80. We have already proved (No. 56) that man is accountable to his Creator for his free acts; this, moreover, is a judgment of the common sense of mankind. Yet reason does not originate God's supreme control; it does not make the law. But it recognizes and reveals, as decreed by the sovereign will, a rule outside and independent of us, according to which our actions ought to be directed. Now, a rule directive of action is called a law, the word being used in its widest sense. Thus the laws of physical nature are rules in accordance with which the actions of material things are directed. In a stricter sense, the term "law" expresses the direction of free acts, and, as such, it is a rule directive of human acts. In this last meaning only, is the word "law" employed in Moral Philosophy.
Reason not only reveals to us the existence of certain general laws affecting human conduct, but it dictates their application to individual human acts. Viewed as a faculty thus directive of individual acts, reason is called conscience.
We shall consider in the present chapter: 1. The moral law in general; 2. The application of the moral law by conscience; 3. The sanction of the moral law.
ARTICLE I. THE MORAL LAW IN GENERAL.
81. A law, we have said, is "a rule directive of human acts." Still more explicitly defined, "a law is an ordinance of reason which is for the common good, and has been promulgated by one having charge of the community." As doubt may sometimes arise whether a given enactment is really a law, and has the force of a law, a careful examination of every word in this definition is in order.
(a) A law is an ordinance of reason; it proceeds as an ordinance from the will of the law-giver, after it has originated in his intellect. He perceives a right course of action which is useful or necessary, and he wills to impose an obligation, on those who are subject to his decrees, to follow this course of action. Law is distinguished from mere counsel by the note of obligation. Still the law has no other binding force than the ruler intended.
(b) For the common good. A law is imposed on the general community, not on individuals, though it does not necessarily affect the actions of all individuals composing the community, but only certain classes, e. g., merchants, lawyers, taxpayers, voters, etc. Nevertheless, the effect intended must redound to the common good.
(c) It is manifest that a law cannot be enacted except by the person, physical or moral, that has charge of the whole community. By his position, such a one is bound to direct all the members of the community to their common good; and as the enactment of laws is a necessary means to this end, he has the right -- and he alone -- of making laws.
(d) Promulgation is essential for the obligation of a law, so that, without this, even if the lawgiver should wish the immediate observance of an ordinance, there is no binding force. The reason is apparent. A law is directive of human acts; but without promulgation a law cannot be the subject of human acts, because an essential requisite, the knowledge needed for such an act, is wanting. Law the Rule of Human Acts.
82. A law decreed by Almighty God is a divine law; one established by man is a human law. Those laws for human conduct which God, having once decreed creation, necessarily enacts in accordance with that decree, constitute the natural law; those which God or man freely enacts are positive laws. Now, between the natural law and positive laws, there are these four points of difference: 1. The natural law, unlike positive laws, does not depend upon the free will of God; its requirements flow from the intrinsic difference between right and wrong, which is determined by the very essences of things (No. 42). Hence, under this law, certain acts are not evil primarily because they are forbidden, but they are forbidden because in themselves they are evil. 2. Consequently, the natural law is the same at all times, in all places, and for all persons; but this is not true of positive laws, which may be changed with changing circumstances, or, if the law-giver so wills it, even without change of circumstances. 3. The natural law emanates from God alone; but positive laws may be enacted by men. 4. The natural aw is promulgated through the light of reason; positive laws require for their promulgation a sign external to man.
83. As a consequence of the foregoing, the natural law may be defined as the ordinance of Divine Wisdom, which is made known to us by reason, and which requires the observance of the moral order. It may also be defined to be, "The eternal law as far as it made known by human reason." By the eternal law we mean all that God necessarily decrees from eternity. That part of the eternal law which reason reveals as directive of human acts, we call the natural law.
84. A universal formula which contains in brief an expression of the whole natural law is this: " Keep the moral order," or "Observe right order in your actions." Some writers state it simply as, "Do good and avoid evil." Now, the right order of human acts consists evidently in their proper direction to man's last end, which is, subjectively, his perfect beatitude and, objectively, God Himself (Nos. 40, 41). God must direct His free creatures to their last end, hence He commands them to observe the moral order and forbids them to depart from it.
85. Consequently, nothing can excuse us from observing the moral law or any part of it, though such observance be attended with the most distressing difficulties, and demand from us the most heroic sacrifices -- the sacrifice even of our lives.
