Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment

Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment

Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment

Natural Law Theories in the Early Enlightenment

Synopsis

This study examines the development of natural law theories in the early stages of the Enlightenment in Germany and France. T. J. Hochstrasser investigates the influence of theories of natural law from Grotius to Kant, with a comparative analysis of important intellectual innovations in ethics and political philosophy. This book assesses the first histories of political thought, giving insights into eighteenth-century natural jurisprudence. Ambitious in range and conceptually sophisticated, it will be of great interest to scholars in history, political thought, law and philosophy.

Excerpt

This book began as an account of the genre of 'histories of morality', written in French and German in the early Enlightenment, as prototypical histories of political thought. I have hoped to show how what began as a genre of radical rewriting of conventional understandings of the history of ethics and politics at the end of the seventeenth century succeeded in establishing itself as a new orthodoxy. In other words, on one level, this is a case study of the use of intellectual history to furnish arguments of legitimation and self-defence for groups of political thinkers partially or fully excluded from participation in their contemporary orthodox, established structures of both high politics and official higher education. From this standpoint the largest issues under consideration here concern the function of history within the discourse of natural law (taking the arguments of Leo Strauss in a different direction) and the use of history writing as a literary, academic and polemical device within the 'republic of letters'. Thereby I hope to suggest a more plausible relationship between the early Enlightenment and alleged processes of 'secularisation' than is sometimes depicted.

As the research and writing of this project has developed over a number of years, it has become clear that the role of the histories was more complex than this, and also deeply implicated in the shaping of the key conceptual redefinitions of voluntarist (Pufendorf and Thomasius) and rationalist (Leibniz and Wolff) natural law theories. Thus alongside the first historiographical narrative I have attempted to tell a second one, organised around the concept of eclecticism, in which the full impact of a fresh historical awareness of the history of philosophy is revealed within the doctrinal development of German natural law theories. This decision to focus on a more detailed account of the reasons for the bifurcation of the voluntarist and rationalist traditions has led me necessarily to lengthen the chronological coverage of the volume to include Kant and his early followers. But also, and in some . . .

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