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Feb 01, ISBN In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , first published in , John Locke provides a complete account of how we acquire everyday, mathematical, natural scientific, religious and ethical knowledge. Rejecting the theory that some knowledge is innate in us, Locke argues that it derives from sense perceptions and experience, as analysed and developed by reason.
While defending these central claims with vigorous common sense, Locke offers many incidental — and highly influential — reflections on space and time, meaning, free will and personal identity. For more than seventy years, Penguin has been the leading publisher of classic literature in the English-speaking world. With more than 1, titles, Penguin Classics represents a global bookshelf of the best works throughout history and across genres and disciplines.
Readers trust the series to provide authoritative texts enhanced by introductions and notes by distinguished scholars and contemporary authors, as well as up-to-date translations by award-winning translators. John Locke was educated at Christ Church, Oxford and held various academic posts at that university, lecturing on Greek and rhetoric. However, his interests lay in medicine and the new experimental sciences and in he became personal physician… More about John Locke.
Category: Philosophy Nonfiction Classics. Paperback —. Add to Cart. About An Essay Concerning Human Understanding In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding , first published in , John Locke provides a complete account of how we acquire everyday, mathematical, natural scientific, religious and ethical knowledge. Thus, for example, the mind can engage in three different types of action in putting simple ideas together. The first of these kinds of action is to combine them into complex ideas. Complex ideas are of two kinds, ideas of substances and ideas of modes. Substances are independent existences.
Beings that count as substances include God, angels, humans, animals, plants and a variety of constructed things. Modes are dependent existences. These include mathematical and moral ideas, and all the conventional language of religion, politics and culture. The second action which the mind performs is the bringing of two ideas, whether simple or complex, by one another so as to take a view of them at once, without uniting them. This gives us our ideas of relations II. The third act of the mind is the production of our general ideas by abstraction from particulars, leaving out the particular circumstances of time and place, which would limit the application of an idea to a particular individual.
In addition to these abilities, there are such faculties as memory which allow for the storing of ideas. Having set forth the general machinery of how simple and complex ideas of substances, modes, relations and so forth are derived from sensation and reflection, Locke also explains how a variety of particular kinds of ideas, such as the ideas of solidity, number, space, time, power, identity, and moral relations arise from sensation and reflection. Several of these are of particular interest.
Locke also made a number of interesting claims in the philosophy of mind. He suggested, for example, that for all we know, God could as easily add the powers of perception and thought to matter organized in the right way as he could add those powers to an immaterial substance which would then be joined to matter organized in the right way.
His account of personal identity in II. Locke offers an account of physical objects based in the mechanical philosophy and the corpuscular hypothesis. The adherents of the mechanical philosophy held that all material phenomena can be explained by matter in motion and the impact of one body on another. They viewed matter as passive. Some corupscularians held that corpuscles could be further divided and that the universe was full of matter with no void space. Atomists, on the other hand, held that the particles were indivisible and that the material world is composed of atoms and the void or empty space in which the atoms move.
Locke was an atomist. Atoms have properties. They are extended, they are solid, they have a particular shape and they are in motion or rest. They combine together to produce the familiar stuff and physical objects, the gold and the wood, the horses and violets, the tables and chairs of our world. These familiar things also have properties. They are extended, solid, have a particular shape and are in motion and at rest. In addition to these properties that they share with the atoms that compose them, they have other properties such as colors, smells, tastes that they get by standing in relation to perceivers.
The distinction between these two kinds of properties goes back to the Greek atomists. This distinction is made by both of the main branches of the mechanical philosophy of the seventeenth and early eighteenth century. Both the Cartesian plenum theorists, who held that the world was full of infinitely divisible matter and that there was no void space, and the atomists such as Gassendi, who held that there were indivisible atoms and void space in which the atoms move, made the distinction between these two classes of properties.
Still, the differences between these two branches of the mechanical philosophy affect their account of primary qualities. In the chapter on Solidity II. The primary qualities of an object are properties which the object possesses independent of us—such as occupying space, being either in motion or at rest, having solidity and texture. The secondary qualities are powers in bodies to produce ideas in us like color, taste, smell and so on that are caused by the interaction of our particular perceptual apparatus with the primary qualities of the object.
