Moral Philosophy

Chapter VIII: Of The Natural Law of Conscience.

Section I. -- Of the Origin of Primary Moral Judgments.

1. IT is an axiom of the schools, that whatever is received, is received according to the manner of the recipient. We have spoken of the law that governs the world, as that law has existed from eternity in the mind of God. We have now to consider that law as it is received in creatures, and becomes the inward determinant of their action. Action is either necessary or free. The great multitude of creatures are wholly necessary agents. Even in free agents, most of what is in them, and much that proceeds from them, is of necessity, and beyond the control of their will. Of necessary action, whether material or mental, we shall have nothing further to say. It is governed by the Eternal Law, but it is not matter of moral philosophy. Henceforth we have to do with that law, only as it is received in free agents, as such, to be the rule of their conduct. The agents being free, the law must be received in a manner consonant with their freedom. It is proper to a free and rational being to guide itself, not to be dragged or pushed, but to go its own way, yet not arbitrarily, but according to law. The law for such a creature must be, not a physical determinant of its action, but a law operating in the manner of a motive to the will, obliging and binding, yet not constraining it: a law written in the intellect after the manner of knowledge: a law within the mind and consciousness of the creature, whereby it shall measure and regulate its own behaviour. This is the natural law of conscience. It is the Eternal Law, as made known to the rational creature, whereby to measure its own free acts. The Eternal Law is in the Mind of God: the Natural Law in the minds of men and angels. The Eternal Law adjusts all the operations of creatures: the Natural Law, only the free acts of intellectual creatures. And yet, for binding force, the Natural Law is one with the Eternal Law. On a summer evening one observes the sunset on the west coast; the heavens are all aglow with the sun shining there, and the waters are aglow too, reflect. ing the sun's rays. The Eternal Law is as the sun there in the heavens, the Natural Law is like the reflection in the sea. But it is one light.

2. It is called the Natural Law, first, because it is found, more or less perfectly expressed, in all rational beings: now whatever is found in all the individuals of a kind, is taken to belong to the specific nature, or type of that kind. Again it is called the Natural Law, because it is a thing which any rational nature must necessarily compass and contain within itself in order to arrive at its own proper perfection and maturity. Thus this inner law is natural, in the sense in which walking, speech, civilization are natural to man. A man who has it not, is below the standard of his species. It will be seen that dancing, singing -- at least to a pitch of professional excellence -- and a knowledge of Greek, are not, in this sense, natural. The Natural Law is not natural, in the sense of "coming natural," as provincial people say, or coming to be in man quite irrespectively of training and education, as comes the power of breathing. It was absurd of Paley (Mor. Phil., bk. i., c.v.) to look to the wild boy of Hanover, who had grown up in the woods by himself, to display in his person either the Natural Law or any other attribute proper to a rational creature.

3. We call this the natural law of conscience, because every individual's conscience applies this law, as he understands it, to his own particular human acts, and judges of their morality accordingly. What then is conscience? It is not a faculty, not a habit, it is an act. It is a practical judgment of the understanding. It is virtually the conclusion of a syllogism, the major premiss of which would be some general principle of command or counsel in moral matters; the minor, a statement of fact bringing some particular case of your own conduct under that law; and the conclusion, which is conscience, a decision of the case for ourself according to that principle: e.g., 'There is no obligation of going to church on (what Catholics call) a day of devotion: this day I am now living is only a day of devotion; therefore I am not bound to go to church to-day.' Such is the train of thought, not always so explicitly and formally developed, that passes through the mind, when conscience works. It is important to remember that conscience is an act of intellect, a judgment, not on a matter of general principle, not about other people's conduct, but about my own action in some particular case, and the amount of moral praise or blame that I deserve, or should deserve, for it. As regards action already done, or not done, conscience testifies, accusing or excusing. As regards action contemplated, conscience restrains or prompts, in the way of either obligation or counsel.

