Pufendorf and His Importance for the European Enlightenment in General

  • Arild SætherEmail author
Part of the The European Heritage in Economics and the Social Sciences book series (EHES, volume 23)


Samuel Pufendorf was born in Saxony in 1632. He made a remarkable career. After studies at the universities of Leipzig, Jena and Leiden, he became professor of natural law at University of Heidelberg in 1660. Eight years later, he took up a similar position at University of Lund. Thereafter, he became historiographer and counsellor, first in 1677 at the court in Stockholm, and 11 years later in Berlin. He died in 1694 as a true European.

Throughout his life he produced volumes of dissertations, essays and books. The most important were his natural law works De Jure Naturae et Gentium in eight books from 1672, and an abridged version De Officio Hominis et Civis from 1673. Natural law, deduced from reason and with the dignity and equality of man as its foundation, became a university subject at many European universities. In the eighteenth century, Pufendorf was the most read European philosopher.

The first to actively use Pufendorf’s natural law works was the Enlightenment scholar John Locke. The famous philosophers of the French Enlightenment, Charles-Louis Montesquieu, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Denis Diderot, as well as three important scholars of the Scottish Enlightenment, Gershom Carmichael, Francis Hutcheson and Adam Smith, were all indebted to Pufendorf. Although it can be discussed if the Enlightenment as such ended in the last years of the eighteenth century, there can be no doubt that Immanuel Kant and his followers eradicated natural law. However, when the Declaration of Human Rights was decided after WWII, as the common standard of achievements for all people and nations, natural law of the Enlightenment resurrected. The final challenge is how Pufendorf’s ideas again can be brought to the forefront.


Natural law Ethics Jurisprudence Political economy Declaration of human rights John Locke French enlightenment Scottish Enlightenment 

JEL Codes

B 11 B 12 B 15 B 31 D 40 D 46 D 62 F 50 H 20 H 50 K11 K12 K40 N00 N01 


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Agder Academy of Sciences and LettersKristiansandNorway

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