Wednesday, August 7, 2013

From the faculty of willing arise the ideas of rights and of duties - Antoine Louis Claude, Comte Destutt de Tracy

The ideas of rights and of duties are, by some, said to be correspondent and correlative. I do not deny them to be so, in our social relations; but this truth, if it is one, requires many explanations. Let us examine different cases.
Let us make in the first place a supposition absolutely ideal. Let us imagine a being feeling and willing, but incapable of all action, a simple monad endowed with the faculty of willing, but deprived of a body, and of every organ on which its will can react, and by which it could produce any effect, or have influence on any other being. It is manifest that such a being would have no right, in the sense we often give to this word, that is to say none of those rights which comprehend the idea of a correspondent duty in another sensible being, since it is not in contact with any being whatsoever. But to the eyes of reason and of universal justice, such as the human understanding can conceive them, (for we can never speak of other things) this monad has clearly the right to satisfy his desires and to appease his wants; for this violates no law, natural or artificial. It is, on the contrary, to follow the laws of his nature and to obey the conditions of his existence.
At the same time this monad, having no power of action, no means of laboring for the satisfaction of his wants, has no duty: for it could not have the duty of employing in one way rather than another the means which it has not, of performing one action rather than another, since it cannot perform any action.
This supposition then shows us two things; first, as we have already said, that all our rights arise from wants, and all duties from means; secondly, that rights may exist, in the most general sense of this word, without correspondent duties on the part of other beings, nor even on the part of the being possessing these rights: Consequently these two ideas are not as essentially and necessarily correspondent, and correlative, as is commonly believed; for they are not so in their origin. Now let us state another hypothesis.
Let us suppose a being feeling and willing, constituted as we are, that is to say endowed with organs and faculties which his will puts in action, but completely separated from every other sensible being, and in contact only with inanimate beings, if there be such, or at least only with beings which should not manifest to him the phenomenon of sentiment, as there are many such for us. In this state this being still has not those rights, taken in the restrained sense of this word, which embrace the idea of a correspondent duty in another sensible being, since he is not in relation with any being of this kind; yet he has clearly the general right; like the monad of which we have just spoken, of procuring for himself the accomplishment of his desires, or, which is the same thing, of providing for his wants; because this is for him, as for it, to obey the laws of his nature, and to conform himself to the condition of his existence; and this being is such that it cannot be moved by any other impulsion, nor have any other principle of action. This willing being has then, in this case, all imaginable rights. We may even see that his rights are truly infinite, since they are bounded by nothing. At least they have no limits but those of his desires themselves, from which these emanate, and which are their only source.
But here there is something more than in the first hypothesis. This being, endowed like ourselves with organs and faculties which his will puts into motion, is not as the simple monad of which we spoke before. He has means, therefore he has duties; for he has the duty of well employing these means. But every duty supposes a punishment incurred by an infraction of it, a law which pronounces this punishment, a tribunal which applies this law; accordingly in the case in question the punishment of the being of which we speak, for not rightly employing his means, is to see them produce effects less favorable to his satisfaction, or even to see them produce such as are entirely destructive of it. The laws which pronounce this punishment, are those of the organization of this willing and acting being: they are the conditions of his existence. The tribunal which applies these laws is that of necessity itself, against which he cannot guard himself. Thus the being which occupies us has, incontestably, the duty of well employing his means, since he has them; and of observing that this general duty comprehends that of well appreciating, in the first place, the desires or wants which these means are destined to satisfy, of well studying afterwards these means themselves, their extent and their limits, and, finally, of labouring in consequence to restrain the one and extend the other as much as possible: for his unhappiness will never proceed but from the inferiority of means relatively to wants, since if wants were always satisfied there would be no possibility of suffering. The insulated being in question, has then rights proceeding all from his wants, and duties arising all out of his means; and, in whatever position you place him, he will never have rights or duties of another nature: for all those of which he may become susceptible will arise from these, and will only be their consequences. We may even say that all proceed from his wants, for if he had not wants he would not need means to satisfy them; it would not even be possible he should have any means. Thus it would not be conceivable that he could have any duty whatsoever. If you wish to convince yourself of this, try to punish an impassive being. I have then had reason to say, that from the willing faculty arise the ideas of rights and of duties; and I can add, with assurance, that these ideas of rights and duties are not so exactly correspondent, and correlative, the one with the other, as they are commonly said to be: but that that of duties is subordinate to that of rights, as that of means is to that of wants, since we can conceive rights without duties, as in our first hypothesis; and in the second there are duties only because there are wants, and that they consist only in the general duty of satisfying these wants.
