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The normativity of nature in Pufendorf and Locke

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)528-558
Number of pages31
Issue number3
Early online date2 Oct 2019
Accepted/In press13 May 2019
E-pub ahead of print2 Oct 2019
PublishedJun 2020


King's Authors


At the beginning of De jure naturae et gentium (1672), Samuel von Pufendorf proposed a radical dichotomy between nature and morality. He was followed down this arid path by his great admirer John Locke. This article begins by exploring their descriptions of this dichotomy, examining the ways in which human animals were supposed to haul themselves out of the push and pull of the mechanistic world in order to become free moral agents. The article then argues that bubbling up from within this principal account of morality is an alternative account according to which virtue seems to infuse nature, thereby blurring the lines between obligation and motivation, and refiguring the character of moral and political agency. In uncovering this refiguration, I highlight the importance of Aristotelianism and Stoicism for Pufendorf and Locke, suggest continuities rather than breaks between the natural lawyers of the seventeenth century and the theorists of moral sentiment of the next, and gesture towards a hitherto underappreciated discourse in early modern thought: the normativity of nature.

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