86. We must note, however, that the affirmative precepts of the natural law differ, in respect to obligation, from the negative precepts. The latter, which forbid certain acts, always remain in force, so that the forbidden acts are never allowed. Thus no one is ever allowed to dishonor God; this negative precept holds always and for all persons. Affirmative precepts, or those commanding certain acts, oblige only for certain times or occasions; the affirmative precept to honor God does not oblige us to worship Him uninterruptedly.
87. By saying the natural law is immutable -- i.e., not susceptible of change (No. 82), we mean that an act morally bad by its' nature cannot become morally good. Nor can any precept the natura1 law be abrogated -- i. e., totally done away with; nor be derogated from, by partially losing its binding force nor admit of dispensation.
Yet some acts indifferent in themselves, which derive their moral goodness or badness from attending circumstances, may seem to change their moral character. For example, during many ages capital was considered unproductive -- i. e., it did not fructify, it had no market value -- and hence to exact even moderate interest for money lent was held to be unjust, because, in accordance with the economic practices of the period, this was a demand for a recompense not due. But with the change of times, the methods of business and commerce have changed, so that now capital has a market value, and is said to fructify. Consequently, it is everywhere considered to be a productive article, for the use of which it is just and lawful to require a fair recompense.
88. Thesis X. The natural law is eternal and unchangeable.
Proof. All men have, at all times, the same essence, or nature; hence they have the same ultimate end, and the same natural means necessary for attaining that end. These means the omniscient Creator knew and decreed from eternity, and therefore, by an eternal act of His will, He requires for all times the employment of these means. Now, the natural means necessary for man's attainment of his last end consists in his observance of the natural law, which is consequently eternal as a divine decree, and unchangeable with the unchangeableness of man's nature. 89. Objections. 1. God allowed the Israelites when they were leaving Egypt to steal the silver and gold of the Egyptians (Exod. xii.), yet theft is against the natural law. Answer. Granting, for the sake of argument, that this is the correct interpretation of the passage cited, we deny that such a permission would be against the natural law. Theft is the appropriation of what belongs to another without or against the latter's will. Now all possessions belong absolutely to God, and He has the absolute right to dispose of them. If, then, the Israelites received from God express permission to appropriate certain goods belonging to their oppressors, even against the will of the latter, they did not commit theft, since they had the full consent of the absolute Owner. 2. God commanded Abraham to kill an innocent person, and murder is surely opposed to the natural law. Answer. The killing of an innocent person by private authority is plainly opposed to the natural law. But God is the supreme Lord of life, and therefore He can deprive His creatures of life when He sees fit, and in the manner He chooses, whether directly or indirectly -- i. e., by the ministry of angels, of men, or of other creatures.
90. Though the natural law is made known to us by our reason, it does not follow that every person on attaining the full use of reason acquires a complete knowledge of the law. Philosophers divide its precepts into three classes 1. The fundamental principles immediately expressed by the universal formula, "Keep the moral order," or "Do good and avoid evil." 2. Obvious consequences drawn directly from the fundamental principles, which are applied to particular classes of acts; to these belong the precepts of the Decalogue, with the exception of the third. 3. More remote conclusions drawn from the fundamental principles by rather intricate processes of reasoning.
91. Thesis XI. The natural law in its most general principles and their immediate applications i. e., the first and second classes of its precepts, cannot be invincibly unknown by those who have the full use of reason.
Proof 1. God cannot, in His goodness and wisdom, leave a man without the means necessary to attain his last end; but the knowledge of the natural law in its most general principles and their immediate application is a necessary means to this end for all men that have the full use of reason. Therefore, God cannot leave such men without this knowledge or at least the opportunity to acquire it.
Proof 2. The thesis is made evident by investigating the nature of the precepts contained in the two classes specified. Those of the first class are first principles in the moral order and, like the first principles of the speculative order, are admitted to be self-evident. The precepts of the second class forbid acts which in themselves are evil, and enjoin acts which in themselves are good and directly necessary for the attainment of man's last end. These latter precepts flow from the first principles of the moral order by inference so easy that the rudest minds are capable of performing the necessary reasoning at once and without effort. This is so true that some writers consider the precepts of the second class to be self-evident.