Our ideas of primary qualities resemble the qualities in the object, while our ideas of secondary qualities do not resemble the powers that cause them. Locke also distinguishes a second class of secondary properties that are the powers that one substance has to effect another, e. Among the issues are which qualities Locke assigns to each of the two categories. Locke gives several lists. Another issue is what the criterion is for putting a quality in one list rather than another.
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Does Locke hold that all the ideas of secondary qualities come to us by one sense while the ideas of primary qualities come to us through two or is Locke not making the distinction in this way? Another issue is whether there are only primary qualities of atoms or whether compounds of atoms also have primary qualities. Related to this issue is how we are supposed to know about particles that we cannot sense.
It seems clear that Locke holds that there are certain analogies between the middle sized macroscopic objects we encounter in the world, e. These analogies allow us to say certain things about the nature of particles and primary and secondary qualities. For example we can infer that atoms are solid and that heat is a greater rate of motion of atoms while cold is a slower motion.
But these analogies may not get us very far in grasping the necessary connections between qualities in nature. Yet another issue is whether Locke sees the distinction as reductionistic. If what we mean by reductionistic here is that only the primary qualities are real and these explain the secondary qualities then there does not seem to be a clear answer. Secondary qualities surely are nothing more than certain primary qualities that affect us in certain ways. This seems to be reductionistic.
And while Locke holds that our ideas of secondary qualities are caused by primary qualities, in certain important respects the primary qualities do not explain them. Locke holds that we cannot even conceive how the size, figure and motion of particles could cause any sensation in us. So, knowing the size, figure and motion of the particles would be of no use to us in this regard see IV.
Locke probably holds some version of the representational theory of perception, though some scholars dispute this. On such a theory what the mind immediately perceives are ideas, and the ideas are caused by and represent the objects which cause them. Thus perception is a triadic relation, rather than simply being a dyadic relation between an object and a perceiver. Such a dyadic relational theory is often called naive realism because it suggests that the perceiver is directly perceiving the object, and naive because this view is open to a variety of serious objections.
Some versions of the representational theory are open to serious objections as well. If, for example, one treats ideas as things, then one can imagine that because one sees ideas, the ideas actually block one from seeing things in the external world. The idea would be like a picture or painting. The picture would copy the original object in the external world, but because our immediate object of perception is the picture we would be prevented from seeing the original just as standing in front of a painting on an easel might prevent us from seeing the person being painted.
One philosopher who arguably held such a view was Nicholas Malebranche, a follower of Descartes. Antoine Arnauld, by contrast, while believing in the representative character of ideas, is a direct realist about perception. Locke follows Arnauld in his criticism of Malebranche on this point Locke, , Vol.
IX: Yet Berkeley attributed the veil of perception interpretation of the representational theory of perception to Locke as have many later commentators including Bennett. Woozley puts the difficulty of doing this succinctly:. Woozley A review of this issue at a symposium including John Rogers, Gideon Yaffe, Lex Newman, Tom Lennon, and Vere Chappell at a meeting of the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association in and later expanded and published in the Pacific Philosophical Quarterly , volume 85, issue 3 found most of the symposiasts holding the view that Locke holds a representative theory of perception but that he is not a skeptic about the external world in the way that the veil of perception doctrine might suggest.
He is also puzzled about what material and immaterial substances might have in common that would lead us to apply the same word to both. These kinds of reflections led him to the relative and obscure idea of substance in general. For we have no experience of that supporting substance. It is clear that Locke sees no alternative to the claim that there are substances supporting qualities. He does not, for example, have a theory of tropes tropes are properties that can exist independently of substances which he might use to dispense with the notion of substance.
In fact, he may be rejecting something like a theory of tropes when he rejects the Aristotelian doctrine of real qualities and insists on the need for substances. But, it is also quite clear that he is regularly insistent about the limitations of our ideas of substances. Bishop Stillingfleet accused Locke of putting substance out of the reasonable part of the world. But Locke is not doing that.
It seems to imply that we have a particular without any properties, and this seems like a notion that is inconsistent with empiricism. We have no experience of such an entity and so no way to derive such an idea from experience. Locke himself acknowledges this point I. The real essence of a material thing is its atomic constitution. This atomic constitution is the causal basis of all the observable properties of the thing, from which we create nominal essences. Were the real essence known, all the observable properties could be deduced from it.
