.”