The natural law theory of Johann Gottlieb Heineccius was one of the most influential to emerge from the early German Enlightenment. Heineccius continued and, in important respects, modified the ideas of his predecessors, Samuel Pufendorf and Christian Thomasius. He developed distinctive views on central questions such as the freedom of the human will and the natural foundation of moral obligation, which also sharply distinguished him from his contemporary Christian Wolff.
Heineccius’s work saw five Latin editions in thirty years as well as several French, Italian, and Spanish editions; and it had a long life in Latin America. The English edition presented by Liberty Fund is based on the translation by the Scottish moral philosopher George Turnbull (1698–1748). It includes Turnbull’s extensive comments on Heineccius’s text, as well as his substantial Discourse upon the Nature and Origin of Moral and Civil Laws. These elements make the work into one of the most extraordinary encounters between Protestant natural law theory and neo-republican civic humanism.
Concerning the origine and foundation of the LAW of NATURE and NATIONS.
What constitutes a good, and what a bad action? Whatever tends to preserve and perfect man is called good with respect to man: whatever hath a contrary tendency is called ill with regard to him: every action therefore which contributes to human preservation and perfection is a good action; and every action is evil which tends to hurt and destroy man, or to hinder his advancement to the perfection of which his nature is capable.
Since the law of nature is a system of laws (§12) whatever properly belongs to laws may be ascribed to the law of nature, as to prohibit, permit, punish. It may be divided as a body of laws is by the Roman lawyers into the permissive part, which obliges all men not to disturb any person in the use and exercise of his right and liberty; and the preceptive, which obliges all men to do good actions, and to abstain from bad ones; and it is also evident, that with respect to the preceptive part, there is no liberty left to mankind; whereas, with regard to the permissive, any one may renounce his right to what is permitted to him.
Johann Gottlieb Heineccius
Johann Gottlieb Heineccius (1681–1741) was a German jurist from Eisenberg, Thuringia.
He studied theology at Leipzig and later law at the newly founded (1694) University at Halle, where he became a pupil of Christian Thomasius.
Johann Gottlieb Heineccius was appointed in 1713 professor of philosophy, and in 1718 professor of jurisprudence.
Heineccius belonged to the school of philosophical jurists. He endeavoured to treat law as a rational science, and not merely as an empirical art whose rules had no deeper source than expediency. Thus he continually refers to first principles, and he develops his legal doctrines as a system of philosophy.
Heineccius became known for his textbooks on Roman Law and for his lectures on natural law.
His chief works were: Antiquitatum Romanarum jurisprudentiam illustrantium syntagma (1718); Historia juris civilis Romani ac Germanici (1733); Elementa juris Germanici (1735); Elementa juris naturae et gentium (1737; Eng. trans. by Turnbull, 2 vols, London, 1763).
Besides these works he wrote on purely philosophical subjects, and edited the works of several of the classical jurists. His Opera omnia (9 vols, Geneva, 1771, etc.) were edited by his son Johann Christian Gottlieb Heineccius (1718–1791).