Theory and method of modern natural law in Pufendorf’s political and historical writings

Essay, 2017

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Theory and method of modern natural law in Pufendorf’s political and historical writings

Quang Minh Nguyen1

The idea of establishing a science of morality has running through many generations of Western philosophical thinking. The modern Protestant natural law tradition is often considered to be the theoretical foundation that other social sciences was built upon, that is, Hobbes’ political science, Grotius’s international law, 2 Adam Smith’s political economy, and to a lesser extent, Pufendorf’s theoretical history. Per definition, natural law is a set of principles in moral philosophy, claiming that certain rights and duties are intrinsic and universal to every man, imprinted by nature3, and maintained by human reason and intuition. Derived from nature, natural rights4 is inherently universal, existing prior to and independently of the positive law of the ruling power or any legislature body. Methodologically, the law of nature are deduced into principles and observations of moral behavior after an analysis of human nature and his behavior with a relevant method, either empirically or theoretically.

The purpose of this essay is to find out the theory and method of modern natural law in Pufendorf’s political and historical writings. Notwithstanding the fact that Pufendorf’s writings and teachings on the law of nature were extremely well-known and thus being used extensively in Protestant universities around Europe to teach moral philosophy5, his work on theoretical history6 is less known but also of great importance to the maturity of history as a hybrid form of art and science as we know today. In particular, this paper will investigate the link between Pufendorf’s political and historical writings, how his method of analysis is informed by his theory and how he used contemporary history in an exemplary manner to strengthen his theoretical perspectives on the laws of nature.

This essay will be structured as followed. First, a brief history of modern natural law tradition will be presented, followed by a contextual investigation of the turbulent and hectic time whereby the religious turmoil of the Thirty Years War and the discovery of the New World brought about an intellectual battle between at least two conflicting intelletual thoughts, relativism on one hand, and universalism on the other. Second, the essay will argue that the doctrine of natural law as a method does not proceed from deductive mathematics, but rather in the first instance from the empirical science, specifically, “eclecticism”. In constructing his own idea about the nature of man, Pufendorf also borrowed ideas from Grotius and Hobbes, contending that man is born with self-love, but he should learn to be sociable in order to survive. Sociability must be cultivated, and it was indeed treated as the most fundamental law of nature in Pufendorf’s view. Third and finally, it will demonstrate how Pufendorf’s theoretical perspectives informed his methodology, and in turn, shaped his treatment towards history as an auxiliary science as it is evident in his historical accounts of Germany, Brandenburg, Sweden, and the Holy Roman Empire.

The idea of establishing an objective science of morality has been central to Western philosophy since the ancient Greece. It dates back to Plato, Aristotle, Cicero and Stoicism, but being formulated as natural law, an academic tradition which gained it most popularity during the European Renaissance, it rooted in the Roman Law Tradition, and to a greater extent, the School of Salamanca. Even though Thomas Aquinas, a Catholic philosopher of the Middle Ages, is often thought to be the first to developed the doctrine of natural law from ancient Greek philosphy, it officially started with the works of Protestant reformists, most notably, Hugo Grotius of the first half of 17th cenftury. His idea was then transmitted into Thomas Hobbes and Samuel Pufendorf of the late 17th century. The teaching of natural law and its often-overlooked methodology, eclecticism, dominated the intellectual landscape and university curriculum in Protestant Europe, especially in Germany7, until the emergence of Kantian idealism in the middle of the 18th century.8

Indeed, in the first chapter of Specimen controversiarum (1678), a written account of the history of the genre, Pufendorf admitted some elements of his approach can be found in Stoicism, Roman law tradition, the Scholastic philosophers9 and, to a greater extent, Grotius.10 Pufendorf saw Grotius as the one who “set out to construct a work wherein he was not ruled by the influence of his predecessors”11, and Barbeyrac noted too that with Grotius, “the science of morality… was raised again from the dead.”12 With Grotius, the fragmented reality of discrepant opinions in morality science was revitalized, rearranged, and upgraded to a new, formal and academic status. Grotius's magnum opus De jure belli ac pacis (1625) was mainly written about matters of war and peace, but for Pufendorf’s reading of Grotius, it addressed the entire range of human affairs, from man’s nature and his social life, to the problems of law and politics. Grotius was, irrefutably, the founder of a new genre. Indeed, he was the one who set out to create a new branch of knowledge dealing entirely with general theories and principles of morality:

