Front Page Titles (by Subject) PREFACE - Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence
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PREFACE - Samuel von Pufendorf, Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence 
Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence, translated by William Abbott Oldfather, 1931. Revised by Thomas Behme. Edited and with an Introduction by Thomas Behme (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 2009).
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The science of law and equity, which is not comprehended in the laws of any single state, but by virtue of which the duties of all men whatsoever toward one another are governed, has hitherto not been cultivated, to the extent that its necessity and dignity demanded, by those who have extolled the study of universal knowledge under that designation. Among the chief reasons for this state of affairs the following also seems to belong, namely: A common conviction has prevailed down to the present among the learned that in matters of morality, by their very nature, there is no firm and infallible certainty, and that all knowledge of such matters rests upon probable opinion only. Hence it came about that they gave as it were but a light touch to what in their opinion rested upon so slippery a foundation; and herein the negligent found the plausible excuse, that such matters were not embodied in sure demonstrations, but could be treated only in a crude sort of way. The common run, indeed, felt the less shame in offering this excuse, because Aristotle himself, who, by some almost fatal partiality, has hitherto appeared to the majority of mankind to surpass the summit of human genius, prefixed it to the frontispiece of his work on ethics,3 as though it were some proud ornament. Now, of a truth, aside from the fact that it appears utterly absurd for men to be denied sure knowledge of those things which they were enjoined by the authority [autoritatem] of their Creator to put into action, while at the same time one may have definite and clear knowledge of things which can be safely ignored, this whole error has hitherto been so persistently nourished by the false interpretation of no more than three or four words in Aristotle. When you restore them to their proper sense, even by the decrees of the Stagirite, Law will be allowed to claim its place among the sciences which are called demonstrative. For what he had said about demonstration from which comes true and certain knowledge, has been explained in this fashion, namely, that it was denied a place among questions of morals because these latter were contingent entities produced by free causes. But, as a matter of fact, in that passage he observes that the subject of the demonstration [subjectum demonstrationis] is a declaration or proposition (by no means, however, the subject in a demonstrative proposition, as distinguished from the predicate), which must be demonstrated, that is, one in which a necessary connexion of the predicate with the subject must be shown by virtue of some principle or very general declaration, which contains the reason for that connexion.4 Whence it follows that it is sufficient for a demonstration, if some thing or action have an attribute whose necessary connexion with the subject one can directly or indirectly demonstrate by some undoubted axiom, whether the action or thing itself does or does not depend upon necessary causes. And thus, just as it would be ridiculous if one should wish to demonstrate in some body of doctrine that, for example, “Seius is here and now committing theft, Titius is committing highway robbery,” so no prudent man would dare deny that, when we assert “Seius is committing theft, Titius is committing highway robbery,” a demonstration can be given that these same persons are sinning against the Law of Nature;5 at all events, that one would be any less certain about this point than about that which is inculcated ad nauseam in the bodies of doctrine which by universal consent rejoice in the certainty of sciences, to wit, that “man is risible, because he is rational,” and that “a sparrow is one, true, and good, because it is an entity.”
All this was set forth not long since in a special treatise6 in the most clear and reliable manner by that illustrious man, Herr Erhard Weigel, Professor of Mathematics in the University of Jena, a respected friend of mine. He it was who first exhorted me to attempt something in this field, and his genius has supplied me with a most helpful torch in matters not a few. This task, furthermore, I have undertaken with the greater zeal, because also by a special inclination I felt disposed to studies of that kind, and because it seemed to be worth making the effort to prove that what is handed down on this matter does by no means all rest upon vacillating opinions, but flows clearly enough from fixed and first principles.
And now, as to the method of this book, reason herself, indeed, makes it sufficiently clear that a man who is about to set forth some discipline must at the outset explain precisely what is meant by the subject-matter which he is about to treat; then he must seek for fixed principles from which necessarily true declarations concerning these matters may be deduced. Hence, any doctrine ought to be complete in three parts, the first of which comprehends the Definitions, the second, the Principles, and the third, the Propositions or Conclusions derived from the principles; to these, if it appear necessary, a fourth is to be added, into which may be gathered those topics in which certainty does not clearly appear.7 For all that is commonly said about the difference between the synthetic and the analytic method is nonsense.8 However, it has seemed best to us not to assign a special book to the Propositions, but to subjoin each proposition forthwith to the definitions or the principles on which it primarily depended; for there is a certain aridity which seems to deform the body of doctrine in question if it be set forth divided up into minute parts in the fashion of the mathematical sciences.
One other thing should be noted here. We have drawn much from that marvellous work, De jure belli ac pacis, by the incomparable Hugo Grotius. Although appearing to treat merely a part of universal jurisprudence, he has, nevertheless, touched upon most of its parts in such wise that scarcely anything can be written in this field without his name appearing either as authority or as witness.9 No small debt likewise do we owe to Thomas Hobbes, whose basic assumption in his book, De cive, although it savours somewhat of the profane, is nevertheless for the most part extremely acute and sound.10 These two authors we have preferred to cite here once for all, as it were, and have refrained from mentioning them in the body of our work whenever their opinion is followed, because, aside from the tedium of frequent citation, we have followed rather their arguments than their authority [autoritatem]. For whenever the zeal for truth has compelled us to disagree with them and others, we have withheld their names, so that we should not appear to be eager to win a petty glory for ourselves by plucking at the blemishes of great men. And we have always regarded it as foolish, when you know yourself to be a man by no means free from errors, to incite others by harshness of criticism to subject you to the same treatment. We feel the greater confidence that this modesty on our part will meet with favour among the prudent, seeing that it has too frequently happened among those who have professed the study of the humanities, that they have inhumanely attacked others not without words of contumely.
