The Ruins HTML version

Part II, Chapter 11
Q. Explain how the social virtues are derived from the law of nature. How is charity or
the love of one's neighbor a precept and application of it?
A. By reason of equality and reciprocity; for when we injure another, we give him a right
to injure us in return; thus, by attacking the existence of our neighbor, we endanger our
own, from the effect of reciprocity; on the other hand, by doing good to others, we have
room and right to expect an equivalent exchange; and such is the character of all social
virtues, that they are useful to the man who practises them, by the right of reciprocity
which they give him over those who are benefited by them.
Q. Charity is then nothing but justice?
A. No: it is only justice; with this slight difference, that strict justice confines itself to
saying, "Do not to another the harm you would not wish he should do to you;" and that
charity, or the love of one's neighbor, extends so far as to say, "Do to another the good
which you would wish to receive from him." Thus when the gospel said, that this precept
contained the whole of the law and the prophets, it announced nothing more than the
precept of the law of nature.
Q. Does it enjoin forgiveness of injuries?
A. Yes, when that forgiveness implies self-preservation.
Q. Does it prescribe to us, after having received a blow on one cheek, to hold out the
A. No; for it is, in the first place, contrary to the precept of loving our neighbor as
ourselves, since thereby we should love, more than ourselves, him who makes an attack
on our preservation. Secondly, such a precept in its literal sense, encourages the wicked
to oppression and injustice. The law of nature has been more wise in prescribing a
calculated proportion of courage and moderation, which induces us to forget a first or
unpremediated injury, but which punishes every act tending to oppression.
Q. Does the law of nature prescribe to do good to others beyond the bounds of reason and
A. No; for it is a sure way of leading them to ingratitude. Such is the force of sentiment
and justice implanted in the heart of man, that he is not even grateful for benefits
conferred without discretion. There is only one measure with them, and that is to be just.
Q. Is alms-giving a virtuous action?