Baron d’Holbach 1765
Source: Elements de la Morale Universelle, ou Catechism Universelle. Paris, Chez De Bure, 1790;
Translated: for marxists.org by Mitch Abidor 2006;
CopyLeft: Creative Commons (Attribute & ShareAlike) marxists.org 2006.
Morality is a science whose principles are capable of a demonstration as clear and rigorous as those of calculus and geometry. The elements of this so necessary science can be put within the reach of the simplest of men, and even children. In order to make this truth felt we here give the principles of natural morality in a fashion that renders them capable of being taught to all. They shall serve to make known whether, as some men claim, virtue is naught but a chimera, or if morality is founded on man’s nature and his real interests, whatever his opinions or his prejudices.
This work, composed in 1765, is truly that of the respectable philosopher whose name it bears: it is his family who gave us the autograph manuscript, and it is on their word that we publish it.
Q: What is man?
A: He is a sensitive, intelligent, reasonable being, who desires to preserve himself and make himself happy.
Q: What do you mean by a sensitive being?
A: That is one who has senses, i.e., who is formed in such a way that he receives on the part of objects that approach or touch him shocks he perceives through the changes they make in him.
Q: What do you mean by the senses?
A: Sight, touch, taste, smell, and hearing.
Q: What are the uses of the senses in man, and animals in general?
A: They serve to make him receive impressions from external objects, called bodies, and these impressions produce durable or passing changes in him that we call sensations.
Q: The impressions or sensations that man receives via his senses, are they the same?
A: No; some please him and others displease him: he seeks the one and desires their continuance; he feels repugnance for the others and desires their cessation. In a word, he loves the former and hates the latter, as well as the objects that have excited them.
A: What do you mean by loving or hating an object?
Q: To love an object means wishing for its presence; it means wanting the continuation of the impression or the effect it produces on our senses; it means approving its presence when we have it, and desiring that presence when it is far from us or is not acting upon us.
To hate an object means to will or desire that it cease to make an impression on our senses; it means disapproving its presence. My eyes are attracted by an object: I stop and consider it, I am happy to see it, I wish to see it again, I want to be its owner so as to always enjoy it, and so I say that I love this painting. My sense of smell is offended by a disagreeable odor: I stop up my nose, I want the object that wounds me to be taken away, and so I say I hate it.
Q: What does it mean to will, and what is the will?
A: The will is a tendency or disposition to act in such and such a manner, produced by a movement of love or hatred that excites in us the agreeable or disagreeable sensation that an object has made on our senses, an impression that then becomes a motive.
Q: What do you then mean by a motive?
A: It is everything which, by exciting love or hatred in us, determines our will, or disposes us to act so as to procure or avoid it. The sight of a friend determines or disposes me to approach him so as to embrace him and enjoy his presence. The sight of an enemy determines me to avoid him.
Q: What do you mean by to act?
A: This means setting our organs in movement in order to procure the objects we love, or to cast from us those we hate. We call action this movement or series of movement of our organs, produced by our will, that tend to approach or cast from us an object that gave birth to our love or hatred. Example: My sight is struck by a fruit. This impression excites my love or my desire, which determines my will or disposes me to walk so as to approach the tree and extend my arms to pluck the fruit.
Q: What name is given to the movements of love or hatred that objects give birth to in us?
A: We call them passions. These are the more or less strong and durable movements of our will determined by objects that touch or have touched our senses.
Q: Are all passions the same?
A: No. Independently of the difference between them in force and duration, they also vary in the diversity of objects that excite them. Consequently, we designate them under different names. We call love the more or less strong and durable passions of a man for an object that attracts him and which he wishes to procure for himself. We call hatred the more or less strong and durable aversion for an object that repels him or that he wishes to avoid. We call anger a sudden movement of hatred against an object, etc.
Q: Does a passion always determine man’s will and does it always cause action?
A: It always makes him act when its effect or impulse is not hindered by another passion. In the contrary case, his will is not determined, and consequently the action is suspended.
Q: Can man feel different passions at the same time?
A: Yes. Our senses can be moved at the same time by different objects, or else the same object can excite an opposing passion in him. In both cases his will is suspended and he doesn’t act.
Q: How can our senses be moved at one and the same time by different objects?
A: When these objects act at the same time on us. Example: I see two similar fruits and desire both of them but don’t know which of the two I should take.
Q: How can one and the same object excite contrary passions in us?
A: When this object gives birth alternately to my love and my hatred. Example I see a fruit which I desire, but I learn that this fruit is dangerous for my health. This fruit that excited my desire then becomes the object of my fear.
Q: What does man do in these two cases?
A: He deliberates; then he chooses and acts when his will has been determined.
Q: What is it to deliberate?
A: It is alternately loving and hating the objects that move us; it is being successively attracted and repelled.
Q: What is it to choose?
A: It means making a determination based on which of the passions that is the strongest. It then brings along with it the will, and we act in order to obtain that object we love more than we fear, or to avoid that which we hate more than we love.
Q: Can you explain this by an example?
A: I deliberate in order to know which of two fruits to choose. Now I like one better, now the other. In the end I take one, or I choose, for at the moment I act my will prefers that which I have chosen to the one I left, and my will prefers it because in the instant I chose it I thought it better.
Q: What do you call the objects that excite love or hatred, that is, man’s passions?
A: Those that excite his love are called good things, or pleasures. We say of these objects that they are good, beautiful, useful, agreeable, and we approve those actions and methods that procure them. Those that excite his hatred are called evils, or painful things. We say they are bad, harmful, deformed, disagreeable, and we disapprove those actions or methods that cause them.
Q: This said, what is pleasure?
A: We call pleasure every agreeable impression on man’s senses caused by an object whose presence he approves of or desires.
Q: What is pain?
A: Every disagreeable impression on man’s senses that excites his hatred and whose cessation he desires, or that is caused by an object whose presence he disapproves of.
Q: Are all the pleasures felt by man the same?
A: Like evils, they vary in force and duration.
Q: What are the pleasures that man prefers and that most strongly excite his love?
A: These are the strongest and the most durable ones; those that procure for him the most happiness and make him most solidly happy.
Q: What is happiness?
A: It is the duration or the continuation of the pleasures and ways of feeling that are agreeable to man, that he loves and approves of as favorable to his being.
Q: What is unhappiness?
A: It is the duration or the continuation of ills, or ways of feeling that are harmful to man, which he hates and disapproves of as harmful to his being.
Q: What is favorable to man?
A: I call favorable all that contributes to preserving man, to maintaining him in a way of being that he loves and whose continuation he desires. In a word, what makes him happy or procures happiness for him.
Q: What do you mean by that which is harmful to man?
A: I mean everything that contributes to destroying him or troubling or disturbing in him the order necessary to his happiness.
Q: What is order?
A: It is a state or way of being, whose different parts are in accord in fulfilling the functions to which this whole is destined and which conspire to preserve the whole. Example: The human body is a whole that is orderly when all its parts fulfill their functions and conspire to preserve it in a state of health, which, for him, is a state he approves of. It is disorderly when its parts cease to be in accord in order to produce this effect.
Q: Can pleasure be harmful to man?
A: Pleasure is good only insofar as it preserves man and maintains him in an orderly state; it is an ill when it disturbs this order or when its consequences harm his happiness.
Q: So the passions that lead man to pleasure can be harmful to him?
A: The passions are essential and necessary to the preservation of man. They are good or useful when they have as their object pleasures that contribute to his happiness. They are bad and harmful when they trouble order in him and when they have as object pleasures contrary to his happiness. Example: Food is an essential necessity to man; it is in his nature to desire it. Without sufficient food he will waste away, and if he takes too much he exposes himself to illness and death.
Q: Pleasure can thus become an ill?
A: Pleasure becomes an ill whenever, through itself or its consequences it harms our happiness, that is, when it prevents us from enjoying the durable wellbeing that should be the object of our desires.
Q: Can the ill also become a good thing?
A: If passing pleasure can, by its consequences and its effects, become an ill for us, the passing ill or pain can also become a good thing. Example: A medicine that is disagreeable to us at the moment we take it becomes a good thing when it reestablishes our health.
Q: Can man always feel pleasure?
A: No. Though food is necessary to him, he can’t eat without cease. He only finds pleasure in food at intervals. It is the same for all pleasures: man’s senses are only capable of a certain quantity of moments in proportion to their force. Thus too strong pleasures tire him and disturb the order within him. Continued or too often reiterated pleasures become insipid to him, bore him, and consequently change into pain.
Q: But didn’t you say that happiness was continuous pleasure? And if continuous pleasure becomes an ill, how can man be happy?
A: Happiness demands variety and continuity in pleasures. The same pleasure will become a pain if it were to constantly act on our senses. So the same pleasures are not fitting at all times: for his happiness it is necessary that they vary and that he put intervals between them.
Q: This said, what does it mean to be happy?
A: It means feeling a great number of varied pleasures, which have only the force and the duration needed to not tire us or trouble the order within us or to change itself into pain.
Q: What follows from this?
A: It follows that man must, in order to be happy, choose among his pleasures, be sparing of them, resist too strong passions and flee all that can disturb the order in his machine, either immediately or through far off consequences.
Q: How can a man choose among his pleasures?
A: By his intelligence.
Q: What is an intelligent being?
A: It is he who can know and choose the means necessary to arrive at the goal he proposes to himself; that is, happiness.
Q: How can man know and choose?
A: By experience, which provides ideas, thoughts, etc.
Q: What is experience?
A: It is a series of facts; that is, impressions, sensations, and movements that our senses have felt, and the good or ill effects that objects have produced on us and which memory reminds us of. Example: Fire burned me; this is an experience that taught me that it is harmful to me.
Q: How does man retrace his experiences, his ideas, his thoughts?
A: By memory.
Q: What is memory?
A: It’s the power man has to render present the experiences he had or the ideas he received even when the objects that acted on his senses have ceased to be present. Example: Via memory I make present a man my eyes struck yesterday.
Q: Do the objects that act on our senses leave on us some impression or trace?
A: Yes. The traces that objects leave on us are called ideas or images. We see them within ourselves in thought. The memory of images is called imagination.
Q: What is thought?
