Illustrations of the Tao

To forestall the inevitable tedium of repeating what should be a well known idea among all literate men, allow me to quote some examples of what philosopher’s call Natural Law, or Objective Morality.

The examples here are not being used to prove the maxims given. It is not being argued, for example, that merely because all literate races of man extol generosity and excoriate adultery that generosity is good and adultery is bad.

The examples are merely offered to establish the phenomenon to be explained, namely, that men of every culture and age agree on the moral principles, even if they disagree on how those principles are to be applied.

If morality were manmade, as positive law is, or as writing systems are, then they were differ as positive law codes differ, or differ as much as cuneiform differs from runes or hieroglyphs or ideographs or alphabets. But what we have here is a collection of statements, some originally written in runes or alphabets or hieroglyphs or ideograms, which all express the same few moral imperatives in different words. That indicates that this part of the moral law of man is not manmade but natural. Hence it is called Natural Law.

Myself, I would argue that the moral laws exists in the human heart due to the intention of the supernatural creator of man, who also has the authority to command obedience to them, and the power to disseminate these laws instantaneously at creation into every rational spirit. However, other theories can be argued as well. What cannot be argued is that there is no phenomenon to be explained by any theory, no agreement on the natural moral code.

The words below are those of CS Lewis.

Illustrations of the Tao

The following illustrations of the Natural Law are collected from such sources as come readily to the hand of one who is not a professional historian. The list makes no pretence of completeness. It will be noticed that writers such as Locke and Hooker, who wrote within the Christian tradition, are quoted side by side with the New Testament. This would, of course, be absurd if I were trying to collect independent testimonies to the Tao. But (1) I am not trying to prove its validity by the argument from common consent. Its validity cannot be deduced. For those who do not perceive its rationality, even universal consent could not prove it. (2) The idea of collecting independent testimonies presupposes that ‘civilizations’ have arisen in the world independently of one another; or even that humanity has had several independent emergences on this planet. The biology and anthropology involved in such an assumption are extremely doubtful. It is by no means certain that there has ever (in the sense required) been more than one civilization in all history. It is at least arguable that every civilization we find has been derived from another civilization and, in the last resort, from a single centre—’carried’ like an infectious disease or like the Apostolical succession.

I. The Law of General Beneficence

(a) NEGATIVE

‘I have not slain men.’ (Ancient Egyptian. From the Confession of the Righteous Soul, ‘Book of the Dead’, v. Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics [= ERE], vol. v, p. 478)

‘Do not murder.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:13)

‘Terrify not men or God will terrify thee.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Precepts of Ptahhetep. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. i3}n)

‘In Nastrond (= Hell) I saw… murderers.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 38, 39)

‘I have not brought misery upon my fellows. I have not made the beginning of every day laborious in the sight of him who worked for me.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘I have not been grasping.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Ibid.) ‘Who meditates oppression, his dwelling is overturned.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

‘He who is cruel and calumnious has the character of a cat.’ (Hindu. Laws of Manu. Janet, Histoire de la Science Politique, vol. i, p. 6)

‘Slander not.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)

‘Utter not a word by which anyone could be wounded.’ (Hindu. Janet, p. 7)

‘Has he … driven an honest man from his family? broken up a well cemented clan?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins from incantation tablets. ERE v. 446)

‘I have not caused hunger. I have not caused weeping.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 478)

‘Never do to others what you would not like them to do to you.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects of Confucius, trans. A. Waley, xv. 23; cf. xii. 2)

‘Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thy heart.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:17)

‘He whose heart is in the smallest degree set upon goodness will dislike no one.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, iv. 4)

(b) POSITIVE

‘Nature urges that a man should wish human society to exist and should wish to enter it.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Officiis, i. iv)

‘By the fundamental Law of Nature Man [is] to be preserved as much as possible.’ (Locke, Treatises of Civil Govt. ii. 3)

‘When the people have multiplied, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Enrich them. Jan Ch’iu said, When one has enriched them, what next should be done for them? The Master said, Instruct them.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, xiii. 9)

‘Speak kindness … show good will.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

‘Men were brought into existence for the sake of men that they might do one another good.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. vii)

‘Man is man’s delight.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 47)

‘He who is asked for alms should always give.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 7)

‘What good man regards any misfortune as no concern of his?’ (Roman. Juvenal xv. 140)

‘I am a man: nothing human is alien to me.’ (Roman. Terence, Heaut. Tim.)

