Encyclopedia of Renaissance Philosophy

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Vitoria, Francisco de

Born: 1483, Burgos
Died: 1546, Salamanca
  • Simona LangellaEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-02848-4_693-1


Francisco de Vitoria is recognized not only as one of the founding fathers of international law but also as one of the renovators of the sixteenth-century theological method. During his 20 years of teaching, he carried out an intense intellectual activity of reflection on various themes and problems not only of an academic nature but also related to the strong political, social, and economic tensions that marked the first half of the sixteenth century. Thomas Aquinas was his guide to the discussion of these problems. By adopting Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae in place of Peter Lombard’s Sentences for his classes, he renewed university teaching. As a matter of fact, it is from Aquinas’ work that he drew the main theoretical fundaments of his own reflections on the pressing issues that mid-sixteenth-century European consciences were called to face for the first time. Specifically, he commented I-IIae qq. 90–108. There, he found the concept of lex naturalis, which became the main focus of his ethical and political speculation. The importance Vitoria gave to the natural law can be seen in the De Indis (1539), with which the author joined the debate on the thorny question of the legitimacy of the Spanish conquest of the American territories. Indeed, in this relectio he managed to combine a new interpretation of subjective rights with the theme of natural law, typical of the medieval tradition, this way proposing a valid defense in favor of the Indians.


Francisco de Vitoria, born in Burgos in 1483, is recognized not only as one of the founding fathers of international law but also as one of the renovators of the sixteenth-century theological method. His father, originally from Vitoria, holds an important position in Burgos at the service of the Catholic Kings. Therefore, since Vitoria comes from a well-off family, he has a privileged education (Hernández Martín 1995, 11–16).

In 1505, he enters the Dominican Order. At the end of the summer of 1508, he moves to Paris to complete his philosophy studies and to begin his theology studies (Lamacchia 1995, 19–33). In these years, he resides at the convent of Saint Jacques, where he obtains a Master Decree in Arts (1509) and a Doctorate in Theology (1522). There, he also begins his career as a teacher that he will continue upon his return to Spain in 1523 at the Colegio de San Gregorio of Valladolid. In 1526, he becomes professor of Prima Theologiae at the University of Salamanca, a position that he will hold until his death in 1546 (Belda Plans 2000, 317–333).

During his 20 years of teaching, he carries out an intense intellectual activity of reflection on various themes and problems not only of an academic nature but also related to the strong political, social, and economic tensions that marked the first half of the sixteenth century. Thomas Aquinas is his guide to the discussion of these problems. By adopting Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae in place of Peter Lombard’s Sentences, he renews university teaching, this leading to a rebirth of far-reaching theological studies with consequences at a European level.

The work of Francisco de Vitoria can basically be divided into two main groups.

The first group includes the Lecturae, that is, his ordinary university lectures on the Summa Theologiae or Peter Lombard’s Sentences (Lamacchia 1995, 36–39).

The choice of the Summa as the textbook for his courses from 1526 onward constitutes the fundamental characteristic of his teaching in Salamanca, during which he explains the Summa twice.

During his magisterium he holds a series of courses: 1526–1527, II book of the Sentences; 1527–1529, II-IIae of the Summa theologiae; 1529–1531, IV book of the Sentences; 1531–1533, I pars della Summa theologiae; 1533–34, I-IIa of the Summa theologiae; 1534–1537, II-IIae of the Summa theologiae; 1537–1538, III pars (qq. 1–59) of the Summa theologiae; 1538–1539, IV book of the Sentences; 1539–1541, I pars of the Summa theologiae; and 1541–1542, I–IIae of the Summa theologiae (Beltrán de Heredia 1928, 114). The contents of these ordinary lessons are described in the Reportationes of his students (Langella 2011, 30–34).