4. Conscience is not infallible: it may err, like any other human judgment. A man may be blind, if not exactly to his own action, at least to the motives and circumstances of his action. He may have got hold of a wrong general principle of conduct. He may be in error as to the application of his principle to the actual facts. In all these ways, what we may call the conscientious syllogism may be at fault, like any other syllogism. It may be a bad syllogism, either in logical form, or in the matter of fact asserted in the premisses. This is an erroneous conscience. But, for action contemplated, even an erroneous conscience is an authoritative decision. If it points to an obligation, however mistakenly, we are bound either to act upon the judgment or get it reversed. We must not contradict our own reason: such contradiction is moral evil. (c. v., s. iii., n. 3, p. 74.) If conscience by mistake sets us free of what is objectively our bounden duty, we are not there and then bound to that duty: but we may be bound at once to get that verdict of conscience overhauled and reconsidered. Conscience in this case has proceeded in ignorance, which ignorance will be either vincible or invincible, and must be treated according to the rules provided in the matter of ignorance. (c. iii., s. i., nn. 3-5, p. 27.) An obligation, neglected in invincible ignorance, makes a merely material sin. (c. iii., s. ii., n. 7, p. 33.)

5. There is another element of mind, often confounded under one name with conscience, but distinct from it, as a habit from an act, and as principles from their application. This element the schoolmen called synderesis. [On the derivation of this word, whether from suneidêsis or suntêrêsis see Athenaeum, 1877, vol. i., pp. 738, 798, vol, iii. pp. 16, 44.]

Synderesis is an habitual hold upon primary moral judgments, as, that we must do good, avoid evil, requite benefactors, honour superiors, punish evildoers. There is a hot controversy as to how these primary moral judgments arise in the mind. The coals of dispute are kindled by the assumption, that these moral judgments must needs have a totally other origin and birth in the mind than speculative first principles, as, that the whole is greater than the part, that two and two are four, that things which are equal to the same thing are equal to one another. The assumption is specious, but unfounded. It looks plausible because of this difference, that moral judgments have emotions to wait upon them, speculative judgments have not. Speculative judgments pass like the philosophers that write them down, unheeded in the quiet of their studies. But moral judgments are rulers of the commonwealth: they are risen to as they go by, with majesty preceding and cares coming after. Their presence awakens in us certain emotions, conflicts of passion, as we think of the good that we should do, but have not done, or of the evil that goes unremedied and unatoned for. Commonly a man cannot contemplate his duty, a difficult or an unfulfilled duty especially, without a certain emotion, very otherwise than as he views the axioms of mathematics. There is a great difference emotionally, but intellectually the two sets of principles, speculative and moral, are held alike as necessary truths, truths that not only are, but must be, and cannot be otherwise: truths in which the predicate of the proposition that states them is contained under the subject. Such are called self-evident propositions; and the truths that they express, necessary truths. The enquiry into the origin of our primary moral judgments is thus merged in the question, how we attain to necessary truth.

6. The question belongs to Psychology, not to Ethics: but we will treat it briefly for ethical purposes. And first for a clear notion of the kind of judgments that we are investigating.

"The primary precepts of the law of nature stand to the practical reason as the first principles of scientific demonstration do to the speculative reason : for both sets of principles are self-evident. A thing is said to be self-evident in two ways, either in itself, or in reference to us. In itself every proposition, the predicate of which can be got from consideration of the subject is said to be self-evident. But it happens that to one who is ignorant of the definition of the subject, such a proposition will not be self-evident: as this proposition, Man is a rational being, is self-evident in its own nature, because to name man is to name something rational; and yet, to one ignorant what man is, this proposition is not self-evident. And hence it is that, as Boethius says: 'there are some axioms self-evident to all alike.' Of this nature are all those propositions whose terms are known to all, as, Every whole is greater than its part; and, Things which aye equal to the same thing are equal to one another. Some propositions again are self-evident only to the wise, who understand the meaning of the terms: as, to one who understands that an angel is not a body, it is self-evident that an angel is not in a place by way of circumscription;* which is not manifest to others, who do not understand the term." (St. Thos., 1a 2ae q. 94, art. 2, in corp.) [*Circumspective, which word is explained by St. Thos., 1a, q. 5a. art. 1.]