‘Love thy neighbour as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:18)

‘Love the stranger as thyself.’ (Ancient Jewish. Ibid. 33, 34)

‘Do to men what you wish men to do to you.’ (Christian. Matthew 7:12)

2. The Law of Special Beneficence

‘It is upon the trunk that a gentleman works. When that is firmly set up, the Way grows. And surely proper behaviour to parents and elder brothers is the trunk of goodness.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 2)

‘Brothers shall fight and be each others’ bane.’ (Old Norse. Account of the Evil Age before the World’s end, Volospá 45)

‘Has he insulted his elder sister?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

‘You will see them take care of their kindred [and] the children of their friends … never reproaching them in the least.’ (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437)

‘Love thy wife studiously. Gladden her heart all thy life long.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)

‘Nothing can ever change the claims of kinship for a right thinking man.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2600)

‘Did not Socrates love his own children, though he did so as a free man and as one not forgetting that the gods have the first claim on our friendship?’ (Greek, Epictetus, iii. 24)

‘Natural affection is a thing right and according to Nature.’ (Greek. Ibid. i. xi)

‘I ought not to be unfeeling like a statue but should fulfil both my natural and artificial relations, as a worshipper, a son, a brother, a father, and a citizen.’ (Greek. Ibid. 111. ii)

‘This first I rede thee: be blameless to thy kindred. Take no vengeance even though they do thee wrong.’ (Old Norse. Sigdrifumál, 22)

‘Is it only the sons of Atreus who love their wives? For every good man, who is right-minded, loves and cherishes his own.’ (Greek. Homer, Iliad, ix. 340)

‘The union and fellowship of men will be best preserved if each receives from us the more kindness in proportion as he is more closely connected with us.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. xvi)

‘Part of us is claimed by our country, part by our parents, part by our friends.’ (Roman. Ibid. i. vii)

‘If a ruler … compassed the salvation of the whole state, surely you would call him Good? The Master said, It would no longer be a matter of “Good”. He would without doubt be a Divine Sage.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, vi. 28)

‘Has it escaped you that, in the eyes of gods and good men, your native land deserves from you more honour, worship, and reverence than your mother and father and all your ancestors? That you should give a softer answer to its anger than to a father’s anger? That if you cannot persuade it to alter its mind you must obey it in all quietness, whether it binds you or beats you or sends you to a war where you may get wounds or death?’ (Greek. Plato, Crito, 51, a, b)

‘If any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith.’ (Christian. I Timothy 5:8)

‘Put them in mind to obey magistrates.’… ‘I exhort that prayers be made for kings and all that are in authority.’ (Christian. Titus 3:1 and I Timothy 2:1, 2)

3. Duties to Parents, Elders, Ancestors

‘Your father is an image of the Lord of Creation, your mother an image of the Earth. For him who fails to honour them, every work of piety is in vain. This is the first duty.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 9)

‘Has he despised Father and Mother?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

‘I was a staff by my Father’s side … I went in and out at his command.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 481)

‘Honour thy Father and thy Mother.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:12)

‘To care for parents.’ (Greek. List of duties in Epictetus, in. vii)

‘Children, old men, the poor, and the sick, should be considered as the lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘Rise up before the hoary head and honour the old man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:32)

‘I tended the old man, I gave him my staff.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 481)

‘You will see them take care … of old men.’ (Redskin. Le Jeune, quoted ERE v. 437)

‘I have not taken away the oblations of the blessed dead.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘When proper respect towards the dead is shown at the end and continued after they are far away, the moral force (tê) of a people has reached its highest point.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 9)

4. Duties to Children and Posterity

‘Children, the old, the poor, etc. should be considered as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘To marry and to beget children.’ (Greek. List of duties. Epictetus, in. vii)

‘Can you conceive an Epicurean commonwealth? . . . What will happen? Whence is the population to be kept up? Who will educate them? Who will be Director of Adolescents? Who will be Director of Physical Training? What will be taught?’ (Greek. Ibid.)

