Review of Riccardo Saccenti’s Debating Medieval Natural Law: A Survey (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 2016)

Peter Karl Koritansky

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In this short monograph, Riccardo Saccenti surveys the various and
competing interpretations of natural law and natural right from the late
Middle Ages through the modern period. As “a survey,” the intention of this
book is not so much to advance and defend a central thesis about natural law,
but rather to paint a picture of how the various interpreters of natural law
have responded to the most important primary texts (of Gratian, Thomas
Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Ockham, and John Locke, for example)
and to one another. One of the issues with which Saccenti is most concerned
is the transition from the medieval understanding of natural law inspired by
an Aristotelian concept of nature to a modern theory of natural individual
rights. Where exactly does this transition begin and where is it more or less
consummated? A reader of this book will be impressed by the complexity of
this debate (among others) and the nuances of difference between its
participants. Saccenti’s account of it succeeds in exposing the folly of overly
simplistic readings of intellectual history that are ideologically motivated,
and reminds us what a careful reading of primary and secondary sources can
achieve.


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