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This article is written by Raslin Saluja, from KIIT School of Law, Bhubaneswar. This article attempts to put forth Pufendorf’s view on the law of sociality.


All the laws of the society and our duties towards each other as a result of belonging to the society derive their foundation from the principle of sociality. Such is the source of all human sensibility, of all the purely natural virtues, and the moral behaviour of all civil society. Pufendorf’s observations on the law of nature swayed between two rather conflicting positions. On the one hand, he not only remarked that human beings are selfish creatures and are driven by their personal safety and welfare but also emphasized how it is beneficial for them to observe natural law in the long run. These remarks by him were in line with Hobbes in deducing natural law from the requirements of individual self-preservation. While on the other hand, Pufendorf chose an explicitly distanced method of deducing natural law from that of Hobbes, maintaining that human beings are imposed upon by the natural law, a reciprocal duty of general friendship, which is independent of any beneficial outcome for them but relies solely on their shared humanity.

Sociality derived from egoism

The foundational concept of sociality came into the discussion by the natural law theorists who were probably the first ones to receive the emblem “socialist” back in the eighteenth century. Sociality became a standard theme in discussions of morality and politics, especially due to the French translations of the works of Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf on natural law. According to the famous definition given by Pufendorf, the foundational law of nature is that each should seek to promote sociality. This has also allowed the theorists to make universal claims on civil law and international legal norms without any bias. Thus, sociality is understood to be of immense significance for human beings irrespective of their religious allegiance. The concept of sociality became a centrepiece for political theories, a foundation for universal normative norms and reflections on international law in the enlightenment.

As per Pufendorf’s case, he believes the idea of human sociality has roots in Lutheran, theological traditions. He points out that human beings are naturally corrupt and selfish, where even if they do something for others, they do not forget themselves. They are not very interested in finding advantages for others and always look out for themselves. Humans are particularly intent on their own survival and will readily forsake all other humans and God himself to save their skin. He believes that though humans should always strive for sociality, their anti-sociable nature prevents them from achieving this benevolence. He equates sociality with Benevolence towards all Men’, and with ‘Common Love’ or ‘general Friendship amongst Men, from which no person is excluded.

Thus, this made the readers in the eighteenth century think that sociality was used as the strategic choice of an egoist whose primary motivation is satisfying his individual needs and desires. It portrayed that all humans indulged in sociality naturally, as a gesture of self-love – which was the ultimate explanation of every human action. He believed that all self-serving individuals used sociality as a strategy.

Sociality as the fundamental principle of natural law

The demonstrative science of natural law was not a way of adopting some philosophical doctrine but was rather a way of convincing people of their need to ponder morality and social institutions. They could push it through them by convincing them that it serves their personal interests or one could base their examples on different philosophers who reached similar conclusions. Pufendorf used both these techniques and argued that the demonstrative science of natural law was not a process of inquiry but was rather a certain type of organized knowledge based on the model of Aristotelian demonstrative syllogism. This science of natural law is valid, certain, and clear in reaching necessary conclusions and offering required connections among those points.

The acts that have an effect on sociality have a strong correlation with the natural law. The actions taken as per rules of sociality not only promote a man’s security and personal welfare but also increase his standing, reputation, and position in society. Though he admitted that not it is not always certain that all good deeds and benefactions are returned in similar kind by other men but it can reasonably be hoped and certainly believed that reciprocity cannot be expected from opposed vices. In other words, while actions ordered or forbidden by natural law have a necessary effect on sociality, their effects on our personal safety and welfare are never more than highly probable. For instance, a person actively involved in theft most certainly violates natural law, where likely he should be severely punished, it is not impossible that he escapes and ends up being a rich and respectable part of society.

However, this uncertainty around the effect of our actions does not mark the consequences theft has for sociality. Human beings will always be furious when their property is used/taken without their permission, and thus stealing will be seen in a negative light for sociality. This establishes that in Pufendorf’s theory, people would cultivate sociality not only as a means to secure their welfare. While it cannot be denied that human beings have a strong inclination towards their personal security, their most fundamental duty is to behave in a manner that promotes sociality among human beings.

Pufendorf’s theory can be understood in the context of its historical specificity though. It seems like a reductionist theory of personhood and mankind where he distinguished between natural goods and moral goods. According to his view, the world is made up of two types of objects: entia physica (physical entities) and entia moralia (moral entities). The physical entities are all that exists in time and space and are subject to physical causation whereas moral entities are those which depend on our actions, more of an extension/modification to the physical entities. Moral entities are rather imposed on the physical entities which are based on the thought that nature inherently does not have any values.