The second group, instead, includes the Relectiones (Lamacchia 1995, 40–45). These are the solemn lessons that professors have to hold on a yearly basis on a monographic theme in front of the entire University and whose function is to investigate in-depth a particularly difficult subject which, due to its complexity, cannot be explained in full during ordinary classes. These lessons can either be focussed on a current topic or on a theme related to the academic course held by the professor. Dealing above all with topical issues, Vitoria has the ability to transform this academic obligation into an opportunity to discuss important issues such as morality and law, which will always make reference to the historical context of his time. The main issues he discusses include the so-called Indian question but also the limits of civil and spiritual power, Papal power, conciliarism, and war, as well as more specific issues such as suicide and marriage. The Relectiones of Vitoria that we can still read today include De potestate civili, De homicidio, De matrimonio, De potestate Ecclesiae prior, De potestate Ecclesiae posterior, De potestate Papae et concilii, De augmento caritatis, De eo ad quod tenetur veniens ad usum rationis, De simonia, De temperantia, De indis prior, De iure belli o De indis posterior, and De magia. Both his first lecture, De silentii obligatione, dating back to academic year 1526–1527, and the lecture dating back to academic year 1540–1541, continuing on the subject dealt with in the De Magia, have been lost. The 13 Reflections above are hold by Vitoria between 1528 and 1540, with the exception of academic years 1531–1532 and 1536–1537, during which he does not hold any. In academic years 1534–1535 and 1538–1539, instead, Vitoria holds four relectiones (Beltrán de Heredia 1928, 73 and 132–153).

Heritage and Rupture with the Tradition

In 1526, Vitoria replaces Peter Lombard’s Liber Sententiarum with Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae as his course book (Aquinas 1882, Summa Theologiae). From this text, he draws the main theoretical fundaments of his own reflections on the pressing issues that mid-sixteenth-century European consciences are called to face for the first time.

More precisely, by commenting on I-IIae, qq. 90–108, he finds in the concept of lex naturalis the main focus of his ethical and political speculation. In his commentary dating back to academic year 1533–1534, he defines the essence of the lex in itself – a definition that can be applied to any kind of law.

Vitoria states that the law is the rule and measure of human acts and that the word ley (law) comes from Latin legare (bond), as it poses an obligation. Therefore it belongs to reason, as it is the duty of the reason to issue commands. In other words, law in itself carries the obligation to act, as it is the rule and measure of human acts (Vitoria 2010, 88).

As for the vexata quaestio as to whether law is an act of intellect or will, Vitoria underlines, in contrast with the shared opinion of “modern” philosophers, that law is a mandate that belongs immediate ad rationem (Vitoria 2010, 90). In actual fact, law is determined by reason, not will, as it has a purpose; commanding, however, is an act that is typical of and exclusive to an intelligent being and, hence, is an act of intellect. Therefore, law is an order by reason, a rule, norm, or measure of acts, through which men are induced to act or are restrained from acting. It is an obligatory mandate and, as such, not only does it show the way but also gives an order that must be obeyed.

If law is a rule, a measure of the righteousness of human acts, the purpose of law must be good. Law must always be aimed at the common good (Vitoria 2010, 92). All norms that are not aimed at the common good are not laws, as this is the characteristic that defines a law as right and good. The fact that it is aimed at the common good, however, does not imply that the private and individual good must be disregarded, even though, first and foremost, it is the common good that must be achieved, while the private good is secondary.

The ordination for the common good does not originate from the arbitrary will of the legislator: it is the law, by its own nature, that is ordained for the common good. This ordination constitutes the purpose of the law because, as the common good ceases, the law also ceases. Since the law is necessarily ordained for the common good, it may exclusively be promulgated by the ruler for the community he rules (Vitoria 2010, 94). Indeed, laws cannot be promulgated by anyone but only by those people who are in charge of the community. That is to say, only by those people who care for the same common good to which the law is directed: “non spectat facere leges ad rationem cuiuscumque, sed solum illius qui gerit curam communitatis, quia talis gerit curam boni communis ad quod ordinatur lexˮ (Vitoria 2010, 94).

Finally, for the law to be applied, its promulgation is necessary (Vitoria 2010, 96). The promulgatio is a necessary condition for a law to be enforceable and to establish obligations. Effectively, it is essential that the law be promulgated, as a rule must be applied to those things it regulates and measures (Vitoria 2010, 96). In actual fact, in general, whoever ignores the law exclusively because it was not promulgated is excused by this fault and by the relative punishment. Without a doubt, the natural law, although ignored, does not cease to oblige. For instance, should a man marry his sister because he does not know of this bond, the marriage would not be valid, although his guilt may be pardoned because of his ignorance: lex naturalis, indeed, is valid and effective also for those for whom it has not been promulgated. Therefore, it is not necessary to be promulgated for it to oblige.

