We aim to provide a historically accurate, morally and politically compelling new picture on the evolution of natural rights by focusing especially on the rights of the underprivileged from the middle ages to the early modern period by addressing the following questions:

(1) How did natural rights language emerge and to what extent was it rooted in different kinds of psychological assumptions about human needs and instincts?

a) Psychological basis: What kind of psychological assumptions are there behind rights language? What makes natural rights inherently human? What makes natural rights subjective? What is the relation between animal interests/rights and human interests/rights? What makes a human being a rights-bearing person? To what extent did late-medieval voluntarist psychology influence the individual rights discourse? (all project members)

b) Gender aspects: Medieval and early modern scholars traditionally viewed women as less than fully capable of moral autonomy. Thus they were incapable of having rights or engaging in politics as well. How was gender defined and treated, if at all, in natural? How were bodily differences and instincts described and how did they influence rights? How was changing social status seen in the rights of widows? (Paakkinen)

c) Universal aspects: What makes natural rights universal? When and how was the idea of ‘a universal individual’ recognized and elucidated in the language of rights? What role did the Spanish neo-Scholastics play in this development? (Decock, Mäkinen, Paakkinen, Robinson, Varkemaa)

(2) How was the unconditional worth of individuals and their needs justified in medieval and early modern rights policies?

Human rights only become meaningful when they gain political content. The project aims to explore the political and social character of natural rights by asking the following questions: How does the development of the political community and the sovereign nation-state influence the development of rights and especially the rights of the underprivileged in the early modern era? What kind of role did the citizen as a political subject play in this development? What rights did non-citizens like vagabonds, beggars have? How does the relationship between rights and liberties contribute to the development? What kind of relationships do writers state there is between self-interest and common good/well-being based on natural law and natural rights thinking? What was the role of equality and justice in this development? What was the situation of women, and especially widows? (Decock, Haara, Mäkinen, Paakkinen, Tolonen, Varkemaa)