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Grotius's shift from natural law to natural rights

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Chapter Summary

The primary laws of nature which Grotius derives from human nature make much more sense if we regard them as formulations of rights than of laws. Such a reading enables us to assess the relationship between the various essential traits of human nature more clearly. As soon as Grotius starts to apply natural law to positive law, the right to self-preservation turns out to be the most important one. Sociability and reason are subordinated to the great aim of self-preservation. The notion of consent is not only used as a key-concept in the justification of positive law. The focus on restorative justice as the regulation of perfect rights reflects the shift from natural law into natural rights. The disappearance of the concept of a natural community as well as the limitation of law to restorative justice results in a conception of the state as a mere aggregate of abstract individuals.

Keywords: Grotius; natural law; positive law; self-preservation



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