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The Code of Humanity, a «universal dictionary of natural and civil justice», was created in Yverdon in 1778 by a society of jurists and moralists under the leadership of Fortuné-Barthélémy De Felice. The thirteen volumes of this specialised encyclopaedia reorganised legal knowledge on the moral principles established by the Protestant jusnaturalist Jean-Jacques Burlamaqui. «Natural jurisprudence», conceived as the art of knowing natural laws and applying them to the different levels of action, fulfils a strategic function in the Code of Humanity: it is the central question of the interpretation of laws. The articles INTERPRETATION, JUDGE, CONSCIENCE, EQUITY, and NATURAL LAW paint a picture of an enlightened Christian magistracy: less subordinated to the imperatives of political authority than to the injunctions of his conscience, the magistrate of the Protestant Enlightenment must anchor his judicial practice in the principles of right reason. In order to measure the repercussions that such an epistemological position has on political law, it is necessary to determine the singularity of the answers that the Code of Humanity brings to an old debate that modern philosophers (from Hobbes to Beccaria) have strongly revived: is it authority or is it truth that makes the law? What is the place of justice between law and conscience, between respect for the norm and the use of equity?
English title: Judicial power and the laws of interpretation under the Code of Humanity
Keywords: History of Law, History of Enlightenment, History of Encyclopedism, Interpretation of Laws, Natural Law
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