‘Nature produces a special love of offspring’ and ‘To live according to Nature is the supreme good.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv, and De Legibus, i. xxi)

‘The second of these achievements is no less glorious than the first; for while the first did good on one occasion, the second will continue to benefit the state for ever.’ (Roman. Cicero. De Off. i. xxii)

‘Great reverence is owed to a child.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xiv. 47)

‘The Master said, Respect the young.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, ix. 22)

‘The killing of the women and more especially of the young boys and girls who are to go to make up the future strength of the people, is the saddest part… and we feel it very sorely.’ (Redskin. Account of the Battle of Wounded Knee. ERE v. 432)

5. The Law of Justice

(a) SEXUAL JUSTICE

‘Has he approached his neighbour’s wife?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

‘Thou shalt not commit adultery.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:14)

‘I saw in Nastrond (= Hell)… beguilers of others’ wives.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 38, 39)

(b) HONESTY

‘Has he drawn false boundaries?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

‘To wrong, to rob, to cause to be robbed.’ (Babylonian. Ibid.)

‘I have not stolen.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘Thou shalt not steal.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:15)

‘Choose loss rather than shameful gains.’ (Greek. Chilon Fr. 10. Diels)

‘Justice is the settled and permanent intention of rendering to each man his rights.’ (Roman. Justinian, Institutions, I. i)

‘If the native made a “find” of any kind (e.g., a honey tree) and marked it, it was thereafter safe for him, as far as his own tribesmen were concerned, no matter how long he left it.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 441)

‘The first point of justice is that none should do any mischief to another unless he has first been attacked by the other’s wrongdoing. The second is that a man should treat common property as common property, and private property as his own. There is no such thing as private property by nature, but things have become private either through prior occupation (as when men of old came into empty territory) or by conquest, or law, or agreement, or stipulation, or casting lots.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)

(c) JUSTICE IN COURT, &C.

‘Whoso takes no bribe … well pleasing is this to Samas.’ (Babylonian. ERE v. 445)

‘I have not traduced the slave to him who is set over him.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.’ (Ancient Jewish. Exodus 20:16)

‘Regard him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not.’ (Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 482)

‘Do no unrighteousness in judgement. You must not consider the fact that one party is poor nor the fact that the other is a great man.’ (Ancient Jewish. Leviticus 19:15)

6. The Law of Good Faith and Veracity

‘A sacrifice is obliterated by a lie and the merit of alms by an act of fraud.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 6)

‘Whose mouth, full of lying, avails not before thee: thou burnest their utterance.’ (Babylonian. Hymn to Samas. ERE v. 445)

‘With his mouth was he full of Yea, in his heart full of Nay? (Babylonian. ERE v. 446)

‘I have not spoken falsehood.’ (Ancient Egyptian. Confession of the Righteous Soul. ERE v. 478)

‘I sought no trickery, nor swore false oaths.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2738)

‘The Master said, Be of unwavering good faith.’ (Ancient

Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)

‘In Nastrond (= Hell) I saw the perjurers.’ (Old Norse. Volospá 39)

‘Hateful to me as are the gates of Hades is that man who says one thing, and hides another in his heart.’ (Greek. Homer. Iliad, ix. 312)

‘The foundation of justice is good faith.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i.vii)

‘[The gentleman] must learn to be faithful to his superiors and to keep promises.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, i. 8)

‘Anything is better than treachery.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál 124)

7. The Law of Mercy

‘The poor and the sick should be regarded as lords of the atmosphere.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘Whoso makes intercession for the weak, well pleasing is this to Samas.’ (Babylonian. ERE v. 445)

‘Has he failed to set a prisoner free?’ (Babylonian. List of Sins. ERE v. 446)

‘I have given bread to the hungry, water to the thirsty, clothes to the naked, a ferry boat to the boatless.’

