Positions of Rights

Position of Rights (1771)
Title page to German polyintellect Johann Goethe’s 1771 Positions of Rights (Positiones Juris), in which he presents 56 theses that he defended to obtain the title of Licentiate of Law (the equivalent of a doctorate in Germany), thus entitling Goethe to call himself “Doctor juris”. [3]
In famous publications, Positions of Rights, or Positiones Juris (Latin), alternatively translated as The Positions of the Right, is German polyintellect Johann Goethe’s 1771 set of 56 theses, on topics ranging from natural law to inheritance law to criminal trial procedure, that he defended on August 6th allowing him to obtain a degree of licentiate of law. [1]

Goethe, after attending the University of Leipzig, at the age of 16, where he started to read law and had further lessons on drawing with Adam Friedrich Oeser, at the age of 20 to 21, attended the University of Strasbourg, completing a liberal arts curriculum with courses in political science, history, anatomy, surgery, and chemistry, e.g. he attended the chemistry courses of French chemist Jacob Spielmann, his first chemistry teacher, during which time he published his first volume of poems and had studied enough medicine to qualify to as a physician.

Goethe then attempted to obtain a doctorate in jurisprudence with a dissertation entitled “The Legislature, On the Power of the Magistrate to Determine Religion and Culture” that contained a number of controversial assertions, namely he contended, among other things that:

Jesus Christ is not the author of Christianity; it is a subject composed by a number of wise men and is merely a rational, political institution.”
— Goethe (1771), original law dissertation

Goethe's aggressive dissertation, naturally enough, unnerved his professors and thus was rejected on the grounds that it was unorthodox.

56 theses
As Goethean scholar Karl Fink cogently summarizes things: [2]

“From this list of disputations, we see questions about life that were to fall within the pale of his literary and scientific works during the next sixty years.”

Thesis 55, for example, was a moral issue that reoccurs in Faust.

The exceptions Goethe took to tradition were apparently “puffed up over his store of knowledge, but chiefly by reason of a few undesirable traits he has got from M. Voltaire”, as one early reviewer put it. [2] His original dissertation submission, and general outlook on existence, were themed on his distaste for learned authority, and casting for a new way of looking at the relationship between humans to nature, society, and tradition.

In followup, to to show contempt for university authorities, he offered a series of 56 theses for disputation, which include:


1.Natural law is what nature has taught all creatures.”

2.“The custom has been canceled and corrects the written law.” “Consuetudo abrogate & emendat legem scriptam.”
3. “Suitable guarantees to be of such a pledge, which jussores by-side.” “Idonea caution sit tam per pignora, quam per side-jussores.”

55.“Should the woman who kills her newly born child suffer the death penalty?”

It would not be until 1809, following studies in affinity chemistry, that Goethe would be able to glean the insights of what he deemed as "natural law" being the guiding path to reason in respect to jurisprudence—namely the philosophy or science of law, the legal system, and the principles that lead courts to make the decisions they do:

“The moral symbols in the natural sciences, that of the elective affinities invented and used by the great Bergman, are more meaningful and permit themselves to be connected better with poetry and society.”
— Goethe (1809), three months prior to completion of Elective Affinities

The symbols, here, he is referring to being the following, namely the "dart" or force of reaction (or affinity-free energy equation in modern terms), affinity reaction diagrams (or chemical equations in modern terms), and affinity tables (or free energy tables in modern terms):

Bergman affinity tableBergman reaction diagramsBerman chemical signs explained

A=-\left(\frac{\partial G}{\partial \xi}\right)_{p,T}
Cullen's reaction diagram (modern view)

A = chemical species one
B = chemical species two
C = chemical species three

In other words, by 1809, Goethe has arrived at the conclusion that "moral symbols" of physical chemistry are what determine natural law and that this guiding system should form the basis of the philosophy of science of law, the legal system, and the principles that lead courts to make the decisions they do.

The following are related quotes:
Clip of the famous law degree "rejection" scene from the 2011 film Young Goethe in Love.

“I have found no confession of faith to which I could ally myself without reservation.”
— Goethe (1831), a year before his reaction end

See also
Student reactions (2010-2012)

1. Goethe, Johann. (1771). The Positions of the Right: God under the Auspices of the consent order, the renowned jureconsultorum permission for the highest honors in both duly obtaining the right kind Argentinensi, day 6. August 1771. h. l. q. c (Positiones Juris: quas auspice Deo inclyti jureconsultorum ordinis consensu pro licentia summos in utroque jure honores rite consequendi in alma Argentinensi, die VI. augusti MDCCLXXI. h. l. q. c). Strasbourg.
2. (a) Goethe, Johann. (c.1771). “The Legislature, On the Power of the Magistrate to Determine Religion and Culture” (“De legislatoribus, über die Macht der Gesetzgeber, über Religion und Kultus zu bestimmen”). Not extant.
(b) Fink, Karl J. (2009). Goethe’s History of Science (pg. 9; physical sciences, pgs. 75-76). Cambridge University Press.
3. (a) Boerner, Peter. (2005). Goethe (law degree, pg. 22). Huas Publishing.
(b) Juris Doctor – Wikipedia.

External links
Juris- (Latin: law) – Wordinfo.info.

TDics icon ns

More pages