Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation

Jeremy Bentham

Chapter VII, Footnote #02
Acts of omission

The distinction between positive and negative acts runs through the whole system of offences, and sometimes makes a material difference with regard to their consequences. To reconcile us the better to the extensive and, as it may appear on some occasions, the inconsistent signification here given to the word act, it may be considered, 1. That in many cases, where no exterior or overt act is exercised, the state which the mind is in at the time when the supposed act is said to happen, is as truly and directly the result of the will, as any exterior act, how plain and conspicuous soever. The not revealing a conspiracy, for instance, may be as perfectly the act of the will, as the joining in it. In the next place, that even though the mind should never have had the incident in question in contemplation (insomuch that the event of its not happening should not have been so much as obliquely intentional) still the state the person's mind was in at the time when, if he had so willed, the incident might have happened, is in many cases productive of as material consequences; and not only as likely, but as fit to call for the interposition of other agents, as the opposite one. Thus when a tax is imposed, your not paying it is an act which at any rate must be punished in a certain manner whether you happened to think of paying it or not.

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IPML Chapter 7