Front Page Titles (by Subject) DEFINITION IV: A moral person is a person considered under that status which he has in communal life. - Two Books of the Elements of Universal Jurisprudence
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
DEFINITION IV: A moral person is a person considered under that status which he has in communal life. - 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).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The copyright to this edition, in both print and electronic forms, is held by Liberty Fund, Inc.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
A moral person is a person considered under that status which he has in communal life.
1. This is the most general definition of a moral person. Otherwise, primarily among the jurisconsults, a person is said to be that which possesses a civil condition [caput], that is, personal liberty; a signification by which slaves are listed under things. Now moral persons can be considered either separately or collectively. Separately considered, according to the difference of their statuses, there are public persons, those, namely, who are situated in a public status; and private persons, those, namely, who are in a private status.
Public persons are either ecclesiastical or political, and these are either principal or less principal. Among principal persons some rule the state with supreme authority, such as emperors, kings, princes, or by whatever name they are listed in whose hands is supreme sovereignty. Some exercise a part of sovereignty, by an authority delegated by majesty, and these are called by the general word magistrates. Their names are different in different states. Less principal persons are those who, without exercising authority, let out their services to princes or magistrates; among these, attendants and bailiffs occupy the lowest place, and last of all come executioners. From association with these last, although they are not branded with any legal infamy, even men who are but slightly more worthy commonly turn away; and this they do primarily because the habits of these men are very generally apt to correspond to their ministrations, which are associated with a certain degree of severity and unseemliness, or else because only mean spirits betake themselves readily to that kind of life.
In war officers of higher and lower rank correspond to magistrates. Under them are private soldiers who are also listed among public persons, because by the highest civil authority they are directly or indirectly authorized to carry arms for the state. This is understood to be the case when they take the oath of allegiance or are sent forth by the special command of their superiors to undertake the operations of warfare.
A special kind of political persons also can be constituted of those whom you might call representatives. These are equipped with power [potestate] and authority [autoritate] to act by some one in whose place they transact affairs with another to the same effect as though they had been handled by the same person himself. Such are ambassadors, vicegerents, plenipotentiaries, and likewise syndics. Among private persons trustees and guardians occupy an equivalent position.
As for the ecclesiastical persons, to the extent to which any one has been brought up in some religion, it will be easy for him to take cognizance of their variety; nor can scholastic persons fail to be recognized by the learned.
2. Among private persons distinctions are drawn from (1) sex, whence are male, female, and hermaphrodite. Although these distinctions are properly physical, they nevertheless belong here because of a certain moral respect, in so far as the sexes are differently treated in civil life. For we both regard most women as beneath the dignity of a man’s wrath, and we treat their insults as of less account than those of men, nor do we set so high a value upon their judgement and testimony, and, as a general thing, we do not admit them to public office, however capable otherwise they may be. And as for the hermaphrodite we turn away from one as from a monstrosity of nature.
(2) Distinctions are drawn also from moral status in time, whence it comes that the treatment of a young man is different from that of an old man, and an old man may do what does not become a young man, and vice versa. So also the authority [autoritas] of an old man is different from that of a young man.
(3) They are drawn also from the moral position in the state. Hence one man is a citizen, another a sojourner, another a resident, another an alien. As these men are bound in different ways to the state, so also they are not rated in the same way in regard to the distribution of advantages and the imposition of burdens.
(4) Distinctions are drawn also from the moral position in the family, whence we have husband, wife, father, children, master, slave, who are as it were ordinary members; to their number the guest is sometimes added, outside the regular order.
(5) Also from lineage, whence we have the nobleman who may be descended from an illustrious or a less illustrious family, or the plebeian. These are differently distinguished in different states.
(6) Also from occupation, that to which each individual devotes his efforts. This is either liberal or illiberal. Here belong merchants, who make their living by the exchange of goods. In this class hucksters bring up the rear. Here likewise belong all those who attend to land, plants, or domestic animals; such as countrymen, vine dressers, market gardeners, herdsmen, &c.
3. Considered collectively persons constitute a society or an association when several persons are so united that both their action and their will are regarded as the action and will of a single individual, and not of several. It is understood that this takes place when individuals coming together into a society so subject their will to the will of a single individual who is the head of that society, or to the whole association, that they are willing to recognize and have regarded as their own will and action whatever the head, or the majority of the society, has decided or done in matters concerning the society.1 Hence it results that, whereas before, whatever several desired or did was regarded as the desires and actions of as many as was the number of physical persons there, now that they have been united in a society, but one will is ascribed to them, and whatever action proceeds from them as such is adjudged to be the action not of many but of one, even though a number of physical individuals have concurred in it. Hence also a society acquires its special rights and goods, which cannot at all be claimed by individuals, as such. Here must be made the further observation, that, just as individual persons remain the same, although in the passage of time the body undergoes marked changes through various additions and losses of particles, so through the particular succession of individuals a society does not change but remains the same, unless at a single time such a change befall that it utterly destroys the true character of the former body or society.2
4. We can divide societies or moral persons, furthermore, like individual persons, into public and private. The former, again, are either sacred and ecclesiastical, or political. Among sacred societies some are general, as the Catholic Church, so likewise particular churches bounded by the definite limits of regions and states, or distinguished by public formulae of confessions. Some are special, as a council, either oecumenical, national, or provincial, a diocesan synod, a consistory, the gathering of a cathedral chapter, or a presbytery.
In the same way a political society is either universal, as a state which is divided into different species, for example monarchy, aristocracy, and democracy, according to whether supreme sovereignty is in the hands of an individual, or a council composed of a few citizens, or of all the citizens; or particular, as a senate, a cabinet, a tribe, &c. A scholastic society exhibits the same diversity. A society in military uniform is called an army, and its parts are the legion, the troop, the cohort, the decury, the maniple, &c. Private societies are not merely families, but also what are called guilds of merchants, and of craftsmen, and the like. It would be a long task to enumerate these one by one. Let it suffice us to have touched merely upon the most salient features.
[1. ] For a more detailed treatment of Pufendorf’s doctrine of union of wills, see bk. II, Observ. 5, §2.
[2. ] For the origin of this analogy, see JNG, 8, 12, §7, where Pufendorf refers to contemporary medicine (Thomas Browne, Religio medici, sect. 36), to Roman law (Dig., V.i.76), and to ancient authors (for example, Seneca, 17 Letters, 58, 102; Plutarch, The E at Delphi, 392; id., Theseus, 23; and Lucretius, On the Nature of Things, III.860).