Nevertheless, as regards the positive divine law, Vitoria states that this law was not effective before being promulgated. Once promulgated, however, the law obliged all persons, despite not having been promulgated to all. In the same way as the evangelic law became obliging since the moment it was promulgated, yet forgiving those who were not aware of it, now every man is obliged by the law of Christ, yet those who never heard of it are forgiven, should they not comply with it. In turn, even positive human law does not oblige anyone if it is not promulgated and has no strength or validity. Vitoria demonstrates this by asserting that issuing a law is ordering, but ordering is promulgating. If the prince issued a law that was obliging from the very moment of its creation to, for instance, sell the primogeniture and somebody had sold it before, the contract would not be valid. On the contrary, the law would have been valid if it had been promulgated. The legislator is a public representative and cannot create a law without publicly promulgating it. For the human law to oblige, it is not sufficient that it is promulgated privately in a group or among wise men. It needs to be solemnly promulgated. The prince only has the authority to create the law due to him being a public representative. Vitoria demonstrates this with an argument of reason: as a matter of fact, human laws must be aimed at easing the salvation of souls. If a private promulgation were sufficient, this would represent a great obstacle for men, as the obligations set forth could be ignored due to the ignorance of many. In any case, although a solemn promulgation is necessary for the human law to oblige, it is not necessary that it is promulgated before the whole community.

Having defined the essence of the universal lex that may be applied to any kind of law, as every law contains it by analogy, Vitoria defines the different types of law according to Saint Thomas’ categories. Lex is divided into divine and human law. The former is further divided into eternal, natural, and positive law and the latter into ecclesiastic or canon law and civil law (Vitoria 2010, 106–109). The eternal law is almost not specified: it is nothing else but a practical principle promulgated from eternity by God. Moreover, since God is the supreme legislator, all other laws derive from it. Through human reason, the eternal law reveals itself as natural and human law. It is the source and origin of all right laws, as they receive their mandatory force and normative character from the eternal law. Vitoria also states that, in the same way as a revealed knowledge was necessary, because human science is full of errors and requires a great deal of time to reach the truth, a revealed divine law was also necessary, along with the lex naturalis, although the natural law also made it possible to save some men (Langella 2013, 164–165).

The eternal law, the ratio governing the universe, governs all rational and irrational beings with its wisdom. However, if everything is subject to the eternal law by its own inclination, as far as knowledge is concerned, only the rational creatures are subject to it (Vitoria 2010, 120). Therefore, men are subject to the law in two different ways: by nature and because they are rational beings. This latter aspect is the basis of the lex naturalis. Strictly speaking, it not only belongs to reason, but it is naturally inscribed in the minds and hearts of men (Rom 2:14). Hence, not only does it conform to reason, but it is also intrinsically related to the same needs of human nature: reason, by examining the natural inclination of men, prescribes what men must or must not do to be fulfilled.

The inclinations that allow the ratio to know the lex naturalis may be classified into three groups: those shared by men with all living creatures, those shared by men with animals, and those that are strictly human. Therefore, the natural law is the rational expression of the different inclinations of the human nature toward good. Hence, the precepts of the natural law are multiple, although they can be reduced to a single principle, on which all actions are based:Bonum est faciendum et prosequendum, et malum vitandum.” This first principle is based on the notion of good, as the good is what all beings seek and is compelled by practical reason, without mediation (Vitoria 2010, 124). Following Saint Thomas’ doctrine, Vitoria asserts that those things to which man is naturally inclined are naturally apprehended by reason as being good, and because of this, good is to be done, while their contraries are apprehended as evil and are to be avoided. Indeed, good is the object of pursuit, while evil is its contrary. Hence, the order of precepts of the natural law follows the order of natural inclinations. In actual fact, the objective basis of these practical judgments is found by reason in the different rational tendencies of nature: by way of example, the natural inclination to live leads to the human rights to life and to its protection and development. From there, it is possible to deduce that not only do several principles exist, given that several natural inclinations exist, but also that acting against the natural inclinations means acting against the natural law itself (Vitoria 2010, 124).

It has already been stated that the lex naturalis is the result of the naturalis ratio. The pure natural reason, however, does not consist in expressing these clear judgements on what is right or wrong. Rather, it consists of the habitus of the first practical principles, what Saint Thomas calls synderesis (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, I, q. 79. a. 12). Now therefore, wondering if the natural law is a habitus, Saint Thomas clarifies that it cannot be a habitus, either properly or essentially. It can be called so in an improper manner only (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 94, a. 1). In this regard, Vitoria adds that the natural law can be called a habit not because it really is a habit but rather because it is something which we hold by a habit. Indeed, by natural inclination we believe that these things are right (Vitoria 2010, 122). Hence, the natural law is not the reason considered as a faculty, nor the act of practical reason, but the product of the act or of the immediate and spontaneous activity of reason. In other words, it is the opus rationis.