Proof 3. History and observation show that, at all times and in all regions of the world, men have possessed such knowledge. 92. Objections. 1. Some Indian tribes think a man has a right to kill his parents when they are old and infirm. Therefore the primary principles of the natural law are not known to all. Answer. These men certainly have given proof that they believed it wrong to slay the innocent. At the same time they considered that filial piety enjoins relief to afflicted parents. This relief they judged they were giving by depriving their aged parents of life which had become a painful burden to the latter. To discern, in this confusion of obligation, the moral evil of their act of homicide, required a rather intricate process of reasoning, the conclusion of which belongs to the third class of precepts under the natural law. Our thesis, however, does not maintain that knowledge of this kind must be universaL 2. The Spartans of old approved in their children the vice of theft. Answer. Here, too, was a confusion of obligation. The Spartans held that the protection of the country was life's highest duty. Hence, though reprobating theft in general, they approved it in so far as the act was intended to develop military sagacity.
93. Thesis XII. Human laws derive their binding force from the natural law, and ultimately from God.
Explanation. We are not speaking here of every rule laid down by men, but of laws in the strict meaning of the term. Laws thus understood can be enacted by a perfect community only. As the State (the supreme society in the natural order), and the Church (which holds the same place in the supernatural order), are the only perfect societies, it follows that only the State and the Church can enact laws in the strict meaning of the term.
Proof 1. The chief dictate of the natural law is that we should observe right order in our free acts (No. 84). Now, right order requires that the members of a perfect community should obey all those rational directions which are given by him who has charge over the community -- i. e., that they should obey all laws. Therefore the natural law requires the observance of human laws. Moreover, the natural law derives its binding force from God; therefore the obligation to obey human laws, which flows directly from the natural law, proceeds ultimately from the same Divine source.
Proof 2. Once we grant that human laws can impose a moral obligation, it is easy to prove that their binding power is derived from God. For this power supposes superiority over the consciences of men. But whence do men derive such superiority? Not from themselves, because all men are equal by their nature. This power, therefore, must be derived from God, who alone is the superior of all men and has power over their consciences.
94. Objections. 1. The laws of men are sometimes opposed to the laws of God; therefore human laws do not derive their binding force from God. Answer. Such enactments are not laws, and are falsely so called. A rule for human action which is opposed to God's law cannot be for the true good of the community. 2. Sometimes the laws of the State are opposed to those of the Church. Therefore both cannot come from God. Answer. The laws of the State and those of the Church cannot clash if they are just. In case of dispute, the presumption for justness must be in favor of the higher community, the Church of God.
ARTICLE II. CONSCIENCE APPLYING THE MORAL LAW.
95. Conscience is the human intellect applying the general principles of morals to individual acts. The term, as employed in Moral Philosophy, means not an examination into one's past deeds, but a judgment on acts about to be performed. In judging whether an individual act is morally good or evil, the intellect forms, explicitly or implicitly, a syllogism, the major of which is a known principle of morality, the minor a particular fact, and the conclusion a practical judgment, which is called a dictate of conscience. For instance, -- a lie is never allowed; but to say that I have never sinned would be a lie; therefore, I am not allowed to say that I have never sinned. Conscience, then, may be defined as a practical judgment formed by reasoning from a universal principle to a particular fact, whereby I decide whether a certain individual act ought to be done or omitted, or whether it may be done or omitted, at my choice.
96. My conscience, with regard to any particular act may be correct or erroneous; its judgment may be certain or doubtful; the doubt may be concerning a law or a fact. A doubtful judgment is called an opinion; the reasons in favor of an opinion constitute its probability. In matters pertaining to conscience, we can seldom have the strictest certitude, such namely as excludes all possibility of error. However, moral certitude, which excludes a prudent doubt (Log. 79, etc.) is sufficient to safeguard moral rectitude. Hence, a certain dictate of conscience means a practical judgment free from a prudent doubt in regard to error. Moreover, it may happen that two honest men act in diametrically opposite ways about the same matter, and each may be morally certain that he is rlght. If I make a mistake through no fault of my own, my judgment is erroneous though it may be morally certain. In such a case I am said to be invincibly ignorant of the truth. If, however, the error is due to my own fault, my ignorance is vincible.
