Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda

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Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda
Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda.jpg
Born 11 June 1494
Pozoblanco, Córdoba
Died 17 November 1573
Nationality Spanish
Occupation Philosopher, theologian

Juan Ginés de Sepúlveda (11 June 1494 – 17 November 1573) was a Spanish Renaissance humanist, philosopher, theologian, and proponent of colonial slavery.


Epistolarum libri septem (1557).

In 1533 and 1534 Sepúlveda wrote to Desiderius Erasmus from Rome concerning differences between Erasmus's Greek New Testament and the Codex Vaticanus. He was the adversary of Bartolomé de las Casas in the Valladolid Controversy in 1550 concerning the justification of the Spanish Conquest of the Indies. Sepúlveda was the defender of the Spanish Empire's right of conquest, of colonization, and of evangelization in the so-called New World. He argued on the base of natural law philosophy and developed a position which was different from the position of the School of Salamanca, as represented famously by Francisco de Vitoria.

Sepúlveda translated several of Aristotle's works into Latin (e.g. Parva naturalia 1522, Politics or De re publica 1548).

Spanish colonization of the Americas[edit]

The Valladolid Controversy was organized by King Charles V (grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella) to give an answer to the question whether the indigenous peoples of the Americas were capable of self-governance, during the Spanish colonization of the Americas.

Sepúlveda defended the position of the colonists, although he had never been to America, claiming that the Amerindians were "natural slaves" as defined by Aristotle in Book I of Politics. "Those whose condition is such that their function is the use of their bodies and nothing better can be expected of them, those, I say, are slaves of nature. It is better for them to be ruled thus." He said the natives are "as children to parents, as women are to men, as cruel people are from mild people". He wrote this in Democrates alter de justis belli causis apud Indios (A Second Democritus: on the just causes of the war with the Indians) Rome, 1550. Although Aristotle was a primary source for Sepúlveda's argument, he also pulled from various Christian and other classical sources, including the Bible.

Las Casas utilized the same sources in his counterargument. According to Bartolomé de las Casas, Jesus had power over all people in the world, including those who had never heard of Christianity. However, he thought that Christianity should be presented to natives as a religious option, not an obligation as Sepulveda believed. Las Casas thought they should be governed just like any other people in Spain, while Sepúlveda thought they should become slaves.

Today, Sepúlveda's opinions would be considered extremely racist, though in the 16th century they were not extraordinary. At the end of the debate, Charles V adopted neither Sepúlveda's or Las Casas' arguments, and adopted Francisco de Vitoria's recommendations.

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