One more extract. "From the very nature of an intellectual soul it is proper to man that, as soon as he knows what a whole is, and what a part is, he knows that every whole is greater than its part; and so of the rest. But what is a whole, and what a part, that he cannot know except through sensory impressions. And therefore Aristotle shows that the knowledge of principles comes to us through the senses." (St. Thos., 1a 2ae, q. 51, art. 1, in corp.)

7. Thus the propositions that right is to be done, benefactors to be requited, are self-evident, necessary truths, to any child who has learned by experience the meaning of right, of kindness, and of a return of kindness. 'Yes, but' -- some one will say -- 'however does he get to know what right and wrong are? Surely sensory experience cannot teach him that.' We answer, man's thoughts begin in sense, and are perfected by reflection. Let us take the idea of wrong, the key to all other elementary moral ideas. The steps by which a child comes to the fulness of the idea of wrong may be these. First, the thing is forbidden: then one gets punished for it. Punishment and prohibition enter in by eye and ear and other senses besides. Then the thing is offensive to those we love and revere. Then it is bad for us. Then it is shameful, [s]habby, unfair, unkind, selfish, hateful to God. All these points of the idea of wrong are grasped by the intellect, beginning with sensory presentations of what is seen and felt and heard said. Again with the idea of ought. This idea is sometimes said to defy analysis. But we have gone about (c. vi.) to analyse it into two elements, nature requiring, nature's King commanding. The idea of wrong we analysed into a breach of this natural requirement, and this Divine command or law. Primary moral ideas, then, yield to intellectual analysis. They are of this style: to be done, as I wish to be rational and please God: not to be done, unless I wish to spoil myself and disobey my Maker. But primary moral ideas, compared together, make primary moral judgments. Primary moral judgments, therefore, arise in the intellect, by the same process as other beliefs arise there in matters of necessary truth.

8. Thus, applying the principle known as Occham's razor, that "entities are not to be multiplied without reason," we refuse to acknowledge any Moral Sense, distinct from Intellect. We know of no peculiar faculty, specially made to receive "ideas, pleasures and pains in the moral order." (Mackintosh, Ethics, p. 206.) Most of all, we emphatically protest against any blind power being accredited as the organ of morality. We cannot accept for our theory of morals, that everything is right which warms the breast with a glow of enthusiasm, and all those actions wrong, at which emotional people are prone to cry out, dreadful, shocking. We cannot accept emotions for arbitrators, where it most concerns reasonable beings to have what the Apostle calls enlightened eyes of the heart" (Ephes. i. 18), that we may "know to refuse the evil and to choose the good." (Isaias vii. 15.) A judge may have his emotions, but his charge to the jury must be dictated, not by his heart, but by his knowledge of the law. And the voice of conscience, whatever feelings it may stir, must be an intellectual utterance, and, to be worth anything in a case of difficulty, a reasoned conclusion, based on observation of facts, and application of principles, and consultation with moral theologians and casuists. A subjective and emotional standard of right and wrong is as treacherous and untrustworthy as the emotional justification of those good people, who come of a sudden to "feel converted."

9. It would be unnecessary, except for the wrongheadedness of philosophers, to observe, that conscience requires educating. As moral virtue is a habit of appetite, rational or irrational, a formation resulting from frequent acts; and as the child needs to be aided and assisted from without towards the performance of such acts, in order to overcome the frequent resistance of appetite to reason (c. v., s. ii., n. 4, p. 71): so the springs of conscience are certain intellectual habits, whereby the subject is cognisant of the principles of natural law, and of their bearing on his own conduct, habits which, like the habits of moral virtue, require to be formed by acts from within and succour from without, since merely the rudiments of the habit are supplied by nature. Even the first principles of morality want formulating and pointing out to children, like the axioms of geometry. The mother tells her little one: 'Ernest, or Frank, be a good boy:' while the schoolmaster explains to Master Ernest that two straight lines cannot possibly enclose a space. There is something in the boy's mind that goes along with and bears out both the teaching of his master and his mother's exhortation: something that says within him: 'To be sure, those lines can't enclose a space:' 'Certainly, I ought to be good.' It is not merely on authority that he accepts these propositions. His own understanding welcomes and approves them: so much so, that once he has understood them, he would not believe the contrary for being told it. You would not persuade a child that it was right to pull mother's hair; or that half an orange was literally, as Hesiod says, "more than the whole." He would answer that it could not be, that he knew better.