“[Grotius]…challenged the moral relativism advocated by the ancient skeptic, Carneades, by laying out the basic requirements of communal living. Unlike Carneades, his professional concerns were not epistemological argument, moral proof, or philosophical system as such, but rather the concrete mitigation of conflicts and the maintenance of peace. Appealing to a so-called principle of sociality

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or sociability (conceived as both presupposition and requirement), he sought to identify the most general or minimal, and thus most widely acceptable, rights and laws of human association.” 13

It is important to stress that the contextual state of affairs of the time too significantly influenced the formulation and existence of natural law tradition. By the late 17th century, both the Schoolmen and traditional humanist philosophers faced two calamitous realities. The first was the horror of religious turmoil of the Thirty Years War; the second was the discovery of non-Christian morals and manners in newly discovered colonies of the far East and the New World. In such context of cultural and moral contrast and disparity, skeptical relativism received an increased interest among intellectuals and students, rejecting Scholastic rationalism, universalism and project Modernity for its interest in Baconian empiricism, political Machiavellianism, and individualism.14 15 The tendency towards relativism however sparked wars and chaos around Europe and the all over its colonies. Natural law, as a modern project, was invented to bring peace and order to the status quo. The characteristics of modernity in natural law’s epistemology connect it, as a consequence, to a teleological voluntarism of the genre16, an idea that:

“…not only God's supreme and singular omnipotence (exercised through the divine will), and thus the (to us) arbitrariness, contingency, and cognitive imperviousness of the (created) world, but also humans' individual and collective power over, and thus responsibility for, their own actions and the institutional contexts regulating them.”17

In that sense, natural law tradition was not subject to or bound by religious rule. In other words, it was secular. It privatized religion, separated theology from philosophy.18 It refused the theoretical and political dogmatism prevailing in the civil life under the Roman Catholic Church, and proposed a new method of investigation into the science of morality. Clearly, Protestantism was in this as well as other factors, as it was repeatedly pitting those who prone to theological authority and transcendent metaphysics against the natural lawyers who wanted to bring radical changes to the civil and public life but also to maintain peace and order. It is the latter group, the voluntarists, to which Grotius, Hobbes, and Pufendorf, belong to, and for their analytical contribution, early natural law tradition was categorized distinctively as “modern”, “secular”, and “Protestant”, with the ideological characteristics of “voluntarism” running through the history of the genre.

Before Kantianism replaced the vocabulary and discourse of the natural lawyers and became the dominant paradigm among scientific domains, the law of nature went smoothly into the first half of the 18thcentury and laid a strong foundation for Adam Smith’s political economy and his two major works, A Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759) and later on, his most distinguished work, the Wealth of Nations (1776). Such claim is based on historical evidence that, by the late 17th and early 18th century there were at least two important streams of economic thought flowed independently from each other. The first being mercantilism,

mostly non-academic and in the form of pamphlet,19 the second being natural law, a subject that was formally taught in many German universities:

“…which eventually was to prove, arguably, of greater significance for the theoretical foundations of political economy. These were the ideas of natural law philosohers, which were fundamental importance for the formation of the subject, not only because they introduced the concepts of natural order and of natural law but also for the nucleus of value and price theory which the writings of these philosophers contributed, a nucleus which had come down from Aristotle via the scholastics.”20

In particular, this tradition began with Grotius, passed onto Pufendorf, Carmicheal, Hutcheson and to Smith. Carmichael is often considered as the one who introduced natural law into Scotland, while Hutcheson, Adam Smith’s professor at University of Glasgow and a good friend of Carmichel, is often believed as the main influencer of Smith. Both Hutcheson and Carmichael chose Pufendorf’s De Officio as a textbook to teach their students. They transmitted Pufendorf’s natural-law thinking and writing style to Smith21 and transformed natural law into the teaching of moral philosophy in Scotland’s most prestigious universities.

