Laws in their most general signification, are the
necessary relations derived from the nature of things. In this sense all
beings have their laws, the Deity has his laws, the material world its
laws, the intelligencies superior to man have their laws, the beasts
their laws, man his laws.
Those who assert that a blind fatality produced the
various effects we behold in this World, are guilty of a very great
absurdity; for can any thing be more absurd than to pretend that a blind
fatality could be productive of intelligent beings?
There is then a primitive reason; and laws are the
relations which subsist between it and different beings, and the
relations of these beings among themselves.
God is related to the universe as creator and preserver;
the laws by which he has created all things, are those by which he
preserves them. He acts according to these rules because he knows them;
he knows them because he has made them; and he made them because they
are relative to his wisdom and power.
As we see that the world, tho' formed by the motion of
matter, and void of understanding, subsists notwithstanding thro' so
long a succession of ages, its motions must certainly be directed by
invariable laws: and could we imagine another world, it must also have
constant rules, or must inevitably perish.
Thus the creation which seems an arbitrary act,
supposeth laws as invariable as those of the fatality of the Atheists.
It would be absurd to say, that the Creator might govern the world
without those rules, since without them it could not subsist. These
rules are a fixt and invariable relation...
But the intelligent world is far from being so well
governed as the physical. For tho' the former has also its laws which of
their own nature are invariable, yet it does not conform to them so
exactly as the physical world. This is because on the one hand
particular intelligent beings are of a finite nature and consequently
liable to error; and on the other, their nature requires them to be free
agents. Hence they do not steadily conform to their primitive laws; and
even those of their own instituting they frequently infringe...
Man, as a physical being, is, like other bodies,
governed by invariable laws. As an intelligent being, he incessantly
transgresses the laws established by God, and changes those which he
himself has established. He is left to his own direction, tho' he is a
limited being, subject like all finite intelligences, to ignorance and
error; even the imperfect knowledge he has, he loses as a sensible
creature, and is hurried away by a thousand impetuous passions. Such a
being might every instant forget his Creator; God has therefore reminded
him of his duty by the laws of religion. Such a being is liable every
moment to forget himself; philosophy has provided against this by the
laws of morality. Formed to live in society, he might forget his fellow
creatures; legislators have therefore by political and civil laws
confined him to his duty.*
*Charles-Louis de Secondat, baron de la Brede et de
Montesquieu, The Spirit of Laws, Dublin edition of 1751, Book I.,
Chapter I., pp 1-4.