10. On one ground there is greater need of education for the conscience than for any other intellectual formation: that is because of the power of evil to fascinate and blind on practical issues of duty. Cicero well puts it:

"We are amazed and perplexed by variety of opinions and strife of authorities; and because there is not the same divergence upon matters of sense, we fancy that the senses afford natural certainty, while, for moral matters, because some men take one view, some another, and the same men different views at different times, we consider that any settlement that can be arrived at is merely conventional, which, is a huge mistake. The fact is, there is no parent, nor nurse, nor schoolmaster, nor poet, nor stage play, to corrupt the judgments of sense, nor consent of the multitude to wrench them away from the truth. It is for minds and consciences that all the snares are set, as well by the agency of those whom I have just mentioned, who take us in our tender and inexperienced age, and ingrain and fashion us as they will, as also by that counterfeit presentment of good, which lurks in the folds of every sense, the mother of all evil, pleasure, under whose seductive blandishments men fail to recognise the moral good that nature offers, because it is unaccompanied by this itching desire and satisfaction." (Cicero, De Legibus, i., 17.)

Readings. -- St. Thos., 1a, q. 79, art. 11-13; Plato, Protagoras, 325, 326; John Grote, Examination of Utilitarian Philosophy, pp. 169, 207, 208; Cardinal Newman, Grammar of Assent, pp. 102-112.

Section II. -- Of the invariability of Primary Moral Judgments.

1. The following narrative is taken from Grote's History of Greece, c. 81.:

"It was a proud day for the Carthaginian general [Hannibal, B.C. 409, therefore not the victor of Cannae.] when he stood as master on the ground of Himera; enabled to fulfil the duty, and satisfy the exigencies, of revenge for his slain grandfather. Tragical indeed was the consummation of this long-cherished purpose. . . . All the male captives, 3,000 in number, were conveyed to the precise spot where Hamilkar had been slain, and there put to death with indignity, as an expiatory satisfaction to his lost honour. No man can read the account of this wholesale massacre without horror and repugnance. Yet we cannot doubt, that among all the acts of Hannibal's life, this was the one in which he most gloried; that it realized in the most complete and emphatic manner, his concurrent aspirations of filial sentiment, religious obligation, and honour as a patriot [Italics mine]; hat to show mercy would have been regarded as a mean dereliction of these esteemed impulses. . . . Doubtless, the feelings of Hannibal were cordially shared, and the plenitude of his revenge envied, by the army around him. So different, sometimes so totally contrary, is the tone and direction of the moral sentiments, among different ages and nations."

We may supplement this story by another from Herodotus (iii., 38):

Darius, after he had got the kingdom, called into his presence certain Greeks who were at hand, and asked, 'What he should pay them to eat the bodies of their fathers when they died.' To which they answered, that there was no sum that would tempt them to do such a thing. He then sent for certain Indians, of the race called Callatians, men, who eat their fathers, and asked them, while the Greeks were standing by, and knew by the aid of an interpreter all that was said -- 'What he should give them to burn the bodies of their fathers, at their decease?' The Indians exclaimed aloud, and bade him forbear such language. Such is the way of men; and Pindar was right in my judgment, when he said, 'Convention is king over all.'

