An Essay Concerning Human Understanding By John Locke Book II: Of Ideas, Chapters 12-33

5. Moral Good and Evil.

Good and evil, as hath been shown, (B. II. chap. xx. Section 2, and chap. xxi. Section 43,) are nothing but pleasure or pain, or that which occasions or procures pleasure or pain to us. MORAL GOOD AND EVIL, then, is only THE CONFORMITY OR DISAGREEMENT OF OUR VOLUNTARY ACTIONS TO SOME LAW, WHEREBY GOOD OR EVIL IS DRAWN ON US, FROM THE WILL AND POWER OF THE LAW-MAKER; which good and evil, pleasure or pain, attending our observance or breach of the law by the decree of the law-maker, is that we call REWARD and PUNISHMENT.

6. Moral Rules.

Of these moral rules or laws, to which men generally refer, and by which they judge of the rectitude or gravity of their actions, there seem to me to be THREE SORTS, with their three different enforcements, or rewards and punishments. For, since it would be utterly in vain to suppose a rule set to the free actions of men, without annexing to it some enforcement of good and evil to determine his will, we must, wherever we suppose a law, suppose also some reward or punishment annexed to that law. It would be in vain for one intelligent being to set a rule to the actions of another, if he had it not in his power to reward the compliance with, and punish deviation from his rule, by some good and evil, that is not the natural product and consequence of the action itself. For that, being a natural convenience or inconvenience, would operate of itself, without a law. This, if I mistake not, is the true nature of all law, properly so called.

7. Laws.

The laws that men generally refer their actions to, to judge of their rectitude or obliquity, seem to me to be these three: — 1. The DIVINE law. 2. The CIVIL law. 3. The law of OPINION or REPUTATION, if I may so call it. By the relation they bear to the first of these, men judge whether their actions are sins or duties; by the second, whether they be criminal or innocent; and by the third, whether they be virtues or vices.

8. Divine Law the Measure of Sin and Duty.

First, the DIVINE LAW, whereby that law which God has set to the actions of men, — whether promulgated to them by the light of nature, or the voice of revelation. That God has given a rule whereby men should govern themselves, I think there is nobody so brutish as to deny. He has a right to do it; we are his creatures: he has goodness and wisdom to direct our actions to that which is best: and he has power to enforce it by rewards and punishments of infinite weight and duration in another life; for nobody can take us out of his hands. This is the only true touchstone of moral rectitude; and, by comparing them to this law, it is that men judge of the most considerable moral good or evil of their actions; that is, whether, as duties or sins, they are like to procure them happiness or misery from the hands of the ALMIGHTY.

9. Civil Law the Measure of Crimes and Innocence.

Secondly, the CIVIL LAW — the rule set by the commonwealth to the actions of those who belong to it — is another rule to which men refer their actions; to judge whether they be criminal or no. This law nobody overlooks: the rewards and punishments that enforce it being ready at hand, and suitable to the power that makes it: which is the force of the Commonwealth, engaged to protect the lives, liberties, and possessions of those who live according to its laws, and has power to take away life, liberty, or goods, from him who disobeys; which is the punishment of offences committed against his law.

10. Philosophical Law the Measure of Virtue and Vice.

Thirdly, the LAW OF OPINION OR REPUTATION. Virtue and vice are names pretended and supposed everywhere to stand for actions in their own nature right and wrong: and as far as they really are so applied, they so far are coincident with the divine law above mentioned. But yet, whatever is pretended, this is visible, that these names, virtue and vice, in the particular instances of their application, through the several nations and societies of men in the world, are constantly attributed only to such actions as in each country and society are in reputation or discredit. Nor is it to be thought strange, that men everywhere should give the name of virtue to those actions, which amongst them are judged praiseworthy; and call that vice, which they account blamable: since otherwise they would condemn themselves, if they should think anything right, to which they allowed not commendation, anything wrong, which they let pass without blame. Thus the measure of what is everywhere called and esteemed virtue and vice is this approbation or dislike, praise or blame, which, by a secret and tacit consent, establishes itself in the several societies, tribes, and clubs of men in the world: whereby several actions come to find credit or disgrace amongst them, according to the judgment, maxims, or fashion of that place. For, though men uniting into politic societies, have resigned up to the public the disposing of all their force, so that they cannot employ it against any fellow-citizens any further than the law of the country directs: yet they retain still the power of thinking well or ill, approving or disapproving of the actions of those whom they live amongst, and converse with: and by this approbation and dislike they establish amongst themselves what they will call virtue and vice.

11. The Measure that Man commonly apply to determine what they call Virtue and Vice.

That this is the common MEASURE of virtue and vice, will appear to any one who considers, that, though that passes for vice in one country which is counted a virtue, or at least not vice, in another, yet everywhere virtue and praise, vice and blame, go together. Virtue is everywhere, that which is thought praiseworthy; and nothing else but that which has the allowance of public esteem is called virtue. Virtue and praise are so united, that they are called often by the same name. Sunt sua praemia laudi, says Virgil; and so Cicero, Nihil habet natura praestantius, quam honestatem, quam laudem, quam dignitatem, quam decus, which he tells you are all names for the same thing. This is the language of the heathen philosophers, who well understood wherein their notions of virtue and vice consisted. And though perhaps, by the different temper, education, fashion, maxims, or interest of different sorts of men, it fell out, that what was thought praiseworthy in one place, escaped not censure in another; and so in different societies, virtues and vices were changed; yet, as to the main, they for the most part kept the same everywhere. For, since nothing can be more natural than to encourage with esteem and reputation that wherein every one finds his advantage, and to blame and discountenance the contrary; it is no wonder that esteem and discredit, virtue and vice, should, in a great measure, everywhere correspond with the unchangeable rule of right and wrong, which the law of God hath established; there being nothing that so directly and visible secures and advances the general good of mankind in this world, as obedience to the laws he had set them, and nothing that breeds such mischiefs and confusion, as the neglect of them. And therefore men, without renouncing all sense and reason, and their own interest, which they are so constantly true to, could not generally mistake, in placing their commendation and blame on that side that really deserved it not. Nay, even those men whose practice was otherwise, failed not to give their approbation right, few being depraved to that degree as not to condemn, at least in others, the faults they themselves were guilty of; whereby, even in the corruption of manners, the true boundaries of the law of nature, which ought to be the rule of virtue and vice, were pretty well preferred. So that even the exhortations of inspired teachers, have not feared to appeal to common repute: 'Whatsoever is lovely, whatsoever is of good report, if there be any virtue, if there be any praise,' &c. (Phil. iv. 8.)

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