Locke claims that the real essences of material things are quite unknown to us. Thus, Ayers wants to treat the unknown substratum as picking out the same thing as the real essence—thus eliminating the need for particulars without properties. This proposed way of interpreting Locke has been criticized by scholars both because of a lack of textural support, and on the stronger grounds that it conflicts with some things that Locke does say see Jolley 71—3.
This is a strong indication that Locke thinks issues about language were of considerable importance in attaining knowledge. At the beginning of the Book he notes the importance of abstract general ideas to knowledge. These serve as sorts under which we rank all the vast multitude of particular existences. Without general terms and classes we would be faced with the impossible task of trying to know a vast world of particulars.
In his discussion of language Locke distinguishes words according to the categories of ideas established in Book II of the Essay. So there are ideas of substances, simple modes, mixed modes, relations and so on. It is in this context that Locke makes the distinction between real and nominal essences noted above.
Perhaps because of his focus on the role that kind terms play in classification, Locke pays vastly more attention to nouns than to verbs. Locke recognizes that not all words relate to ideas. This thesis has often been criticized as a classic blunder in semantic theory. Kretzmann, however, argues persuasively that Locke distinguishes between meaning and reference and that ideas provide the meaning but not the reference of words. Thus, the line of criticism represented by the quotation from Mill is ill founded. In addition to the kinds of ideas noted above, there are also particular and abstract ideas.
Particular ideas have in them the ideas of particular places and times which limit the application of the idea to a single individual, while abstract general ideas leave out the ideas of particular times and places in order to allow the idea to apply to other similar qualities or things. Berkeley argued that the process as Locke conceives it is incoherent. In part this is because Berkeley is an imagist—that is he believes that all ideas are images. If one is an imagist it becomes impossible to imagine what idea could include both the ideas of a right and equilateral triangle.
Michael Ayers has recently argued that Locke too was an imagist. Locke thinks most words we use are general III. Clearly, it is only general or sortal ideas that can serve in a classificatory scheme. Physical substances are atoms and things made up of atoms. But we have no experience of the atomic structure of horses and tables. We know horses and tables mainly by secondary qualities such as color, taste and smell and so on and primary qualities such as shape, motion and extension.
What the general word signifies is the complex of ideas we have decided are parts of the idea of that sort of thing. These ideas we get from experience. Locke calls such a general idea that picks out a sort, the nominal essence of that sort. One of the central issues in Book III has to do with classification.
On what basis do we divide things into kinds and organize those kinds into a system of species and genera? In the Aristotelian and Scholastic tradition that Locke rejects, necessary properties are those that an individual must have in order to exist and continue to exist. These contrast with accidental properties. Accidental properties are those that an individual can gain and lose and yet continue in existence.
If a set of necessary properties is shared by a number of individuals, that set of properties constitutes the essence of a natural kind. The borders between kinds is supposed to be sharp and determinate. The aim of Aristotelian science is to discover the essences of natural kinds. Kinds can then be organized hierarchically into a classificatory system of species and genera. This classification of the world by natural kinds will be unique and privileged because it alone corresponds to the structure of the world.
This doctrine of essences and kinds is often called Aristotelian essentialism. Locke rejects a variety of aspects of this doctrine. He rejects the notion that an individual has an essence apart from being treated as belonging to a kind. He also rejects the claim that there is a single classification of things in nature that the natural philosopher should seek to discover. He claims that there are no fixed boundaries in nature to be discovered—that is there are no clear demarcation points between species. There are always borderline cases. The first view is that Locke holds that there are no Aristotelian natural kinds on either the level of appearance or atomic reality.
The second view holds that Locke thinks there are Aristotelian natural kinds on the atomic level, it is simply that we cannot get at them or know what they are. On either of these interpretations, the real essence cannot provide the meaning to names of substances. By contrast, the ideas that we use to make up our nominal essences come to us from experience. Locke claims that the mind is active in making our ideas of sorts and that there are so many properties to choose among that it is possible for different people to make quite different ideas of the essence of a certain substance.