A: It is the action that occurs within man whenever he receives or retraces the impression external objects or his own organs have made on him. Example: When I think of my friend I see or feel his image within myself.
Q: What does man do in accordance with experience, memory and thought?
A: He judges, that is he compares among themselves the objects that have moved him, the effects they have produced on his senses, the traces and the ideas they have left him: in a word, the experiences he has lived through. And according to that comparison, he loves these objects or hates them, as well as the effects that have produced in him.
Q: Can man not judge wrongly?
A: Yes, man is subject to judging wrongly, either when his organs are not in order, or when he has not had experiences, or when his experiences are false or insufficient. He is then in error.
Q: What is error?
A: We call error any judgment based on an experiment that is poorly done, insufficient or that is traced by memory with little fidelity.
Q: Can our senses fool us?
A: Yes, our senses fool us whenever our machine is disordered or when our organs don’t faithfully fulfill the functions for which they are destined, which occurs either because of some natural defect in our senses, or from some passing or lasting disturbance that has afflicted them.
Q: Can you explain this with examples?
A: A man whose eyesight has weakened can only experience suspect or false experience; a drunken man does not see objects as they are and is not capable of judging this as long as he is in this state; a man troubled by violent passions cannot sanely judge things nor distinguish the truth.
Q: What is truth?
A: We call truth any judgment based the consistent and reiterated experience of any well-organized man, that is, whose senses exactly fulfill their functions. Example: When I say that fire burns and that it should be avoided I speak a truth, that is, I bear a judgment confirmed by the consistent experience of every well-organized man. When I say that vice is an evil I speak a truth noted by the experience of every reasonable man.
Q: Is the truth necessary to man?
A: Yes. Without it he cannot distinguish those things that are useful to him from those that are harmful; he can’t judge what he should seek or flee. A blind man cannot avoid the precipice that is in his path.
Q: How does man arrive at knowing the truth?
A: By using his senses in order to carry out reiterated experiments upon the objects that move him. According to these experiments he judges with more or less promptness and facility, in keeping with his natural dispositions.
Q: What do you mean by natural dispositions?
A: I mean the conformation of our organs and the greater or lesser precision with which they fulfill their functions, which renders man more or less susceptible to feeling, thinking, or having true experiences. As a consequence of these dispositions men differ from one another in wit, instinct, or the elevated spirit of their judgments, their habits, their reason.
Q: What is intelligence?
A: It’s the prompt and easy use of judgment and experience. Someone with just intelligence is he who promptly judges according to true experience, which memory faithfully recalls to him. A false intelligence is one that judges according to false experiences or is recalled by an unfaithful memory.
Q: What do you mean by instinct?
A: In man, instinct is the affect of a disposition both natural and cultivated by habit, which places him in a state to promptly judge objects and sentiments according to the love or hate they are due, for he immediately recalls the sum total of experience he has had of them. Example I instinctively distance myself from a falling stone, for its dangerous consequences immediately present themselves to my intelligence. A man used to feeling the value of virtue and the results of crime is immediately seized with horror when seeing or hearing of a criminal act.
Q: What is habit?
A: It’s the ability to act that we acquire due to the reiteration of the same acts. Example We acquire the habit of writing from having traced the same characters. Consequently, we write with greater or lesser facility, promptness, and precision, according to whether or not our dispositions have been more or less exercised. In the same way we have the habit of loving virtue, from having thought on its advantages and feeling the disadvantages of vice.
Q: When is man must susceptible to acquiring habits?
A: In childhood, for then his organs are tenderer, more flexible, and oppose no resistance to the movements we want to impress upon them. It is through education that men receive their first ideas, have their first experiences, learn to judge, and form their reason.
Q: And what is education?
A: It is the art of having men contract in childhood those habits that can contribute to his happiness. Raising someone means having him have experiences, in keeping with which he judges and becomes reasonable, if the education is good, and unreasonable if it is bad.
Q: What do you mean by reason?
A: Reason is the use man learns to make, for his happiness, of the experiences a man has gathered, judgments he has borne, habits he has contracted, truths he has assembled: in a word, reason is experience applied to the conduct of a sensible and intelligent being who seeks happiness. Example: Excessive eating has often upset me. I judged that it went against me. Memory recalls to me these experiences and judgments; reason sees to it that I avoid falling again into such excess. Reason is the maturity of the sprit: it rectifies the sentiment that can mislead us.
Q: Given that, what do you call reasonable?
A: We call reasonable any action that experience shows to be truly and solidly useful to the happiness of man. We can unreasonable any action which, in itself or from its results, can harm felicity. All morality is founded on reason, and reason itself is naught but the fruit of experience.
Q: What is morality?
A: It’s the knowledge of the obligations that reason imposes on a sensible, intelligent being who seeks happiness and who lives in society with beings like himself, or who are animated by the same desires. In a word, morality is the science of man’s obligations.
Q: What do you mean by science?
A: It’s a series of experiments that man has done on every object, about which he has attempted to discover if it is useful to his happiness. Knowing a language means having heard and retained all the sounds it contains; knowing morality means having had or gathered together the experiences necessary in order to live in society.
Q: What do you mean by obligation?
A: I mean everything that must be done, or the means that must be employed to arrive at an end we have proposed. Example: Doing good to one’s like is an obligation for he who wants to deserve their love and esteem.
Q: And so, in general, what do you mean by man’s obligations?
A: It is everything that his own interest and the exact and thorough knowledge of the relations he has – both as a man and a citizen – with the society of which he is a member prescribes and obliges him to do for the maintenance of that society, to contribute to the private happiness of the individuals who compose it, and to establish between he and they the constant and habitual commerce of services alternately accepted and rendered.
Q: What does it mean to be obligated, and what do you mean by obligation?
A: Obligation is the same thing as a duty or necessity. To be obligated means not being able to arrive at being happy, or exposing oneself to being unhappy, if one doesn’t take the necessary steps for procuring the happiness one desires and to avoid the evil one fears.
Q: That being the case, what do you mean by moral obligation?
A: It’s the necessity in which each man finds himself to fulfill the duties by which reason and experience show him that his happiness is attached to the society in which he lives.
Q: So it is thus on the desire for happiness or the fear of unhappiness that every obligation is founded?
A: Yes. As soon as man desires the good or fears evil he finds himself obligated to procure the one and avoid the other. Example I am obligated to obey my father, and my obedience is a duty, for his goodness and consequently my own happiness, depend upon my obedience in the circumstances in which I find myself.
Q: What are the circumstances in which a man can find himself?
A: Man can be considered as alone, or as living with other men, which changes his circumstances or his relations, and consequently his duties.
Q: What do you call man’s relations?
A: I mean the different positions or the different states of a man compared to other men whose actions influence his own happiness, as well as his on theirs, or which cause him and to which he makes felt pleasure or pains. Example: There exist relations between a child and its father, because these two beings have influence over each other’s happiness. As a consequence of these relations the child owes its father respect, tenderness and submission, and because his father has a thousand ways of making him happy.
Q: So man’s relations are the different points of view under which they can be considered?
A: Yes. When he is considered in isolation he does not have the same obligations as when we consider him as living in society with other men who can make him happy or unhappy.
Q: Is an isolated man subject to obligations?
A: Yes, he necessarily desires to preserve himself and to make himself happy, and as soon as he proposes that end he’s obligated to take up the means.
Q: What are the obligations of man considered on his own?
A: To do all that is demanded by the care to preserve himself, his desire for happiness and to avoid all that can harm him, either immediately or by its consequences. So the isolated man is obligated to make a choice among his pleasures, to be sparing of them, to moderate his passions, to avoid all that can alter his health, cause him pain, disturb the order of his machine. Prudence, moderation, and temperance are thus also obligations for man, whether he lives alone or in society
Q: But can’t a man kill himself?
A: A man who wants to kill himself without reason is no longer in an orderly state. His organism, tainted or disturbed by some cause or other, does not permit him either to consult reason or to listen to the voice of nature, which advises him to preserve himself. It is up to laws to watch over him and, if it can, to medicine to cure him.
Q: What is prudence in the isolated man?
A: It’s the duty that reason imposes on him to choose the means to preserve himself.
Q: What is moderation?
A: It’s the obligation to make use, in pleasure, of the measure that experience and reason have shown us to be necessary to render them lasting.
Q: What is temperance?
A: It’s the obligation to abstain from all that can become harmful to us.
Q: What is man in society?
A: It is man living with beings that have the same senses, the same needs as he, upon whose happiness his actions have an influence, and whose actions have an influence on him.
Q: What is a society?
A: It’s the assemblage of many men united together to work in common effort at their mutual happiness.
Q: How many kinds of societies are there?
A: There are general and particular kinds.
Q: What do you mean by general society?
A: I mean all of humankind, or the assembly of all the beings of humankind.
Q: What are particular societies?
A: They are those that are only composed of a more or less greater portion of the beings of humankind. These societies are called nations when they are composed of a portion of humankind which distinguishes itself from the rest by the name of the country they inhabit. A city is a society composed of a certain number of men of the same nation, who we call citizens. A family is a society composed of a few men of the same city who are called relations, etc.
Q: How many men are needed to form a society?
A: As soon as two beings of the human species gather together in order to obtain a common end they form a society. And so in marriage the man and the woman form a society, the father lives in society with his children, friends are in society with their friends, and the merchant makes one with his associates.
Q: What are the obligations of man in society?
A: They are to take all appropriate measures to obtain the ends society proposes.
Q: What are the ends society proposes?
A: Its preservation and its welfare, as well as that of all the members who compose it. From which results the obligation for all to mutually assist each other for their common happiness and the preservation of the society they constitute.
Q: Why is each member of society obligated to contribute to the welfare of his associates, and what reason does he have for this?
A: It is that he needs his associates for his own happiness and the good he does them is always returned to him.
Q: What do we want to make understood when we say that man is sociable?
A: We want to indicate that experience, habit, and reason render society necessary to man, and that everything proves to him that he continually has need of his like, for on his own he can not make himself as happy as when he is assisted by them.
Q: Does man need others to make himself happy?
