Liberty Matters

Eclectic Pufendorf

Thanks to Knud for such an engaging and engaged response. I will try to get clear on where Knud (and Ian) and I disagree.
For Pufendorf the strife of civil life can be controlled and minimized by recognizing the distinctness of personae. My duties as sovereign are distinct from my duties as parent, and to confuse the two is to make a destructive mistake that can threaten civil peace and civil life. This distinction can be seen in Locke’s criticisms of Filmer’s conflation of the two. Both Ian and Knud suggest, very elegantly, that it is a mistake to view Pufendorf as a philosopher or his solution to this problem as philosophical.
As I suggested in my comment, I don’t think Pufendorf is consistently one thing or another; he is an eclectic. So one disagreement concerns how coherent past intellectuals are. Knud and Ian seem to think Pufendorf is consistent. I tend to think not, not just of Pufendorf but of most every intellectual. We are all eclectic whether we like it or not, even if we are not eclectics.  As Ian has masterfully shown in Rival Enlightenments, the contexts and occasional needs of Pufendorf’s theory determined the content and to retrodict (to use Knud’s locution) it as a philosophical treatise is wishful thinking. But note I never said anything about making Pufendorf wholly a philosopher. I suggested -- in Pufendorf’s terms -- that he seriously takes on the role of demonstrative moral philosopher -- as one ought with any role -- and that this role may not cohere with the others. The claim that it is solely intended as rhetorical persuasion seems to me too unified, and far too philosophical in that unifying sense by making Pufendorf an anti-philosopher.
The options are not either Plato or a non-philosopher. Unlike Plato, for Pufendorf to know the good is not to do the good. But this does not rule out knowing what our moral obligations are and knowing that we ought to act on them. Nor does it rule out in principle a commitment to their demonstrability, even if, as I suggested, in practice it goes nowhere. As I have also suggested there is evidence that others whom Pufendorf clearly engages with and who were as varied in their civic interests  -- I gave a quote from Grotius -- held a demonstrative moral picture. And for Grotius natural religion and the basic principles of natural law are in principle demonstrative. This is why it puzzles me that Knud suggests that the ascription of “science” is an Enlightenment interdiction. I mean science as scientia, a term used by Scotus as well.
There were empiric models for scientia, Bacon of course and Grotius, in addition to Weigel. Furthermore as Knud has argued elsewhere the border between empiricist and rationalist is our making -- on the ground in the 17th century everything was far more mixed. So my claim is not that an Enlightenment science of man can be found in Pufendorf.[20] My claim is that the common Grotian invocation of scientia in tandem with natural religion can be, and that at least a rather influential chunk of the interpretive tradition finds it there as well. Knud and Ian seem to have a much more unified and higher bar idea of what a moral science is than I do. I view it as a general and not-always-acted-upon commitment to the idea that we can have certain knowledge of some moral laws, precepts rules, etc. from which we can demonstrate others.
Ian has very clearly stated the centrality of epistemic limits to Pufendorf’s approach, and why it is so important. Peace, civic toleration, and the independence and noninterference of roles all depend on it. There is an important sense in which Lockean epistemic line drawing around the many types of knowledge is a descendant of Pufendorf as much as it is of Descartes, Hobbes, and Bacon.  But just as none of this conflicts with our knowledge of a minimal but important content of natural religion -- for Locke as well -- so too I claim it doesn’t interfere with knowledge of duties of self and duties to God. These and fundamental natural laws are, I argue, the minimal core of the moral science. None of this conflicts with the idea that this is limited.
The disagreement then is how this connects with the knowledge of others. It seems to me that the basic laws of nature are also knowledge of this sort. What the role of these is and how they connect to history might be disputed. I certainly agree that in Pufendorf’s practice they fade into the background of actual history and social practice. But I disagree on their role.
To illustrate I will end this comment with an analogy. I view one difference between Hobbes and Pufendorf in terms of a cathedral. For Hobbes the worshippers are aware of the apex -- the sovereign -- and it keeps them in check. For Pufendorf the larger structure is similar but the space chopped into countless rooms -- offices -- distinct from one another. The content of the rooms, and the layout, have arisen historically.  One moves from room to room, and this keeps them distinct and out of conflict. But that doesn’t mean that there aren’t support beams that are knowable and that all will collapse if the are not respected.[21]  
[20.] That said, I’m not sure what the Enlightenment science of man is. I am fully persuaded by James Schmidt’s arguments that talking about Enlightenment as a substantive is itself an interdiction.
[21.] Locke’s response is to ask whether we might have a continual and basic role in how the rooms are arranged!