Human Identity and Otherness – Learning from Francisco De Vitoria

22 Pages Posted: 1 Oct 2011

See all articles by Claus Dierksmeier

Claus Dierksmeier

Global Ethic Institute; Humanistic Management Network

Date Written: September 29, 2011


How are we to treat human beings whose moral values, aesthetic ideals, and religious convictions we do not share? In its search for an answer to such questions today’s globalization ethics stands to benefit from a study of the moral philosophy of Francisco de Vitoria. Criticizing the violent exploitation of the South American natives, Vitoria developed a catalogue of basic moral norms whose validity, he held, reached across any and all cultural boundaries. In the 16th century, that was no minor feat. At the time, it was not uncommon to invoke Aristotle’s theory of ‘natural slavery’ as a probate legitimization of the Christian conquest of South America.

In this paper, I first reconstruct Aristotle’s theory of ‘natural slavery’. Second, I sketch how the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas altered the intellectual framework from which Aristotle’s theory was interpreted in the late middle ages. Third, I show how Francisco de Vitoria repudiated the theory of ‘natural slavery’ in defense of the unity of human dignity in the face of the socio-cultural diversity of human life. Last, with a few to contemporary debates, I draw conclusions on the status of religious arguments in the context of globalization ethics.

Keywords: Globalization, Universalism, Relativism, Specificity, Difference, Natural Law, Cosmpolitanism, Scholastic Philosophy, Francisco de Vitoria, Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas

Suggested Citation

Dierksmeier, Claus, Human Identity and Otherness – Learning from Francisco De Vitoria (September 29, 2011). Available at SSRN: or

Claus Dierksmeier (Contact Author)

Global Ethic Institute ( email )

Waldhäuser Strasse 23
Tübingen, 72076

Humanistic Management Network ( email )

St. Gallen


Do you have a job opening that you would like to promote on SSRN?

Paper statistics

Abstract Views
PlumX Metrics