Voluntarism and Moral Obligation: Barbeyrac’s Defence of Pufendorf Revisited

  • Petter Korkman
Part of the Archives Internationales d’Histoire des Idées / International Archives of the History of Ideas book series (ARCH, volume 186)


Socrates famously asked: “Is that which is holy loved by the gods because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by the gods”?2 Leibniz opens up one of his more important essays on moral philosophy, the Méditation sur la notion commune de la justice with a reformulation of this question. He states: “It is agreed that whatever God wills is good and just. But there remains the question whether it is good and just because God wills it or whether God wills it because it is good and just: in other words, whether justice and goodness are arbitrary or whether they belong to the necessary and eternal truths about the nature of things, as do numbers and proportions”.3 For Leibniz, this is a crucial question. It is because they fail in addressing this issue correctly, he argues, that the most renowned moral and political theorists of his day end up with a philosophically confused and morally repulsive doctrine.4 In the research literature, this “repulsive” doctrine has now come to be known as “voluntarism,” and Pufendorf is generally accepted as one of its most central and clear-cut defenders in the early-modern period.


Human Nature Moral Judgement Moral Obligation Divine Command Moral Distinction 
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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2003

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  • Petter Korkman

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