Like any other early reformists and innovators of his time, Pufendorf faced the challenges of method in specific terms. Writers of philosophical texts during this period were expected to clarify as clear as possible from the beginning of their work the method that would be employed throughout the analysis,22 whether it is experience-based or mathematical reasoning.

No exception to this tradition, the method of analysis Pufendorf claimed to use in Elementorum Jurisprudentiae Universalis (1660) is the geometrical method, a resolutive- compositive mathematical approach that aspired to the Hobbesian certainty in moral matters in place of Aristotelian probabilism, a method taught to him by Professor Erhard Weigel when he resided at Jena.23 At first, Pufendorf believed that this method could be universally applicable to his natural law and should not only be utilized to study Euclid’s theoretical mathematics. This method instead could be of practical use for the formulation of moral standards in human actions:

“…a geometrical demonstration has to start from definitions of things, which are supposed to allow for the deduction of conclusions about properties of the defined things because these properties are already (virtually) involved in the definitions… To be sure, this definition is true for all triangles in Euclidean geometry necessarily and thus with absolute certainty. Geometrical demonstrations also use axioms, being statements that everybody will admit as self-evidently true, and postulates, statements which are hypothetically claimed as long as nobody objects. Both axioms and postulates are considered permitted additions to definitions that allow for a geometrical demonstration in which it is shown how the conclusions necessarily follow from the definitions.”24

Thus, The Elements was divided into Definitions (Book 1) and Principles (Book 2), with the latter subdivided into Axioms and Observations. In Book 1, Pufendorf engaged in a theoretical analysis of human behavior, followed by a number of definitions25. In Book 2, the definitions from book 1 is used to identify problems whose solutions can be used to construct the principles of morality, or the laws of nature. He introduced two principles. The first principle determines which human actions are acceptable and which are not. The second principle found out how a party in power can bind those subjected to it by contracts. The truth and necessity of these principle flowed directly from both reason and intuition, without regarding the anxiety of interpersonal discussion, while the positivity of the observations was known by the “collation and perception of individual things corresponding to one another,” and by “common sense and experience.”26

However, it is not evident how Pufendorf’s explanation employed a geometric method. It is hard to see how observations are deduced from his definitions and principles, even though he confessed to be in favor of a mathematical over an experience-based approach in a letter to Boineburg in January 1663.27 However, Conring and Böcler, two prominent contemporaries of his time, advised that Pufendorf should drift away from his geometric method and move on to a more relevant approach. As a result, Pufendorf decided to abandon the geometric method and adopted new methodological approaches that draws on the insights of a range of past philosophers,28 attempting to resolve two conflicting perspectives between Grotius’s principle of sociability and Hobbes’s egoism.

In his De Jure Naturae et Gentium (1684), Pufendorf’s major natural law writings at Lund University, Pufendorf now employed an eclectic method, in which he defended man’s ability to understand reality and draw conclusions based on observations from the reality of life, and interacted more explicitly and directly with other authors from the past and the present:

“Eclecticism, broadly construed, is a methodology that draws on the positive contributions of a wide variety of intellectual traditions. The eclectic sees no need for the consistent intermingling or “synthesis” of ideas; the eclectic simply selects, from whatever source, anything that she thinks will be useful for her purposes. Moreover, the eclectic selects elements divorced from their artificial systems, elements that are, in her judgement, sound and practically useful; and she expects to be more successful in hitting upon useful truths through this eclectic methodology than through systematic thinking.”29

