First Advisor

Craig L. Carr

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in Political Science


Political Science




Hugo Grotius (1583-1645)



Physical Description

1 online resource (85 p.)


One approach in contemporary international relations theory is the moralist position. Most moralists argue that obligations which an individual has toward the state and toward persons qua fellow citizens should not override the obligations which every individual has toward other persons qua members of humanity. Essential to a moralist approach is the idea that every individual shares some feature, such as rights, which is universal to all men and incontrovertible by any body. Many moralists base their theory upon the thought of Hugo Grotius, equating Grotius ' s thought with their own moralist approach.

This thesis argues that Grotius does not present a universal ethic and that his thought does not serve as a foundation for contemporary moralist theory. Individualist elements of Grotius's thought which do uphold a universalist ethic should not be viewed in isolation; his natural law argument includes a notion of community as well as individual rights. Grotius accommodates individualism and community in what I call a Grotian "conciliation."

To argue that Grotius's theory is one of conciliation, I analyze his discussions of society and contend that throughout his discussions Grotius identifies man as an individual with obligations to respect the rights of all others as well as a citizen with obligations to the superior rights of the sovereign. I then compare Grotius's thought to that of Immanuel Kant in order to demonstrate that the accommodation found in Grotius is not equivalent to Kant's universalist ethic. To equate his thought to Kant's thought, or to any other universalist ethic, is to attribute concerns to Grotius which are not necessarily addressed in his theory. Not only may this do an injustice to the different concerns by Grotius, but it overlooks the possibility that Grotius's conciliation may offer an alternative to, rather than a substantiation of, the moralist approach in international relations theory.


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