A: Man in isolation has neither enough strength nor enough skill to procure for himself everything that is needed for his preservation, his well-being, and to resist the evils with which he would be threatened in a state of solitude. By associating himself with others he at least procures for himself with greater ease his needs; he gives, so to speak, his own security a larger foundation and he enjoys an infinite number of advantages of which he would be deprived if her were to remain isolated.
Q: What are man’s needs?
A: In general, they are all that nature and habit have made necessary for him to preserve himself and to make his experience agreeable. Example: To eat, to clothe oneself, to defend oneself from the injuries of the air and unforeseen accidents, to work and act without excess, to rest, to propagate, and to obtain pleasure.
Q: So man cannot obtain these things without the assistance of others?
A: No. On coming into the world he is the weakest of animals; he would perish almost immediately after having been born without the continuous assistance of his parents, who feed him, who teach him little by little to make use of his members, to distinguish those objects he must love or fear, seek or flee: in a word, without their care man could never reach maturity.
Q: But when he has reached this term of his life, and when he is in a state to use his strength, does he still have need of others?
A: This need is the same in all times: alone he would accomplish nothing without the greatest effort. He couldn’t defend himself, he wouldn’t be able to resist the accidents that would occur. His associates render work simpler, they increase his pleasures, he profits from their industry, he shares their pleasures. In a word, at every moment man depends on his associates.
Q: What do you call depending on his associates?
A: It means needing them to increase his strength; it means not being able to preserve himself or be truly happy without them. It is need that is the principle and the reason for all dependency; it’s the voluntary and reciprocal consent that is the tie, and from this consent is born all submission, all subordination.
Q: And so, in society every man depends on his associates?
A: Yes. All men in society depend on each other, that is, need assistance for their preservation and their happiness.
Q: What do you mean by subordination?
A: I mean the submission that a man, for his own good and by voluntary consent, owes to those with whom he is tied for his preservation and his happiness. Man only submits to the authority of his like because it is necessary for his happiness.
Q: So what is authority?
A: It’s the right to rule the acts and wishes of those for whom are procured the means to preserve themselves and render themselves happy.
Q: What do you mean by right?
A: A right is any power to act approved by reason, at which time we say that this power is just and legitimate.
Q: What do you mean by just?
A: I mean by just everything that is in conformity with reason or that reason approves; everything it disapproves or that is contrary to it is called unjust.
Q: What does reason approve of?
A: It approves every act and the use of any power which tends to the solid and real happiness of he who exercises it without harming the happiness of his associates. It disapproves any act or the use of any power which harms he who exercises it or which only procures him a passing pleasure at the expense of the well-being if his associates.
Q: That being the case, what is justice?
A: In general it is the exercise of any power that reason finds to be in conformity with the good of society. In man, justice is a constant and habitual disposition to maintain all in the use of their rights. In society, justice is the power it gives to each of its members to exercise their legitimate rights or to do for theirs happiness that which reason approves.
Q: Society thus has just rights over its members?
A: Yes. Each of its members depends on the total body, since each of them needs society for his preservation and his own happiness. And so the authority of society is just, and its members are subordinate to it. They are obligated to obey it for their good; it has rights over them.
Q: Does every member of society also have rights over it?
A: Society only has just rights over its members through the number and nature of the advantages it allows them to enjoy. And so, each of them has a right to demand of it that it render them happier than if they lived all alone or without it. It is only on this condition that he submits his desires and actions to it.
Q: Can society then lose its rights over its members?
A: A society which takes no care of its members would become useless to them. One which would only do them harm would lose all its rights over them. Reason cannot approve the exercise of a power that makes unhappy the beings who have gathered together in society in the hope of enjoying there a happiness greater than if they didn’t live there.
Q: So the rights of society and its members are reciprocal and conditional?
A: If society only has legitimate rights over its members because of the advantages it procures them, in the same way its members only have just rights over it owing to their usefulness to it or through the services they render it. This is what we call the social compact.
Q: What do you mean by the social compact?
A: These are the necessary conditions under which society and its members reciprocally commit to work together at their common happiness; or it is the sum total of mutual obligations of society and its members.
Q: What do these obligations and conditions consist of?
A: Every member of society commits to serve, defend, preserve, and make happy his associates as far as this is in his power, on condition that they l serve him, protect him, procure for him the means to preserve himself and make himself happy, and will see to it that he enjoys his legitimate rights.
Q: What can a member of a society do if it doesn’t fulfill its obligations towards him?
A: He has the right to leave it or separate himself from it. Reason approves his renouncing a society harmful to his happiness.
Q: Does a society have a right to force its members to fulfill their obligations towards it?
A: A society that fulfills its own commitments towards its members has the right to oblige them to fulfill theirs towards it. Reason approves societies depriving those who fail to meet their commitments of the advantages they only have claim to when they are faithful to them.
Q: How does society obligate its members?
A: By laws.
Q: What are laws?
A: They are the rules of conduct that society prescribes for its members for the preservation and happiness of all.
Q: Does society have a right to make laws?
A: Yes. Reason approves its taking the measures to preserve and procure happiness for all its members, and experience proves that good laws are the most certain of these measures.
Q: What are good laws?
A: They are those that are just and that reason approves. It only approves those that procure the welfare of all. Bad laws are those that have as their object the welfare, the preservation, and the security of only a few members, at the expense of the rest of society. They are unjust and reason disapproves of them because all its members have an equal right to happiness.
Q: So society can err and make bad laws?
A: Its laws can be bad or unjust when they are harmful to its own preservation and the welfare of the greatest number of its members.
Q: So what society or the law command or permit can be not always just?
A: What society commands is just whenever reason approves it; it is unjust when reason disapproves. What the law commands or permits can be licit without being just; what it prohibits can be illicit without being nevertheless unjust. It is neither society, nor law, nor usage which decided the just and the unjust: it is reason. In a warlike and conquering nation theft, rapine, murder and inhumanity can be licit, permitted, and even approved without being just. There are nations where persecution and intolerance are authorized; there are others where usage allows adultery; there are even those where parricide is approved. Nevertheless, these acts are unjust, contrary to reason and harmful to society’s happiness.
Q: How can society be thus in error?
A: This happens when it errs due to lack of sufficient experience, as in the case of savage nations; or this comes from ignorance, prejudice, the passions, and inexperience of those who make the laws for it or who express its wishes.
Q: What do you call those who speak and act in society’s name?
A: We call them representatives. The entirety of the powers exercised by these representatives is what constitutes the society’s sovereignty.
Q: What then is society’s sovereign?
A: These are the members of society to whom it gave the right to express its wishes, to act for it, to regulate the acts of all its members for the general good.
Q: Is every member of the society obligated to obey the sovereign it chose?
A: Yes, because obeying the sovereign chosen by the society means obeying the society itself, and obeying the society is a duty, since each member depends on it for his own welfare. The sovereign has the right to make himself obeyed because society has the right to command that which is just.
Q: What are the rights of the sovereign?
A: Reason approves his doing all that is useful to society, and that he oblige all its members to conform to those laws that are advantageous to all.
Q: Does the sovereign have the right to harm society?
A: Never can any member or group of members have the right to harm society. The sovereign only has the rights that society gave him; it could not give him the right to harm it, since the goal of sovereignty is to render society happier than it would be without it. And so even if society were to accept the sovereign doing it harm, or would give him the express power to do so, he would nevertheless not have the right. He would exercise an unjust power, for society only has as just rights those approved by reason, and reason cannot approve that which is harmful to society.
Q: The rights of the sovereign are thus limited?
A: Without doubt, yes, they are limited by reason, which can only approve that which is advantageous to society. The sovereign is a usurper when he exercises over it a right it disapproves; he is a tyrant when he exercises a power which harms it.
Q: What do you call a usurper?
A: Someone who exercises a power in society a power it disapproves or which it did not grant.
Q: What is a tyrant?
A: It’s a sovereign who abuses the power that society confided in him in order to harm it.
Q: Does a tyrant have obligations to fulfill?
A: If a society is itself subject to obligations towards its members, the sovereign who represents it also has his towards it, and cannot dispense with it without injustice.
Q: What are the obligations of the sovereign?
A: In general they are to ensure the preservation, the security, and the prosperity of the state: in a word, to maintain society as well as each of its members in their legitimate rights. The happiness and security of the sovereign depend on this and are intimately connected to it.
Q: What is the interest of the sovereign in fulfilling these obligations?
A: His own preservation and his solid and permanent welfare are assured in a powerful, flourishing, and happy society, in which every member is personally interested in the happiness of the chief. The sovereign then becomes the father of his people; he can count on their affection, their esteem, their enthusiastic obedience and their assistance: in a word, he joins a great external consideration to a great internal force, and his glory is then assured.
Q: What happens when the sovereign neglects or violates his obligations?
A: The state falls into a state of languor, it depopulates. We find there neither abundance, nor industry, nor activity. The subjects become enervated, corrupted, become discouraged and detach themselves from their fatherland as well as from the head of government. They see in him nothing but an enemy against whom they have a common interest in uniting all their forces. Finally, a sovereign who violates the express or tacit conditions of the social contract and who stifles the law before his passions has only a shaky power: he is hated, despised and his very life is in danger.
Q: Does the sovereign have legitimate rights over his subjects?
A: He has rights over them as long as he is necessary for their happiness.
Q: What are the obligations of subjects towards a sovereign who occupies himself with their happiness?
A: To faithfully obey him, to be inviolably attached to him, to second his useful points of view, to defend him, to lend him assistance, to collaborate with him in what he has done for the good of the nation.
Q: What interest do the subjects have in fulfilling these obligations?
A: The reasons for their obedience, their love, their gratitude, and their assistance are the advantages a vigilant sovereign procures for them: in loving him, in defending him they love and defend the instrument of their happiness.
Q: Do subjects have rights over the sovereign?
A: They have the right to demand from him justice, the peaceful enjoyment of their rights, and the recompense due all those who second his viewpoint by usefully serving the fatherland.
Q: Does a citizen have the right to judge the conduct of his sovereign?
A: No. Only society has the right to judge if its leader is harming it, if he governs in accordance with the laws. Society’s sentiments should decide this and regulate his conduct.
Q: Does a subject have the right to punish a sovereign who fails in his obligations?