(Ancient Egyptian. ERE v. 446)

‘One should never strike a woman; not even with a flower.’ (Hindu. Janet, i. 8)

‘There, Thor, you got disgrace, when you beat women.’ (Old Norse. Hárbarthsljóth 38)

‘In the Dalebura tribe a woman, a cripple from birth, was carried about by the tribes-people in turn until her death at the age of sixty-six.’… ‘They never desert the sick.’ (Australian Aborigines. ERE v. 443)

‘You will see them take care of… widows, orphans, and old men, never reproaching them.’ (Redskin. ERE v. 439)

‘Nature confesses that she has given to the human race the tenderest hearts, by giving us the power to weep. This is the best part of us.’ (Roman. Juvenal, xv. 131)

‘They said that he had been the mildest and gentlest of the kings of the world.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Praise of the hero in Beowulf, 3180)

‘When thou cuttest down thine harvest… and hast forgot a sheaf… thou shalt not go again to fetch it: it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow.’ (Ancient Jewish. Deuteronomy 24:19)

8. The Law of Magnanimity

(a)

‘There are two kinds of injustice: the first is found in those who do an injury, the second in those who fail to protect another from injury when they can.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. I. vii)

‘Men always knew that when force and injury was offered they might be defenders of themselves; they knew that howsoever men may seek their own commodity, yet if this were done with injury unto others it was not to be suffered, but by all men and by all good means to be withstood.’ (English. Hooker, Laws of Eccl. Polity, I. ix. 4)

‘To take no notice of a violent attack is to strengthen the heart of the enemy. Vigour is valiant, but cowardice is vile.’ (Ancient Egyptian. The Pharaoh Senusert III, cit. H. R. Hall, Ancient History of the Near East, p. 161)

‘They came to the fields of joy, the fresh turf of the Fortunate Woods and the dwellings of the Blessed . . . here was the company of those who had suffered wounds fighting for their fatherland.’ (Roman. Virgil, Aeneid, vi. 638-9, 660)

‘Courage has got to be harder, heart the stouter, spirit the sterner, as our strength weakens. Here lies our lord, cut to pieces, out best man in the dust. If anyone thinks of leaving this battle, he can howl forever.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Maldon, 312)

‘Praise and imitate that man to whom, while life is pleasing, death is not grievous.’ (Stoic. Seneca, Ep. liv)

‘The Master said, Love learning and if attacked be ready to die for the Good Way.’ (Ancient Chinese. Analects, viii. 13)

(b)

‘Death is to be chosen before slavery and base deeds.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i, xxiii)

‘Death is better for every man than life with shame.’ (Anglo-Saxon. Beowulf, 2890)

‘Nature and Reason command that nothing uncomely, nothing effeminate, nothing lascivious be done or thought.’ (Roman. Cicero, De Off. i. iv)

‘We must not listen to those who advise us “being men to think human thoughts, and being mortal to think mortal thoughts,” but must put on immortality as much as is possible and strain every nerve to live according to that best part of us, which, being small in bulk, yet much more in its power and honour surpasses all else.’ (Ancient Greek. Aristotle, Eth. Nic. 1177 B)

‘The soul then ought to conduct the body, and the spirit of our minds the soul. This is therefore the first Law, whereby the highest power of the mind requireth obedience at the hands of all the rest.’ (Hooker, op. cit. i. viii. 6)

‘Let him not desire to die, let him not desire to live, let him wait for his time … let him patiently bear hard words, entirely abstaining from bodily pleasures.’ (Ancient Indian. Laws of Manu. ERE ii. 98)

‘He who is unmoved, who has restrained his senses … is said to be devoted. As a flame in a windless place that flickers not, so is the devoted.’ (Ancient Indian. Bhagavad gita. ERE ii 90)

(c)

‘Is not the love of Wisdom a practice of death?’ (Ancient Greek. Plato, Phadeo, 81 A)

‘I know that I hung on the gallows for nine nights, wounded with the spear as a sacrifice to Odin, myself offered to Myself.’ (Old Norse. Hávamál, I. 10 in Corpus Poeticum Boreale; stanza 139 in Hildebrand’s Lieder der Älteren Edda. 1922)

