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Montesquieu's The Spirit of the Laws (1748) illuminates the many factors that affect human behaviour and hence constrain the capacity for self-guided action, but his work also contains a defence of this capacity in his treatment of the soul. Yet Montesquieu also thought it important to establish reliable limits on human action so as to protect political liberty, and he looked to the constitutional traditions of particular peoples for standards of right that would provide effective checks on individuals and political powers without fundamentally eroding the animating power of the soul. Together Montesquieu's concept of the soul and use of history point to a nascent form of limited human agency, one that balances the elements of determinism present in his new scientific approach to politics and society.
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Keywords: Montesquieu; agency; determinism; freedom; history; law; soul

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 186 Laurel Ave, Providence RI 02906, USA.

Publication date: 2003-01-01

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