97. Thesis XIII. Conscience when certain must be obeyed, whether it be correct or invincibly erroneous.
Proof. We are bound to obey the law rationally -- i. e., as
our intellect makes known to us the application of the law. But when conscience is certain, our intellect makes known to us the application of the law with certainty, whether our judgment in the matter be correct or invincibly erroneous. Therefore, conscience when certain must be obeyed, whether it be correct or invincibly erroneous.
98. Conscience is said to be doubtful, when the motive for believing that a particular law does not exist, or that it is not applicable to the case in hand is based on an opinion more or less probable -- i. e., more or less well founded. 1. An opinion is slightly or barely probable when it rests on very weak motives. 2. It is probable, or plausible, when supported by solid reasons, though stronger reasons may uphold the contradictory opinion. 3. It is equally probable with the contradictory opinion when both are supported by equally plausible reasons. 4. It is more probable, when the reasons favoring the opinion are stronger than those opposed to it. 5. It is most probable, when the arguments on which it rests are very strong, while those for the contradictory opinion are very weak.
99. Doubt, as affecting conscience is either speculative or practical. It is a practical doubt, if it regards the formal liceity of a particular act which is about to be performed. Hence, if I act with a practical doubt, I do not know whether or not I am doing wrong and displeasing God; for example: everything considered, I am in doubt whether I shall do wrong by reading a certain book which, I have reason to think, is dangerous to Faith.
Doubt is speculative when it concerns the premises of a syllogism, the conclusion of which is a dictate of conscience: 6o Direction of Human Acts in General. that is, if I doubt either that a certain law exists, or, granting its existence, that it is applicable to this particular case. I doubt, for example, whether by a law of the Church a certain Saturday of the year is a fast day, or, knowing that such a law exists, whether to-day is that particular Saturday; or, again, whether I am excused from fasting to-day by present illness.
100. Thesis XIV. It is never right to act with a practical doubt of conscience.
Proof. To act with a practical doubt of conscience is equivalent to saying: "I may break God's law, and so displease Him by doing this act, yet I will do it any way." But this is never right, because it is a manifest proof of an evil disposition to do the act, even if it were known to be prohibited, and hence shows contempt for God's law.
101. What then must we do, in order to avoid acting with a practical doubt of conscience? We may abstain from acting, if the matter so permits; or we may choose the safer side, that, namely, by which we fulfill the obligation in question; or we may remove the practical doubt. This removal we can sometimes effect by a more careful examination into the principles or facts involved, or by inquiring from competent authorities whether such a law exists, or whether it is applicable to this particular case. This would be to solve the speculative doubt, and is the direct method of getting rid of the practical doubt. But, if we are indeed so circumstanced that it is impossible to make use of the direct method, we may, nevertheless, get rid of the practical doubt, and act in the matter with safety, by applying to the difficulty the reflex principle of moral conduct: "A doubtful law has no binding force."
102. A course of conduct is called safe, if it excludes all danger of formal wrong. Yet one course may be safer than
Law the Rule of Human Acts. 61 another, for we can make assurance doubly sure by avoiding the possibility of even material wrong. The less safe course, however, must so guard me from formal wrong that I cannot be justly blamed for adopting it. Still, the fact that one opinion is safer than another, does not by itself make it the more probable of the two. Thus, if a neighbor has a less probable claim to a house in my possession, the safer course for me to follow, that I may avoid all possibility of doing him an injustice, would be to give up my claim in his favor; and yet, in point of genuineness, my neighbor's title is supposed to be less probable than mine.
103. Thesis XV. When a certain end is absolutely to be secured, we must choose the safer way of securing it.
Explanation. Since the end in this case is absolutely to be secured, I ought, if it were possible, to use means which are absolutely reliable orcertain, for the means should be proportionate to the end. But it is here supposed that none of the means available is absolutely reliable, but that each is supported by probability only, one of the means having a higher degree of probability than any other. In this case, we maintain, with all moralists of standing, that the safer way, that, namely, which has the more probable opinion in its favor; must be followed in practice.
Proof. If I choose the less safe way, I freely make less certain the acquisition of an absolutely necessary end. But freely to lessen the certainty of attaining an absolutely necessary end is wrong. Therefore, I may not in this case choose the less safe way; on the contrary, I am bound to follow the safer way.
