Charles A. Kent


Legal ethics is a branch of general ethics. Some consideration of the latter is necessary to an understanding of the former. It is a fundamental fact that men generally, if not all sane men, distinguish certain courses of conduct as right and wrong; just as they say particular objects are beautiful and others ugly. They feel a duty to do some things and to refrain from others. If savages do not feel distinctly the sense of duty, at least they are indignant at certain conduct in their associates, and approve of other acts, on moral grounds. This sense of duty is based on a belief in freedom, or the power to choose one line of action rather than another. We have no feeling of obligation as to conduct which is felt to be impossible. But the sense of duty is imperative as to all moral conduct. There can be no justification for not doing the right. Circumstances may change our duty, but so long as an act remains a duty, there can be no full excuse for its non-performance. The belief, that as to some things we are free and accountable for our conduct, is practically universal. All language on moral questions, all the rules of government and society, and all international law are based on this belief. It is more than doubtful whether any doctrine of determinism ever convinced any man of the contrary.