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New research project on Heinrich and Samuel Cocceji's natural law

The German Research Foundation (DFG) is supporting a new research project at the Gotha Research Centre of the University of Erfurt with a total of around 317,000 euros. Over the next three years, historian of philosophy Dr Stefanie Ertz will be working on the topic "The birth of rights universalism from reformed international law. The natural law of Heinrich and Samuel Cocceji and its controversial reception in the European Enlightenment." .

The aim of the project, which at the same time further strengthens the focus on natural law at the Gotha Research Centre, is to explore the natural law teachings of Heinrich Cocceji (1644–1719) and his son, the editor Samuel Cocceji (1679–1755). In a monograph, Cocceji's natural law, which centres on a theocratic-voluntarist concept of inalienable liberties, will be presented (1) in its political and ideological-historical contexts and (2) in its controversial reception in the European Enlightenment.

Forgotten in the 19th century, Cocceji's doctrine of natural law was long neglected in favour of the prominent theories of Pufendorf and Thomasius. However, the project aims to show that the natural law of the Cocceji represented a veritable, systematically strong alternative to Pufendorf's deficiency-anthropologically based natural law theory embedded in the ethics of duty and was also perceived as such by many contemporaries until the Vormärz, so that it provided important impulses for the development of liberal-egalitarian theories of rights in the German and Scottish late Enlightenment and can claim an important place in the modern genealogy of subjective rights. The project is dedicated to the development of this theory of natural law in the relatively long period from around 1670–1720 and at the same time describes a history of interdependence: interdependence of genesis and reception, and interdependence of Calvinist (as well as Huguenot) and Lutheran (Halle) early Enlightenment. These interdependencies were intrinsically involved in the development of the Cocceji's doctrine of natural law and must therefore also be researched. This results in a much more complex and differentiated picture of the early Enlightenment characterised by natural law than was previously the case.

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Project employee
(Gotha Research Centre)