[3. ] Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics, ed. William D. Ross, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1931), I, 1094b11–14: “Our discussion will be adequate if it has as much clearness as the subject-matter admits of. . . . Now fine and just actions, which political science investigates, admit of much variety and fluctuation of opinion, so that they may be thought to exist only by convention, and not by nature. . . . We must be content, then, in speaking of such subjects and with such premises to indicate the truth roughly and in outline, . . . for it is the mark of an educated man to look for precision in each class of things just so far as the nature of the subject admits; it is evidently equally foolish to accept probable reasoning from a mathematician and to demand from a rhetorician scientific proofs.” Pufendorf epitomizes and translates that passage in JNG, 1, 2, §1. According to Aristotle, science in the strict sense (epistéme) deals with the necessary and universal (Posterior Analytics I.2 in Aristotle, Analytica priora et posteriora, ed. W. D. Ross (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964). Human actions dealing with variable particulars are not the object of science but of prudence that takes into account individual circumstances (Nicomachean Ethics VI, 1140a1, a24–b30).
[4. ] Pufendorf refers to Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics and its doctrine of demonstration as the basis of exact science. His interpretation of Aristotle’s subject of demonstration as the necessary relation expressed in a demonstrative proposition (and not as the single subject in a demonstrative proposition) follows Erhard Weigel’s Analysis Aristotelica ex Euclide restituta (Jena, 1658; modern edition by Thomas Behme, 2008). See in particular sect. I, chap. ii “De natura subjecti formaliter spectati” (On the nature of the subject formally considered). Oldfather’s translation is misleading here because he translates effatum as declaration or proposition. But effatum—a technical term in Weigel’s Analysis Aristotelica—means a complex entity or necessary relation founded in the nature of things and existing independently of the speech expressing it (see Analysis Aristotelica, sect. I, chap. ii, §14).
[5. ] According to Pufendorf, this distinction of (demonstrable) knowledge of relations and (nondemonstrable) knowledge of facts makes it possible to treat natural law as an Aristotelian epistéme, notwithstanding the freedom of the will and contingency of human actions. While particular human actions (as matters of fact) are nondemonstrable, their moral qualities may be demonstrated from their agreement or disagreement with the (demonstrable) principles of natural law. This constitutes a distinction between two fields of moral philosophy: “one of them concerns the rectitude of human actions in their order according to laws, the other concerns the successful management of one’s own actions and those of others, with an eye to the security and welfare primarily to the public” (JNG, 1, 2, §4). That distinction has also been taken from Erhard Weigel. See Analysis Aristotelica, sect. III, membrum II, chap. vii, §10.
[6. ] The already mentioned Analysis Aristotelica.
[7. ] This method of science agrees with Erhard Weigel’s reformed Aristotelian methodology based on Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics and Euclid’s Elements. Following the Posterior Analytics (I.2), the Analysis Aristotelica makes a threefold distinction between (1) suppositive principles, that is, the definitions of the subject (of the proposition) and its properties, plus the hypothesis of the subject’s existence (hypothesis demonstrativa); (2) perfective principles, that is, the axioms, to which Weigel adds observations (experimental principles) and Euclidean postulates; and (3) the practice of demonstration or method (Analysis Aristotelica, sect. II, chap. i, §§5–6; sect. III, membrum II, chap. xiii, §§1–2). From those essential parts of a discipline of study Weigel distinguishes a fourth part of still unproved propositions which are based on probable principles, thus referring to Aristotle’s Topics (Analysis Aristotelica, sect. III, membrum II, chap. xiii, §37).
[8. ] The statement reflects Weigel’s identification of Aristotelian analytics and Euclidean (synthetic) method. See ibid., §§31–32.
[9. ] According to its title, Grotius’s work aims only at an exposition of international law. That, however, requires an exposition of all possible legal controversies in order to show the possible reasons of war; consequently it amounts to a doctrine of universal natural law. See De jure belli ac pacis libri tres, trans. Francis W. Kelsey and ed. James Brown Scott, Classics of International Law 3 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1925) (hereafter cited as JBP), I.i.1–2: “War, however, is undertaken in order to secure peace, and there is no controversy which may not give rise to war. In undertaking to treat the law of war, therefore, it will be in order to treat such controversies, of any and every kind, as are likely to arise. War will finally conduct us to peace as its ultimate goal” (I.i.2). “As we set out to treat the law of war, then, we ought to see what is war, which we are treating, and what is the law which forms the subject of our investigation.”
[10. ] The basic assumption in question is Hobbes’s fundamental hypothesis of the natural state of man as bellum omnium contra omnes. See De cive, preface to the reader: “in the first place I set down for a principle, by experience known to all men and denied by none, to wit, that the dispositions of men are naturally such, that except they be restrained through fear of some coercive power, every man will distrust and dread each other, and as by naturall right he may, so by necessity he will be forced to make use of the strength he hath, toward the preservation of himself.” Notwithstanding the substantial differences concerning the principle and content of natural law (see bk. II, Observ. 3 and 4), Pufendorf appreciated Hobbes’s methodological contribution to the natural law discussion. See in particular Eris, “Specimen controversiarum . . .,” chap. i “De origine et progressu disciplinae juris naturalis,” §6, pp. 126–27.