Francisco de Vitoria


Francisco de Vitoria was a Castilian Dominican friar who lived between the 15th and 16th centuries. He studied arts and theology, although he was interested in many other disciplines. Among them, moral economy and modern international law, in which he stood out with valuable contributions. It is considered to have laid the foundations of human rights. Possibly the most influential members of the School of Salamanca.

Francisco de Vitoria was born between 1483 and 1486 in Burgos, into a family from Vitoria. He entered the Order of Preachers, where he received a complete humanistic training and demonstrated great skills in languages. In 1508 he moved to Paris. In this city he completed his studies in liberal arts and studied theology. He taught this discipline in Paris, in Valladolid. In Salamanca he held the main chair of theology.

In the French capital he was attracted by the three great intellectual currents of the moment: humanism, nominalism and Thomism. The latter was his favorite, but he took advantage of interesting elements from the other two, incorporating them into his thinking. His importance is recognized in the invitation to participate in the Council of Trent, as an imperial theologian, in 1545. However, he could not attend this important appointment, due to a serious illness. He died shortly after, in 1546.

Thought and work of Francisco de Vitoria

Francisco de Vitoria's thought can be found in his own writings and in texts compiled by his disciples. They recapitulated the re-lectures, master classes that summarized the content of the entire course, and put them in writing. The most prominent were Domingo de Soto, Diego de Covarrubias, Melchor Cano, Martín de Azpilcueta, Diego Chaves, Juan Gil de Nava, Mancio de Corpus Chisti, Vicent Barron and Martín Ledesma.

The moral economy in the thought of Francisco de Vitoria

He laid the foundations for the School of Salamanca, which, among other issues, dealt with moral aspects of the economy. The Catholic Church considered profit making a sin. Therefore, merchants sought his advice on how to act in their profession. In his opinion, the freedom of movement of people, goods and ideas was the basis of the natural order. Consequently, he considered that the actions of the merchants could not be worthy of ecclesiastical reprobation. On the contrary, he considered that they exercised an important function from which the whole of society benefited.

In this sense, he declared himself a firm supporter of free trade. However, he demanded that merchants offer their products at a fair price, without the will to usury. He also defended private property, which he considered more just and favorable to the general interest than collective property.

Natural law is the basis for just relationships

Francisco de Vitoria had an optimistic anthropological vision of the human being and his capacities. The discovery of America and the contact with the native peoples, caught his attention. He worried about the regulation of relations between individuals and between states. He stated that natural law was the basis for their being just. For his contributions, he is considered a precursor of human rights and the father of modern international law.

He criticized the forms of the Spanish Crown in the New World and the abuses of the conquerors on the natives. He maintained that the Indians were possessors of reason, the main human attribute, so they had the same rights. This materialized, for example, in that there was no reason to take away land and property.

It also ruled on the rights of the existing states before the arrival of the Spanish. Many voices argued that their infidelity and the existence of barbaric practices justified the actions of the conquerors. He replied that war was not a legitimate practice, not even in those cases. He argued that the only way to stop them was to influence their leaders to ban it through appropriate laws.

Just war

For Francisco de Vitoria, relations between states should develop peacefully, to be beneficial for all parties. In this way, he theorized about the concept of just war. This consideration was only applicable if it was essential to safeguard peace and security. He recognized it was applicable to wars aimed at ending the practice of human sacrifice. However, he added that, after the war, it was never legitimate to subjugate and enslave the defeated peoples.

Undoubtedly, today, the teachings of Francisco de Vitoria are in good health and remain fully valid. The defense of rights and freedoms can find in them a good guide to action.

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