Samuel von Pufendorf

On The Duty of Man and Citizen
According to the Natural Law (1673)

Samuel von Pufendorf




Most Illustrious and Distinguished Count,
Most Obliging Lord,

No slight doubt troubled my distraught mind, as to whether it would be quite proper for such an insignificant work to claim for itself the auspices of such an illustrious name. For on the one hand the smallness of the little book caused a blush because it possessed no genius or splendor, seeing that it embraced merely the first rudiments of moral philosophy excerpted almost entirely from our more lengthy work. But just as it can furnish some use perhaps to those who are undertaking the first step to that study, so, if account must be taken here of your dignity and my obligation, it will seem sufficiently suitable for neither. On the other hand, your private no less than your public merits stimulated a mind so devoted to your Most Illustrious Excellency, so that I thought it a brand of ingratitude to be vigorously feared, if I neglected any such occasion at least of attesting how much it was beholden to You.

Nor do I now speak of those merits whereby through noble achievements at home and abroad you have rendered the country especially obligated to you, and at the same time have since dedicated your name to immortal glory. To recount those deeds commensurately with their dignity is the task of history, which, while it is relating at length the glorious deeds of your nation and the spreading of its arms victoriously throughout so many regions, finds you always an important factor in such great achievements; and wonders that the same man, when there has been a cessation from war, blossoms forth no less in the arts of peace, applying himself first to the government of a very large province and afterwards to a protecting administration of the entire kingdom.

Rather would it have been proper in this place to touch upon those gifts which have been received from your Most Illustrious Excellency by this newly established University in which it was given to me to fix the abode of my fortunes upon the invitation of the All-Highest King. It can never, in proportion to your merits, proclaim you enough as the wisest as well as the kindest defender and greatest moderator, while it daily finds you striving earnestly and untiringly for its own advantages and embellishments among such a great mass of public business.

Indeed with what respect ought I value the benefits which your Most Illustrious Excellency has conferred upon me in an especial manner? To others it is the height of their wishes to become known to men of rank and to be approved by them. But to me your effusive favor has been pleasing to such an extent that more than once have I experienced it most liberally bestowed both in promoting my advantages and in turning aside from myself the assaults of malevolent persons. Although it is far beyond the measure of my means to make any return for these favors, yet it will surely be necessary at least to acquit myself of a humble attitude of mind and a candid acknowledgment of so many benefits, inasmuch as the benevolence of great men has this characteristic also, that it gladly allows itself to be satisfied with the attestation of a grateful mind. And because it is customary for noble-minded men of their own accord to attach honor to even a slight exhibition of reverence for themselves by way of expressing one’s loyalty, the goodness of your Most Illustrious Excellency bids me to hope likewise for this, that I may not seem to have been wanting to your greatness, if I make use of such a petty work as an occasion of publicly expressing my mind which is so devoted to your Excellency.

For it would be too much to expect from me a work which is brilliant and which can attain a long life, especially since geniuses are tremendously chilled, if they discover that, while they are striving to snatch themselves away from the common crowd, malice and ignorance use their teeth upon them with impunity and no regard is had for repose. Yet my mind will begin to bloom forth with new vigor and will cast aside the weariness that has sprung up, if I shall have understood that this homage has been received by your Most Illustrious Excellency with a placid brow, and if at the same time you shall have bid me rest easy forever about your favor and patronage. So may God preserve your Most Illustrious Excellency flourishing and vigorous for many years as the glory and gain of your country, your most brilliant family, and our new Commonwealth!

Your Most Illustrious Excellency’s most devoted,


Lund, January 23, 1673.



If the custom accepted by many erudite men had almost the force of law, it might have seemed superfluous to say anything by way of preface regarding the raison d’tre of this work, since the subject matter itself tells sufficiently that I have done nothing else than set forth for beginners the chief headings of natural law, briefly, and, I think, in a clear compendium, lest, if they mingled themselves into the diffuse regions of this study beyond as it were an elementary knowledge, they be put to flight by the abundance and difficulty of the subject matter from the very beginning. At the same time it seemed to be to the public advantage that the minds of studious youths be imbued with moral doctrine of this character, in order that its manifest use in civil life might be considered. And although otherwise I would always have judged it inglorious to reduce to a compendium the more extensive writings of others, and much more of myself, yet when the authority of superiors is added, I do not think that the prudent will blame me for having wished to devote this labor simply to the advantage of youth, whose approval deservedly should be so great that a work undertaken for their favor, even when it does not possess genius or brilliancy, should not be judged unworthy by anyone. But that principles of this character are not more suitable for the entire study of law than any elements of civil law, no one denies who has half a sane head. And this might be sufficient for the present, did not some counsel that it would
not be amiss to preface some remarks which might make for the understanding of the character of the natural law as a whole and the more accurate marking off of its limits. I have undertaken this all the more willingly because in this way a pretext is taken away from men who are importunately curious to put forth their feverish criticism upon this study, which, though often as it were intermingled, is separated from their province.

Therefore it is manifest that from three founts, so to speak, men derive the knowledge of their duty and what in this life they must do, as being morally good, and what not to do, as being morally bad: namely the light of reason, the civil laws and the particular revelation of the divine authority. From the first flow the commonest duties of man, especially those which make him sociable with other men; from the second, the duties of man in so far as he lives subject to a particular and definite State; from the third, the duties of a man who is a Christian. From this three separate studies arise, the first of which is the natural law, common to all nations; the second, the civil law of the single individual States, into which the human race departed. The third is called moral theology in contradistinction to that part of theology which explains what is to be believed.

Each of these studies uses a method of proving its dogmas corresponding to its principle. In the natural law it is asserted that something must be done because the same is gathered by right reason as necessary for sociability between men. The last analysis of the precepts of the civil law is that the law-giver so established. The moral theologian acquiesces in that ultimate proposition, because God has so ordered in the Holy Scriptures. But just as the study of civil law presupposes the natural law as a more general study, so if the civil law contains anything upon which the natural law is silent, not on this account is the latter to be counted repugnant to the former. In a similar way, if in moral theology some doctrines are handed down as flowing from divine revelation to which our reason does not extend and therefore which the natural law ignores, it would be very ignorant on that account to match the former with the latter or imagine some repugnance between those studies. Vice versa, if any principles in the study of the natural law are presupposed from that which can be investigated by reason, on this account in no wise are the former opposed to those which the sacred literature hands down with greater clearness upon the same subject, but are only conceived by abstraction. Thus, e.g. in the study of the natural law, by abstracting from that knowledge which is drawn from the Sacred Scriptures, the condition of the first man is fashioned, howsoever he was projected in the world, in so far as reasoning alone can attain it. To oppose such principles to those which the divine literature hands down concerning the same condition, “this indeed is the juice of a black cuttlefish, this is mere envy.”2

Indeed just as there will easily be harmony between the civil law and the natural law, so it seems a little more difficult to determine the boundary lines between the same natural law and moral theology and to define the chief respects in which they differ. I shall briefly set forth my opinion upon this matter, not indeed by virtue of papal authority, as if it would by some privilege protect me from all error, nor as one who from dreams sent down from on high, or some irrationable instinct, is animated with a trustworthiness of some singular illumination; but as one who is minded to ornament the Sparta which has been entrusted to him in proportion to the slight measure of his genius. In such a way, however, that, just as I am ready to gladly listen to the better suggestions of prudent and erudite men and to correct my previous pronouncements without obstinacy, so I do not care a straw for those rivals of Midas, the critics who wantonly rush into judgments upon matters which are no concern of theirs, or for a whole nation of busybodies whose character Phaedrus very cleverly depicts. “Tremblingly,” he says, “they run about, busy in idleness, panting freely, doing much in doing nothing, troublesome to themselves and detestable to others.”3

The first distinction therefore, whereby those studies are mutually separated, results from the different source from which each derives its dogmas, and upon this point we have just touched. Consequently, if there be some actions which we are bid by divine literature to perform or not to perform, yet whose necessity can not be grasped by reason left to itself, those actions fall outside the natural law and properly look toward moral theology. Moreover in theology law is considered proportionately as it has annexed a divine promise and a certain sort of pact between God and man. From this consideration the natural law abstracts, obviously since that which reason alone can not discover proceeds from the particular revelation of God.

Furthermore, that is by far the most important distinction whereby the end and aim of the natural law is included only in the circuit of this life, and therefore it moulds man accordingly as he ought to lead this life in society with others. But moral theology moulds a man into a Christian, who should not only have the purpose of passing honorably through this life, but who especially hopes for the fruit of piety after this life and who on this account has his politeuma [policy] in heaven, while here he lives merely as a wayfarer or sojoumer. For although the mind of man not only with a glowing desire leans, as it were, towards immortality and vigorously shrinks from self-destruction, and hence among many of the Gentiles the persuasion has become inveterate that the soul remains after its separation from the body and that then it will go well with the good and ill with the bad; nevertheless a persuasion of this sort on such matters, in which the mind of man might plainly and firmly acquiesce, is drawn only from the word of God. Hence the decrees of the natural law are adapted only to the human forum, which does not extend beyond this life, and they are wrongly applied in many places to the divine forum, which is the especial care of theology.