Thus, on the principle that Baptism is absolutely necessary for salvation, the Church baptizes converts, if their former baptism is doubtful. On this principle, too, physicians are 62 Direction of Human Acts in General. not allowed, if sure remedies are at hand, to experiment with doubtful medicines upon their patients, whose health they are bound by their engagements to secure.
104. But when there is question of the mere liceity of an act, am I bound to adopt the more probable opinion? In other words, when, according to one probable opinion, the law requires a certain act of me, and, according to another probable opinion, such a requirement does not exist, am I bound to observe the law which probably has never been enacted? Or again, am I bound to observe an existing law in circumstances to which the law-giver probably never intended it to be applied?
On various theories various answers are given to this question: 1. Rigorists say: As long as any doubt remains that the law does not exist, the law must be obeyed, though, most probably, the law does not exist. 2. Tutiorists say: The law must be obeyed unless the opinion favoring an easier course be far more probable. 3. Probabiliorists say: Obey the law unless the opinion favoring an easier course be more probable. 4. Probabilists allow a free choice, provided the easier course has solid probability in its favor, even though the other course has greater probability. 5. Laxists permit liberty of choice even when the easier course is only slightly or barely probable. This last view, and that which requires for the liceity of an act certitude that it is not forbidden, have both been condemned by the Church.
105. Thesis XVI. In questions of mere liceity, we may follow the easier course if there is a solidly probable opinion in its favor. 63 Law the Rule of Human Acts.
Proof. A doubtful law has no binding force. But that law against whose existence a solidly probable opinion militates is a doubtful law. Therefore I am not bound to follow such a law. The principle, "A doubtful law has no binding force," which is received as an axiom, is apparent from the fact that such a law is wanting in an essential feature required for binding force, viz., full promulgation. If reasonable efforts have been made to remove the doubt, yet without success, we may conclude that the law, if it exists, has not been sufficiently promulgated.
106. Objections: 1. If the thesis is true, I am allowed to do wrong. Answer. We are never allowed to do formal wrong, i. e., what we know to be wrong; but we are not always forbidden to do what is materially wrong, to do that, namely, which we do not know to be wrong. 2. But the law may be certain and only the application of it uncertain; I know, for instance, that I must abstain from meat on Friday, but I do not know whether this is Friday. Answer. The same rule holds for the application of the law as for its doubtful existence. If, after trying in vain to obtain enlightenment on the subject, I have a solidly probable opinion that to-day is not Friday, I may reason that the law of abstinence as affecting this particular case is a doubtful one, and therefore, for this particular application, has no binding force. ARTICLE III. THE SANCTION OF' THE MORAL LAW.
107. The sanction of a law is the provision of reward for the observance of the law and of punishment for its violation. 64 Direction of Human Acts in General. That sanction is called perfect, which is sufficient to make it a matter of every one's highest interest to observe the law. If the sanction falls short of this, it is said to be imperfect.
108. Thesis XVII. The sanction app ertaining to the natural law, though imperfect in this life, is perfect in the life to come.
Part I. There is an imperfect sanction in this life. Proof We know from the experience of mankind that the observance of the natural law usually brings with it certain forms of happiness, such as peace of mind, friendship, honor, a fair supply of earthly possessions, health and longevity; and that frequent violation of the law entails all of life's miseries, such as disquiet of mind, dishonor, poverty, disease, and often an early death. Hence it is evident that the natural law has some sanction in this life. Yet this sanction is very imperfect. Oftentimes the virtuous endure great misery in this life, while, on the other hand, evil doers are often comparatively prosperous and apparently triumphant in their wickedness. Moreover, the perfect sanction of the law requires that the rewards held out for its observance should exceed as recompense all inconvenience and suffering that may be incurred by observing the law, and that the penalties threatened should be greater than any emoluments or advantages that may be obtained by violating the law. Now, what reward, for example, can be given in this life to a man that dies for the truth? Is it the renown of a noble deed? But death makes the enjoyment of renown on earth an impossibility for him, Or again, does the weak remorse of the apostate match the advantage which his base denial of the Faith has gained in the preservation of his life? Therefore, the rewards and punishments of this life do not form a perfect sanction of the natural law.
