Samuel Pufendorf: The Grandfather of Modern Political Economy?

PhD Defense

8 February 2017 10:44

(updated: 8 February 2017 10:58)

Samuel Pufendorf: The Grandfather of Modern Political Economy?

On Wednesday 22 February 2017, Professor Emeritus Arild Sæther will hold two trial lectures, one on a prescribed topic and one on an optional topic. On Thursday 23 February, he will defend his doctoral thesis for the Dr. Philos degree at NHH.

Prescribed topic for the trial lecture:

What can present-day economics students learn from the history of economic thought?

Optional topic for the trial lecture:

Samuel Pufendorf and Ludvig Holberg on Political Economy

Trial lectures:

Wednesday February 22 in Jebsen Centre, NHH

First trial lecture: 10:15 – 11:00

Second trial lecture: 13:15 – 14:00


Thursday February 23 10:15 in Jebsen Centre, NHH

Title of the thesis:

Samuel Pufendorf: The Grandfather of Modern Political Economy?


This thesis probes into the life and remarkable career of Samuel Pufendorf (1632-94): Studies in Leipzig, Jena and Leiden, professor in Heidelberg and Lund, historian at the courts in Stockholm and Berlin. He wrote important books on natural law, history and religion. His major work The Law of Nature and Nations from 1672 encompassed ethics, jurisprudence, and political economy.

His political economy includes theories of human behaviour, private property and the four-stages, value and money, foundation of states and voting procedures, and the division of powers and taxation.

In 1673 he published an abridged ‘student edition’ The Duty of Man and Citizen. It hit the market at the right time and became an international best seller. It spread natural law, including political economy, across Europe and North America. Chairs in natural law were established at most Protestant universities and some Catholic. His writings on natural law contributed to the Enlightenment, characterized by liberty, progress, tolerance and the use of reason.

This inquiry determines that Pufendorf’s theories of political economy were extensively used by philosophers of the Enlightenment. The most important Locke, Montesquieu and Rousseau.

Carmichael and Hutcheson introduced natural law and political economy into Scotland. They used his ‘student edition’ as a textbook, and Adam Smith became familiar with it as a student at the University of Glasgow in 1737. Important facts about Smith’s study of Pufendorf’s natural law works, both in Glasgow and Oxford are revealed. He used Pufendorf’s works when he prepared lectures in Edinburgh and ordinary lectures as professor in Glasgow.

This thesis argues that Pufendorf was Smith’s major source in lectures and books, the most famous being The Wealth of Nations. If Smith deserves to be called the father of modern political economy, Pufendorf is the grandfather.

Finally, the different explanations of why Pufendorf has been overlooked by historians of philosophy and of economic thought, are discussed.

Members of the evaluation committee:

Professor Emeritus Agnar Sandmo (leader of the committee), NHH Norwegian School of Economics

Professor Hans-Michael Trautwein, Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg

Professor Eskil Wadensjø, Stockholm University

The trial lecture and thesis defence will be open to the public. Copies of the thesis will be available from

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