"so long as the interest of the whole society requires it, that is, so long as the established government cannot be resisted or changed without public inconveniency, it is the will of God that the established government be obeyed, and no longer" — "This principle being admitted, the justice of every particular case of resistance is reduced to a computation of the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side, and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other."

Does it mean "fair" or "the process of using laws to fairly judge and punish crimes"? How to understand the sentence?


This is pretty archaic English, and it's academic writing at that. I dare say that William Paley didn't much care whether his writing was easy to read in 1833, and that makes it doubly-hard now.

The earlier paragraph is arguing that, if a government cannot actually be overthrown, that it is the will of God that the government be obeyed.

In the phrase you're asking about, he has taken this idea to a next logical step. Is resisting the government moral? He says there is a test: whether an act of resistance is morally correct or not ("The justice of every particular case of resistance...") can only be determined ("is reduced to a computation") by measuring how dangerous it is to resist ("the quantity of the danger and grievance on the one side,") against the chances of success against the government ("and of the probability and expense of redressing it on the other.")

In effect I believe he is arguing that, since the whole world follows God's will, an act of resistance to the government is moral only if it succeeds, and immoral if it fails.

  • Can I understand as "justice = moral = the government should be resisted" and "injustice = immoral = the government shouldn't be resisted"?
    – Leon Zero
    May 10 '17 at 16:28
  • No, it's more like "justice = moral", but moral can be either to resist or to not resist. If I fully understand his argument, then moral by his standard would normally be "the government shouldn't be resisted". He basically says, "if you ultimately won, then you were morally right, and if you ultimately lost, then you were morally wrong." Basically, God wouldn't allow it to go the wrong way, so you can see which way it went to figure out whether it was good or not.
    – Ben I.
    May 10 '17 at 16:52

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.