Hugo Grotius’ Understanding of Law

Hugo Grotius’ Understanding of Law

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Grotius’s groundbreaking views in the field of law are a synthesis from his practice as a government official and his approach to philosophical problems.

The turbulent Europe of the Thirty Years’ War, its great colonies, the Netherlands, allowed him to shape his thoughts on international relations and wars. Adopting the then prevalent concept of natural law (ius naturale), Grotius regarded it as the nature of man, a rational creature, as was the case with the Stoics. He worked to destroy the absolute power of the church, which was one of the aims of the Renaissance and Reformation, and to reduce the influence of religious law on natural law. According to him, natural law exists even if people do not know or believe in God. This does not mean, however, that God does not exist or that natural law contradicts his will. Natural law is in harmony with the will of God, as can be deduced from its conformity with human reason.

In this sense, rotius not only develops a concept of natural law independent of the concept of divine law, but also considers it an authority above the state. According to him, there are two main principles of natural law, which is eternal and has the quality to continue its existence without changing. The first of these is the right of ownership. The other is to stick to the agreements made, which he refers to as “pacta sund semanda”. Accordingly, to pay for the harm done and to punish the evil are also within the scope of natural law. Positive law (ius naile), which is derived from natural law, is a law that man put forward in accordance with the conditions in the historical process. For this reason, its conformity with the rules of natural law can only be expected from societies that have reached a certain level of civilization.

As a thinker influenced by his compatriot Erasmus, Grotius gives importance to human reason and values. He defends the view that the tendency to live in the community, which he calls appetitus socialis, is a factor in the formation of human societies. The people who came together under the influence of this tendency, formed the state with their wishes by contracting among themselves. For this reason, the state is an institution that must protect individual rights in line with natural law laws. The most fundamental right of the individual is possession. Examining the right to life in this context, Grotius sees the body as the property of man. Therefore, he who does not kill his captive in battle can make him his own slave. Because his body is the equivalent of that prisoner’s right to life. The hull can be sold like any property.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook