The Pursuit of Happiness and the Impulse of the Law of Life
As mentioned previously, in ancient times God allowed the Kings chief authority within the political realm to exercise the Rights. This was only because the majority of people werenâ€™t qualified to do so because they werenâ€™t educated. Greece and Rome were exceptions to this lack of education and thus were able to rule themselves which is why Paul said they are a law unto themselves.
â€œWhen Gentiles who have not the
law do by nature what the law requires, they are a law to themselves,
even though they do not have the law.â€ Saint Paul (Epistle to
the Romans 2:14)
In writing they â€œare a law to themselvesâ€ Paul did not mean they were free to do whatever they wanted, he was not speaking of anarchy and lawlessness, nor of oligarchy, but of natural law and the legal system of representative government borrowed by the Roman Empire from the Greeks. The principle at the core of their law was that of the right to life and more: a life worth living.
The inspiration for this came from their earliest philosophers who, in their devotion to The Wisdom sought far and wide for all books of Wisdom.
â€œ… The philosophers of ancient times received their knowledge from the Prophets Who were the Wellsprings of the Divine Philosophy and the manifestations of the heavenly mysteries. Some among the people attained unto the pure and clear water of Their utterances, while others imbibed only the dregs; everyone receiving his share in accordance with his own capacity â€“ verily God is the Equitable, the Wise.â€ Bahaâ€™uâ€™llah (The Lawá¸¥-i-á¸¤ikmat, translation modified from Baha’i Scriptures #314-15)
Thus the Greek philosophers would certainly have discovered the eighth chapter of The Proverbs in which Wisdom declares:
â€œI am Wisdom, abiding in the Will, and I call forth inquiry and reflection. The Fear of the Lord hates unrighteousness. Pride and arrogance and the way of evil and perverted speech I hate. Decision is mine, Infallibility is mine, Intention is mine, Power is mine. By me kings reign, and rulers decree what is just; by me princes rule, and nobles govern the earth. I love those who love me, and those who diligently seek me, find me.â€
Through the depth of their inquiry the Greek philosophers grasped the implicit meaning and through Reason they applied this knowledge in the secular world.
Thus did Heraclitus declare: â€œAll human laws are fed by the one Divine law.â€
The influence of Scripture continued with Socrates, Plato and Aristotle and its efflorescence in their philosophical thought led to the Hellenistic period of Greek cultural influence and power leading to the peak of its rule as Empire. In adopting these structures the Roman Republic rose to prominence afterwards.
Then, during the period of the Eastern
and Western Christian Empires the development of Christian thought
arrived at the same conclusion and it was gradually established that
since at the core of all rights is life itself and that as that life
comes from God â€“ the Creator of Life, that therefore all human law
and all human rights originally come from God. Finally this was
enshrined* as a firm principle of law in the Declaration of
â€œWe hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.â€
The reason the founding fathers of America were able to perceive the law so astutely and courageously was firstly because of their firm belief in God and secondly because they received an education vastly superior to that received by the average American citizen today. This was the â€œclassicalâ€ educational tradition which taught Latin, Greek etc. and the classical texts of these languages. Thus many of them, perhaps all, had studied Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, etc. and of course, the history of civilizations. They were most certainly critical thinkers. Most of them also, having studied the law, were familiar with Blackstone’s Commentaries.
In â€œOf the Nature of Laws in Generalâ€ (the second section of his commentary on the law) Blackstone wrote that man â€œshould pursue his own true and substantial happinessâ€. A study of his explanation of the concept reasonably establishes that the intended meaning of â€œthe pursuit of happinessâ€ in the Declaration of Independence was that aim which Blackstone described as â€œbeing blessed by the laws of eternal justiceâ€.
In his discussion of law Blackstone initially mentioned the scientific laws of motion writing that when God created matter He: â€œput that matter into motion, he established certain laws of motion, to which all moveable bodies must conformâ€ explaining furthermore that motion, that is â€“ action, in vegetable and animal life is also â€œgoverned by lawsâ€.
From this we can understand that the same creative force which set all inanimate creation in motion also moves in living creatures. The Will of God â€œBe! and it is!â€** in living creatures is that they not only exist but that they have a living existence caused by the animating force of life.
Thus, in relation to a living being, the law of motion is the activity of life â€“ the pursuit or quest to live. This quest or pursuit has been called self-preservation but it might better be called the â€œimpulse to liveâ€ â€“ a natural force at the core of every living being. Natural law governs success in pursuing that life, that is, whether or not the action will be beneficial to that goal is determined by its degree of harmony with that law.
