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THIS division of the subject is retained merely for the sake of method, by which the writer and the reader are equally assisted. To the subject itself it imports nothing; for, the obligation of all duties being fundamentally the same, it matters little under what class or title any of them are considered. In strictness, there are few duties or crimes which terminate in a man's self; and so far as others are affected by their operation, they have been treated of in some article of the preceding book. We have reserved, however, to this head the rights of self-defence; also the consideration of drunkenness and suicide, as offences against that care of our faculties, and preservation of our persons, which we account duties, and call duties to ourselves.
THE RIGHTS OF
It has been asserted, that in a state of nature we might lawfully defend the most insignificant right, provided it were a perfect determinate right, by any extremities which the obstinacy of the aggressor rendered necessary. Of this I doubt; because I doubt whether the general rule be worth sustaining at such an expense; and because, apart from the general consequence of yielding to the attempt, it cannot be contended to be for the augmentation of human happiness that one man should lose his life, or a limb, rather than another a pennyworth of his property. Nevertheless, perfect rights can only be distinguished by their value; and it is impossible to ascertain the value at which the liberty of using extreme violence begins. The person attacked must balance, as well as he can, between the general consequence of yielding, and the particular effect of resistance.
However, this right, if it exist in a state of nature, is suspended
by the establishment of civil society; because thereby other remedies are provided against attacks upon our property, and because it is necessary to the peace and safety of the community, that the prevention, punishment, and redress of injuries, be adjusted by public laws. Moreover, as the individual is assisted in the recovery of his right, or of a compensation for his right, by the public strength, it is no less equitable than expedient, that he should submit to public arbitration the kind, as well as the measure, of the satisfaction which he is to obtain.
There is one case in which all extremities are justifiable; namely, when our life is assaulted, and it becomes necessary for our preservation to kill the assailant. This is evident in a state of nature; unless it can be shewn, that we are bound to prefer the aggressor's life to our own; that is to say, to love our enemy better than ourselves, which can never be a debt of justice, nor anywhere appears to be a duty of charity. Nor is the case altered by our living in civil society; because, by the supposition, the laws of society cannot interpose to protect us, nor, by the nature of the case, compel restitution. This liberty is restrained to cases in which no other probable means of preserving our life remain, as flight, calling for assistance, disarming the adversary, &c. The rule' holds, whether the danger proceed from a voluntary attack, as by an enemy, robber, or assassin; or from an involuntary one, as by a madman, or person sinking in the water, and dragging us after him; or where two persons are reduced to a situation in which one or both of them must perish; as in a shipwreck, where two seize upon a plank, which will support only one; although, to say the truth, these extreme cases, which happen seldom, and hardly, when they do happen, admit of moral agency, are scarcely worth mentioning, much less discussing at length.
The instance which approaches the nearest to the preservation of life, and which seems to justify the same extremities, is the defence of chastity.
In all other cases, it appears to me the safest to consider the taking away of life as authorised by the law of the land; and the person who takes it away, as in the situation of a minister or executioner of the law.
In which view, homicide, in England, is justifiable:
1. To prevent the commission of a crime, which, when committed, would be punishable with death. Thus, it is lawful to shoot a highwayman, or one attempting to break into a house by night; but not so if the attempt be made in the daytime: which particular distinction, by a consent of legislation that is remarkable, obtained also in the Jewish law, as well as in the laws both of Greece and Rome.
2. In necessary endeavours to carry the law into execution, as in suppressing riots, apprehending malefactors, preventing escapes, &c.
I do not know that the law holds forth its authority to any cases besides those which fall within one or other of the above descriptions; or that, after the exception of immediate danger to life or chastity, the destruction of a human being can be innocent without that authority.
The rights of war are not here taken into the account.
Drunkenness is either actual or habitual; just as it is one thing to be drunk, and another to be a drunkard. What we shall deliver upon the subject must principally be understood of a habit of intemperance; although part of the guilt and danger described may be applicable to casual excesses; and all of it, in a certain degree, forasmuch as every habit is only a repetition of single instances.
The mischief of drunkenness, from which we are to compute the guilt of it, consists in the following bad effects :
1. It betrays most constitutions either to extravagances of anger or sins of lewdness.
2. It disqualifies men for the duties of their station, both by the temporary disorder of their faculties, and at length by a constant incapacity and stupefaction.
3. It is attended with expenses, which can often be ill spared. 4. It is sure to occasion uneasiness to the family of the drunkard.