A: No. It is up to the state as a body to judge and punish the sovereign. It is from society that he holds his power and it is society alone that has the right to deprive him of it. A subject who arrogates to himself the right to punish his sovereign is a criminal and unjust usurper, since he exercises a right that society did not grant him.
Q: And so the obligations of the sovereign and the subjects are reciprocal?
A: There are no obligations between men that are not reciprocal. No man has the right to bind or obligate others towards him without being bound and obligated himself towards them. And as we said, rights, in order to be just, must be founded on the good we do: any other right is the effect of tyranny, injustice, and force.
Q: But what if society, itself oppressed, does not procure for its members any of the advantages they have the right to expect?
A: Since the goal of any political society is a greater sum of strength, of happiness, and pleasure for all of those who compose it, we can separate ourselves from that society where we find ourselves more unhappy than if we lived alone or in another society.
Q: So is there a society that can make all its members happy?
A: Society fulfills its commitment to them when it constantly sees to the means of assuring to all members their property, to everywhere strengthening the foundations of civil and political freedom; in a word, when it maintains them in all their just rights.
Q: Can society not deprive its members of their legitimate rights?
A: No. It is only useful when it preserves them; it can only take from them the power to harm their associates, a power that is never a right, but a real injustice. Example: All men are free, but society has the right to take from them their liberty, which ceases to be one of their rights when they make use of it to harm their associates.
Q: What is liberty?
A: It is the right that every man in society has to do – for his own happiness – all that does not harm that of his associates.
Q: So liberty is founded on justice?
A: Yes. Reason approves it; it ceases to approve it as soon as it causes harm: from that point it becomes license, an injustice that society has the right to punish.
Q: What do you mean by punish?
A: Punishing someone means making them unhappy, it means depriving them of the advantages they would have the right to enjoy if they had rendered themselves useful to their associates. Punishments are just and necessary since they are the means of making society happy, and of inspiring fear in those who would like to trouble it through harmful acts.
Q: What do we call acts useful to our associates?
A: We call them just, good, honest, and virtuous; and we call unjust, dishonest, vicious and criminal those that are harmful to them.
Q: Given that, what is virtue?
A: It’s a habitual or permanent disposition to do what is useful to the men with whom we live in society.
Q: Why do you say habitual?
A: Because a passing act can be useful without our being virtuous for having done it. Virtue supposes a constant determination to do good.
Q: What do you call useful?
A: I call useful that which contributes to assuring man a solid and permanent happiness. In fact, we can do harm in procuring a passing pleasure whose results are dangerous; and we can be useful by making felt a passing ill from which happiness results. A surgeon performs a useful operation though he causes a momentary pain.
Q: What is vice?
A: A habitual disposition to harm one’s associates.
Q: What is crime?
A: Any lasting or passing act which, on its on or through its consequences, does great harm to our associates.
Q: Are virtues and crimes equal?
A: No. The love we have for some, and the hatred we have for others are increased in accordance with the extent and the grandeur of the usefulness or harm they cause. The greatest virtues are those that are the most useful to society; the greatest crimes are those from which result the greatest harm to it. This is the measure of the rewards and punishments it owes to its members.
Q: Does society owe rewards to those who are useful to it?
A: If it has the right to punish those who harm it, its preservation, or its welfare. Its interest demands that it reward those who are useful to it, proportional to the advantages they procure for it.
Q: What do you mean by to reward?
A: It means making a man happier for the good or noble act he did.
Q: What are the rewards society owes the virtues of its members?
A: They consist of marks of love, esteem, consideration, gratitude; in distinctions, honors, riches, in a word, in the various advantages that that society owes to those of its members that are most useful to it in order to incite them, in their own interest, to render it services and to work for the happiness of the beings they live with.
Q: What do you mean by interest?
A: In general I mean all that man judges necessary for his preservation and his happiness.
Q: Are the interests of all men the same?
A: No. Their interests vary with their needs, their habits, and the true or false ideas that have of happiness. The interest of a miser is in amassing wealth; the interest of a voluptuary is in obtaining pleasure; the interest of the vain man is to spend; the interest of the good man is to have himself loved by those with whom he lives, to make himself worthy of their esteem and benevolence, and even, lacking that, to earn the right to hold himself in esteem. In a word, the interest of every man is to obtain for himself the various objects in which usually reside his well-being.
Q: What interest does a man have in deserving the esteem of others?
A: Esteem is a kind of love: it supposes in those who have this sentiment in our regard a disposition to oblige us to contribute to our well-being, to take an interest in our preservation. Contempt, on the contrary, is a feeling of aversion, the marks of which are painful, because they announce to us that those in whom we inspire it are not disposed to contribute to our happiness.
Q: What interest does man have in obtaining, in preference to others, wealth, credit, distinctions, and power in society?
A: It is that these advantages permit him to make a great number of his associates happy who are dependent upon him, and forces to concern themselves with his welfare, to which theirs is tied.
Q: So man is then never disinterested?
A: Man never loses sight of his preservation and his happiness: he thus acts always by interest. We call him disinterested when he has no other interest than that of pleasing his like, of deserving their esteem, and seeking to make himself worthy of it by his virtues or his useful acts.
Q: Are not all the members of a society interested in its preservation and prosperity?
A: Yes. Their liberty, their personal security and that of their property, and finally, their own personal happiness are intimately tied to that of a society that maintains them in their rights: this natural desire that all have to see it happy and flourishing is called love of the fatherland.
Q: Love of the fatherland is thus a duty?
A: Yes, and for some men it is even an imperious need. Reflection and, of course, our interest equally lead us to this love, one of the happiest fruits of liberty and which, in all times and among all peoples, has led to the undertaking of great things.
Q: But what if the fatherland or the society only do us harm?
A: It then releases all the ties that attached us to it. The man who thus finds in his fatherland a continuous obstacle to his happiness necessarily isolates himself in the midst of it. He becomes its secret enemy and that of his associates: he feels himself to be fully free of his obligations towards them, he separates his interests from theirs. He finds no more reasons to be useful or virtuous, which always announces a poorly constituted society.
Q: Is it not the case that in a corrupted society man has an interest in harming his associates?
A: No. The man society makes unhappy can leave it, but he doesn’t have the right to do wrong or a true interest in being vicious. As long as he remains within society he must, in his own interest, diminish and not increase the number of these ills. If my house is on fire I should extinguish it and not increase the flames.
Q: What do you mean by true interest?
A: That of obtaining the greatest, the most real, the longest lasting happiness. In whatever circumstances a man finds himself his greatest interest is in being virtuous.
Q: How, in a vicious society, can a man find any interest in being virtuous?
A: The most corrupt men are forced to recognize the usefulness of virtue and to respect those that exercise it. On the other hand, even if general society is vicious particular societies need virtues. They are necessary to the happiness of the members who compose it: without them, life would become a painful burden.
Q: What are these particular societies?
A: They are those formed by the union of spouses, which we call marriage; those between relatives, which we call families; and those that are formed between friends and associates.
Q: What are the interests of the members of these societies?
A: To lend each other mutual assistance, to make life sweet and more agreeable, and to work in concert for their reciprocal wellbeing.
Q: That being the case, what are their obligations?
A: To take all measures needed for the maintenance of society and to show the dispositions necessary to that end. When we know the goal of a society it is always easy to know the interests and obligations of the associates.
Q: What is marriage?
A: It’s a society formed between man and woman to live together, to lend each other mutual assistance, and to give life to children, who will one day be cooperators in their labors and the support of their old age. This is the goal of marriage.
Q: Consequently, what are the obligations of the spouses?
A: To show each other affection, to assist each other, to do everything that can maintain their union, to carefully avoid everything that can alter or end it.
Q: What are the obligations of the man or husband?
A: Since nature gives him more strength than his wife he must defend her, protect her, take on that portion of labor which her weakness renders her incapable of, enlighten her with his wisdom, show attachment to her and be faithful to her.
Q: What are the obligations of the woman or wife?
A: To take on the least painful chores, like watching over the household, to raise the children in their tender years, to show her husband the affection and tenderness necessary to attract him, to show him the deference owed to the superiority of his strength and wisdom, and to be faithful to him.
Q: Why do you say that the spouses owe each other fidelity?
A: Because in marriage nothing is more likely that infidelity to destroy affection, confidence, esteem, and the concord necessary for the maintenance of the conjugal union.
Q: But if the infidelity is not known?
A: However unknown it might be, it is always a great evil, for it destroys affection in the heart of at least one of the spouses who, if they want to preserve peace, is forced to feign sentiments they doesn’t have and about which it is difficult to fool others. What is more, disorder and debauch harm the household economy and cause the neglect of the education of children; in a word, turn the spouses away from the occupations necessary for conjugal society.
Q: Are there not countries where infidelity is permitted and authorized by usage?
A: There are countries where this crime is not punished, but it is nonetheless condemned in the eyes of healthy reason, which can only approve that which tends to man’s happiness, in whatever circumstances he find himself. What is more, infidelity is an injustice in that it deprives one of the spouses of their legitimate rights.
Q: So the spouses thus have rights over each other?
A: All men who associate have rights over each other. Reason approves that they demand that we fulfill the commitments and conditions under which the association was carried out. And so spouses have reciprocal rights and can demand from each other affection, assistance, and the sentiments necessary to their common interests.
Q: Is polygamy or plural marriage not legitimate?
A: It is licit and authorized by law and usage in certain countries, but for all that it is not just, nor more in conformity with reason and the needs of nature, since it is harmful to the goal of marriage and necessarily weakens the conjugal union.
Q: Is it permissible for spouses to separate or divorce?
A: Divorce is prohibited by the law in some countries and permitted in others.
Q: On this point, what is reason’s decision?
A: Reason cannot approve that the spouses force to make last forever a society that is a continual source of unhappiness, troubles, and sorrows for them.
Q: Did you not say that the goal of marriage was to give birth to children?
A: Yes. Men need to propagate, and they find their interest in this.
Q: What do we call spouses who had children?
A: We call them fathers and mothers, or parents.
Q: What are the obligations of parents?
A: To feed, care for, and raise their children; to cast from them the dangers their weakness exposes them to; to strengthen their bodies, to develop their reason, to teach them to distinguish what can help them from what can harm them, to teach them their obligations and the means of making themselves happy; to inspire love in them for those objects that are truly useful, to have them contract the habit of doing good. In a word, to make them members useful to the society in which they must live.
Q: What interest do the parents have in doing these things?
A: In doing this they form in their children friends, cooperators in their labors, zealous defenders, supporters and consolers in their old age: in a word, men occupied, in their own interest, in the welfare of those to whom they owe their existence.
Q: Do mothers and fathers have rights over their children?
A: Man has legitimate rights over all those for whom he procures happiness, and so mothers and fathers have rights over their children, and the latter depend upon them, for no one is more useful to his children that their father, from which we see that paternal authority is founded on reason.
Q: Does paternal authority have limits?
A: There are no other legitimate rights than those approved by reason, and reason only approves those that have as their object the happiness of those who depend upon them. And so a father has the right to do to his children all the good of which he is capable. He can force them to do that which is useful to them and to abstain from that which would be harmful to them. He never has the right to make them unhappy: this would be an abuse of power, a tyranny.
Q: Does not the law of some peoples attribute to fathers the right to kill their children?
A: Yes, but these laws did not for all that give them the right to do it, for reason cannot approve a power harmful to society, either to he who exercises it, or he upon whom it is exercised. A law that permits a father to kill his child deprives the state of a citizen, and deprives himself of a support; it is contrary to humanity.
Q: What are the obligations of children towards their fathers and mothers?
A: To show them affection, gratitude, and docility, to support them in their views, to defend them, to relieve them in their old age and their infirmities. All of these things are obligations, because without them children cannot promise themselves the benevolence of their parents which, at every moment, is necessary for their own happiness.
Q: What interest do children have in conducting themselves in this way?
A: It’s that of nourishing in their parents the sentiments of tenderness they themselves have need of. The reason for their obedience is based on the superior experience and wisdom of their parents, who place within their reach – better than they could do themselves – that which is advantageous or harmful. What is more, the continual need that children have of their parents obliges them to depend upon them and to make an effort to please them, which is the greatest of their interests. Finally, children, desiring to become parents in their turn, have an interest in being loved, cared for, and assisted in their infirmities by a posterity to which they will have given an example of filial piety.
Q: Do children have rights over their parents?
A: They have the right to demand of them all the care that a good education supposes, without which care their parents would have no more rights over them than strangers and could not justly demand their gratitude, their obedience, and their assistance, all things that can only be the wages for the benefits they receive from them. A father who does nothing for his children and whose only concern is that of making them unhappy is a tyrant and loses his rights over them.
Q: Do children owe nothing to parents who do nothing for them or who make them unhappy?
A: They must patiently bear with their defects and their moods, strive to disarm them by their submission. They will make themselves justly hated and despised if they rendered them evil for evil or if they avenged themselves on them. Children must never forget that their parents gave them existence, which on its own is a great good and which demands a gratitude that nothing should efface.
Q: Don’t children look upon their parents as tyrants each time the latter go against their passions?
A: Children are mad, imprudent, and criminal when they resist the legitimate wishes of the parents who prevent them from harming themselves and the society of which they are members, and who are then doing nothing but exercising their just rights. Parents are nothing but tyrants when they force their children to acts contrary to their own interest or that of others. A vicious and evil father has no right to expect submission, tenderness, or gratitude on the part of his children who he has turned into enemies by the bad example he gives them, the most dangerous of all kinds of corruption.
Q: Aside from parents and children, what are the other members of a family?
A: There are brothers and sisters, uncles and aunts, and cousins: in a word, relatives.
Q: What are our obligations towards relatives?
A: To show them attachment, to be disposed to give them assistance, and to do good to them in preference to other men with whom we have less immediate relations, or whose acts influence us less.
Q: What reasons or what interest do we have in acting thus?
A: Our kin are people with whom we continuously live, who we have frequent need of, and consequently in whom we have an interest in giving birth to and maintaining dispositions favorable to us. What is more, from the unity of families is born the greatest good for each of the members who compose it.
Q: Do kin have rights over each other?
A: Any man who does good acquires rights over those he obliges: he who procures the most happiness for his kin exercises a legitimate right over them and makes them dependent upon him can justly demand their love, their gratitude, and their obedience. He who does no good for his kin is a stranger to them; he who does them evil is an enemy.
Q: What is friendship?
A: It’s a more particular liaison or society, formed between men who find more useful and agreeable qualities in each other, or advantages greater, more necessary to their happiness than in the rest of men they know.
Q: What are the duties of friendship?
A: The duties of friendship being naught but those measures most certain to maintain that society that we judge necessary to its welfare, it follows that friends owe each other marks of affection, of fidelity, of discretion and of confidence; they owe advice, consolation, and assistance in preference to others. Failing in these duties would mean breaking this union.
Q: What is the interest for friends in acting thusly?
A: Friendship is founded only on the advantages friends expect from each other. Remove these advantages and friendship cannot survive and we would lose its fruit.
Q: So friends then have rights over each other?
A: Yes. Our friend, being absolutely necessary for our happiness can demand of us services and marks of attachment without which the ties of friendship, little by little loosened, would soon be broken.
Q: But what could our interest be in giving assistance and making sacrifices for our friend?
A: A true friend is a real good that we should prefer to many other advantages because he is more useful to our happiness. And so, assisting one’s friend, sacrificing for him one’s fortune, means buying or preserving a good that we judge more necessary, more precious than fortune, of which it is the price. In abandoning our friend when his misfortune solicits our care and support we fail in the holiest of duties of friendship, and we prove to him that he is less dear to us than the various advantages of pleasure for which we sacrifice him.
Q: Must true friendship be totally disinterested?
A: To speak precisely, there is in man neither love nor hate without a more or less known – but always real – motive. And this motive, whatever it might be, is a true interest, an efficacious cause of passion or movement. It is impossible to love those whose society promises us no pleasure: a friend useless to his friend becomes a stranger to him.
Q: So what do we mean by disinterested friendship?
A: We mean that which is founded mainly on the personal qualities a man possesses and make us prefer him over external advantages. Interested friendship is that which has as its only basis or object riches, credit, power, the ability to procure us passing pleasures, etc. Disinterested friendship is founded on the dispositions of the heart, on honest habits, on goodness of character, on talents and virtues.
Q: Why should we prefer personal qualities to external advantages in a friend?
A: Because friendship is a good and because the most solid good is the most desirable. The personal and habitual qualities of a man are the most constant, the most stable, and less subject to change than riches, credit, and the other external advantages of fortune, which can be lost at any moment.
Q: That being the case, there cannot be solid friendship between vicious men?
A: Vicious men are beings habitually disposed to do harm. Thus, we cannot count on the attachment of those who demonstrate such wicked inclinations; their friendship depends on the passion that moves them; it is only passing. In order to be solid and lasting, friendship demands men habitually disposed to do good, and this is what we call virtuous men.
Q: What are associates?
A: They are men who, under certain conditions, have committed to unite their efforts and to work in concert for an object they judge to be useful to their happiness. It is thus that merchants unite in an association for a commercial enterprise from which they expect a profit.
Q: What are the duties of associates?
A: To faithfully fulfill the conditions of the association or the commitments they have made to each other, and to work in good faith at obtaining the goal they have in common with their associates.
Q: What interest or reason do they have to fulfill these obligations?
A: It’s that by refusing to fulfill them they couldn’t obtain the goal of their association.
Q: Do associates have rights over each other?
A: Yes. Reason and justice approve that the associates oblige every member of the association to fulfill his commitments and to further the success of the enterprise proposed.
Q: What is a master?
A: It’s a man to whose happiness other men, who we call servants, have committed to contribute to under conditions advantageous to their own happiness.
Q: What are the obligations of a master to his servants?
A: To feed them, care for them, to pay their salary, to treat them with goodness, to reward them in keeping with the services he receives from them and the zeal they demonstrate to him.
Q: What interest does the master have in acting thus?
A: He has that of being served by men who feel that their sort is bound to his, and that their own interest calls upon them to be constantly occupied with his happiness.
Q: What are the duties of servants?
A: To faithfully serve their master, to obey him, to show attachment to him, to look after his interests and security; in a word, to make an effort to deserve his benevolence.
Q: What interest do servants have in fulfilling these different duties?
A: The most powerful of interests, since it’s that of their own preservation and happiness, two goals they can only attain by faithfully acquitting all their duties towards he who they have continual need of and who, by this very fact, has rights over them declared by reason.
Q: Do servants for their part have rights over their master?
A: They have that of demanding wages for their labors, gratitude for their attachment, reward for their care: in a word, the assistance, the affection, and the benefits that are the price of their zeal and their services.
Q: Are man’s obligations limited to the society in which he lives, his family, his associates: in a word, to the men with whom he has immediate relations?
A: Man’s obligations extend to all beings of humankind, but these obligations become more sacred, that is, more necessary, in proportion as these relations are more immediate.
Q: What do you mean by this?
A: I mean that our obligations become more indispensable, that is, more necessary to our own happiness, according to whether they have as objects men whose acts closely influence this happiness.
Q: What then is the true measure of man’s obligations to his like?
A: It is interest, it’s the need he has of it, it’s the legitimate love he has for himself that are the invariable measures of the sentiments he owes the beings of his kind.
Q: Can you explain yourself giving examples?
A: I owe more to my father than to any other man in society, because I receive more benefits from him, because I have greater need of him for my own felicity. This is why the crimes we commit against our father are looked upon as the most odious. I owe more to my sovereign than to a foreign sovereign, because the one is more necessary to my happiness than the other. I owe more to my nation than to the neighboring nation because my welfare depends upon the nation in which I live. Finally, I owe more to my friend or to the man I judge necessary to my happiness than to a stranger or someone unknown whose actions or qualities have no influence on me. In a word, everyone necessarily feels more affection for he who experience shows to be more necessary for his happiness. These sentiments are proportional to the greatness and the certitude of the good he receives from it or expects from it.
Q: Must we love all men?
A: Yes. That is, the human race’s interest demands that we be in a habitual disposition to do good, or to be useful to every being of our kind when we have the power to do so.
Q: What do you call this disposition?
A: I call it humanity : it is the source of all social virtues.
Q: Is humanity a duty?
