Seminar Series: Philosophy of Human Rights: The Right of Necessity

This seminar: Maria Alejandra Mancilla: "Grotius and Pufendorf on the Right of Necessity"

Convenors: Inga Bostad and Jakob Elster

Maria Alejandra Mancilla, photo: UiO

The purpose of this seminar series is to foster a discussion of the major topics in the philosophy of human rights, through the reading of central philosophical texts. Each session will consist of an introduction (ca. 30 minutes), where an invited speaker presents her/his interpretation of a chosen text and the philosophical issues it raises, followed by a general discussion. The seminar will include both fresh readings of classical philosophical texts and discussions of contemporary philosophical writings.

The texts we read will be made available in advance. As the introductions will be substantial, it will not be necessary to have read the texts in order to join the seminar, but it is of course recommended. See below.


From the end of the twelfth century until the middle of the eighteenth century, the concept of a right of necessity —i.e. the moral prerogative of an agent, given certain conditions, to use or take someone else's property in order to get out of his plight— was common among moral and political philosophers, who took it to be an exception to the standard moral and legal rules. 
In this presentation, I analyse Samuel Pufendorf's account of such a right, founded on the basic instinct of self-preservation and on the notion that, in civil society, we have certain minimal duties of humanity towards each other. I review Pufendorf's secularized account of natural law, his conception of the civil state, and the main function he assigns to private property. I then compare his account with Grotius's understanding of the right of necessity as a retreat to the pre-civil right of common use, and defend Pufendorf against some recent criticisms. Finally, I examine the conditions deemed necessary and jointly sufficient for this right to be claimable, and conclude by pointing to the main strengths of this account.

The recommended background reading for the seminar is chapters 2 and 3 og Mancilla's recent book The Right of Necessity Moral Cosmopolitanism and Global Poverty (Rowman & Littlefield 2016).
If you want a copy of this text please contact Jakob Elster.



Published Dec. 1, 2017 11:29 AM - Last modified Dec. 1, 2017 2:44 PM