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The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu's “Spirit of the Laws”$
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Thomas L. Pangle

Print publication date: 2010

Print ISBN-13: 9780226645490

Published to Chicago Scholarship Online: March 2013

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226645520.001.0001

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Montesquieu's Point of Departure

Montesquieu's Point of Departure

(p.11) Chapter One Montesquieu's Point of Departure
The Theological Basis of Liberal Modernity in Montesquieu's “Spirit of the Laws”
University of Chicago Press

This chapter explores the issues raised by Montesquieu at the beginning of The Spirit of the Laws. He declares that “the laws of nature,” that “derive uniquely from the constitution of our being,” are to be found by “considering a human prior to the establishment of societies,” or in “the state of nature.” But Montesquieu does not proceed to identify the “laws of nature” with universal norms discovered and devised by reason, as necessary guides to overcoming the mutually destructive anarchy of spontaneous nature. Instead, he designates by “the laws of nature” the principles that describe how humans would relate to one another and pursue their basic needs in that original condition, prior to any contractual or positive law; and such a condition, he insists, would also be prior to the development of the faculty of reasoning or of rational understanding. Montesquieu's new political science is also discussed.

Keywords:   Spirit of Laws, laws of nature, reasoning, rational understanding, political science

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