A: Yes. It is necessary for the support of our species, and every man who is part of it has in interest in it.
Q: In what way does he have an interest?
A: In that a man is a being who another man can have need of at any moment. A person I have never seen can, in a thousand circumstances, save me, defend me, take me from danger, procure happiness for me: in a word, be useful to me.
Q: Does every man have the right to demand humanity from his like?
A: Yes. Reason approves that he demand of his like a disposition necessary for the support of the human race of which he is a part. He has the right to demand that at the very least no one harm him as long as he has done harm to no one, and that we do good to him if we want him to do it in his turn.
Q: How is it possible to love or to do good to a man I don’t know or who is far from me?
A: You can be in a disposition to love him or to do him good, but you can only exercise your benevolence or your disposition to do him good when relations have been established between you or when he is within range of feeling the influence of your acts. Humanity gives birth in me to the disposition or the determination to do good and to lend assistance to a man I have never seen. But my will only wants to pass over to action when that man will be near to me and within range of receiving my assistance.
Q: Can you give me an example?
A: I am disposed to desire or to do good for a man who is in Peking, but I can only execute my determination or exercise that disposition when he has returned to Paris. This same man, if he has the same disposition, will only exercise them if me if circumstances make me go to China.
Q: Why do you say that humanity is the source of all social virtues?
A: It’s that from this general benevolence for our like, and the habitual disposition to do good that flow the conduct necessary for preserving human society and to render it happy. Humanity is the summary of virtues.
Q: What are the virtues that flow from humanity?
A: They are pity, charity, generosity, indulgence, kindness, patience, and the forgiving of insults. Justice itself is based on humanity and is perpetually intermixed with it.
Q: What is pity?
A: It’s the habitual disposition which, for the good of society, every man should feel to assist his like when he sees him unhappy and suffering.
Q: What is pity based on, and where does it come from?
A: It is the effect of physical sensitivity cultivated and increased in us by habit, experience, and reason. It is this purely organic disposition that sees to it that we ourselves feel a painful sentiment whenever we see one of our like suffer.
Q: Is pity not a way of being common to all men?
A: No. This affection is not general: there are men who are very little sensitive, and there are others whose sensitivity has not been exercised. Finally, there are those in whom the habit has been stifled.
Q: Is pity a duty, and are we obligated to assist the unfortunate?
A: Yes. This virtue is necessary to men who live in society. It is only advantageous to them through the assistance they are able to procure; without it, it would become perfectly useless to them.
Q: What is our interest in assisting our like?
A: Every man is at every moment exposed to suffering himself. Consequently, he needs the assistance of others. In order to determine others to assist him he must show them the same disposition. Pity is necessary to society, in whose maintenance all of us have an interest. Finally, when a man is sensitive and feels a painful movement at the sight of the sufferings of another it is in his interest to put a stop to a way of being in that man from which he suffers himself.
Q: Does a man lacking in sensitivity have the same interest is assisting his like?
A: Though the unfeeling man does not have within him as pressing a reason as the man who has much feeling, or who is very susceptible to pity, reason furnishes him strong, though distant ones. It shows him that hardness would render him odious and detestable to his associates, who every man has an interest in pleasing, and whose esteem, affection, and assistance are necessary to whoever lives in society.
Q: But aren’t there countries where pity is regarded as a weakness and where cruelty is permitted?
A: Cruelty can be licit and approved by a nation savage and unenlightened concerning its true interests: we see examples of this in several countries. But reason can never authorize cruelty. The more enlightened nations become, the more experience they acquire, the more they will feel that humanity and pity are sentiments necessary to man’s happiness.
Q: What is beneficence?
A: It’s a habitual disposition to do good to every man who has need of us.
Q: What is generosity?
A: It’s a disposition whereby we sacrifice a portion of our wellbeing to that of others.
Q: What could our interest be in being beneficent and generous?
A: We have the interest of exciting in others dispositions favorable to ourselves. We give birth in them to love, gratitude, and esteem. We interest them in our fate, we acquire rights over them, we exchange a portion of our wellbeing for dispositions of more importance to us, or that we are used to regarding as more useful to us than that which we sacrifice.
Q: So beneficence and generosity are not disinterested?
A: Man never does anything without reasons. He only acts with his own happiness in view. We call disinterested he who finds his wellbeing or his interest in the feelings he expects from those for whom he does good and to whom he makes himself useful.
Q: Are beneficence and generosity obligations?
A: They are obligations for he who desires to give birth in others to the sentiments he judges necessary to his happiness, since these dispositions are methods without which he cannot obtain these different affections from them. If I want to be loved by a man I can only arrive at this by doing good to him.
Q: What is the sentiment that we propose to excite in doing good to someone?
A: We call it gratitude.
Q: What is gratitude?
A: It’s a sentiment of affection that every reasonable man should feel for whoever does him good or procures him happiness, and which his benefactor proposes to give birth to in him.
Q: Is gratitude a duty?
A: Yes, since it is a means of obtaining benefits from our like that are necessary to our own happiness.
Q: What interest do we have in showing gratitude?
A: We have that of nourishing, in he who does good to us the favorable sentiments he has for us, and to excite in others the desire to contribute to our well-being. What is more, ingratitude would render us odious and contemptible in the eyes of others. It is capable of destroying in men the desire to be useful; it is unjust since it deprives he who rendered us service of that which he was owed and the legitimate rights that he has over our heart. In failing to show gratitude we are failing the condition under which service was rendered us.
Q: But don’t we often do good to men we know to be ungrateful, and is generosity not then totally disinterested?
A: No, it only has a very pure motive, for we have as goal the acquiring more rights to his esteem or that of others. And in a precise sense a motive, of whatever kind, is an interest.
Q: Do we have an interest in doing good to our enemies?
A: Yes. We acquire superiority and just rights over every man who is the object of our beneficence. This conduct gains us general esteem. What is more, in doing good to our enemy we work at changing his disposition towards us: we can succeed in making a friend of him, which is a real advantage.
Q: Who do we owe gratitude to?
A: To all those we love and to whom we have obligations, and our gratitude should be proportionate to the importance of the services they render us. We owe gratitude to the society that procures us advantages, to the sovereign who assures our rights and our liberty, to our parents, who are ceaselessly occupied with our happiness, to our relatives who assist us, to our friends who aid us with their fortune and their counsels, to every man who contributes to our felicity, be it passing or lasting. In a word, in order for society to be happy its members must be grateful and beneficent; and for its own interest it must itself show gratitude to all those who usefully serve it. From which we see that no one receives a dispensation from gratitude.
Q: Why then is gratitude so rare among men and ingratitude so common?
A: First, it’s because a benefit necessarily gives the advantage to he who confers it over he who receives it. Secondly, the benefactor, being happier than he who he obliges, sometimes excites his envy. Thirdly, he often demands an excessive price for his services and thinks he has acquired, by his beneficence, a kind of power over he who is its object. In a word, it’s that there is an art to doing good, and that this art is little known.
Q: What is indulgence?
A: It’s a habitual disposition that sees to it that a humane man resists the movements of hatred that can be excited in him by the defects or the opinions of others.
Q: Is indulgence a duty?
A: Yes; it’s a measure necessary for maintaining concord in society. If indulgence were banished it would only bring together men who hated each other and consequently little disposed to lending each other assistance. In a word, without indulgence society would be a veritable plague for us.
Q: Do we have an interest in showing indulgence to those we live with?
A: Independently of the repose of society, which interests every one of its members, and since no man is without defects and we cannot have the same opinions on everything as another, his own interest demands that he show indulgence to others in order to have the right to theirs.
Q: But are there not societies where indulgence is banned and where it is permitted to harm those who do not accept the opinions generally accepted in these societies?
A: A society where indulgence is banned acts against its own interests. It authorizes its members to harm each other, it favors injustice and inhumanity, it exercises a right that reason cannot approve because it is contrary to the goal of the association. A well-constituted society should cast aside all that tends to divide its members and render them enemies to each other. It should only approve that which inspires indulgence or which favors concord and union between them.
Q: Do we owe crime indulgence?
A: No. The citizen should hate and detest crime. He should pity the criminal: it is up to the law to punish him.
Q: What is patience?
A: It’s a natural or acquired disposition to put up with the evil that is done us and through which we resist the desire to avenge ourselves or to harm the person from whom we received it.
Q: Is patience a duty?
A: Yes, since it’s a means of maintaining peace in society, which alone has the right to avenge its members for the evil they were done, a right it has reserved to itself and which it exercises with more measure and equity than the members would themselves. In a society where the laws, dictated by healthy reason, are in vigor whoever metes out justice himself violates them and deserves their animadversion.
Q: But if the society is unjust and neglects or refuses to avenge the citizen who has been wronged does it not , by this refusal, surrender to the author of the damage or insult all the rights it does not exercise itself?
A: Vengeance does not repair the evil that was done to us. It is thus useless, since in giving ourselves over to it we don’t reach the goal we propose and which could, in a certain way, justify the excesses it brings in its train. What is more, the exercise of reason proves that the forgiveness of insult is as in conformity with our personal interest as it is worthy of an elevated soul. It gives us great superiority over he whose offense we have forgotten. We often force him to repentance and can make a friend of him. In a word, our own interest and that of the society to which ours is always bound advise us to put a brake on anger, hatred, and vengeance, because these passions, harmful to others, have equally bad results for ourselves, and end up by stifling the voice of humanity, of justice, and of the sentiments necessary to the happiness of man in society in those who surrender to them.
Q: If someone threatens my life or property should I not defend myself?
A: Every man, without a doubt, has the right to defend his person and his property. But after his security is secured humanity takes back all its rights. It prescribes clemency: once danger has passed vengeance would be useless and atrocious.
Q: What are the other dispositions that flow from humanity and indulgence?
A: They are kindness, leniency, deference, politesse, concern, the attentions which – for our interest or to have ourselves loved by others – we should show to all these we have relations with in order no to wound their amour propre, a very delicate sentiment that must be handled with art in all men.
Q: What are the vices contrary to humanity?
A: They are harshness, insensitivity, cruelty, greed, hatred, anger, vengeance, pride, arrogance, intolerance. In a word, all those dispositions that tend to harm our like and to afflict them.
