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self-defence; also the confideration of drunkenness and suicide, as offences against that care of our faculties, and preservation of our person, which we account duties, and call duties to ourJelves.
CHAP CH A P. 1.
THE RIGHTS OF SELF-DEFENCE,
T 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. this I doubt; because I doubt whether the general rule be worth sustaining at such an expence; 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 perinyworth of his property. Ne. vertheless, 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 reliftance.
However, this right, if it exist in a state of nature, is suspended by the establishment of civil fociety; because thereby other remedies are provided against attacks upon our property, and because it is neceslary to the peace and safety of the community, that the prevention, punithment, and redress of injuries be adjulted by public laws. Moreover, as the individual is aslifted 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 hould submit to public arbitration, the kind as weil 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 neceffary for our preservation to kill the affäilint. This is evident in a state of nature ; unless it can be shewn, that we are bound to prefer the aggreffor’s life to our own, that is to say, to love our ene ny better than ourselves, which can never be a debt of justice, nor any where appears to be a duty of charity. Nor is the cale altered by our living in civil society; bicaue, by the fuppofition, the laws of society cannot interpose to proteż us, nor by the nature of the cale compel refitution. This liberty is
refirained 1. To
restrained to cases, in which no other probable means of preserving vur 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 siņking 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 perilh ; 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 feldom, 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 authorized by the law of the land; and the person who takes it away, as in the situation of a minister or exe
, cutioner of the law.
In which vie:v, homicide, in England, is justifiable : B 3
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 day-time : which particular diftin&ion, by a consent of legislation that is remarkable, obtained also in the Jervish 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 beside thole 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.