Vitoria’s cosmopolitan potential realized: Human nature and human rights via social construction, not natural law

Keywords: Vitoria, indigenous peoples of the Americas, human rights, human nature, cosmopolitanism


Vitoria’s 1537 lecture On the American Indians asserts moral equality and fundamental rights for all humans but is contradicted by the significant inequalities between Spanish conquistadores and indigenous peoples of Mexico and Peru. Despite recognizing these rights, Vitoria’s vision supports an unequal Euro-American relationship regarding territorial sovereignty, self-defense, self-determination, and religious freedom. His insights have implications for contemporary international law concerning indigenous rights. However, his theological framework limits this potential. To better address indigenous issues today, I advocate reframing Vitoria’s perspective by replacing his natural law-based human-rights essentialism with a naturalistic approach that views human rights as social constructs. This shift can help develop international law to prevent violent interactions and promote equality between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples, reducing reliance on nation states to safeguard indigenous rights.

Received: 03 August 2023
Accepted: 18 April 2024


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How to Cite
Gregg, Benjamin. 2024. “Vitoria’s Cosmopolitan Potential Realized: Human Nature and Human Rights via Social Construction, Not Natural Law”. Deusto Journal of Human Rights, no. 13 (June), 149-82.