Part II. A perfect sanction in the next life. Proof Since
Law the Rule of Human Ac/s. 65 God wills the observance of the law which He has impressed upon the hearts of men, His wisdom requires Him to use the proper means to secure that observance. But the only means proper to secure this end without destroying human liberty is to propose adequate rewards and punishments, that is, to establish a perfect sanction of the law. Therefore a perfect sanction of the law exists. But since the sanction in this life is imperfect, it follows that there must be a perfect sanction in the next life.
109. We know that all men can attain the perfect happiness for which their nature longs insatiably. (Thesis IV.) It is clear, also, that this happiness, our summum bonum, or greatest good, the possession of God Himself (Thesis VI.), is the chief sanction of the observance of the moral law: it is the highest, the most complete, the most appropriate reward of the virtue practised in this life. Can any form of happiness be higher or more complete than the everlasting possession of God? The appropriateness of such a reward is apparent from the nature of virtue, which consists in the observance of the moral law, and is the direct means to the attainment of our last end. What. then could be more appropriate than that virtue's reward should be the perfect possession of that towards which its endeavors tend?
110. Since vice consists essentially in a willful turning away from our last end, it becomes evident, by a process of reasoning similar to that followed above, that the privation of the possession of God is the natural and chief punishment of the wicked. Now, two ways are possible by which the wicked might be deprived of their last end, and so be disappointed of the only object that can satisfy the insatiable craving of their nature. One way is by the soul's utter annihilation after death; the other is by a future life of despair, in which the soul must 66 Direction of Human Ac/s in General. evermore be tormented by vain yearnings for the Good which it despised and rejected in the days of its trial on earth. We know from Revelation that the wicked who die impenitent shall be condemned to eternal sufferings. Natural reason, however, could not, of itself, give us certainty on this point. Yet it belongs to Moral Philosophy to show that this doctrine, far from being unreasonable, is in perfect accord with rational principles. Omitting the arguments adduced in our Psychology (Ment. Phil., No. 215), we shall merely disprove the possibility of the soul's annihilation, the only other way of depriving man of the last end which he has forfeited. If annihilation were possible, the perfect sanction of the natural law would be impossible. A sanction is not perfect that does not make it every man's highest interest to choose, in the face of the greatest temptation, the right rather than the wrong. Now, surely, annihilation would not be, on many occasions and for many persons, a perfect sanction. Are there not many persons in the world around us who would choose annihilation after death, rather than deny themselves unlawful gratifications? Besides, what retribution would then be in store for the crime of suicide?
111. Some have pleaded for the existence of another state of probation after death. But such a theory only shifts the difficulty without solving it. For, if at the end of the second probation some souls should persevere in their wickedness, shall there be a third trial, -- and a fourth, and so on, forever? As the series of trials cannot go on without end, and as it is likely that some souls would persist in malice through multiplied probations, these souls must at last enter upon a fixed state of disappointment and despair. Hence, if this state must be entered upon finally, there is no reason why the first trial should not be decisive, In the second place, such an
Law the Rule of Human Acts. 67 arrangement would take from the punishment sanctioning the law its deterrent force. If, despite the present widespread belief of immediate retribution after death, so many are hopelessly wicked, how much more grievous and wicked would be the violations of the law if men were convinced that, in the next life, they should have an opportunity of averting the everlasting doom of sin!
112. Moreover, since the soul by its nature is immortal (Ment. Phil., No. 213 et seq.), it would be unreasonable to admit the possibility of the soul's annihilation.
Should it be objected against us, that eternal punishment is repugnant to the infinite mercy of God, we should answer that the justice of God is infinite as well as His mercy. Besides, eternal punishment is not only a vindication of right order, it is also deterrent and remedial. The consideration of that terrific retribution is calculated to keep to the narrow path of virtue many who are sorely tempted to stray therefrom, and to call back those who have left it for the perfidious ways of iniquity.
A suspicion may sometimes lurk in the mind that eternal punishment, though God has an absolute right to inflict it, is after all an excess of rigor and therefore unjust, because there would be no proportion between an eternity of suffering and the temporal duration of man's evil deeds. The difficulty arises from our failure to comprehend the malice of sin. The gravity of an offense is to be measured not by its duration only, but especially by the dignity of the person offended. Now the dignity of God is infinite; accordingly, an offense against His Sovereign Majesty is objectively infinite, and demands an infinite compensation. This a creature cannot give, because it is essentially finite; the nearest approach to an equivalent is an everlasting retribution.
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