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About this book

This book discusses Samuel Pufendorf and his contributions to the development of the European Enlightenment and the emergence of economics as a social science. Born in 1632 in Saxony, Pufendorf wrote widely on natural law, ethics, jurisprudence, and political economy and was one of the most important figures in early-modern political thought. Although his work fits within the intellectual framework of natural jurisprudence, there is an argument to be made that his ideas promoted the development of economics as a distinct discipline within the social sciences.

Written by participants in the 34th Heilbronn Symposion in Economics and the Social Sciences, the contributions to this volume give an overview of Pufendorf’s influence on other authors of the Enlightenment, such as Locke, Montesquieu, and Rousseau, as well as addressing the theoretical implications of his extensive writings. Further chapters place a special focus on Pufendorf’s discussion of economic matters, such as property rights theory, price theory, taxation, and preferences and decision-making. The book concludes with analyzing Pufendorf’s influence on Adam Smith, his anticipations of elements of modern economic theory, and his impact on the history of economic thought. Providing a fresh look at one of the foundational scholars of social science, this volume will be of interest to researchers and students of the history of economic thought, political economy, economic history, and political philosophy.

Table of Contents



The emergence of economics as a social science, which was substantially influenced by the emancipation of thinking about economic phenomena from medieval theology, is part of the emergence of a rationalist world view with its understanding of natural phenomena in terms of cause and effect, instead of purpose inherent in the substance of things. Central to the new world view is the concept of law as a force independent of human intention applicable to external physical nature and to human nature. In the spirit of the Baconian sentence scientia est potentia, knowledge of such laws brings with it the power to influence the course of events according to desired goals.
Günther Chaloupek, Hans A. Frambach

Pufendorf and His Importance for the European Enlightenment in General

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.
Arild Sæther

Pufendorf, Hume and Adam Smith: A Question of Influence

In what way did Pufendorf’s natural jurisprudence influence David Hume and Adam Smith? He had no direct influence on their work, but he provided them with a clear statement of conventional wisdom in politics and morality as represented by natural jurisprudence. Hume and Smith took natural jurisprudence as conventional wisdom and as the starting point of their innovations in economics.
F. L. van Holthoon

Pufendorf and His Importance for the Development of Economics as a Science

Pufendorf’s natural law comprises ethics, jurisprudence, society and political economy. His political economy embraces theories of human behaviour, private property and the four stages, value and money, foundation of states and council decisions and finally division of state powers and principles of taxation. His political economy was dispersed across Europe and North America.
John Locke was the first to extensively use Pufendorf’s political economy when he developed his own economic theories. The French philosophers of the Enlightenment were all in debt to Pufendorf. The magistrate Pierre De Boisguilbert, the legal and political theorist Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui, the editor Denis Diderot, the translator Jean Barbeyrac, the great philosopher Charles-Louis Montesquieu, the foremost political thinker Jean-Jacques Rousseau and the Physiocratic model builders used Pufendorf’s works lengthily when they wrote and advanced their own ideas about political economy.
Gershom Carmichael introduced natural law to Scotland when he taught at the University of Glasgow in the early eighteenth century. His successor Francis Hutcheson continued his practice and used Pufendorf’s works when he wrote on political economy.
As Hutcheson’s student Adam Smith became familiar with Pufendorf’s ideas of political economy, he used these ideas extensively when he held his lectures on jurisprudence at University of Glasgow and when he wrote The Theory of Moral Sentiment and The Wealth of Nations. Pufendorf’s position in the history of economic thought should therefore be well established.
Arild Sæther

Pufendorf’s Theory of the Origin of Property Rights and Its Relationship to Locke’s Ideas

Samuel von Pufendorf’s theory of the origin of property rights is a strictly positive theory, not at all normative. It has three central propositions: (1) Ownership requires implicit or explicit agreement. (2) Ownership institutions will be whatever people decide they will be. (3) People are motivated to establish ownership institutions by considerations of efficiency. John Locke’s theory of property seems intended as a commentary on Pufendorf’s theory, though Locke does not mention Pufendorf by name. The key difference between Locke and Pufendorf arises because Locke treats Pufendorf’s first proposition as if it was intended to be normative, so that Pufendorf would have been claiming rightful ownership requires agreement. Locke then argues that agreement is not needed for rightful ownership when natural opportunities are abundant and, implicitly, people are not in community with one another. Locke’s normative argument is valid under these conditions, but not otherwise.
Nicolaus Tideman