The new approach showed his considerable knowledge in a transitional culture, while appeal to intellectual authority, procedures which he explicitly disregarded. He starts by pointing out that the task of philosophy is to give the most comprehensive definition of things and to divide them appropriately into distinct classes. In addition, it should give the general nature and condition of every kind of thing. Pufendorf substantiated his opinions, his arguments, and the truths he claims to have discovered by numerous quotations, just as Grotius and others of his predecessors had done. He frequently used quotations from the Roman Corpus Juris Canonici, the Bible, the Koran, and the writings of the ancient Greek and Roman philosophers and jurists. He has a few quotations from the philosophers of the Middle Ages but numerous quotations from philosophers, jurists and historians of the 15th and 16th centuries. In the Index of Authors Cited, 400 names are found.30 When he discusses particular issues, or argues for a certain opinion he uses the views of famous scholars in support of and to give weight to his own views. His objective remained the same and his analysis was based on systematic understanding and demonstrative certainty of his subjects, which he also developed from his study of history and contemporary events.

Thus, in terms of methodological development, the greatest contribution made by Pufendorf was the creation of the first histories of morality, which showed how eclecticism developed out of the controversy between relativism and rationalism. The eclectic philosophers analyzed current authorities, and thereby investigates the nature and properties of the objects under observation, and from that knowledge they deduce principles and arrive at certain truths. The result was an approach to philosophy and a body of evidence that dominated Protestant universities in Europe against Leibniz’s rationalism and Montaigne’s relativism.

It should be also stressed that Grotius and Hobbes are fundamental to Pufendorf’s empirical approach to natural law, as he used their work extensively to build his own natural law theories of jurisprudence, ethics, government and political economy.31 Pufendorf subscribed to Grotius’s idea of human sociability, but became sympathetic to Hobbes’s principal criticism of Grotius, that is, sociability is a pragmatic individualist calculation. Like Hobbes, he refused the classical notion of man as a social animal, but rather, a sociable being:

“The first thing, therefore, that man has in common with all living things which are aware of themselves is that he loves himself to the highest degree, is eager to preserve himself in every way, and strives to acquire those things that seem good to him and to repel those that seem evil…Besides this love of and eagerness to preserve himself by all means, we also find in man an extreme weaknesss and a natural neediness. Hence, if we were to conceive him as abandoned to himself in this world without any aassistance from other men, his life could seem to have been given him as punishment…Man, it is clearly apparent, is an animal most eager to preserve himself, essentially in need, ill-equipped to maintain himself without the aid of those who are like him, and very well suited for the mutual promotion of advantages. All the same, he is often malicious, insolent, easily annoyed, and both ready and able to inflict harm. For this kind of animal to be safe and enjoy the goods that befall his worldly condition, it is neceasary that he be sociable. That is, he must will to be united with those who are similar to himself and conduct himself toward them in such a way that they are provided with no cause to hurt him, but instead have reason to maintain or promote his advantage…”32

Pufendorf claims that self-love is the strongest driving force in human behaviour. In addition, man is weak and therefore in order to survive, he must be sociable. This sociability should be cultivated.33 This seemingly small shift in definition of the nature of man initiated a radical transformation of the concept of society and the methods used to analyze it. Defining man as a sociable being as such was important because it allowed Pufendorf to claim that society could be analyzed according to the principles laid out in his law of nature. Indeed, “[A]ll laws of society, & all our duties to other men, weather general or particular, derive from the principle of sociability as from their source. Such is the foundation of all human sagacity, the spring of all the purely natural virtues, & the principle of all morality and of all civil society. /.../ The spirit of sociability must be universal; human society embraces all men that one can enter into commerce with, since they are founded on relations that all men have in common, in consequence of their nature and situation.”34

Pufendorf seeks to avoid the trap of deriving moral principles merely from God’s will, the trap that most philosophers of his time fell into. Yet, his approach does not entirely seperate natural law from theology, for in Pufendorf ’s theory of human nature, there is a decreasing but however real role for the divine law:

“Pufendorf's theory of sociability intriguingly combines two conficting approaches to morality. On the one hand, he is a natural law theorist who bases the obligation to cultivate sociability on the commands of God, which are recognized by reason. On the other hand, sociability is not just a normative rule discovered by reason. It is through the set of social practices that humans in practise adopt sociability as their moral standard.”35

To sum up, the doctrine of natural law as a method, does not proceed from deductive mathematics, but rather in the first instance from the experience-based natural science. Pufendorf abandoned his geometrical method he had used earlier and used eclecticism for De Jure Naturae et Gentium, his major publication in natural law, a method of analysis that draws conclusions on the positive contributions of a wide range of intellectual thoughts and traditions from the past and the present. In constructing his own idea about the nature of man, Pufendorf also borrowed concepts and analytical framework of Grotius and Hobbes, arguing that man is born dominantly with a selfish gene,36 but he should learn to be sociable, so that he may survive in peace with his fellow beings around him.

Famous for natural law, Pufendorf also wrote extensively on the subject of history throughout his life. He began his career with history, and he spent the last days of his life writing histories of Sweden and Brandenburg as a professional court historian. Pufendorf’s goals of order and tranquility, his faith in the methods of eclecticism, and his preference to see everything from the standpoint of law and politics accurately reflect the mentality of the b ü rgerlich in Germany. Pufendorf was a man of discretion, a man willing to serve any monarch who both recognized and rewarded his merits and ruled in such a manner that peace, order and tranquility were preserved. Even when Pufendorf utilized modes of thought that contained radical implications, e.g. his laws of nature, he always removed the elements most likely to threaten the status quo. For him, knowledge must produce order.37

By the late 17th century, history and moral philosophy was often taught together because “the point of studying history is to find good examples of moral and immoral behavior”38. History was philosophical teaching by examples, and it was no exception in the case of Pufendorf. Following the path of other 17th century philosophers and natural scientists, Pufendorf intentionally excluded all considerations of ideology and inherent qualities of historical narrative because, he argued that they “were not and cannot be subjected to coherent analysis.”39 So instead, he used more “moderate, yet manageable, standards of utility and logical relation”, reduced history to the status of an “auxiliary science”, a tool to provide concrete and pragmatic examples for the formulation of philosophical truth, his natural law.40 Therefore, the two prevailing themes in Pufendorf’s historical writings were, first, his treatment of history as an exemplary science to his natural law, and second, his concentration on the contemporary events. These two inclinations were inspired by Pufendorf’s desire for peace, just as other Enlightenment and natural law philosophers of his time who were terrified by the horror of wars and conflicts, for instance, Hobbes.

In his life, Pufendorf produced three kinds of history: theoretical history, derivative history, and original history.41 His theoretical histories include A Historical Political Description of the Spiritual Monarchy of Rome, and The constitution of the German Empire. Both accounts offer well- structured presentations based on his definition of sovereignty and clearly motivated by his desire for tranquility and order.42 First, in the history of the Holy Roman Empire, Pefendorf set out to attack the idea of an independent and powerful church by using his definition of sovereignty based on his natural law. He claimed that by reasoning, we can see that the separation between the state and the church is artificial, and would result into jealousy, mistrust, and chaos among people.43 The Roman church, in his view, is the perfect example of an artificial state - an antireligious institution as it contradicted the nature of religion in general and of Christianity in particular. It violated the law that religion should not take away powers entitled to the representative, civil government. The Catholic church’s sovereign power is a curse to an orderly life of Christians around Europe. It was a destructive type of sovereignty, which had violated the principles of religion by appropriating power rightfully belonging to the representative government built by the civilians. He went so far to write that such state of affair only existed because of the ambition of the Church to control every aspect of life and the utter ignorance of the people living under Catholic rule. From these well-established views on the Catholic Church in Rome, Pufendorf then began to write a history of the Roman Empire that confirmed them. It was indeed a “well-ordered piece of Lutheran propaganda.”44

In the same manner, De Statu Imperii Germanici was also a treatise on Pufendorf’s view on sovereignty and his disbelief in irregular forms of ruling, “the tension between civil and ecclesiastical authority, and the challenge of foreign relations that emerged from these.”45 De Statu Imperii Germanici was his second book46 published in 1667 that became an instant bestseller, enhanced his reputation among non-academic circle. In this historical text for lay people, Pufendorf argued that Germany was neither monarchy, aristocracy, nor democracy, but something else born out of a specific historical context. His idea of such historical context was that, at first Germany was a monarchy, but then due to a series of mistakes this sovereignty eventually came to an end, and many princes had planned and tried to gain power from the Emperor, claiming the rights to their land and over the people. But because they understand that they were weak compared to powerful Roman Church, they all eventually turned to the Emperor in Rome, offering their servitude to the Emperor, in return they would keep their land and military protection. This pact between the prince and the emperor, Pufendorf called the feuda oblate, but he could not prove its existence historically. What he did was to present his idea that German was not an independent state, but rather a latent confederation, because neither the prince nor the emperor has the authority to exercise his power as a singular unit. Then he injected in his essay with examples from history to show how Germany could not exist independently because it failed by his definition to meet the requirements of a regular form of sovereignty.

Both of his theoretical histories in that sense make history an auxiliary, complementary science to his natural law and political analysis and both use reasons and conjectural constructs which take precedence over historical material. Both of them were against irregular forms of ruling, as in the case of Germany and Rome.

“The two institutions in question were denied necessary a priori existence because they failed to conform to the truths of politics; they were mere degenerations from orderly forms. They existed only because ignorance, supported by the weight of custom, existed. In both works, human history appears as a destruction of orderly patterns owing to ignorance and human weakness. In this sense, they are antihistories, indictments against historical developments. To correct the burdens of the past, Pufendorf recommended an application of the rational rules of the science of politics.”47

If Pufendorf’s theoretical history is an explicit application of his theoretical assumptions, his derivative history summed up traditional historical thought by universal history. Again, occasionally in his work in derivative histories, he punctuated his explanation with judgements based on his set of transhistorical assumptions derived from his work in natural law and political science. He argued that Athen’s problem was its failure to differentiate the real interest and the imaginary interest of the state. The real, permanent interest of the state comes from trade and peaceful coexistence with its neighbor countries, rather than war and expansion. However, he only introduced this idea in detail at the end of each nation’s history, where he tried to sum up the true interest of each state. The reason why Pufendorf maintained a model of historical explanation which had little relevance to his own interest because “he saw little value in the whole endeavor of writing universal history.”48 To Pufendorf, the past is simply the introduction to the present.

But Pufendorf’s most extensive historical works were his original histories, works resulting from his extensive archival researches. In this line of work, he began with a study of contemporary historical facts and ended with an affirmation of his theoretical assumptions. As a court historian to the Sweden and Brandenburg, he has free access to their archives, a privilege he made full use of in his works (add 4 works). Pufendorf’s study focused heavily on the temporary interests of state, applying the concept of raison d ’ etat introduced by the French philosopher Botero into his own reconstruction of history and his philosophical reasoning. Pufendorf considered state’s interest as the major domain of historical analysis. Just as what he did in his derivative history, here Pufendorf failed to connect the aspects of his original history together. “There is no inner coherence, no linkage of the chain of events he describes in great detail. Not only the thematic representation but also the type of judgements contained in his theoretical history are missing.”49 For his role as an official historiographer to the court, at the beginning he claimed that his duty was just to tell what had happened; the act of judgement should be left to later generations. Even so he claimed, he was not a free agent and for obvious reasons he did not strive to be: “He rendered documents freely, omitted embarrassing clauses, and added others for effect.”50 Pufendorf went further to say that it is possible to combine the love of objective truth with duty to one’s prince, and he indeed did so by writing a glowing history of the prince and his acts.

Across three types of history written in his life, an “erratic sense of time” prevailed as the overriding element, wherein “the present appears to prevail over the past and the future, with which it sometimes find it difficult to enter into relations.”51 Pufendorf’s historical writing is heavily concentrated on contemporary issues; “it was not merely a preference, but an epistemological choice.”52 For Pufendorf, past histories was those tales that “make us imagine many events to be possible which are not so in fact; and even the most faithful record, although it may neither change the facts, nor enhance their value, in order to make them more worthy of being related, at least always omits the least dignified and the least illustrious circumstances. Thus, the rest does not appear such as it really was, and those who regulate their behavior by the examples they derive from it are prone to fall into the extravagances that afflict the Paladins of our romances, and to conceive designs that exceed their powers.”53 This vagueness of the past is also written in the preface of Pufendorf’s Einleitung zu der Historie der vornehmsten Reiche und Staaten, where he celebrated contemporary history as a reliable guide for actions, while undermined ancient history. To obtain and investigate detailed knowledge of the ancient past, in his view, was really a waste of time and effort. In his model of historical explanations, an idealized present became the standard, the point of reference for the past and the future. Pufendorf’s method when applying to historical writing solved the problem of the past and the future by simply ignoring them.

From his work in natural law, it is evident that Pufendorf believed that the purpose of the state is to create orders; its function is to maintain order; its goal is to preserve order. Pufendorf’s vision of social life was basically static, the only possible mode of existence being an orderly one that harmonized with the objective rules of politics or a disorderly one that ignored these rules. It is also evident from this position, providing one used the correct categories of definition. Disagreement was not a natural state of affairs; it merely attested to confusion or ignorance. By extension, Pufendorf also believed that historical objectivity was both possible and probable if one used his definitions. Yet, his own historical writings reveal basic contradictions that seem to mock his original claims. They serve as ample proof of the existent crisis of historical understanding during the Enlightenment.

To sum up, Pufendorf's natural law thinking developed in close interaction with his views on history; that is to say, his roles as a court historian and an academic philosopher were not intellectually distinct. This is evident in De Statu Imperii Germanici, as it is in his later works. The treatise on the Holy Roman Empire (1667) not only investigated imperial history of Rome, but also studied the importance of sovereignty, the conflict between civil and Catholic authority, and international relations within this particular context. Pufendorf's concretely situated defenses of the Swedish interest —which were regarded as opportunistic productions—show the challenge of applying the natural law's general theories to specific historical circumstances. Most obviously, perhaps, was his original historical works, including the contemporary history of Sweden and of Brandenburg. In short, Pufendorf’s historical writings are antihistorical; works that evidently not free from teleology:

“Pufendorf’s failure to combine theoretical form with historical content in his original histories futher attested to the existent crisis of the historical consciousness. His derivative and original histories did not break from the traditional model of political chronicle. They were flat, uninspired, lifeless. His theoretical history, however, demonstrated a distinct personality. Despite its ahistorical assumptions and antihistorical purpose, it presented a closely organized and developed thematic analysis…Yet Pufendorf, like others of his generation such as Leibniz, failed to make history an interpretive discipline. Although his “theoretical history” had a form that could lead to a transcendence of traditional historical writing, Pufendorf himself did not achieve this transcendence. Theoretical history remained hypothetical history, with historical content used only in an illustrative and exemplary manner. The validity of Pufendorf’s theoretical history rested not on the material of history, but rather on the coherence of logical argument. Theory was still divorced from practice and the breach between the particular and the general had not yet been healed.”54

Natural law tradition has a long and interesting history. The idea of establishing a science of universal morality has been central to Western philosophy for thousand of years since Plato. By investigating the theory and method of Pufendorf’s political and historical writings, one can see how social science began to form its very first form of existence as distinctively modern, secular and Protestant. Pufendorf used both logical reasoning and generalizations to come to various conclusions regarding the law of nature and of nations.

This essay at first set out to find out the theory and method of modern natural law in Pufendorf’s political and historical writings. Pufendorf’s theory of sociability laid the theoretical foundation for Adam Smith’s theory of moral sentiments, in the meantime his method of analysis was eclecticism is also considered to be the forefront of empirical research. An investigation into the relationship between Pufendorf’s political and historical writings reveals how his method of analysis is informed by his theory and how he used contemporary history in an exemplary manner to strengthen his theoretical perspectives. In particular, his original history failed to combine theoretical form with historical content, while his derivative history did not escape from the traditional model of historical narrative and political chronicle. His theoretical history seemed to discover a new light in historical writing, but it remained hypothetical, that is to say, Pufendorf also failed, just like others of his time, to make history an interpretive discipline, with historical content used only in an illustrative and exemplary manner.


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Edmund Bohun in 1696, edited with an introduction by Michael J. Seidler. Liberty Fund, Indianapolis.

Pufendorf, S. (2005). Of the Law of Nature and Nations. Eight Books. Done Barbeyrac. To which is also prefixed Mr. Barbeyrac’s Prefatory Discourse, containing An Historical and Critical Account of the Sciences of Morality, and the Progress it has made in the World, from the earliest Times down to The Publication of this Work. Fourth edition, 1729 (First edition, 1703). The Lawbook Exchange, Clark, New Jersey.

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1 University of Helsinki.

2 Also, Francisco de Vitoria and Alberico Gentili.

3 Traditionally, by God.

4 to be used interchangeably with “natural law”.

5 e.g. Elementorum jurisprudentiae universalis (The Elements of Universal Jurisprudence), De jure naturae et gentium (The Law of Nature and of Nation), De officio hominis et civis (On the duty of Man and Citizen).

6 e.g. De statu imperii Germanici (1669), Einleitung zu der Historie der vornehmsten Reiche und Staaten, and A Historical Political Description of the Spiritual Monarchy of Rome.

7 e.g. Sweden, Scotland, Denmark, Norway. See also Saether 2017

8 Hochstrasser 2000:197

9 e.g. Vitoria, Vasquez, and Suarez

10 Haakonssen 2013

11 Pufendorf, 2002:126

12 Barbeyrac1706 2005, §28, p.78

13 Seidler 2015

14 Seidler 2011

15 Haakonssen 2004

16 Schneewind 1998

17 Seidler 2015

18 Tully 1991

19 Saether 2017:1

20 Hutchison 1988:5

21 Pesciarelli 1989:xix

22 There were a dualistic force running side by side through science during this period, one force was the empirical, and the other is rationalistic. The former has the right to observe and to conduct experiments. The latter, on the other hand, lacks this ability and therefore its theories rely rather on principles and strict mathematical deduction. They are united in a resolutive and compositive method developed by Galileo and in the methodological synthesis developed by Descartes. Pufendorf evidently realized this dualism in the methods of analysis available to him. Thus, Pufendorf’s method was materialized from both the earlier work of Descartes and Galileo.

23 Saether 2017:15

24 Goldenbaum 2015

25 21 definitions are found in book 1

26 Pufendorf 1999:117

27 Pufendorf 1996:24

28 most notably Cicero and the Stoics

29 Janzen 2012

30 in 1688 edition

31 Saether 2017:56

32 Pufendorf 1994:151-152

33 Saether 2017:70

34 Korkman 2008

35 Heikki 2017

36 See also Dawkins 1976

37 See also Foucault 1970

38 Quentin Skinner’s “Hobbes and the Iconography of the State” (2015) Agnes Cuming Lectures in the UCD School of Philosophy, University College Dublin, Ireland.

39 Reill 1975:15

40 ibid:15

41 ibid:17

42 ibid:17

43 ibid:17

44 ibid:20

45 Seidler 2015

46 his first book was Elementorum Jurisprudentiae A Universalis (1660)

47 ibid:20

48 ibid:19

49 ibid:21

50 ibid:21

51 ibid:17

52 ibid:17

53 ibid:18

54 Reill 1975:21-22

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Theory and method of modern natural law in Pufendorf’s political and historical writings
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