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Jean Bodin
Full name Jean Bodin
Born 1530
Died 1596
Era Renaissance philosophy
Region Western philosophy
Main interests Legal philosophy, political philosophy, economy
Notable ideas Quantity theory of money

Jean Bodin (15301596), born in Angers, was a French jurist and political philosopher, member of the Parlement of Paris and professor of law in Toulouse. He is best known for his theory of sovereignty (see Divine Right of Kings).

Bodin lived during the Reformation, writing against the background of religious and civil conflict—particularly that, in his native France, between the (Calvinist) Huguenots and the state-supported Catholic Church. He remained a Catholic throughout his life but was critical of papal authority and was sometimes accused of crypto-Calvinism. Towards the end of his life he wrote a dialogue between different religions, including representatives of Judaism, Islam and natural theology, in which all agreed to coexist in concord.

His books divided opinion: some French writers were full of praise, while the later Scottish philosopher, Francis Hutchinson was his detractor, criticising his methodology.

He died in Laon during a bubonic plague epidemy.


De la République

Jean Bodin's most famous work was written in 1576. The ideas in the Six Books of the Commonwealth (Les Six livres de la République) on the importance of climate in the shaping of a people's character also were influential, finding a prominent place in the work of contemporary Italian thinker Giovanni Botero (1544-1617) and later in French philosopher the Baron de Montesquieu's (1689-1755) climatic determinism.

Bodin's classical definition of sovereignty is: “la puissance absolue et perpetuelle d’une Republique” (Sovereignty is that absolute and perpetual power vested in a commonwealth). His main ideas about sovereignty are found in chapter VIII and X of Book I. Including his statement "The sovereign Prince is only accountable to God".

Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem

In France, Bodin was most noted as a historian for his Methodus ad facilem historiarum cognitionem(1566)(Method for the Easy Understanding of History.) He writes, "Of history, that is, the true narration of things, there are three kinds: human, natural and divine." As a politician himself, Bodin contributed to the restoration of France as a strong nation-state.

Finally, Bodin was among the first to recognize the interrelationship between the amount of goods and the amount of money in circulation. The boatloads of silver arriving in Spain from the Bolivian (then Peruvian) mine of Potosí were wreaking inflationary havoc at the time. Bodin laid the foundation for the "quantity theory of money."

Colloquium of the Seven

In 1588 Bodin wrote the Latin work Colloquium heptaplomeres de rerum sublimium arcanis abditis. It is a conversation about the nature of truth amongst seven educated men each with a distinct religious or philosophical orientation—a natural philosopher, a Calvinist, a Muslim, a Roman Catholic, a Lutheran, a Jew, and a skeptic.[1] The 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica states "It is curious that Leibnitz, who originally regarded the Colloquium as the work of a professed enemy of Christianity, subsequently described it as a most valuable production."[2] Because of this work, Bodin is often praised as one of the first proponents of religious tolerance in the western world.

On Witchcraft (La Démonomanie des Sorciers)

Perhaps Bodin most controversial statement was his recommendation of torture, even in cases of the disabled and children, to try to confirm guilt of witchcraft. He asserted that not even one witch could be erroneously condemned if the correct procedures were followed, suspicion being enough to torment the accused because rumours concerning witches were almost always true. Some scholars have attributed Bodin's attitude towards so-called witches as part of a populationist strategy typical of mercantilism.[3]


  1. ^ Colloquium of the Seven about Secrets of the Sublime By Jean Bodin, Marion Leathers Kuntz, Penn State Press, 2008 (original pub. 1975) ISBN 0271034351
  2. ^ 1910 Encyclopedia Britannica
  3. ^ Heinsohn, Gunnar; Steiger, Otto (1999). "Birth Control: The Political-Economic Rationale behind Jean Bodin's Démonomanie". History of Political Economy 31 (3): 423–448. doi:10.1215/00182702-31-3-423.  

External links

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010
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