‘Verily, verily I say to you unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone, but if it dies it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it.’ (Christian. John 12:24,25)

6 Comments

  1. Comment by R_Flaum:

    Missed this when you first posted it. I do think that we must be operating off of different definitions of objective and subjective — to me, if something is inherent in the human mind from birth… well, that sounds like the very epitome of what I think of when I hear the word “subjective”. To be objective, something must be either directly observed through the senses, or deducible from what is directly observed (and, yes, there is a certain minimal set of axioms that are necessary to reason at all, which you also have to start from).

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      By your definition, logic is subjective, and the things you yourself see from your vantage point of the particular location in which you happen to reside are objective. So, by your definition, saying “A is A” is subjective, but saying,
      “The moon is smaller than the quarter I hold before my eye” is objective.

      While there is some leeway in how different people define the nuances of words where the words are ambiguous, there is no leeway in this case. You are using the words in the exact opposite of their real meanings.

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      By your definition, logic is subjective, and the things you yourself see from your vantage point of the particular location in which you happen to reside are objective. So, by your definition, saying “A is A” is subjective, but saying,
      “The moon is smaller than the quarter I hold before my eye” is objective.

      While there is some leeway in how different people define the nuances of words where the words are ambiguous, there is no leeway in this case. You are using the words in the exact opposite of their real meanings.

      Definition of SUBJECTIVE
      1: of, relating to, or constituting a subject: as
      —a (obsolete) : of, relating to, or characteristic of one that is a subject especially in lack of freedom of action or in submissiveness
      —b : being or relating to a grammatical subject; especially : nominative

      2: of or relating to the essential being of that which has substance, qualities, attributes, or relations

      3
      a : characteristic of or belonging to reality as perceived rather than as independent of mind : phenomenal
      b : relating to or being experience or knowledge as conditioned by personal mental characteristics or states

      4
      —a -(1) : peculiar to a particular individual : personal (subjective judgments) -(2) : modified or affected by personal views, experience, or background (a subjective account of the incident)
      —b : arising from conditions within the brain or sense organs and not directly caused by external stimuli (subjective sensations)
      —c : arising out of or identified by means of one’s perception of one’s own states and processes (a subjective symptom of disease)

      5 : lacking in reality or substance : illusory

  2. Comment by Indagare:

    *sighs* Now, if only people would do it…

    • Comment by John C Wright:

      The problem is that they cannot. The fundamental division in our current civilization is between those with the belief that the human race cannot obey the natural law of morality, and those that believe that a properly regulated society could encourage or force such obedience. The first group looks for supernatural aid, since that is the only alternative aside from stark despair. The second group steadfastly ignores the lessons of history, and believes that the elimination of private property in whole or in part, or the elimination of masculine and feminine roles in society in whole or part, or the reformation of language to avoid divisive pronouns, or the elimination of inequalities of outcome in hiring practices and incomes between the races, or the elimination of pollution, or the elimination of the idea of mankind as separate from and superior to other animals, or half a dozen other fundamentally flawed and stupid ideas, will cure the original sin of man and usher in a Utopia.

      I will not hide the fact that I regard the first group as rational, with a good grasp of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature, and the second as irrational, and deliberately so.

      Oddly, these Utopian ideals have not changed since the days when Plato penned his REPUBLIC, nor have any of the idealists overcome, or even answered, the objections raised by Aristotle to the scheme, or even acknowledged that the objections exist. Hence, the primary mission of those who believe in the utopian project is maintain the paradox of pretending they are well-read and highly intelligent, while at the same time being semi-illiterate when it comes to any literature outside the writings of their fellow true believers. In this I see the fundamental irrationality of the utopians: they worship the intellect but do not use it, or not honestly.

  3. Ping from What is the true religion - Page 6 - Religious Education Forum:

    [...] the devil! seriously though, we all know the difference between good and evil – read through this: Illustrations of the Tao | John C. Wright's Journal We all adhere to basically the same morals, we are all directed by the same God. [...]

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