In Debating Medieval Natural Law: A Survey, Riccardo Saccenti examines and evaluates the major lines of interpretation of the medieval concepts of natural rights and natural law within the twentieth and early twenty-first centuries and explains how the major historiographical interpretations of ius naturale and lex naturalis have changed. His bibliographical survey analyzes not only the chronological evolution of various interpretations of natural law but also how they differ, in an effort to shed light on the historical debate and on the medieval roots of modern human rights theories.
Saccenti critically examines the historical analyses of the major historians of medieval political and legal thought while addressing how to further research on the subject. His perspective interlaces different disciplinary points of view: history of philosophy, as well as history of canon and civil law and history of theology. By focusing on a variety of disciplines, Saccenti creates an opportunity to evaluate each interpretation of medieval lex naturalis in terms of the area it enlightens and within specific cultural contexts. His survey is a basis for future studies concerning this topic and will be of interest to scholars of the history of law and, more generally, of the history of ideas in the twentieth century.
“With exemplary scholarship, Riccardo Saccenti provides a clear and unbiased presentation of the evolution of natural law theory, practice, and interpretation from the Middle Ages to the present. His welcome and original work expands our understanding of how medieval natural law, and in particular how the relationship between natural rights and both the church and society, has been viewed by original authors and scholars. This is a valuable resource in its thorough and even-handed treatment of primary sources as well as its inclusion of the vast secondary literature.” — Mark Clark, Catholic University of America
“Scholars from the early twentieth century to the present have disagreed on how to interpret the multiform traditions of natural law in medieval thought and their relations to modern natural law theories. In addition to providing a lucid and up-to-date survey of the historiography of this debate, placing its participants in their own disciplinary and methodological contexts, Riccardo Saccenti also argues persuasively for a more holistic approach to this subject. His valuable study should be required reading for scholars interested in medieval natural law theories, both in their own right and in their continuing relevance to philosophy, theology, law, and political theory.” — Marcia L. Colish, Yale University
“Thoroughly conversant with primary and secondary sources, Riccardo Saccenti offers a new approach to divergent interpretations of the idea of natural law in the Middle Ages. With a rare blend of philosophical competence and historical perceptivity, he succeeds in explaining the positions of acknowledged scholars, such as Finnis, Oakley, Tierney, Nederman, and Brett, both in their presuppositions and in their relevance for current discussions on natural rights. While previous contributions risk being one-sided or limited by their polemical attitude, Debating Medieval Natural Law gives for the first time a comprehensive and balanced survey of the many issues at stake. A long-awaited, reliable guide through the intriguing and sophisticated debates about the origins of a crucial and controversial idea of Western civilization.” — Roberto Lambertini, University of Macerata
“Saccenti…provides a concise and well-researched survey of [modern rights] scholarship, clearly delineating each narrative and the principle issues at stake. Saccenti has done a great service to the study of modern natural rights theory.” — CHOICE