Human reason only is clearly provided with the first principles that are known to it without effort. For this reason, also practical intellect has immediate access to the common principles, or general maxims, that are imposed by their own evidence. Starting from these principles, our reason must process, through a slow deductive process, all other precepts that belong to the natural law. Hence, different degrees exist between the natural precepts, depending on their proximity to the first practical principles, in the same way as this occurs in the speculative field, typical of sciences. These secondary precepts are derived from the first principles either as proximate and immediate conclusions that are deduced from them without any effort, or as remote conclusions, that can be reached by reason only thanks to elaborate reasoning, that within reach of the wise men only.

Moreover, as is the case for all other laws, the natural law also partakes in and is a reflection of the eternal law (Vitoria 2010, 106 and 118). Thanks to this participation in the eternal law, whose knowledge is by itself reserved for the blessed, men can come to know it by means of the principles of the natural law (Vitoria 2010, 130). In this regard, it must be stressed that despite the fact that all laws, in essence, participate in the eternal law, there is no doubt that the lex naturalis boasts a privileged relationship with it (Vitoria 2010, 130). Because of this, it has a nature of law to the highest degree (St. Thomas, Summa Theologiae, Ia-IIae, q. 91, a. 2).

Finally, as has already been stated, the natural law, although ignored, is in any case a real law and does not require to be promulgated in order to be obliging. Hence, it cannot be dispensed or revoked.

The natural law is a reflection of the primordial needs of human nature, and therefore, it is just like nature itself: one, universal, and immutable (Vitoria 2010, 98). All precepts contained therein are inscribed in a first, universal principle: “Bonum est amandum et malum fugiendum.” Moreover, as far as the first principles are concerned, the natural law is the same for everyone, both as regards its knowledge and as regards the validity and truth of its principles. With regard to these, indeed, it is known by all men and is always true and just. In the same way as the first speculative principles are known by everyone and are always valid, the same must be said for the first practical principles, due to their similarity with the speculative principles. However, as regards the conclusions that can be drawn from the first principles of the natural law, they are not always known by men, be it because of ignorance or owing to the many circumstances that must be taken into account to know what is right and what is not (Vitoria 2010, 126). This means that the further the conclusions are from the first principles, the more mistaken the intellect can be about them. Indeed, drawing universal conclusions from some principles, to be applied to specific actions, requires the taking into account of several circumstances that may invalidate the correctness of the reasoning and is therefore the prerogative of the wise man. This leads to the acceptance of a progress in the knowledge of the natural law, in terms of clarification, that does not demonstrate an alteration in the lex naturalis but rather, a development in the knowledge that humans have of it (Barrientos García 1978, 124).

Finally, as concerns the immutability of the natural law, it should be stated that it may change by “addition” only; this means that only circumstances may be added to it to improve it. On the contrary, it cannot be changed by “subtraction”; this means that no principle can ever be abolished. Indeed, the first principles can never be altered by subtraction, although the secondary principles can vary. An instance of this can be seen in the conclusions drawn from the first principles. In actual fact, however, also concerning the secondary principles, the change does not properly concern the law; rather, the change takes place because of the variability of the matter to which it applies.

The third property of the natural law implies that human or divine authorities cannot dispense with it. As for human authority, it is clear that it is in charge of the custody and safeguarding the natural and divine laws and, consequently, does not have the competence to modify them. On the contrary, the problem arises before the almightiness of God (Vitoria 2010, 194). Indeed, some events described in the Bible seem to suggest that there actually is some dispensation with certain actions ordered by God as regards the precepts of the Decalogue, such as the order that God gave to Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the topic of fornication (Gn 22:2), what is stated in the Book of Oseas (Os 1), or even the Jews’ plundering of the Egyptians’ goods (Ex 12:35–36).

The problem was already discussed by Saint Thomas who, in his comment to q. 66, a. 5, of the IIa-IIae, wonders if the mandate God gave to the Jews to plunder the Egyptians of their goods was or was not to be intended as stealing. In this regard, Vitoria expressed the opinion of Ockham and of those authors who admitted the dispensation with all precepts of the Decalogue by divine will; Vitoria was against Scotus’ opinion, who instead asserted that such a possibility was allowed exclusively as regards the precepts related to the fellow man, thus excluding the precepts contained in the first tablet from dispensation (Saint Augustine, Sermo 33, 2. PL 38, 208). Scotus then asserted that “dispensation” can be understood in three different ways. According to the first inappropriate interpretation, “dispensation” means completely revoking a law, repealing it. According to the second interpretation, it means “interpreting and clarifying” what the law implies or does not imply, depending on the circumstances, as is the case for a bishop who explains that someone is not obliged to fast for a given reason. Finally, “dispensation” is intended in its proper meaning to allow someone to act contrary to an obligation. Vitoria states that this is the way according to which the term must be interpreted to debate the problem.

The opinion supported by Ockham, according to which God not only can dispense with the precepts of the Decalogue but also order the contrary, appears to be irrational to Vitoria, as God’s almightiness may not imply contradictions. However, dispensing with the precepts of the Decalogue does imply contradictions, as one may hate God and do good, thus being a friend and an enemy of God, which is impossible. Therefore, no dispensation or repeal from the legislator of the natural right, that is God, is admitted by Vitoria (2010, 198) who, however, admits that Scotus’ intermediate theory may somehow be likely (Vitoria 2010, 206).

To solve the problem, Vitoria observes that God almighty has two different powers over the universe: one deriving from his role of creator, thanks to which he is the lord and owner of everything, and one deriving from his role as legislator and universal judge. By virtue of the latter power, God may not command that someone lawfully steals goods from someone else, as this is intrinsically bad. There is no doubt that he may command to do so, in his role of lord, but this does not imply any dispensation with the law, considering that he is donating something over which he has full command. By resorting to this dual power of God, it is possible to explain the passages in the Scriptures where it may appear that there exists a dispensation with the precepts of the Decalogue such as, for instance, the order God gave to the Jews to take possession of the goods of the Egyptians or the order to sacrifice Isaac. In actual facts, since God acted by virtue of his right as creator, no dispensation was necessary at all.

The importance given by Vitoria to natural law can be seen in the De Indis (1539), with which Vitoria joins the debate on the thorny question of the legitimacy of the Spanish conquest of the American territories. In this relectio, he manages to unite the theme of the medieval tradition of natural law with a new interpretation of subjective rights, thus laying the foundations for a valid defense of the Indians.

Now, the complex conceptual structure of the De Indis can be schematically simplified by identifying a pars destruens and a pars construens which, respectively, analyze the illegitimate and legitimate titles for the Conquista.

In the first part, having rejected the Medieval interpretation of the Pontiff as a monarcha temporalis in toto orbe, Vitoria defines two concepts, both proceeding from the natural right, dominium and ius gentium (At the Origins of Modernity. Francisco de Vitoria and the Discovery of International Law 2017, 57–60).

As regards the concept of dominium (Vitoria 1934, III, q. 62, 61–221), it should be reminded that for a theologian, humans were the bearers of a “capacity to use things” not by human law but by natural law (Vitoria 1934, 82). In other words, Vitoria would propose dominium as an inalienable natural right (Folgado 1960, 191–198; New Perspectives on Francisco de Vitoria 2014, 55–72; Langella 2015, 151–174).

To the objection of the opositores that saw in the natives’ sins of anthropophagy or sodomy their inability to self-control and therefore their incapacity with regard to dominium, Vitoria replied that guilt, madness, or idiocy did not affect human dignity or human capacity to own: the natives’ infidelity, and their state of sin, did not question their humanity but only made it weaker. Hence, Vitoria asserted that there was no cause that could legitimize the expropriation of the lands of the American Indians: the natural law and the faculty to possess or own things for their own use would apply to them, just as they applied to the rest of humanity (Vitoria 2017, 525–567).

As regards the other fundamental concept debated in the relectio of 1539, it should be highlighted that it is not perchance that, in the De Indis, Vitoria stated that the ius gentium was derived from the natural law, clarifying all ambiguities of an interpretation that would see it on the cusp of the positive right. Indeed, for Vitoria the ius gentium was of natural right or derived from it: “Vel est ius naturale vel derivatur ex iure naturali” (Vitoria 2017, 658). However, in his commentary to the IIa-IIae, q. 57, of 1535, Vitoria included the ius gentium in the positive right. After stating that “quia omne aliud ius a iure naturali, est positivum. Dicitur enim positivum quia est ex aliquo beneplacito” (Vitoria 1934, 7), he affirmed that “ius gentium potius debet reponi sub iure positivo quam sub iure naturali” (Vitoria 1934, 14). In doing so, Vitoria wanted to reject a conception of the natural right that was traditionally extended to irrational beings as well and, at the same time, to limit a conception of the ius gentium that included all precepts which, according to the Spanish theologian, belonged to the natural right (Vitoria 1934, 13–14). For Vitoria, the ius naturale was, on the one hand, closely linked to human reason and, on the other, to what was good in itself, regardless of anything else.