5. It shortens life.
To these consequences of drunkenness, must be added the peculiar danger and mischief of the example. Drunkenness is a social festive vice; apt, beyond any vice that can be mentioned, to draw in others by the example. The drinker collects his circle; the circle naturally spreads; of those who are drawn within it, many become the corrupters and centres of sets and circles of their own; every one countenancing, and perhaps emulating the rest, till a whole neighbourhood be infected from the contagion of a single example. This account is confirmed by what we often observe of drunkenness, that it is a local vice; found to prevail in certain countries, in certain districts of a country, or in particular towns, without any reason to be given for the fashion, but that it had been introduced by some popular examples. With this
observation upon the spreading quality of drunkenness, let us connect a remark which belongs to the several evil effects above recited. The consequences of a vice, like the symptoms of a disease, though they be all enumerated in the description, seldom all meet in the same subject. In the instance under consideration, the age and temperature of one drunkard may have little to fear from inflammations of lust or anger; the fortune of a second may not be injured by the expense; a third may have no family to be disquieted by his irregularities; and a fourth may possess a constitution fortified against the poison of strong liquors. But if, as we always ought to do, we comprehend within the consequences of our conduct the mischief and tendency of the example, the above circumstances, however fortunate for the individual, will be found to vary the guilt of his intemperance less, probably, than he supposes. The moralist may expostulate with him thus: Although the waste of time and of money be of small importance to you, it may be of the utmost to some one or other whom your society corrupts. Repeated or long-continued excesses, which hurt not your health, may be fatal to your companion. Although you have neither wife, nor child, nor parent, to lament your absence from home, or expect your return to it with terror; other families, in which husbands and fathers have been invited to share in your ebriety, or encouraged to imitate it, may justly lay their misery or ruin at your door. This will hold good whether the person seduced be seduced immediately by you, or the vice be propagated from you to him through several intermediate examples. All these considerations it is necessary to assemble, to judge truly of a vice which usually meets with milder names and more indulgence than it deserves.
I omit those outrages upon one another, and upon the peace and safety of the neighbourhood, in which drunken revels often end; and also those deleterious and maniacal effects which strong liquors produce upon particular constitutions; because, in general propositions concerning drunkenness, no consequences should be included but what are constant enough to be generally expected.
Drunkenness is repeatedly forbidden by St Paul: 'Be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.' 'Let us walk honestly, as in the day; not in rioting and drunkenness.' 'Be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God.'-Eph. v. 18; Rom. xiii. 13; 1 Cor. vi. 9, 10. The same apostle likewise condemns drunkenness, as peculiarly inconsistent with the Christian profession: "They that be drunken are drunken in the night: but let us, who are of the day, be sober;' 1 Thess. v. 7, 8. We are not concerned
with the argument; the words amount to a prohibition of drunkenness; and the authority is conclusive.
It is a question of some importance, how far drunkenness is an excuse for the crimes which the drunken person commits.
In the solution of this question, we will first suppose the drunken person to be altogether deprived of moral agency; that is to say, of all reflection and foresight. In this condition, it is evident that he is no more capable of guilt than a madman ; although, like him, he may be extremely mischievous. The only guilt with which he is chargeable, was incurred at the time when he voluntarily brought himself into this situation. And as every man is responsible for the consequences which he foresaw, or might have foreseen, and for no other, this guilt will be in proportion to the probability of such consequences ensuing. From which principle results the following rule :-viz., that the guilt of any action in a drunken man bears the same proportion to the guilt of the like action in a sober man, that the probability of its being the consequence of drunkenness bears to absolute certainty. By virtue of this rule, those vices which are the known effects of drunkenness, either in general, or upon particular constitutions, are in all, or in men of such constitutions, nearly as criminal as if committed with all their faculties and senses about them.
If the privation of reason be only partial, the guilt will be of a mixed nature. For so much of his self-government as the drunkard retains, he is as responsible then as at any other time. He is entitled to no abatement beyond the strict proportion in which his moral faculties are impaired. Now I call the guilt of the crime, if a sober man had committed it, the whole guilt. A person in the condition we describe, incurs part of this at the instant of perpetration; and by bringing himself into such a condition, he incurred that fraction of the remaining part, which the danger of this consequence was of an integral certainty. For the sake of illustration, we are at liberty to suppose, that a man loses half his moral faculties by drunkenness; this leaving him but half his responsibility, he incurs, when he commits the action, half of the whole guilt. We will also suppose that it was known beforehand, that it was an even chance, or half a certainty, that this crime would follow his getting drunk. This makes him chargeable with half of the remainder; so that, altogether, he is responsible in three-fourths of the guilt which a sober man would have incurred by the same action.
I do not mean that any real case can be reduced to numbers, or the calculation be ever made with arithmetical precision; but these are the principles, and this the rule, by which our