Campus Gotha Gotha Research Centre Religion, Society, and World Relations Research

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 and 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 in its political and ideological-historical contexts and 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. This results in a much more complex and differentiated picture of the early Enlightenment characterised by natural law than was previously the case.

02/2024 - 01/2027

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG) :
317 000 Euro

Project management

Member of the Research Centre for Early Modern Natural Law (Gotha Research Centre)


Prof. Dr. Martin Mulsow

Dr. Mikkel Munthe Jensen

Dr. Martin Kühnel

Dr. Mads Langballe Jensen

Prof. Dr. Hans Blom

Prof. Dr. Wenchao Li

Prof. Dr. Knud Haakonssen