2. If any one held that the natural law of conscience was natural in the same way as the sense of temperature: if one held to the existence of a Moral Sense in all men, settling questions of right and wrong, as surely as all men know sweet things from bitter by tasting them: these stories, and they could be multiplied by hundreds, abundantly suffice to confute the error. There is no authentic copy of the moral law, printed, framed, and hung up by the hand of Nature, in the inner sanctuary of every human heart. Man has to learn his duties as he learns the principles of health, the laws of mechanics, the construction and navigation of vessels, the theorems of geometry, or any other art or science. And he is just as likely to go wrong, and has gone wrong as grievously, in his judgments on moral matters as on any other subject of human knowledge. The knowledge of duties is natural (as explained in the previous section, n. 2), not because it comes spontaneously, but because it is necessary to our nature for the development and perfection of the same. Thus a man ought, so far as he can, to learn his duties: but we cannot say of a man, as such, that he ought to learn geometry or navigation. If a man does not know his duties, he is excused by ignorance, according to the rules under which ignorance excuses. (c. iii., s. i., nn. 3-5, p. 27.) If a man does not know navigation, there is no question of excuse for what he was not bound to learn, but he may suffer loss by his want of knowledge.

3. It was furthermore observed above (l.c.), that the natural law was so called as being found expressed more or less perfectly in the minds of all men, and therefore being a proper element of human nature. It remains to see how much this universal natural expression amounts to. That is at once apparent from our previous explanation of synderesis. (s.i., nn. 5, seq., p. 139.) Not a complete and accurate knowledge of the natural law is found in all minds, far from it; but synderesis is found in all. This is apparent from Mr. Grote's own phrases, "aspirations of filial sentiment," " religious obligation," honour as a patriot," Parents are to be honoured, we must do our duty to God and to our country: there Hannibal was at one with the most approved teachers of morality. Callatian and Greek agreed in the recognition of the commandment, Honour thy father and thy mother. That was the major premiss of them both, in the moral syllogism (s. i., n. 3, p. 135), which ruled their respective consciences. Their difference was upon the applying minor, as it is called; the Greek regarding the dissolution of the body into its elements by fire, and so saving it from corruption, as the best means of honouring the dead: the Callatians preferring to raise their parents as it were to life again, by making them the food of their living children. Hannibal, again, had before his mind the grand principle of retribution, that wrongdoing must be expiated by suffering. But he had not heard the words "Vengeance is Mine;" and mistakenly supposed it to rest with himself to appoint and carry out his own measure of revenge. Whether he was quite so invincibly ignorant on this point, as Grote represents, is open to doubt. At any rate he was correct in the primary moral judgment on which he proceeded.

Reading. -- St. Thos., 1a 2ae, q. 94, art. 6.

Section III. -- Of the immutability of the Natural Law.

1. Besides printing, many methods are now in vogue for multiplying copies of a document. Commonly the document is written out with special ink on special paper: the copy thus used is called a stencil; and from it other copies are struck off. We will suppose the stencil to be that page of the Eternal Law written in the Mind of God, which regulates human acts, technically so called. The copies struck off from that stencil will be the Natural Law in the mind of this man and of that. Now, as all who are familiar with copying processes know too well, it happens at times that a copy comes out very faint, and in parts not at all. These faint and partial copies represent the Natural Law as it is imperfectly developed in the minds of many men. In this sense, and as we may say subjectively, the Natural Law is mutable, very mutable indeed. Still, as no one would say that the document had been altered, because some copies of it were bad, so it is not strictly correct to say that the Natural Law varies with these subjective varieties. Appeal would be made to a full and perfectly printed impression of the document, one that rendered the stencil exactly. The Natural Law must be viewed in like manner, as it would exist in a mind perfectly enlightened concerning the whole duty of man, and exactly reproducing itself that portion of the Eternal Law which ordains such duty. Were such a mind to discern a natural obligation to lie differently at two different times, all the relevant circumstances being alike in both cases, and the moral solution different, then only could the Natural Law be held to have changed.

