Natural Law 1625-1850. An International Research Project (Halle/Erfurt)

The Network is concerned with natural law considered as an intellectual culture that flourished in the seventeenth, eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Our focus is on natural law as a distinct academic subject, or discipline, for it was in this form that it was institutionally established and became a resource for a wide variety of intellectual and practical developments. Central to the establishment of the discipline was the belief shared by both its proponents and its critics that it was a novelty, and that the founding figure was Hugo Grotius. His De iure belli ac pacis from 1625 became a defining feature of the new natural law, and a historiography suited to demonstrate this point was developed in an intense intellectual contest.

This marked the beginning of a new form of natural law and a new phase in its history. As a branch of moral and political theology, natural law had a long earlier history in Catholic thought and in ecclesiastical and civil polity. Grounded in civil law and politics, and taking shape as an independent academic subject, the new natural law emerged first in Protestant countries but soon found reception in Catholic contexts. The vocabulary of natural law quickly proved useful for formulating issues in a wide array of intellectual and practical cultures, ranging from jurisprudence, political and moral philosophy, and literature, to constitutional design, law reform, judicial practice, and diplomacy and international law.

The teaching of natural law thus often came to play the role of an intellectual “clearing-house” (Ian Hunter) at the centre of the arts, law, and politics curriculum, organising the basic learning through which educated people in the period set out. Drawing its materials from the practices of European public law, politics, and diplomacy, the language of natural law made these available in the more abstract and teachable vocabulary of obligation and rights, sovereignty and freedom, without escaping the profound contentions in which they were rooted. In order to understand these historical processes and thus to deal with our own questions of continuity and discontinuity of thought, we have to study natural law in its full intellectual and practical complexity.


ISECS 2023, Rome with a panel on "The institutionalisation of natural law at the Universities of Halle, Greifswald, Rostock, Kiel and Copenhagen. Three coordinated research projects"

Several workshops and conferences are currently in the planning.

New Projects
The German Research Council (DFG) has funded three new projects on natural law starting in 2022:
Mikkel Munthe Jensen (Gotha), "Institutionalising the Law of Nature and Nations: The Universities of Kiel, Greifswald and Rostock 1648–1806".
Martin Kühnel (Halle), "The teaching and formation of natural law at the University of Halle. The first period: 1694–1740".
Mads Langballe-Jensen (Halle), "Academic natural law in absolutist Denmark c. 1690-1773: Professionalisation and politics".

Book Series
Volume 5 in the book series has been published: Early Modern Natural Law in East-Central Europe, ed. Gábor Gángó (Leiden, 2023).

The Natural Law 1625-1850: Database has been updated with new profiles on J. H. G. Justi, Emer Vattel, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, Francis Hutcheson, Carl Christian Erhard Schmid, Johann Gottlieb Heineccius, Gottfried Achenwall, Jean Barbeyrac, and others.

An International Research Project Program
Book Series
Modern scholarship on natural law Book Series
A bio-bibliographical database of natural law scholars Natural Law 1625-1850: Database