Individual projects

Wim Decock will inquire the birth of freedom of contract at the crossroads of natural rights and duties in the sixteenth and seventeenth century scholastics. Early modern scholastics such as Francisco de Soto, Luis de Molina and Leonard Lessius derived natural rights from human freedom to dispose of one’s property as one liked. However, while natural law stipulated that every human being could freely acquire and alienate property at his will, that same natural law urged man to observe the rules of justice and equality in exchange. This meant that exchange should not enrich one contracting party at the expense of the other. One was thought to be under natural obligation not to exploit the need of another. How did this tension between natural rights and duties resolve? How did it play into the trade relations between the indigenous people and the Spanish conquistadores, or, more generally, between the poor and the rich? How did the scholastics square the prohibition on the exploitation of need with the insight that the market mechanism relies partly on demand driven by need?

Heikki Haara will explore Samuel Pufendorf’s ideas on the psychological and sociological implications of sociability in his main political and theological writings. Pufendorf´s theory has been seen as an example of a distinctively modern approach to moral and political philosophy. Haara will study which elements of Pufendorf’s approach were already present in late medieval discussion and in Spanish neo- scholastics like Francesco Suaréz. Although Pufendorf treated sociability merely as a normative concept, Haara shows in his master thesis on Samuel Pufendorf’s Concept of Natural Right and the State of Nature (2011) that there seem to be certain psychological implications as well. This novel idea needs to be studied more precisely since it will provide a new light on the relationship between natural rights and natural law in early modern political thought. Conceptualizing sociability as a social phenomenon as well as the moral psychological capabilities of humans also made a vital contribution to the rise of the Western liberal vision of the relations between individuals and society.

Virpi Mäkinen will investigate the conceptual and theoretical basis of natural rights, focusing on the psychological assumptions behind them (e.g. the instinct for self-preservation, self-possession, and other similar innate powers). The study extends from the work of high and late medieval scholars of natural rights (e.g. Huguccio, Henry of Ghent, Godfrey of Fontaines, Ockham, Marsilius of Padua) through Jean Gerson and Hugo Grotius to the works of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Spanish neo-scholastics (e.g. Francisco de Vitoria, Bartolomeo de Las Casa, Francisco Suaréz). Mäkinen aims to show the resemblances and discontinuities between medieval and early modern theories. She also pays attention to the development of poor laws based on charity and later on social justice. She is composing a monograph on the subject entitled Self-Preservation, Self-Ownership and Natural Rights, 1200–1600 (to be published by an international publisher in 2013/14).

Ilse Paakkinen will study the gendered aspects in late-medieval and early-modern rights sources (e.g. Chrétien de Troyes, Dante Alighieri, Geoffrey Chaucer, Christine de Pizan, Laura Cereta, Marguerite of Navarre, and Juan Luis Vives). She will focus on the metaphysical re-evaluation of gender that was an essential principle in treatises which defended women. She will also study the idea of gender both as the basis and possibility of legal and political action in the different treatises discussing the rights of women, and especially the rights of widows.

Mikko Posti studies John Wyclif’s theory of property rights founded upon the idea of the dominion of God as the source of all worldly dominion. He pays particular attention to the theological dimensions of Wyclif’s thought. Unlike most of his predecessors, Wyclif argued for a strong distinction between temporal and spiritual powers in a theological framework. Questions related to e.g. predestinarian theology and heresies loom large in Wyclif’s political writings. Wyclif’s theory of dominion in effect marginalizes those that are not part of the righteous elect, while at the same time Wyclif and his followers had to fight charges of heresy early on. An analysis of Wyclif’s views on the property rights of the theologically marginalized groups such as heretics may open up new perspectives to the development of political and theological thought in late 14th century scholasticism.

Jonathan Robinson is working on the project Bartolus of Sassoferrato and the History of Rights in the Fourteenth Century which contributes to the rarely studied subject of the influence of the glossators on the emergence of natural rights. Bartolus, widely recognized as the greatest Roman law jurist of the Middle Ages, was also one of the first lawyers to write a treatise devoted to reconciling the Franciscan vow of poverty with the legal framework of the ius commune. He thus represents a point of confluence for the rich traditions about the scope and justification of natural rights that had grown up in the Franciscan poverty controversy and in the teachings of the jurists of the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Robinson’s project will situate Bartolus’ own views about natural rights in relation to these two streams of discourse and point the way to how his ideas were adopted or adapted by later jurists of the ius commune. 

Pamela Slotte will investigate the conceptual and theoretical underpinnings of contemporary human rights thinking and the way in which ideas of human needs, of social justice and of charity inform present-day debates. She will also examine the history of human rights, as well as the ways in which the history of human rights has been written and is being revisited anew at the beginning of the twenty-first century.

Mikko Tolonen will look into the different psychological assumptions underlining political and socio-economic theories during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Some scholars find the origin of modern rights theories in the economic life of the early modern age. Tolonen examines the question in a broader context since seventeenth-century thinkers like Thomas Hobbes and John Locke were influenced not only by the circumstances of their own age but also by an earlier tradition of thought that they had inherited. Tolonen will consider the questions of wellbeing and the conceptual possibility of social justice related to natural rights in Thomas Hobbes and Bernard Mandeville.

Jussi Varkemaa will explore the reception of Conrad Summenhart’s (1455–1502) language of rights in the sixteenth century. Although Summenhart’s influence on several theorists, for example John Mair, Jacques Almain and Francisco Vitoria, has been recognized in scholarship, the nature and extent of Summenhart’s reception has not been properly studied. Varkemaa intends to do this by focusing on the relationship between individual liberty and rights and paying special attention to arguments for self-mastery in the context of pre-modern estate society. When discussing natural rights, Summenhart wrote extensively about economic matters and considered the question of slaves. Varkemaa uses these kinds of materials in his inquiry.