This has given some commentators the impression that the making of sorts is utterly arbitrary and conventional for Locke and that there is no basis for criticizing a particular nominal essence. Sometimes Locke says things that might suggest this. But this impression should be resisted. Locke claims that while the making of nominal essences is the work of the understanding, that work is constrained both by usage where words stand for ideas that are already in use and by the fact that substance words are supposed to copy the properties of the substances they refer to. Locke says that our ideas of kinds of substances have as their archetype the complex of properties that produce the appearances we use to make our nominal essences and which cause the unity of the complex of ideas which appear to us regularly conjoined.
The very notion of an archetype implies constraints on what properties and hence what ideas can go together. If there were no such constraints there could be no archetype. Let us begin with the usage of words. It is important in a community of language users that words be used with the same meaning. If this condition is met it facilitates the chief end of language which is communication. If one fails to use words with the meaning that most people attach to them, one will fail to communicate effectively with others.
Thus one would defeat the main purpose of language.
Association of ideas
It should also be noted that traditions of usage for Locke can be modified. Otherwise we would not be able to improve our knowledge and understanding by getting more clear and determinate ideas. In the making of the names of substances there is a period of discovery as the abstract general idea is put together e. Language itself is viewed as an instrument for carrying out the mainly prosaic purposes and practices of every day life.
Ordinary people are the chief makers of language. Vulgar Notions suit vulgar Discourses; and both though confused enough, yet serve pretty well for the Market and the Wake. Merchants and Lovers, Cooks and Taylors, have Words wherewith to dispatch their ordinary affairs; and so, I think, might Philosophers and Disputants too, if they had a mind to understand and to be clearly understood.
These ordinary people use a few apparent qualities, mainly ideas of secondary qualities to make ideas and words that will serve their purposes. Natural philosophers i. Scientists are seeking to find the necessary connections between properties. A whale is not a fish, as it turns out, but a mammal.
There is a characteristic group of qualities which fish have which whales do not have.
There is a characteristic group of qualities which mammals have which whales also have. To classify a whale as a fish therefore is a mistake. Similarly, we might make an idea of gold that only included being a soft metal and gold color. But the product of such work is open to criticism, either on the grounds that it does not conform to already current usage, or that it inadequately represents the archetypes that it is supposed to copy in the world. We engage in such criticism in order to improve human understanding of the material world and thus the human condition.
In becoming more accurate the nominal essence is converging on the real essence. In contrast with substances modes are dependent existences—they can be thought of as the ordering of substances. These are technical terms for Locke, so we should see how they are defined. First, Modes I call such complex Ideas , which however compounded, contain not in themselves the supposition of subsisting by themselves; such are the words signified by the Words Triangle, Gratitude, Murther, etc. Of these Modes , there are two sorts, which deserve distinct consideration. First, there are some that are only variations, or different combinations of the same simple Idea , without the mixture of any other, as a dozen or score; which are nothing but the ideas of so many distinct unities being added together, and these I call simple Modes , as being contained within the bounds of one simple Idea.
Secondly, There are others, compounded of Ideas of several kinds, put together to make one complex one; v. Beauty , consisting of a certain combination of Colour and Figure, causing Delight to the Beholder; Theft , which being the concealed change of the Possession of any thing, without the consent of the Proprietor, contains, as is visible, a combination of several Ideas of several kinds; and these I call Mixed Modes.
When we make ideas of modes, the mind is again active, but the archetype is in our mind. The question becomes whether things in the world fit our ideas, and not whether our ideas correspond to the nature of things in the world. Our ideas are adequate. If we find that someone does not fit this definition, this does not reflect badly on our definition, it simply means that that individual does not belong to the class of bachelors.
Modes give us the ideas of mathematics, of morality, of religion and politics and indeed of human conventions in general. Since these modal ideas are not only made by us but serve as standards that things in the world either fit or do not fit and thus belong or do not belong to that sort, ideas of modes are clear and distinct, adequate and complete. Thus in modes, we get the real and nominal essences combined.
One can give precise definitions of mathematical terms that is, give necessary and sufficient conditions and one can give deductive demonstrations of mathematical truths. Locke sometimes says that morality too is capable of deductive demonstration. Though pressed by his friend William Molyneux to produce such a demonstrative morality, Locke never did so. The terms of political discourse also have some of the same modal features for Locke.