Q: Why do you say that greed is contrary to humanity?
A: It’s because he who places all his happiness in riches is commonly little disposed to share them with those who have need of them. In this he renders himself useless to his like. Greed hardens him towards their ills. A miser intercepts he circulation of the benefits necessary to society.
Q: What are the other virtues necessary to society?
A: They are justice, prudence, temperance, and force. They are commonly called cardinal virtues.
Q: What is justice?
A: As we already said, justice is the habitual disposition to allow everyone to enjoy their rights.
Q: Did you not say that justice was founded on humanity?
A: Yes. Allowing every man to enjoy his rights is a duty for humanity, for preventing him from make use of them means putting an obstacle before his felicity and exercising a tyrannical power over him.
Q: Justice is thus a duty?
A: Without it a society could not survive. It has as its goal maintaining the members of the political body in their legitimate rights, which it regulates in accordance with experience and reason. In a word, without justice there is neither security, nor peace, nor any happiness to hope for in any kind of association.
Q: What interest does man have in being just?
A: If he were not to observe justice towards others he would become a common enemy. If he were to prevent them from enjoying their rights he could not be assured of enjoying his own.
Q: And so, what does liberty consist of?
A: In not wronging any of your kind, in either their person or property. In a word, in placing no obstacles before their happiness.
Q: How can we violate liberty in their person?
A: By directly attacking their liberty, by holding their most sacred rights in contempt, by taking from them all means of defending themselves and demanding the assistance of the law, and finally, by depriving them of life or the use of their members.
Q: How can we violate justice in their property?
A: By despoiling them, by either force or ruse, of that which belongs to them, that is, over which they have legitimate rights.
Q: How does man acquire rights over things?
A: It is through his labor that he acquires property. A fish in a river in America belongs to no one. It belongs to me, or I have rights over it, it becomes mine as soon as, through my skill and labor, I have appropriated it. I have rights over the fruits of my field, for it is my labor and my care that have rendered them fertile, and not those of another. A father has rights over his children, for without him his children would not exist.
Q: Does society have an interest in maintaining everyone in the possession of what belongs to them?
A: There exists the greatest of interests, for without this it couldn’t survive. Men only live in society in order to more surely enjoy their rights. Destroy justice and society, far from being useful, becomes harmful: men there are in a state of war with each other.
Q: Does a man not have the right to give another that which belongs to him?
A: Yes. Every man has the right to transfer his property to another. This act is called exchange when through this he who transfers his property receives another thing. It is called a gift when he who transfers his property receives nothing for himself, and it is then the effect of beneficence or generosity.
Q: What are the acts and vices contrary to justice?
A: These are all the acts and dispositions that tend to deprive man of his rights, such as tyranny, oppression, theft, rapine, usurpation, vexations of any kind, lack of good faith, violations of commitments to associates, falsehood, fraud, spreading of rumors, and slander.
Q: What are the virtues that flow from justice?
A: They are good faith, exactitude in fulfilling your promise, candor, and veracity.
Q: What is veracity?
A: It’s a habitual disposition to reveal to others the truth or what can be useful and necessary to their happiness.
Q: Why do you say that falsehood is contrary to justice?
A: It’s because men do not live in society in order to mutually mislead each other, but in order to procure mutual assistance, to honestly communicate with each other what they know to be of interest to each other, and to take from the necessary relations that exist between them the greatest advantage possible for each in particular. Falsehood is the vice of a slave and degrades whoever has contracted this harmful habit. It makes him lose public esteem and confidence, two goods without which it is impossible to live happily in a well-ordered society.
Q: Do we owe the truth to those who it can harm?
A: No. At that time it ceases to be a good for them. Everything that harms them is a real evil. Example: If a man who wants to murder another asks me if he is hidden in my house I would do great evil in telling him the truth. Humanity and justice demand that I mislead him: by sparing him a crime I do him good himself.
Q: What is rumor mongering?
A: It is any truth harmful to an individual and useless to others. Denouncing a criminal, announcing to a friend or a stranger that someone wants to kill him is not rumor mongering, it’s an obligation. Revealing someone’s faults without advantage for others is rumor mongering, is a real evil for the subject of the rumor. It’s an act contrary to the humanity and the concord necessary to men assembled in society.
Q: What is slander?
A: It is any falsehood harmful to others. Calumny is thus equally an outrage to truth, justice, and humanity.
Q: In what way is it contrary to justice?
A: In that it deprives he who is slandered of the affection, the esteem, and the advantages he has a claim to in society.
Q: How is it contrary to humanity?
A: In that it sometimes suffices to destroy the happiness of he who is the object.
Q: What interest do we have in not lying?
A: It’s that in respecting the truth we obtain the esteem and the confidence of our fellow citizens, sentiments that are necessary for the happiness of every reasonable man.
Q: What is prudence?
A: It’s the habitual disposition of choosing the most appropriate means for obtaining the goal we propose or the power to reconcile one’s happiness with that of one’s like. We saw above that prudence is necessary, even for the isolated man: it is a matter here of one’s conduct relative to other beings whose acts influence his own, as his do theirs. That said, prudence is an obligation for him, and he has the greatest interest in observing it.
Q: What are the rules of prudence?
A: They are to acquire experience and to consult reason in order to assure ourselves of the effects that our actions will produce on others and of the influence they will in turn have on us, which is called foresight.
Q: What should be done when we are uncertain of the effects of our acts?
A: Prudence then demands that we suspend them until such time as we are assured of knowing their effects.
Q: What are the acts and dispositions contrary to prudence?
A: They are in general those that expose us to some danger, or which compromise directly or indirectly the happiness of those with whom we live. Most of those who complain of their unhappiness should rather complain of their imprudence, which is one of its principal causes, and often the only one, as they could easily convince themselves if they carried out an exact and severe examination of their life story. Prudence is one of the characteristics of intelligence, which suffices to prove that it is not common. It is like luck: it takes the place of merit for many people. There is no circumstance in life where it is not of some noticeable and more or less direct utility. It leads us to temperance, which is naught but prudence itself exercised and put in practice. The latter teaches us to distinguish which passions can do harm. The former is the habitual disposition to vanquish them.
Q: What interest do we have in resisting our passions?
A: The most powerful of all, that of seeing to our own preservation; that of not troubling society, which would be in the right in punishing us for our excesses; that of not attracting the hatred and contempt of our fellow-citizens. From which we can see that temperance is an obligation for any being who wants to be happy.
Q: What are the passions that we should resist?
A: We should moderate all of them, because all of them, more or less, trouble our machine, bring it disorder, and change into a habit, forever increasing and ending in excesses which we ourselves become the victims of.
Q: Can you give us examples?
A: Experience and reflection prove that we should repress anger, vengeance, love, jealousy, and envy; in a word, all the violent passions that trouble our reason and make us commit sins whose harmful influence extends over the rest of our life.
Q: But are we the masters of our passions?
A: We can counter-balance the passions that we feel with other passions. Fear can assist us in resisting desire, the sight of the evil consequences of a present pleasure should prevent any reasonable man from surrendering to this pleasure. Example: The fear of the punishment or the contempt of his like suffices to hold back a man whose passion solicits him to commit a dishonest act. Fear then becomes a strong motive to halt the desire to and to prevent it from determining the will.
Q: What provides us with reasons to resist our passions?
A: Experience, reason, education, good examples, and laws inspire in us fear for the things that could render us odious to our like and make known to us the value of their esteem and affection. These reasons suffice for any reasonable man in stopping and counter-balancing those passions that solicit him to evil. He who lives in society should know these reasons: he deserves to be unhappy when they don’t suffice to lead him to good; society can impute to him the results these passions have for his fellow citizens. It has the right to punish him for this, for it supposes that, being susceptible to reason, he must have had experience of this.
Q: What are the virtues that flow from temperance?
A: They are moderation in pleasures, sobriety, and chastity; in a word, the state every reasonable man should be in in order to resist all that can harm his like and, at the same time, himself.
Q: Why do you count chastity among the virtues?
A: This is because the pleasures of love, to the enjoyment of which nature has attached the most delicious of pleasures, are those whose excess are the most dangerous to us. They render us useless to ourselves and to others; they entirely absorb us; they distance us from our duties and weaken in our eyes our obligation to fulfill them. They become the object of all our desires, of all our acts, of all our thoughts. It is on these effects that are founded the aversion and detestation that reasonable men have towards debauch, prostitution, and insults to modesty.
Q: What are the vices contrary to temperance?
A: They are gluttony, drunkenness, and debauch. In a word, any excess in pleasures and everything that surpasses the measure that reason shows us as necessary to our own happiness and that of others.
Q: Can all men have this virtue?
A: No, it isn’t given to everyone. It is a result of organization cultivated by education, by habit, and example. This is why society, in its own interest, rewards and distinguishes by flattering the preferences of those of its members illustrious through their talents.
Q: Is this preference just?
A: Yes. Reason approves that among men united to work for their mutual happiness those who are the most useful be the best rewarded. This is the source of the advantages that society, for its own utility, accords to those who serve it, defend it, educate it, and who procure happiness, ease, and pleasures for it.
Q: What are these advantages?
A: They are power, riches, esteem, consideration, rank, honors, and the distinctions that men in society have agreed to grant those who of a greater utility to them in order to excite them to render them new services.
Q: Why do you call these things advantages?
A: Because those who possess them have the means to make a greater number of men dependent on them, to interest them in their own preservation, to invite them to collaborate in their happiness, while those who are less useful to society do not have the same resources.
Q: What is power?
A: In general it is an effective means of strongly influencing the lot of a great number of individuals, and of make them various and more or less certain instruments of one’s particular wishes, fortune and happiness.
Q: Is power just?
A: Yes. Whenever it is approved by reason and held within its true limits it increases the welfare of those upon whom it is exercised. It is unjust and gives no legitimate rights when it harms their happiness; it is then called violence tyranny, and license.
Q: What do we call the desire for power?
A: We call it ambition.
Q: Is ambition not an evil?