2. But this is clearly impossible. The conclusion of a geometrical theorem is a truth for all time. There is no difference here between a complicated theorem, having many conditions, and a simpler theorem with fewer. It is indeed easier for a few than for many conditions to be all present together: but the enunciation of the conclusion supposes all the conditions, whatever their number. The same in a practical manner, as in the stability of a bridge. The bridge that would stand in England, would stand in Ceylon. If it would not, there must have occurred some change in the conditions, as the heat of the tropical sun upon the girders. A point of casuistry also, however knotty, once determined, is determined for ever and aye, for the circumstances under which it was determined. The Natural Law in this sense is absolutely immutable, no less in each particular application than in the most general principles. We must uniformly pass the same judgment on the same case. What is once right and reasonable, is always right and reasonable, in the same matter. Where today, there is only one right course, there cannot to-morrow be two, unless circumstances have altered. The Natural Law is thus far immutable, every jot and tittle. 3. No power in heaven above nor on earth beneath can dispense from any portion of the Natural Law. For the matter of the negative precepts of that law is, as we have seen, something bad in itself and repugnant to human nature, and accordingly forbidden by God: while the matter of the positive precepts is something good and necessary to man, commanded by God. If God were to take off His command, or prohibition, the intrinsic exigency, or intolerableness, of the thing to man would still remain, being as inseparable from humanity as certain mathematical properties from a triangle. Pride is not made for man, nor fornication, nor lying, nor polygamy: [There is a theological difficulty about the polygamy of the patriarchs, which will be touched on in Natural Law, c. vi., s. ii., n. 4, p. 272.] human nature would cry out against them, even were the Almighty in a particular instance to withdraw His prohibition. What would be the use, then, of any such withdrawal? It would not make the evil thing good. An evil thing it would still remain, unnatural, irrational, and as such, displeasing to God, the Supreme Reason. The man would not be free to do the thing, even though God did not forbid it. It appears, therefore, that the Divine prohibition, and similarly the Divine command, which we have proved (c. vi., s. ii., nn. 10, 11, p. 121) to be necessarily imposed in matters of natural evil and of naturally imperative good, is imposed as a hard and fast line, so long as the intrinsic good or evil remains the same.

4. There is, therefore, no room for Evolution in Ethics and Natural Law any more than in Geometry. One variety of geometrical construction, or of moral action, may succeed another; but the truths of the science, by which those varieties are judged, change not. There is indeed this peculiarity about morality, distinguishing it from art, that if a man errs invincibly, the evil that he takes for good is not formally evil, or evil as he wills it, and the good that he takes for evil isformally evil to him. (c. iii., s. ii.), n. 7, p. 33.) So there is variation and possible Evolution in bare formal good and bare formal evil, as, ignorance gradually changes into knowledge; and likewise Reversion, as knowledge declines into ignorance. Even this Evolution and Reversion have their limits: they cannot occur in the primary principles of morality, as we saw in the last section. But morality material and objective, -- complete morality where the formal and material elements agree, where real wrong is seen to be wrong, and real right is known for right-in this morality there is no Evolution. If Hannibal offered human sacrifices to his grandfather because he knew no better, and could not have known better, than to think himself bound so to do, he is to be excused, and even praised for his piety: still it was a mistaken piety; and the act, apart from the light in which the doer viewed it, was a hideous crime. An incorrupt teacher of morals would have taught the Carthaginian, not that he was doing something perfectly right for his age and country, which, however, would be wrong in Germany some centuries later, but that he was doing an act there and then evil and forbidden of God, from which he was bound, upon admonition, instantly to desist. [The author has seen reason somewhat to modify this view, as appears by the Appendix. (Note to Third Edition.)]

5. There are Evolution and Reversion in architecture, but not in the laws of stability of structure, nor in the principles of beauty as realized in building. A combination, ugly now, was not beautiful in the days of Darius. Tastes differ, but not right tastes; and moral notions, but not right moral notions. It is true that questions of right and wrong occur in one state of society, that had no relevance in an earlier state, the conditions of the case not having arisen. But so it is in architecture; there are no arches in the Parthenon. The principle of the arch, however, held in the age of Pericles, though not applied.

6. The progress of Moral Science is the more and more perfect development of the Natural Law in the heart of man, a psychological, not an ontological development. And Moral Science does progress. No man can be a diligent student of morality for years, without coming to the understanding of many things, for which one would look in vain in Aristotle's Ethics and Politics, or in Cicero, De Officiis, or even in the Summa of St. Thomas, or perhaps in any book ever written. New moral questions come for discussion as civilization advances. The commercial system of modern times would furnish a theme for another De Lugo. And still on this path of ethical discovery, to quote the text that Bacon loved, " Many shall pass over, and knowledge shall be multiplied." (Daniel xii. 4.)

Readings. -- St. Thos., Supplement, q. 65, art. 1, in corp.; ib., q. 65, art. 2, in corp., and ad 1; Hughes, Supernatural Morals, pp. 67, 68, reviewed in The Month for August, 1891, pp. 542, 543.

Section IV. -- Of Probabilism.

1. Sometimes conscience returns a clear, positive answer as to the morality of an act contemplated. True or false the answer may be, but the ring of it has no uncertain sound. At other times conscience is perplexed, and her answer is, perhaps, and perhaps not. When the woman hid Achimaas and Jonathan in the well, and said to Absalom's servants, "They passed on in haste" (2 Kings xvii. 17-21), did she do right in speaking thus to save their lives? A point that has perplexed consciences for centuries. A man's hesitation is sometimes subjective and peculiar to himself. It turns on a matter of fact, which others know full well, though he doubts; or on a point of law, dark to him, but clearly ruled by the consent of the learned. In such cases it is his duty to seek information from people about him, taking so much trouble to procure it as the importance of the matter warrants, not consulting ten doctors as to the ownership of one hen. But it may be that all due enquiries fail. The fact remains obscure; or about the law, doctors differ, and arguments conflict indecisively. What is the man to do? Take the safe course: suppose there is an obligation, and act accordingly? This principle, put as a command, would make human life intolerable. It is, moreover, false, when so put, as we shall presently prove. Take the easy course, and leave the obligation out of count? This principle is more nearly correct than the other: but it needs interpretation, else it may prove dangerously lax.

2. To return to Achimaas and Jonathan and their hostess. Some such reckoning as this may have passed through her mind: 'Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord: but is it a lie to put murderers off the scent of blood?' To that question finding no answer, she may have made up her mind in this way: 'Well, I don't know, but I'll risk it.' If that were her procedure, she did not walk by the scientific lines of Probabilism. The probabilist runs no risk, enters upon no uncertainty, and yet he by no means always follows what is technically termed the safe course, that is, the course which supposes the obligation, e.g., in the case in point, to have said simply where the men were. How then does the probabilist contrive to extract certainty out of a case of insoluble doubt? By aid of what is called a reflex principle. A reflex is opposed to a direct principle. A direct principle lays down an obligation, as it would bind one who had a perfect discernment of the law and of the facts of the case, and of the application of the one to the other, and who was perfectly able to keep the law. By a reflex principle, a man judges of his own act, taking account of the imperfection of his knowledge and the limitations of his power. Probabilism steps in, only where a case is practically insoluble to an agent upon direct principles. The probabilist thereupon leaves the direct speculative doubt unsolved. He relinquishes the attempt of determining what a man should do in the case in question, who had a thorough insight into the lie of the law. He leaves that aside, and considers what is his duty, or not his duty, in the deficiency of his knowledge. Then he strikes upon the principle, which is the root of Probabilism, that a doubtful law has no binding power. It will be observed that this is a reflex principle. For objectively nothing is doubtful, but everything is or is not in point of fact. To a mind that had a full grasp of the objective order of things, there would be no doubtful law: such a mind would discern the law in every case as holding or not holding. But no human mind is so perfect. Every man has to take account of his own limitations of vision in judging of his duty. The question for me is, not the law absolutely, but the law as far as I can make it out. Our proposition, then, states that when an individual, using such moral diligence of enquiry as the gravity of the matter calls for, still remains in a state of honest doubt as to whether the law binds, in that mental condition it does not bind him.