When Locke defines the states of nature, slavery and war in the Second Treatise of Government , for example, we are presumably getting precise modal definitions from which one can deduce consequences. It is possible, however, that with politics we are getting a study which requires both experience as well as the deductive modal aspect. In the fourth book of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding Locke tells us what knowledge is and what humans can know and what they cannot not simply what they do and do not happen to know. This definition of knowledge contrasts with the Cartesian definition of knowledge as any ideas that are clear and distinct.
What about knowing the real existence of things? Locke, for example, makes transdictive inferences about atoms where Berkeley is unwilling to allow that such inferences are legitimate. This implies that Locke has a semantics that allows him to talk about the unexperienced causes of experience such as atoms where Berkeley cannot. What then can we know and with what degree of certainty? We can know that God exists with the second highest degree of assurance, that of demonstration. We also know that we exist with the highest degree of certainty. The truths of morality and mathematics we can know with certainty as well, because these are modal ideas whose adequacy is guaranteed by the fact that we make such ideas as ideal models which other things must fit, rather than trying to copy some external archetype which we can only grasp inadequately.
On the other hand, our efforts to grasp the nature of external objects is limited largely to the connection between their apparent qualities. The real essence of elephants and gold is hidden from us: though in general we suppose them to be some distinct combination of atoms which cause the grouping of apparent qualities which leads us to see elephants and violets, gold and lead as distinct kinds.
Our knowledge of material things is probabilistic and thus opinion rather than knowledge. We do have sensitive knowledge of external objects, which is limited to things we are presently experiencing. While Locke holds that we only have knowledge of a limited number of things, he thinks we can judge the truth or falsity of many propositions in addition to those we can legitimately claim to know. This brings us to a discussion of probability. Knowledge involves the seeing of the agreement or disagreement of our ideas.
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What then is probability and how does it relate to knowledge? So, apart from the few important things that we can know for certain, e. What then is probability? As Demonstration is the shewing of the agreement or disagreement of two Ideas, by the intervention of one or more Proofs, which have a constant, immutable, and visible connexion one with another: so Probability is nothing but the appearance of such an Agreement or Disagreement, by the intervention of Proofs, whose connection is not constant and immutable, or at least is not perceived to be so, but is or appears, for the most part to be so, and is enough to induce the Mind to judge the Proposition to be true, or false, rather than the contrary.
Probable reasoning, on this account, is an argument, similar in certain ways to the demonstrative reasoning that produces knowledge but different also in certain crucial respects. It is an argument that provides evidence that leads the mind to judge a proposition true or false but without a guarantee that the judgment is correct. This kind of probable judgment comes in degrees, ranging from near demonstrations and certainty to unlikeliness and improbability in the vicinity of impossibility.
It is correlated with degrees of assent ranging from full assurance down to conjecture, doubt and distrust. The new science of mathematical probability had come into being on the continent just around the time that Locke was writing the Essay. His account of probability, however, shows little or no awareness of mathematical probability. Rather it reflects an older tradition that treated testimony as probable reasoning. Thus, when Locke comes to describe the grounds for probability he cites the conformity of the proposition to our knowledge, observation and experience, and the testimony of others who are reporting their observation and experience.
Concerning the latter we must consider the number of witnesses, their integrity, their skill in observation, counter testimony and so on. In judging rationally how much to assent to a probable proposition, these are the relevant considerations that the mind should review.
We should, Locke also suggests, be tolerant of differing opinions as we have more reason to retain the opinions we have than to give them up to strangers or adversaries who may well have some interest in our doing so. Locke distinguishes two sorts of probable propositions. The first of these have to do with particular existences or matters of fact, and the second that are beyond the testimony of the senses. Matters of fact are open to observation and experience, and so all of the tests noted above for determining rational assent to propositions about them are available to us.
Things are quite otherwise with matters that are beyond the testimony of the senses. These include the knowledge of finite immaterial spirits such as angels or things such as atoms that are too small to be sensed, or the plants, animals or inhabitants of other planets that are beyond our range of sensation because of their distance from us. Concerning this latter category, Locke says we must depend on analogy as the only help for our reasoning.
