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Secondly, Those rules, by which properties, rights, and obligations are determined, have in them no marks of a natural origin but many of artifice and contrivance.
They are too numerous to have proceeded from nature: They are changeable by human laws: And have all of them a direct and evident tendency to public good, and the support, of civil society.
This last circumstance is remarkable upon two accounts.
First, because, though the cause of the establishment of these laws had been a regard for the public good, as much as the public good is their natural tendency, they would still have been artificial, as being purposely contrived and directed to a certain end.
Secondly, because, if men had been endowed with such a strong regard for public good, they would never have restrained themselves by these rules; so that the laws of justice arise from natural principles in a manner still more oblique and artificial.
It is self-love which is their real origin; and as the self-love of.
one person is naturally contrary to that of another, these several interested passions are obliged to adjust themselves after such a manner as to concur in some system of conduct and behaviour.
This system, therefore, comprehending the interest of each individual, is of course advantageous to the public; though it be not intended for that purpose by die inventors.
(2) In the second place we may observe, that all kinds of vice and virtue run insensibly into each other, and may approach by such imperceptible degrees as will make it very difficult, if not absolutely impossible, to determine when the one ends, and the other begins; and from this observation we may derive a new argument for the foregoing principle.
For whatever may be the case, with regard to all kinds of vice and virtue, it is certain, that rights, and obligations, and property, admit of no such insensible gradation, but that a man either has a full and perfect property, or none at all; and is either entirely obliged to perform any action, or lies under no manner of obligation.
However civil laws may talk of a perfect dominion, and of an imperfect, it is easy to observe, that this arises from a fiction, which has no foundation in reason, and can never enter into our notions of natural justice and equity.
A man that hires a horse, though but for a day, has as full a right to make use of it for that time, as he whom we call its proprietor has to make use of it any other day; and it was evident, that however the use may be bounded in time or degree, the right itself is not susceptible of any such gradation, but is absolute and entire, so far as it extends.
Accordingly we may observe, that this right both arises and perishes in an instant; and that a man entirely acquires the property of any object by occupation, or the consent of the proprietor; and loses it by his own consent; without any of that insensible gradation, which is remarkable in other qualities and relations, Since, therefore, this is die case with regard to property, and rights, and obligations, I ask, how it stands with regard to justice and injustice? After whatever manner you answer this question, you run into inextricable difficulties.
If you reply, that justice and injustice admit of degree, and run insensibly into each other, you expressly contradict the foregoing position, that obligation and property are not susceptible of such a gradation.
These depend entirely upon justice and injustice, and follow them in all their variations.
Where the justice is entire, the property is also entire: Where the justice is imperfect, the property must also be imperfect And vice versa, if the property admit of no such variations, they must also be incompatible with justice.
If you assent, therefore, to this last proposition, and assert, that justice and injustice are not susceptible of degrees, you in effect assert, that they are not naturally either vicious or virtuous; since vice and virtue, moral good and evil, and indeed all natural qualities, run insensibly into each other, and are, on many occasions, undistinguishable.
And here it may be worth while to observe, that though abstract reasoning, and the general maxims of philosophy and law establish this position, that property, and right, and obligation admit not of degrees, yet in our common and negligent way of thinking, we find great difficulty to entertain that opinion, and do even secretly embrace the contrary principle.
An object must either be in the possession of one person or another.
An action must either be performed or not The necessity there is of choosing one side in these dilemmas, and the impossibility there often is of finding any just medium, oblige us, when we reflect on the matter, to acknowledge, that all property and obligations are entire.
But on the other hand, when we consider the origin of property and obligation, and find that they depend on public utility, and sometimes on the propensities of the imagination, which are seldom entire on any side; we are naturally inclined to imagine, that these moral relations admit of an insensible gradation.