From this also it follows that, because the human forum is busied with only the external actions of man, while to those which he concealed within the breast and produce no effect or sign outside it does not penetrate and consequently is not disturbed about them, the natural law likewise is concerned to a great extent with the directing of the external actions of man. But for moral theology it is not sufficient that the external customs of men have been made in some way or another in keeping with decorum; but it is concerned chiefly with this, that the mind and its internal movements be fashioned after the will of the deity; and it reprobates those very actions which extrinsically indeed appear to be proper, but nevertheless emanate from an impure mind.

And this too seems to be the reason why in the divine books there is not so frequently question of those actions which have been forbidden under penalties of the human forum or concerning which the rights are there declared as of those actions which (to use the words of Seneca) are outside of public documents. This is manifestly evident to those who have carefully examined the precepts and virtues inculcated therein, although, while those very Christian virtues dispose the minds of men as much as possible to sociability, moral theology likewise promotes in a most efficacious manner honesty of civil life. So also vice versa, if you see anyone who shows himself a turbulent and troublesome member of civil life, you may safely judge that the Christian religion clings inside his lips only and has not yet penetrated his heart. And from this not only do I think that the genuine limits are manifestly evident which separate the natural law, as laid down by us, from moral theology; but also that natural law is by no means repugnant to the dogmas of true theology, but only abstracts from some of its dogmas which can not be investigated by reason alone.

Hence it is also patent that man now necessarily confides in the teachings of natural law, accordingly as his nature has been corrupted and consequently as he is an animal bubbling over with many wicked desires. For although no one is so stupid as not to perceive in himself affections that are inordinate and tending out of the beaten path, yet, if the divine literature did not light the way, no one could now be certain that that rebellion of the affections arose through the fault of the first man. And consequently since the natural law does not extend to those things to which reason can not reach it would be incongruous to wish to deduce it from the uncorrupted nature of man. Especially since many commandments of the Decalogue itself, seeing that they are couched in negative terms, manifestly presuppose the corrupted nature of man.

So, for example, the first commandment seems certainly to presuppose the proclivity of man to believe in idolatry and polytheism For if you suppose men as endowed with a nature still uncorrupted in whom the knowledge of God was perfectly clear and who from time to time enjoyed His familiar, so to speak, revelation I do not see how it could possibly enter the mind of such a man to fashion for himself something which he would wish to worship in place of the true God or along with Him, or believe that divinity was inherent in that thing which he himself had fashioned. Therefore there was no need to enjoin upon this man in negative terms, not to worship strange gods, but for him was sufficient the simple affirmative commandment, love, honor and worship God Whom you recognize as the Creator of this Universe and your own Creator likewise.

The same thing obtains with regard to the second commandment. For why should he be forbidden by a negative commandment to blaspheme God who clearly understood His majesty and benefactions and whom no wicked desires disturbed, and whose mind quietly acquiesced in the status assigned to it by God? How could such an insanity take possession of him? Nay rather he Was to be advised with an affirmative commandment only, to glorify the name of God.

Yet we must apparently speak otherwise with regard to the third as well as the fourth commandment, for since they are affirmative and do not necessarily presuppose a corrupted nature, they may find place in either status. But concerning the rest of the commandments, which have regard for one’s neighbor, the matter is likewise very evident. For upon man, such as he was established by God in the beginning, it was sufficient simply to enjoin that he should love his neighbor; to this his nature was inclined. But how could he be commanded not to kill, when death had not yet fallen upon man, since it entered the world through sin?

But there is the greatest need of a negative commandment now when instead of love so many hatreds stalk among men that there is a great crop of those who from mere envy or lust for attacking another’s fortune do not hesitate to overthrow others who are not only innocent but even friends and deserving well of them, and indeed who do not blush to pass off a terrible and rash attack of a turbulent mind under the word conscience. So why was there need expressly to forbid adulteries among those spouses who loved each other with such an ardent and sincere love? Or why was it relevant to forbid thefts, since there was no avarice, no penury as yet, and no one thought something belonged to himself which could benefit another? Or why was it necessary to forbid false testimony, since they did not yet exist who thereafter strove to obtain fame and glory for themselves, if they could asperge another by a base and stupid false accusation? So that it would not be inapt to apply to this that statement of Tacitus: “The most ancient of mortals, as yet without evil lust, used to live without baseness, crime, and therefore without punishment and coercions; and since they desired nothing beyond custom, they were forbidden nothing through fear.”4

[Note 4 and beginning of next page apparently omitted from the original.]