Thus the observing that the bare rubbing of two bodies violently one upon the other, produce heat, and very often fire it self, we have reason to think, that what we call Heat and Fire consist of the violent agitation of the imperceptible minute parts of the burning matter…. We reason about angels by considering the Great Chain of Being; figuring that while we have no experience of angels, the ranks of species above us is likely as numerous as that below of which we do have experience.
This reasoning is, however, only probable. The relative merits of the senses, reason and faith for attaining truth and the guidance of life were a significant issue during this period. As noted above James Tyrrell recalled that the original impetus for the writing of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was a discussion about the principles of morality and revealed religion. In Book IV Chapters 17, 18, and 19 Locke deals with the nature of reason, the relation of reason to faith and the nature of enthusiasm.
Locke remarks that all sects make use of reason as far as they can. It is only when this fails them that they have recourse to faith and claim that what is revealed is above reason. But he adds:. And I do not see how they can argue with anyone or even convince a gainsayer who uses the same plea, without setting down strict boundaries between faith and reason. That is we have faith in what is disclosed by revelation and which cannot be discovered by reason. In such cases there would be little use for faith. Traditional revelation can never produce as much certainty as the contemplation of the agreement or disagreement of our own ideas.
Similarly revelations about matters of fact do not produce as much certainty as having the experience oneself.
CHAP. I.: Introduction.
Revelation, then, cannot contradict what we know to be true. If it could, it would undermine the trustworthiness of all of our faculties. This would be a disastrous result. Where revelation comes into its own is where reason cannot reach. Where we have few or no ideas for reason to contradict or confirm, this is the proper matters for faith. Because the Mind, not being certain of the Truth of that it evidently does not know, but only yielding to the Probability that appears to it, is bound to give up its assent to such Testimony, which, it is satisfied, comes from one who cannot err, and will not deceive.
But yet, it still belongs to Reason, to judge of the truth of its being a Revelation, and of the significance of the Words, wherein it is delivered. So, in respect to the crucial question of how we are to know whether a revelation is genuine, we are supposed to use reason and the canons of probability to judge. Should one accept revelation without using reason to judge whether it is genuine revelation or not, one gets what Locke calls a third principle of assent besides reason and revelation, namely enthusiasm.
Enthusiasm is a vain or unfounded confidence in divine favor or communication. It implies that there is no need to use reason to judge whether such favor or communication is genuine or not. This kind of enthusiasm was characteristic of Protestant extremists going back to the era of the civil war. Locke was not alone in rejecting enthusiasm, but he rejects it in the strongest terms. Enthusiasm violates the fundamental principle by which the understanding operates—that assent be proportioned to the evidence.
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To abandon that fundamental principle would be catastrophic. Locke wants each of us to use our understanding to search after truth. Of enthusiasts, those who would abandon reason and claim to know on the basis of faith alone, Locke writes:. Rather than engage in the tedious labor required to reason correctly to judge of the genuineness of their revelation, enthusiasts persuade themselves that they are possessed of immediate revelation. Thus, Locke strongly rejects any attempt to make inward persuasion not judged by reason a legitimate principle. Ruth Grant and Nathan Tarcov write in the introduction to their edition of these works:.
The Essay thus shows how the independence of mind pursued in the Conduct is possible. Some Thoughts Concerning Education was first published in This became quite long and was never added to the Essay or even finished. As Locke was composing these works, some of the material from the Conduct eventually made its way into the Thoughts. Though they also note tensions between the two that illustrate paradoxes in liberal society.
The Thoughts is addressed to the education of the sons and daughters of the English gentry in the late seventeenth century. It is in some ways thus significantly more limited to its time and place than the Conduct. Yet, its insistence on the inculcating such virtues as. In the Middle Ages the child was regarded as. Their education was undifferentiated, either by age, ability or intended occupation. Axtell 63—4. Locke treated children as human beings in whom the gradual development of rationality needed to be fostered by parents.
