Burlamaqui, Jean-Jacques

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Burlamaqui, Jean-Jacques (1694-1748): Swiss Political Theorist and Jurist.

Born and educated in Geneva, Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui became Professor of Law at the Academy of Geneva is 1723. Burlamaqui traveled widely in France, England, and Holland and was active in the political life of Geneva. In 1740, he became a member of the Council of Two Hundred and later rose to the Council of Twenty-Five. His major works were the Principles of Natural Law, published in 1747, and the Principles of Political Law, published posthumously in 1751. These works were widely used in law courses in European universities throughout the latter half of the century and influenced the Encyclopedia articles on jurisprudence.

Deeply influenced by Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf, Burlamaqui represented the Protestant school of natural law. According to Burlamaqui, natural law was grounded in the will of God, who as beneficent creator of the universe possessed rightful authority over human beings and directed humanity toward its end of perfection or happiness. Knowledge of natural law was attainable through the exercise of reason applied to the understanding of human nature, the human condition, and human relationships. Burlamaqui maintained that humans are motivated both by self interest and benevolence, or sociability. Natural law enables us to reconcile these in the common good. The civil order, then, develops naturally out of those two wellsprings of human action and makes possible the achievement of human happiness by a people relinquishing a portion of its natural right to freedom. No defender of absolute monarchy, Burlamaqui held that the people still retained some rights toward the sovereign.

Further Reading:

David Williams ed., The Enlightenment, 1999.

Kevin E. Dodson

Lamar University

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