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Grotius, Hugo

  1. Steve Viner

Published Online: 1 FEB 2013

DOI: 10.1002/9781444367072.wbiee485

The International Encyclopedia of Ethics

How to Cite

Viner, S. 2013. Grotius, Hugo. The International Encyclopedia of Ethics. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 1 FEB 2013


Hugo Grotius (1583–1645) (Huig de Groot), born in Delft, Holland on April 10, 1583, was a preeminent figure of the seventeenth century. He has been called the “father of international law” and the “father of modern natural law” (Vreeland 1917: 164–72; Schneewind 1998: 66). While titles can be controversial, Grotius made an enormous contribution to ushering in what is commonly referred to today as international law. With his great work of 1625, De Jure Belli ac Pacis (On the Law of War and Peace), Grotius became famous for invoking a natural law theory in defense of a set of moral rules, called natural laws, that govern the relations of states and their rulers (see Natural Law). Grotius' natural law theory was a forerunner and influential in that it emphasized that persons by nature possess rights and liberties similar to states (see Rights), and it was only through the transfer of these natural rights that states received their authority and power (see Social Contract). Grotius' natural law theory then was one of the earliest and most influential to champion natural rights as an actual moral quality or power of persons and to make states subject to rational, moral principles derived from nature and the natural rights of persons. Regarding the title “father of international law,” scholars also have pointed out other formidable contenders, such as Francisco de Vitoria, Francisco Suárez, and Alberico Gentili. In addition, scholars disagree on how much these three influenced Grotius, as well as whether Grotius, who clearly relied upon them and numerous others, was mostly a compiler of their work (Vreeland 1917: 168–71; Lee 1930: 50–1; Tierney 1997: 316–42).


  • seventeenth century;
  • Enlightenment;
  • law;
  • legal and political;
  • justice;
  • natural law;
  • nature;
  • pacifism;
  • war and conflict