In discussing this, it should be emphasized that for Luciano Pereña, it was impossible to state that Vitoria’s position on the right of nations, defended during the lecture of 1535, changed in 1539 with the drafting of the De Indis. According to the scholar, Vitoria always supported the positive, constitutional, and historical character of the ius gentium. In the Relectio of 1539, Vitoria wanted to demonstrate and affirm the rights of the Spanish with regard to the foreign peoples (Pereña Vicente 1952, 620). As noted by Reginaldo Pizzoni, however, if the vision of the right of the nations was completely positive, the relectio De Indis and the De iure belli would have had no reason to exist. More specifically, the De Indis would have lost its character of claim against the injustice perpetrated overseas, and this would have led to leaving the Indians at the Spanish conquerors’ mercy, abandoned to their greed (Ramírez 1955, 145; Pizzorni 1988, 575).

In the second part of the De Indis, after examining a series of titles that are generally acknowledged to be valid and that are rejected by Vitoria, the Dominican Master detailed the possible legitimate and valid titles justifying the Spanish presence in America. The first title proposed the topic of the Spanish rights to cross the recently discovered lands and to remain there without causing any harm to the Indians. The second title newly discussed the question of the legitimacy of spreading the Christian faith. The third, fourth, and fifth titles were related to the right of the converted Indians to be defended and required the iustum belli against those princes imposing idolatry. The sixth and seventh titles once again declared the rights of the natives that were fighting one another to resort, following a free election, to the help of the Spanish administration (Vitoria 2017, 659–697). The last title finally referred to the utility, for the recently discovered peoples, to accept the administration and government of the King and Queen of Spain, considering that they knew the science and the mechanical arts and had no advanced agriculture and craftsmanship. As for the validity of this latter title, however, Vitoria had serious doubts (Vitoria 2017, 696–699).

In examining the legitimate titles, the new position of Vitoria is of a paramount importance, as it was based on a new vision: the natural society of all peoples (Teófilo Urdánoz 1960, 598–600). Both in the first part of the De Indis, where the Master lists and rejects the illegitimate titles for the Conquista, and in the second part of the relectio, where the legitimate titles are analyzed, it is the natural right, the source of all other human laws, to be the fil rouge of his reasoning. Rights are granted to both the Europeans and the Indians and along with them, also duties. The illegitimate titles for the conquest are against the natural right, as they deprive the Indians of their right to property, to self-government, and to freedom (Vitoria 2017, 574–575). The Spanish, therefore, may not deprive them of their lands, as all peoples are entitled to own goods and to appoint rulers. The question thus appears to be resolved by Vitoria, in view of the natural right that originally provided the human kind with dominium.

In the same way, should the Indians deprive the Spanish of their natural right to cross their lands (Vitoria 2017, 658–661) and to trade with them (Vitoria 2017, 662–665), a right derived from the original and universal availability of the common good and of the cognatio of men (Digesta I, 1, 3), established among them by their own nature, or hinder evangelization (Vitoria 2017, 676–683), persecute those who converted (Vitoria 2017, 684–687), or even harm the innocent (Vitoria 2017, 688–691), or, in brief, should they not live in compliance with the ius gentium, which is based on natural law (Vitoria 2017, 666–667), then they would be unfair and so should be punished.

These last considerations on the Spanish rights were often misunderstood and interpreted as a method for Vitoria to give a legal basis to colonization wars (Todorov 1982, 191). In actual fact, the aim of Vitoria’s reflection was to specifically, and not only formally, acknowledge the equality of the Indians, placing all subjects involved on the very same level, where duties and rights converge. Vitoria indeed recognizes that the Indians are rational and free subjects. They are the bearers of rights, and, as such, they are participants in the natural justice, where duties and rights are intertwined by necessity and in a complementary fashion. Then, for Vitoria, the natural law is the basis on which the threads of the universal justice can be woven, where conflicts and issues, regarding all topics, ranging from mere political topics to spiritual ones, are ordained according to a rational layout.


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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Humanities, Department of Antiquity, Philosophy and History (DAFIST)University of GenoaGenoaItaly

Section editors and affiliations

  • Alejandro Coroleu
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of Arts. Building B, Campus UAB, Department: Catalan LanguageUniversitat Autònoma de BarcelonaBellaterra (Cerdanyola), BarcelonaSpain