God’s will

Pufendorf has kept God in defining the content of his fundamental principle. However, he built his theory around the fact that God created this physical world alone and imposed the most basic moral entity as the law of nature which in turn led humanity to impose more moral entities, rules, and the social institutions by which we live. He saw the morally obligatory character of natural law as being dependent on the idea that it is imposed by God, who wanted us to live in accountability of law, rule, necessity and our actions to be shaped by certain principles.

He even went on to initiate a discussion on how God had not granted humans the full liberty to exercise their free will and wanted them to observe the law. He then deduced from this fact that full liberty would be disadvantageous to human nature and should be restricted by rules and regulations. Moreover, human beings are incapable of living without the company and assistance of other members thus social life is a way of living for them. Yet, there is a huge tendency of humans to hurt each other and have other inclinations which suggest that their social life would be impossible without law. Thus, Pufendorf closed this discussion on the conclusion that natural liberty for humans should always be understood in terms of being restricted by sane reason and natural law.

The application of sociality for self-preservation

Pufendorf then continues to provide the substantive content of the natural law after having revealed the moral status of it and humankind’s obligation to obey it. He argues that the need to cultivate society has its roots in two separate but complementary principles:

  • The principle of self-preservation – to look after oneself first and promote one’s own well-being.
  • The principle of sociality- the general duties that human beings owe others and to themselves.

Both these principles combined encourage them to adapt to such behaviour that each person should study to preserve himself in a way that society does not get disturbed. He insists that the law of nature binds us to cultivate society and even if it did not it would urge us to establish one ourselves as for the advantages that flow from it.  Humans are naturally inclined to support it so as to avoid the disadvantages that accompany non-social life apart from achieving their personal gains.

Sociality, sovereignty, and civil society

According to Pufendorf’s view, God is the author of the natural law and the sociality principle based on his theory of imposed moral entities. He also associates God’s existence to be necessary to constitute a legitimate civil society. It is derived from the social law itself as the formation of society is necessitated by the natural law and therefore by virtue of being the author of natural law, God is also the author of civil society. He claims that God dictates the formation of civil societies leaving it to us to decide and determine through pacts which individuals are to be joined to which society and who is to govern them. That it is nature’s intention that men establish sovereignty.

He then establishes that resources were provided by God for human use and consumption. For their efficient use, private ownership and dominion were introduced. Once these life’s conveniences were multiplied and promoted by human industry, dominions needed to be introduced for the necessity of preserving sociality. However, dominion does bring conflict and confusion with itself and to facilitate mutual advantage and avoid dispute, civil laws were required. Orderliness and decorum are necessary features of sociality and therefore recommend the adoption of laws.

His argument for the need for civil association was based on the development of human conditions resulting from dominion will lead to even more complex relations. These relations might generate traits that might threaten the peace of the society with evils which only humans are capable of imposing by virtue of their jealousy, ambition, etc. These aggravated by wealth increases, flourishing people, population growth, etc would create negative passions with multiplied dangers for the well-being of the people. Thus, having an appropriate environment in the form of civil society would help in guarding against the potential threat that humans possess.

Thus he insisted that nature intended humankind to live in civil society and be subjected to sovereignty. This intent had to be played in the form of a narrative of history to the point where it became necessary for humankind to form societies in order to curb the evil that humankind inflicted upon themselves. This remedy makes sociality more secure as State I the best vehicle for realizing and witnessing the sociality in concrete life. It embodies natural law and the various sanctions that correspond to the law. The usefulness of it is known to mankind which guarantees the state to not merely be a requirement of prudence but a moral necessity.


To conclude, the german philosopher Samuel von Pufendorf (1632–1694) agreed with Hobbes that the state of nature is fairly miserable and that, to survive, we enter into a social contract, civil associations, and establish political authorities to punish contract violators. However, Pufendorf’s arguments always placed God as the authority for following natural law, sociality, society, and civil associations. He contributed to political discourse by focusing on the moral significance of sociality and its importance in the political life of man. Pufendorf presents as the ‘fundamental law of nature’ the imperative claim that “Any man must, inasmuch as he can, cultivate and maintain toward others a peaceable sociality that is consistent with the native character and end humankind in general.” With his theories, he contributed prominently to the literature on the moral legitimacy of the state.


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