The better to convince ourselves of these two truths, let us make a third supposition: let us place this being, organised as we are in relation with other beings, feeling and willing like himself, and acting also in virtue of their will, but which are such that he cannot correspond fully with them, nor perfectly comprehend their ideas and their motives. These animated beings have their rights also, proceeding from their wants: but this operates no change in those of the being whose destiny we investigate. He has the same rights as before, since he has the same wants. He has, moreover, the same general duty of employing his means so as to procure the satisfaction of his wants. Thus he has the duty of conducting himself with those beings which show themselves to be feeling and willing, otherwise than with those, which appear to him inanimate; for as they act in consequence of their will it is his duty to conciliate or subjugate that will in order to bring them to contribute to the satisfaction of his desires, and as he is supposed incapable of communicating completely with them, and consequently of forming any convention with them, he has no other means of directing their will towards the accomplishment of his desires, and the satisfaction of his wants, than immediate persuasion or direct violence. And he employs, and ought to employ, the one and the other according to circumstances, without any other consideration than of producing the effects he desires.
In truth this being, organized as we are, is such, that a view of sensible nature inspires in him the desire to sympathize with it, that it should enjoy of his enjoyments and suffer of his sufferings. This is a new want which it produces in him, and we shall see in the sequel that it is not one of those of which he ought to endeavour to rid himself, for it is useful for him to be submitted to it. He ought then to satisfy it as the others, and consequently he is under the duty of sparing to himself the pain which the sufferings of sensible beings cause him, so far as his other wants do not oblige him to support this pain. This is still a consequence of the general duty of satisfying all his desires.
The picture which we have just drawn according to theory is the simple exposition of our relations with animals taken in general, which relations are afterwards modified in particular cases according to the degree of knowledge we have of their sentiments, and according to the relations of habit and reciprocal benevolence which take place between us and them, as between us and our fellow beings. I believe this picture to be a very faithful representation of these relations; for it is equally remote from that sentimental exaggeration which would make criminal in us any destruction whatever of these animals, and from the systematic barbarity which would make us consider as legitimate their most useless sufferings, or even persuade us that the pain which a sensible being manifests, is not pain when this sensible being is not made exactly like ourselves.
In fact these two systems are equally false. The first is untenable, because in practice it is absolutely impossible to follow it rigorously. It is evident that we should be violently destroyed, or slowly famished and eaten, by the other animated beings if we never destroyed them; and that even with the most minute attention it is impossible for us to avoid causing a great number of beings, more or less peroeptible to our senses, to suffer and die. Now we have incontestably the right to act and to live, since we are born for the one as well as for the other.
The second system is not less erroneous, for in theory it rashly establishes between the different states of sensible nature a line of separation which no phenomenon authorizes us to admit. There is absolutely no one fact which gives us a right to affirm, nor even to suppose that the state of suffering in the animated beings with which we communicate imperfectly, is not exactly the same thing as it is in us or in our fellow beings; and on this gratuitous supposition, this system condemns us to combat and destroy as a weakness the sentiment, the want the most general and imperious of human nature, that of sympathy and commiseration; a want which we shall soon see is the most happy result of our organization, and without which our existence would become very miserable, and even impossible. Moreover, in practice this system is opposed to the usage the most universal of all times and of all individuals; for there has never been, I believe, an animal in the human form, which has sincerely and originally felt that a sight of suffering, accurately expressed, was a thing of indifference. The indifference which is the fruit of habit, and the pleasure even of cruelty, for cruelty sake, a frightful pleasure, which may have been produced in some denaturalized beings by accidental causes, proves that it is the case of a natural inclination surmounted by time, or overcome by effort, and by the pleasure which arises in us from every effort followed by success. As to that cruelty which is the product of vengeance, it is a proof the more of the thesis I sustain; for it is because of the profound sentiment that the vindictive being has of suffering, that he wishes to produce it in the one that is odious to him, and he always partakes more or less involuntarily and forcibly of the evil which he causes.
These two opposite systems, but both fruits of a derangement of the imagination, are then equally absurd in theory and practice; this, of itself, is a great presumption in favour of the intermediate opinion which I establish, which moreover is found to be conformable to the usage of all times and all places, and to furnish reason from the conditions of our nature, well observed, for what our manner of being, in respect to the animals, has in it singular and contradictory at the first glance. But what is more forcible, and absolutely convincing, in my opinion, is that the same principle which I have established,that our rights are always without limits, or at least equal to our wants, and that our duties are never but the genral duty of satisfying our wants, will explain to us all our relations with our fellow beings, and establish them on immoveable bases, and such as will be the same everywhere, and always, in all countries, and in all times, in which our intimate nature shall not have changed.