3. What the law does not forbid, it leaves open. Aristotle indeed (Eth., V., xi., 1) says the contrary, that what the law does not command (he instances suicide), it forbids. All that he seems to mean is, that if there be an act which at times might appear advantageous, and yet is never commanded, there is a presumption of the legislator being averse to that act. Again, there are special occasions, in view of which the legislator undertakes to regulate the whole outward conduct of a man by positive enactment, as with a soldier on parade: what is not there commanded, is forbidden. But these instances do not derogate from our general proposition, which is proved in this way. The office of law is not to loose, but to bind. It declares, not what the subject may do, but what he must or must not. It does not bring liberty, but restriction. Therefore, if any one wishes to assert a restriction, he must go to a law to prove it. If he can find none, liberty remains. The law is laid on liberty. Liberty is pot the outcome of law, but prior to it. Liberty is in possession. The burden of proof rests with those who would abridge liberty and impose an obligation. It is an axiom of law itself, a natural, not an arbitrary axiom, that better is the condition of the possessor: which amounts in this matter to another statement, also axiomatic, that a law binds not till it is promulgated. But a law of which I have serious outstanding doubts whether it exists at all, or, if existent, whether it reaches my case, is for this occasion a law not duly promulgated to me. Therefore it binds me not, and my liberty remains.

4. It remains to consider what constitutes a serious outstanding doubt. The word outstanding has been already explained. It means that we have sought for certain information, and cannot procure it. Now what is a serious doubt? It is a doubt founded on a positive opinion against the existence of the law, or its applicability to the case in point, an opinion fraught with probability, solid, comparative, practical probability. The doubt must not be mere negative doubt, or ignorance that cannot tell why it doubts; not a vague suspicion, or sentimental impression that defies all intellectual analysis; not a mere subjective inability to make up one's mind, but some counter-reason that admits of positive statement, as we say, in black and white. It is true that many minds cannot define their grounds of doubt, even when these are real. Such minds are unfit to apply the doctrine of Probabilism to themselves, but must seek its application from others. The opinion against the law, when explicitly drawn out, must be found to possess a solid probability. It may be either an intrinsic argument from reason and the nature of the case, or an extrinsic argument from the word of some authority: but the reason or the authority must be grave. The opinion is thus said to be intrinsically or extrinsically probable. The probability must also be comparative. There is many an argument, in itself a very good one, that perishes when we come to consider the crushing weight of evidence on the other side. An opinion is comparatively probable, when after hearing all the reasons and all the authorities on the other side, the said opinion still remains not unlikely, which is all that we mean to say of an opinion here, when we call it probable. In ordinary English, the word probable means more likely than otherwise, which is not the signification of the Latin opinio probabilis. Lastly, the probability must be practical: it must take account of all the circumstances of the case. Practical probability is opposed to speculative, which leaves out of count certain circumstances, which are pretty sure to be present, and to make all the difference in the issue. Thus it is speculatively probable that a Catholic might without sin remain years without confession, never having any grievous sins to confess, grievous sin alone being necessary matter for that sacrament. There is no downright cogent reason why a man might not do so. And yet, if he neglected such ordinary means of grace as confession of venial sin, having it within reach, month after month, no one, considering "the sin which surrounds us," would expect that man to go without grievous scathe. In mechanics, there are many machines that work prettily enough in speculation and on paper, where the inventors do not consider the difficulties of imperfect material, careless handling, climate, and other influences, that render the invention of no practical avail.

5. The safest use of probabilism is in the field of property transactions and of positive law. There is greatest risk of using it amiss in remaining in a false religion. All turns upon the varying amount of trouble involved in moral diligence of enquiry, according as the matter at issue is a point of mere observance or of vital interest.

6. The point on which the probability turns must be the lawfulness or unlawfulness of the action, not any other issue, as that of the physical consequences. Before rolling boulder-stones down a hill to amuse in self, it is not enough to have formed a probable opinion that there is no one coming up. That would be probabilism misapplied. The correct enquiry is: Does any intrinsic reason or extrinsic authority make the opinion probable, that it is lawful for mere amusement to roll down rocks with any belief short of certainty that no one will be crushed thereby? The probability, thus turned on to the lawfulness of the action, breaks down altogether. This explanation, borne in mind, will save much misapprehension.

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