How to Shape Societies: Pufendorf on Organizing Individual Interests and Social Interaction

Samuel von Pufendorf, one of the most influential natural law theorists of the seventeenth century, contributed decisively to the conceptual foundations of the modern state with its specific tasks and responsibilities. He remains today an example of a profound and differentiated thinker who combined intellectual acuity with recommendations for action. Especially, his insights into decision-making mechanisms are, from a contemporary point of view, still of far-reaching significance. The article sees modern fields of application of Pufendorf’s thought as extending to socioeconomic problems of selfishness and the societal challenges of ever-increasing variety and heterogeneity. For this purpose, reference is made to models such as Amitai Etzioni’s “communitarian paradigm” and Ian Ayres and John Braithwaite’s “responsive regulation.”
Hans A. Frambach

Samuel Pufendorf’s Contractarian Corporate Governance Principles. A New Perspective for Business Economics and Ethics Studies

Pufendorf’s theory of justice is extremely important not only for government organizations but, more generally, for research about all organizations made up for man for achieving a common objective. These include, first of all, companies. So, Pufendorf’s theory represents a theoretical basis both in the area of public finance and in the area of business economics. In this paper, we focus above all on an application of Pufendorf’s theory to corporate governance, in particular relating to the problem of prevalence between shareholders’ objectives and company objectives, in case of conflict between them. This question can be interpreted, bearing in mind Pufendorf’s theory, in the light of the distinction between universal and distributive justice: the first (universal justice) based on a natural law commutative concept and the second (distributive justice) based on a compensatory concept. So, Pufendorf’s thought about contractual relations can be applied fruitfully to the problem of the company’s relations, as an association of individuals for the realization of a superior business activity and, at the same time, itself as autonomous entity. The same basic postulate of Pufendorf about men as “moral subjects” which can represents, for business and economic studies, the basis for a renewed conception of the enterprise, as institution that puts man, his needs and his vocation to sociality at the centre of it. Pufendorf’s ideas, then, give interesting insights to the social and academic debate about modern ethics studies and modern business economics, about topics such as the relationship between natural law and positive law, public goods and the relationship between private company ownership and its social responsibility, and therefore the ethicality of business and economic behaviour of owners and managers.
Francesco Forte, Sabato Vinci

Late Scholastics as Predecessors of Natural Law Economics – The Viewpoint of Joseph Höffner

With the publication of Joseph Schumpeter’s History of Economic Analysis, it became clear that the disdain expressed by many economists for scholastic economics was inappropriate and that the scholastics had a significant influence initially on Grotius and Pufendorf, and consequently also Adam Smith. Even before Schumpeter, Joseph Höffner had referred to the dependence of the philosophers of natural law on the Spanish late scholastics in the context of the law of nations. He also made important contributions to the rediscovery of the economics of the late scholastics. This chapter provides an overview of Höffner’s work and shows connecting lines between the scholastics and Grotius and Pufendorf.
Daniel Eissrich

How to Approach Samuel Pufendorf’s Economic Ideas?

The contribution reports on references to Pufendorf in German and English works in the history of economic thought. Thereafter, it addresses the question in which relation Pufendorf’s oeuvre should be seen to be “modern” history of economic thought.
Karl-Heinz Schmidt

Why Pufendorf Matters

Modern economics evolves from (neo)classical political economy, which stresses the role of the individual and rationality. Using Kantian foundations, it is argued that economic is what concerns the individual urge to pursue personal wealth. Nature and the social sphere are both ignored. An alternative view can be based on the ideas of human nature that Samuel Pufendorf formed. According to him, man is sociable. His self-interest is often applied toward this end and not an end in itself. Also, nature plays a role as man can decide what to do with it. Last but not least, Pufendorf recognizes that individuals grow up in society, where they are formed through the use of language and the internalization of conventions. Man, without society, is not perfect and cannot hope to strive for happiness. He needs support from society to protect himself from his fellow man and to increase the chances of realizing this drive toward sociability. Economics could be rebuilt on stronger foundations as neuroscience seems to confirm Pufendorf’s view of human nature in general.
Dirk Ehnts, Erik Jochem
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