Let us now make a fourth hypothesis which is that in which we are all placed. Let us suppose the animated being we are now considering in contact with other beings like himself. These beings have wants, and consequently rights, as he has, but this makes no change in his. He has always as many rights as wants, and the general duty of satisfying these wants. If he could not communicate completely with these beings like himself, and make conventions with them, he would be in respect to them in the state in which we all are, and in which as we have just seen we have reason to be in regard to the other animals.
Will any one say this is a state of war? He will be wrong. This would be an exaggeration. The state of war is that in which we incessantly seek the destruction of one another; because we cannot assure ourselves of our own preservation, but by the annihilation of our enemy. We are not in such a relation, but with those animals whose instinct constantly leads them to hurt us. It is not so as to the others; even those which we sacrifice to our wants, we attack only inasmuch as these wants, more or less pressing, force us. There are some of them which live with us in a state of peaceable subjection, others in perfect indifference. With all we wound their will only because it is contrary to ours, and not for the pleasure of wounding it. There is even in regard to all this general necessity of sympathising with sensible nature, which pains us at the sight of their suffering, and which unites us more or less with them. This state then is not essentially a state of hostility. It frequently becomes such: but this is by accident. It is essentially the state of alienage(d'etrangete) if we may thus express ourselves. It is that of beings, willing and acting separately, each for his own satisfaction, without being able to explain themselves mutually, or to make conventions for the regulation of the cases in which their wills are opposed.
Such, as we have said, would be the relations of man with his fellow men, if his means of communicating with them were very imperfect. He would not be precisely for them an enemy, but an indifferent stranger. His relations would even then be softened by the necessity of sympathising, which is much stronger in him in the case of animals of his own species; and we must still add to this necessity that of love, which strengthens it extremely in many circumstances, for love has not perfect enjoyment without mutual consent, without a very lively sympathy; and when this sympathy, necessary to the full satisfaction of the desire, has existed, it frequently gives birth to habits of good will, from whence arises the sentiment of fraternity, which produces in its turn ties more durable and more tender.
Nevertheless, in this state quarrels are frequent; and, properly speaking, justice and injustice do not yet exist. The rights of the one do not affect the rights of the other. Every one has as many rights as wants, and the general duty of satisfying these wants without any foreign consideration. There does not begin to be any restrictions on these rights and this duty, or rather on the manner of fulfilling this duty, but at the moment in which means of mutual understanding are established; and consequently conventions tacit or formal. There solely is the birth of justice and injustice, that is to say of the balance between the rights of one and the rights of another, which necessarily were equal till this instant. The Greeks who called Ceres Legislatrix were wrong. It is to grammar, to language, they ought to have given this title. They had placed the origin of laws, and of justice, at the moment in which men have amongst them relations more stable, and conventions more numerous. But they ought to have remounted to the birth of the first conventions, informal or explicit. In every way the duty of moderns is to penetrate further and more profoundly than the ancients. Hobbes, then, was certainly right in establishing the foundation of all justice on conversations; but he was wrong in saying before, that the anterior state is rigorously and absolutely a state of war, and that this is our true instinct, and the wish of our nature. Were this the case we should never have withdrawn from it. A false principle has led him to an excellent consequence. It has always appeared to me singularly remarkable, that this philosopher, who of all men who have ever written is perhaps the most recommendable for the rigorous concatenation and close connexion of his ideas, should not however have arrived at this fine conception of the necessity for conventions, the source of all justice, but, by starting from a false or at least an inexact principle, (a state of war the natural state); and that from the just and profound sentiment of the want of peace among men, he has been led to a false idea the necessity of servitude. When we see such examples, how ought we to tremble in enouncing an opinion?
Yet I cannot help believing that which I have just explained to be true.
It seems to me proved, that from our faculty of willing proceed the ideas of rights and duties; that from our wants proceed all our rights, and from our means all our duties; that we have always as many rights as wants, and the single duty of providing for these wants; that the wants and the rights of other sensible beings, whether of our own or a different species, do not affect ours; that our rights do not begin to be restrained, but at the moment of the birth of conventions; that our general duty is not changed for this as to its foundation, but only to the manner of fulfilling it; and that it is at this moment alone, that justice and injustice properly so called commence.

It is not yet the time to develope all the consequences of these principles, but it is time to terminate this long preliminary, by the reflections to which it gives rise.

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