. . . the state of uncorrupted nature or indeed the same law? Here reply can be made in a few words; that the chief headings of the law are the same in both states, but that the many particular precepts vary on account of the diversity of the human condition; or rather, that the same essence of the law is unfolded through different, though not contrary, precepts, according as the man by whom the law must be observed exists in a different manner. Our Saviour reduced the essence of the law to two heads: Love God and love your neighbor. To these heads can be referred the entire natural law, in the uncorrupted as well as in the corrupted state of mankind; unless because in the uncorrupted state there seems to have been little or no difference between the natural law and moral theology. For the sociability, which we have laid down as the foundation for the natural law, may be properly resolved into love of neighbor.

But when we come down to the particular precepts, surely no slight distinction arises with regard to the affirmative as well as the negative precepts. And indeed, so far as the affirmative precepts are concerned, not a few of them exist now in the present state for which there does not seem to have been room in the primeval state: and this partly because they presuppose an institution such as it is not clear whether it falls to the happiest condition of mankind; partly because they are not intelligible without misery and death which was exiled from that state. For example, it is now among the precepts of the natural law not to deceive another in a buying or selling, not to use a false ell, measure or weight, to return borrowed money at the time agreed upon. But it is not yet perfectly clear whether, if the human race had remained free from sin, commercial relations of the same character as are now carried on would have been put into practice, and whether there would then have been any use for money. So if such States as now exist had no place in the state of innocence, there was likewise no place there for precepts which presuppose States of this kind and the authority contained in them. Now too we are bidden by the natural law to succor the needy, to aid those oppressed by an unfortunate calamity, to take care of widows and of orphans. But these are prescribed in vain to those who are not subject to misfortune, need and death. We are now bidden by the natural law to be prone to condone wrongs and to seek out peace. This would be fruitless among those who do not sin against the laws of sociability.

And this very thing is likewise manifestly evident in negative precepts, which have regard for the natural (not the positive) law. For although any affirmative precept may virtually contain an interdict of everything opposed (for example, he who is bidden to love his neighbor, by that very fact is forbidden to do all those deeds to him which are repugnant to love); nevertheless it seems superfluous that they be set apart by express precepts when no wicked desires impel to commit such deeds. To illustrate this we can bring forward the fact that Solon was unwilling to set aside a punishment for parricides by public law, because he did not think that such a great- crime would fall to the lot of any son. Similar to this is the statement of Francisco Lopez de Gomara5 concerning the peoples of Nicaragua, that there was no punishment decreed among them for him who had killed a petty chief (cacique, they called him), because, they said, there was no subject who wished to think up or perpetrate so dire a crime.

I fear that it may seem affected to inculcate these principles which are so patent to the majority. Yet for the comprehension of beginners I shall add this example. There are two boys of altogether different dispositions entrusted to the education of someone. One is modest and bashful and glowing with a great love for letters. The other is dissolute, petulant, and loves abominable lusts rather than books. The substance of the duty of both is the same, to learn letters. But the individual precepts are different. For it is sufficient to enjoin upon the former what studies, at what time, and with what method he ought to treat them. The other, besides these precepts very sharply given, ought to be forbidden under threat to run around, to play dice, to sell his books, to depend entirely upon another in composing his exercises, to be a dude, to consort with harlots. In the same way if anyone would teach a boy of the former disposition to declaim carefully, he will bid him euphemein, and him who is not affected with any desire of such things, to sing them to anyone rather than to himself.

From which it is manifest, I think, that there would be a far different aspect of natural law, if anyone wished to presuppose the state of man to be uncorrupted. And at the same time since the limits whereby this study is separated from moral theology are so clearly marked off, this study would be in no worse condition than civil jurisprudence, medicine, natural science or mathematics; if anyone should dare to burst forth into them amuetos [uninitiated], arrogating censure to himself unchosen, people would not hesitate to exclaim what Appelles once said to Megabyzus who was attempting some discourse or other upon the art of painting: “Be silent, I beseech you, lest the slave-boys who prepare the white paint laugh at you, in your attempt to speak upon subjects which you have not learned.” But it will be easy for us to suit good and kindly men. The evil minded and unlearned calumniators, however, it were better to entrust to their own envy for punishment, seeing that it is certainly clear and based upon the eternal law that the Ethiopian does not change his skin.


     1.    This Greeting and the preceding Dedicatory Letter and Title-Page have been translated by Herbert F. Wright.
     2.    HORACE, Sermones. 1, 4, 100-101.
     3.    PHAEDRUS, 2, 52.
     4.    [Omitted.]      5.    La Historia General de las Indias, ch. 207.