A: The desire for a just power, accorded by the general will, regulated and circumscribed by it and exerted according to the laws it institutes, is a natural sentiment and is in conformity with order. It cannot be condemned as long as the means we employ to obtain it are themselves just and legitimate and do not harm our fellow citizens. Ambition is an evil when it has as its object only unjust power, license and tyranny, or when, in order to satisfy itself, it has us employ means that are criminal and disapproved of by reason.
Q: Is the desire for wealth not an evil?
A: Yes when we regard its acquisition as a certain means for satisfying our unruly passions. But this desire is praiseworthy when after having satisfied it by honest means we employ our fortune to do many small good deeds for our like that increase the sum of their happiness.
Q: What should we think of the desire for esteem, honors, reputation, glory, and distinctions?
A: This desire doubtless is a happy presage in those who feel it. But in all cases, it should be subordinated to that of the public good, perhaps the only case where excess is permitted. It is the advantage that society extracts from our passions which is the measure of their usefulness, as it should be of their strength and, so to speak, of their intensity. From which it follows that they all have a determined limit, beyond which evil can be found.
Q: What do you mean by merit?
A: It’s the right that we acquire over esteem, affection, and the favorable feelings of others and over the rewards that are due to the various advantages we procure for them.
Q: Do we have the right to hold ourselves in esteem?
A: Yes, when we are conscious of having done acts useful to our kind and which deserve their love. Approving in oneself that which is really good is an act of justice, is judging clearly, is using a right that reason recognizes. It cannot condemn he who, after having usefully served society, internally applauds himself for the rights his benefits and talents give him over his fellow citizens.
Q: But doesn’t holding oneself in esteem mean being prideful?
A: This sentiment is called pride and is condemnable when it manifests itself by conduct or in discourse apt to humiliate our like, who necessarily suffer from the contempt we show them since this contempt is a proof that we take no interest in their happiness. From which we can see that pride, even when it finds itself joined to merit, destroys its rights and forces them to be disregarded.
Q: How does this occur?
A: Having merit means having the right to the affection of men because we are useful to them. Holding them in contempt means attracting their hatred instead of the affection and esteem that we should receive for the good we do them.
Q: Does man have a right to detest his like?
A: Reason approves that we detest all those who are useless or harmful to society. Detestation is a punishment owed to vice and crime. It is necessary to the welfare of associated men, and is one of the brakes most likely to hold back the evil.
Q: Do we have a right to detest those who do not have the same talents, the same merit, the same power, the same advantages in society as we do?
A: Our detestation is only just insofar as it falls on those who harm or are useless to society. Humanity demands that we love, that we show affection to all others, and that we feel for them when they do not have the advantages that would make them noted. Detesting a man because he is unhappy, poor, or weak is an insult to humanity.
Q: What do we mean by vanity?
A: We mean by vanity the esteem we have for ourselves or that we demand of others for qualities, advantages, and talents useless to society, or for a merit that we don’t have. Example: we say that a man is vain when he applauds himself or pretends to the esteem of his fellow citizens by the exercise of a power that is useful to him alone, by the riches of which he makes frivolous use, by his rank, his birth, his titles, his luxury, his equipages, etc.
Q: Is modesty not a virtue?
A: It is a virtue in that humanity and the good of society demand that we afflict no one with the unwelcome comparison we make between our advantages and qualities and theirs. Contempt is a sentiment that wounds those we show it to and excites in them passions dangerous for ourselves.
Q: What are these passions?
A: They are jealousy, envy and shame.
Q: What do you mean by jealousy?
A: It’s the sentiment that makes us unhappy because of the happiness of others.
Q: What is envy?
A: It’s a painful sentiment, excited in us by the happiness of another and which makes us hate him or seek to harm him.
Q: Can envy be useful or produce good?
A: No. It’s a useless sentiment, awkward for ourselves and one whose results are always harmful to society. In any event, this sentiment is unjust and inhuman since in society everyone should enjoy his rights, and the happiness of a man cannot authorize us to hate him. This sentiment is ill founded because the men that seem to us to be the happiest are often more to be pitied than those who envy them.
Q: What are the harmful fruits of jealousy and envy?
A: They lead us to injustice, to rumor mongering, to slander. They make us unable to recognize the merits of others. They render us ungrateful. They discourage talents, genius, and virtue, and often these passions, nourished in our hearts, make us commit great crimes.
Q: What do you mean by shame?
A: It’s a painful sentiment that we feel internally whenever we fear the contempt of others.
Q: Why is this sentiment painful?
A: It’s because every man, loving and esteeming himself, is necessarily afflicted when he doesn’t feel his sentiments shared by the beings necessary to his happiness.
Q: Is shame a praiseworthy sentiment?
A: It’s a natural sentiment that becomes very harmful when it is excited by objects useful to society, and which produces good effects when it is inspired by vice, crime or that which harms our like.
Q: How can we feel shame or fear being hated for having done good?
A: In a vicious and corrupted society virtue is often forced to blush. It becomes hateful to those who do not know its value.
Q: How does shame become a useful sentiment?
A: When it prevents us from doing evil, and when it excites in us the fear of being hated by others. It then becomes a brake to crime, or it punishes it with remorse.
Q: What do you mean by remorse?
A: It’s a sharp sentiment of shame or fear caused our conscience for having justly incurred the hatred, contempt, and punishments of society.
Q: What do you mean by conscience?
A: It’s the knowledge that experience gives us of the feelings of affection or hatred that our good or bad acts give birth to in those we live with. One is called good conscience, The other is called bad , and produces in us a painful feeling.
Q: What gives us this knowledge?
A: Experience, habit, and reason place within our grasp knowing the judgments others will make about our conduct.
Q: But aren’t we always led to flatter ourselves and favorably judge our own acts?
A: Yes, but reiterated experiences show us reality and prove to us that others must hate us, even when they don’t allow us to see the feelings they have towards us. We are always forced to recognize that they can neither approve, nor love, nor esteem those who harm society, and that their own interest forces them to internally hate the crime they applaud aloud.
Q: How can we know the internal dispositions of others towards us?
A: By examining the sentiments produced in us by the conduct of those who act like us. Example: However little I regard myself, I feel that I am forced to hate whoever does me an injustice. I conclude from this that I must be an odious object for whoever I am unjust to.
Q: So what must be done in order to healthily judge one’s own acts?
A: One must put oneself in the other’s place and apply to one’s own conduct the measure they use to appreciate it.
Q: But what if we are powerful enough to prevent men from punishing us or showing us contempt?
A: Experience proves to us that shame and remorse diminish in the wicked in proportion as they believe themselves assured of impunity, and especially in proportion to their power. Nevertheless, their power never extends to the secret sentiments of men. The latter are always forced to hate and hold in contempt the criminal, and the latter can never count on their esteem and a solid attachment on their part. These sentiments are never anything but the fruits of virtue.
Q: Can a man not be assured that his crimes will not be discovered?
A: 1 – A man very rarely has the complete certainty that his crimes will remain unknown, especially when they are habitual and multiplied. Despite all precautions a moment suffices to reveal them. 2 – However hidden our crimes, we are forced to internally reproach ourselves for them and to blushingly accept that others would detest us if they were to see us as we are. Experience proves to us that the wicked are always worried, distrustful, and ill-humored. They don’t enjoy the repose reserved to virtue and to the good conscience that is its effect and reward.
Q: But are there not men who have managed to stifle all shame and remorse?
A: If there are men of this stripe they are very rare. A small number of exceptions or individual examples don’t serve to disprove the general principles of morality. When I say that fire makes a painful impression on every human being I am establishing a principle that is no less true even if there can be found some men who, from having become familiar with fire, have become almost insensible to its impressions. It is the same with remorse: every man is susceptible to it, and this principle is certain, though there can be men so familiar with crime that they cease to blush because of it. It is not for them that morality is made.
Q: Through hypocrisy can’t a man attract the affection of his like even while committing crimes?
A: The conduct of a hypocrite is a continual hindrance. It costs him much more to affect virtues than to have them in reality. In any case, it is rare that we can forever mislead. A life that is naught but a system of falsehood is likely to be unveiled at every moment.
Q: What are the vices that are contrary to strength?
A: They are all those that take from us the activity, courage, and energy necessary to the support of society, such as inertia, laziness, softness, idleness, sensual pleasures, cowardice, etc.
Q: Why do you count laziness among the vices?
A: Because the obligation of every man in society is to work according to his strength for the welfare of his fellow citizens in whatever circumstances they find themselves. Any disposition that prevents us from acting for the utility of our like is a contemptible vice that harms society and ourselves.
Q: Is work not a form of suffering, and consequently are not laziness and idleness goods?
A: Man is made to act: his very interest demands this. Idleness plunges him into a uncomfortable state that is called boredom. An occupied life is thus necessary to man. A life employed in being useful makes him estimable in the eyes of his peers. We only enjoy repose and pleasures when we have purchased them with labor: we only have a right to society’s rewards insofar as we serve it.
Q: Is valor a virtue?
A: Everything that is useful to society, all that tends to preserve it, defend it, to maintain it in its rights, to procure it real happiness is a virtue. The Fatherland, being exposed to attack, needs citizens who will defend it against the enemies of its welfare, who violate in its regard the obligations of reason.
Q: Is a society subject to obligations to another society?
A: Yes, without doubt. Societies and nations are subject to obligations, and these obligations are the same as those that exist between a man and his fellow. Nations reciprocally owe each other humanity and justice. Their morality, like that of every man, is based on reciprocal needs. It is need and interest that unite them more or less intimately, that renders their obligations more or less indispensable, and are the constant measure of their mutual sentiments. Their alliances and their confederations are maintained by the same means as the individual associations of men. They demand good faith, equity and sincerity. Their wars are just and legitimate when they have the defense of their rights as their object. They should cease along with the danger and make place for humanity. Peace among them is advantageous, just as repose is for members of a society. The treaties or conventions they make between themselves must be faithfully observed. Conquest only gives them true rights when it procures the well-being of the conquered society. Finally, the interest of nations, like that of the individuals of humankind, demand that they be just and beneficent; that they live in concord; that they demonstrate at all times the virtues necessary to the happiness of the human race.
Q: What should be concluded from all this?
A: I conclude from this that morality is founded on man’s nature, needs, and interests. That without it they cannot be happy in whatever position they might find themselves. In a word, that it is in the interest of every man to be virtuous.