Blackstone went on to explain that â€œ â€¦ as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his maker’s will.â€
This concept rests upon the understanding that life didn’t create itself, for when it was not yet alive it was not invested with any creative power and thus could not have had any power to create and that therefore the force that created it, giving it the impulse of life, was the Creative Force, the power of the Creator.
Furthermore, we understand that since the Will of God to create is what sets creation in motion, therefore creation’s continued state of motion*** is intrinsically connected to its being in harmony with that Will.
Thus, Blackstone stated that â€œThis will of his maker is called the law of natureâ€ and that when God created matter He â€œ â€¦ endued it with a principle of mobilityâ€ and â€œestablished certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion …” Using this as an analogy to demonstrate that, “… so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.â€
From this we can understand that the Will of God â€œBe! and it is!â€ in human creatures is initially that not only would we live but that we would have a human life caused by the humanizing force of reason. Feelings of discontent and lack of fulfillment are mostly due to our lack of harmony with (and even abusive use of) this creative force at the core of our humanity.
Freewill, being the capacity to choose actions which might not be in harmony with the Will of Life, must be guided by the law and by reason so as to avoid that lack of harmony which causes injury both to animate and to humane life.****
The only restriction upon man’s freewill is that it must be in harmony with the law of God. Through reason, we can understand and apply this law and the necessary restrictions it creates at the level of human interactions in the world. The purpose is that we should have not merely the life of an animal but that we should have a humane life.
The Founding Fathers were fully cognizant that freewill is thus the freedom to pursue that inner motion, the motivation at the heart of man as a living being â€“ the impulse to live, and that the purpose of lawful restrictions upon that freedom would only be to the extent that those laws foster a humane life, a life worth living, life as a truly human being.
In Blackstone’s explanation of the law he declares concerning the pursuit of true human happiness that the Creator:
â€œ â€¦ has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter. In consequence of which mutual connection of justice and human felicity, he has â€¦ graciously reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept, â€˜that man should pursue his own true and substantial happiness.â€™ This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural law â€¦â€ (William Blackstone, Commentaries on the Laws of England, 2nd Section, Of the Nature of Laws in General)*****
From discussion of ideas such as this the founding fathers understood not only that God has endowed us with life, with the impulse to live â€“ that is, the desire to preserve that life, and not only with freewill to pursue that impulse, but also with the ability to Reason and therefore that all true human rights stem from this and are likewise endowed by the Creator.
*John Adams characterized the day of its adoption as: â€œthe Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almightyâ€.
***Creation is constantly in motion from the highest planes of existence right down to the sub-atomic levels. Even at the inanimate level creation did not come into existence via a static state nor does it continue to exist in a static state.
**** As witnessed with atomic technologies, this disharmony has even caused injury at the inanimate level of creation. The fact that its pollution is invisible doesn’t qualify it as â€œclean energyâ€.
*****The context of this was Blackstoneâ€™s statement that by â€œlawâ€ is meant â€œthe precepts by which man â€¦ a creature endowed with both reason and freewill, is commanded to make use of those faculties in the general regulation of his behavior.â€ [That] â€œâ€¦ as man depends absolutely upon his maker for every thing, it is necessary that he should in all points conform to his makerâ€™s will. This will of his maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws.â€ [God] â€œ â€¦ has laid down only such laws as were founded in those relations of justice, that existed in the nature of things antecedent to any positive precept. These are the eternal, immutable laws of good and evil, to which the creator himself in all his dispensations conforms; and which he has enabled human reason to discover, so far as they are necessary for the conduct of human actions. Such among others are these principles: that we should live honestly, should hurt nobody, and should render to every one itâ€™s due; to which three general precepts Justinian has reduced the whole doctrine of law.â€ [That God] â€œ â€¦ has so intimately connected, so inseparably interwoven the laws of eternal justice with the happiness of each individual, that the latter cannot be attained but by observing the former; and, if the former be punctually obeyed, it cannot but induce the latter. â€¦ In consequence of which mutual connection of justice and human felicity, he has â€¦ graciously reduced the rule of obedience to this one paternal precept, â€˜that man should pursue his own true and substantial happiness.â€™ This is the foundation of what we call ethics, or natural law â€¦ justly concluding that the performance of it is a part of the law of nature; or, on the other hand, that this or that action is destructive of man’s real happiness, and therefore that the law of nature forbids it.â€ [Also that] â€œThis law of nature, being co-eval with mankind and dictated by God himself, is of course superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times: no human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their force, and all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original. â€¦ Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these.â€ William Blackstone, 1765 â€“ (Section the Second: Of the Nature of Laws in General, Commentaries on the Laws of England)
The full text can be found at: