The Eudaemonist Ethics of Hugo Grotius : Pre-Modern Moral Philosophy for the Twenty-First Century?

Jurisprudence 7 (3):478-522 (2016)


The present article challenges the popular image of Hugo Grotius as the founder of modern moral philosophy. It establishes that he continued the dialectical search for the good life distinctive of pre-modern ethics. Key in correcting the image of Grotius as innovator—an image almost as old as his De Jure Belli ac Pacis of 1625—is the realisation that this treatise deals only of the requirements for just use of force set out in what Grotius calls ‘law in the strict sense’. For Grotius, ethics—in addition to this law—also encompasses rules of love, an account of the virtues and of happiness. That Grotius adhered to such a virtue-based eudaemonism is confirmed by his De veritate religionis Christianae where he sets out his conception of Christian happiness. The conclusion discusses whether such a distinctly Christian ethics can be of interest to today's world. I argue that the limits on state jurisdiction defined in De Jure Belli ac Pacis are key in making eudaemonism compatible with a liberal state.

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Tobias Schaffner
Cambridge University

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