Locke urged parents to spend time with their children and tailor their education to their character and idiosyncrasies, to develop both a sound body and character, and to make play the chief strategy for learning rather than rote learning or punishment. Thus, he urged learning languages by learning to converse in them before learning rules of grammar. Locke also suggests that the child learn at least one manual trade. In advocating a kind of education that made people who think for themselves, Locke was preparing people to effectively make decisions in their own lives—to engage in individual self-government—and to participate in the government of their country.
The Conduct reveals the connections Locke sees between reason, freedom and morality. Reason is required for good self-government because reason insofar as it is free from partiality, intolerance and passion and able to question authority leads to fair judgment and action. Lord Shaftsbury had been dismissed from his post as Lord Chancellor in and had become one of the leaders of the opposition party, the Country Party.
In the chief issue was the attempt by the Country Party leaders to exclude James, Duke of York from succeeding his brother Charles II to the throne. They wanted to do this because James was a Catholic, and England by this time was a firmly Protestant country. They tried a couple of more times without success. Having failed by parliamentary means, some of the Country Party leaders started plotting armed rebellion.
The Two Treatises of Government were published in , long after the rebellion plotted by the Country party leaders had failed to materialize and after Shaftsbury had fled the country for Holland and died. The introduction of the Two Treatises was written after the Glorious Revolution of , and gave the impression that the book was written to justify the Glorious Revolution. We now know that the Two Treatises of Government were written during the Exclusion crisis in and may have been intended in part to justify the general armed rising which the Country Party leaders were planning.
The English Anglican gentry needed to support such an action.
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Passive resistance would simply not do. The gentry had to be persuaded that there could be reason for rebellion which could make it neither blasphemous or suicidal. Sir Robert Filmer c — , a man of the generation of Charles I and the English Civil War, who had defended the crown in various works. His most famous work, however, Patriarcha , was published posthumously in and represented the most complete and coherent exposition of the view Locke wished to deny.
Filmer held that men were born into helpless servitude to an authoritarian family, a social hierarchy and a sovereign whose only constraint was his relationship with God. Only in this way could he restore to the Anglican gentry a coherent bssis for moral autonomy or a practical initiative in the field of politics. The First Treatise of Government is a polemical work aimed at refuting the theological basis for the patriarchal version of the Divine Right of Kings doctrine put forth by Sir Robert Filmer. In what follows in the First Treatise , Locke minutely examines key Biblical passages.
Natural rights are those rights which we are supposed to have as human beings before ever government comes into being. We might suppose, that like other animals, we have a natural right to struggle for our survival. Locke will argue that we have a right to the means to survive.
When Locke comes to explain how government comes into being, he uses the idea that people agree that their condition in the state of nature is unsatisfactory, and so agree to transfer some of their rights to a central government, while retaining others. This is the theory of the social contract. There are many versions of natural rights theory and the social contract in seventeenth and eighteenth century European political philosophy, some conservative and some radical. These radical natural right theories influenced the ideologies of the American and French revolutions.
When properly distinguished, however, and the limitations of each displayed, it becomes clear that monarchs have no legitimate absolute power over their subjects. Once this is done, the basis for legitimate revolution becomes clear. Figuring out what the proper or legitimate role of civil government is would be a difficult task indeed if one were to examine the vast complexity of existing governments. How should one proceed?
One strategy is to consider what life is like in the absence of civil government. Presumably this is a simpler state, one which may be easier to understand. Then one might see what role civil government ought to play. This is the strategy which Locke pursues, following Hobbes and others. So, in the first chapter of the Second Treatise Locke defines political power. Political power , then, I take to be a right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less penalties, for the regulating and preserving of property, and of employing the force of the community, in the execution of such laws, and in the defence of the common-wealth from foreign injury; and all this only for the public good.
Treatises, II, 1,3. In the second chapter of The Second Treatise Locke describes the state in which there is no government with real political power. This is the state of nature. It is sometimes assumed that the state of nature is a state in which there is no government at all. This is only partially true. It is possible to have in the state of nature either no government, illegitimate government, or legitimate government with less than full political power.
If we consider the state of nature before there was government, it is a state of political equality in which there is no natural superior or inferior. From this equality flows the obligation to mutual love and the duties that people owe one another, and the great maxims of justice and charity. Was there ever such a state? There has been considerable debate about this. Still, it is plain that both Hobbes and Locke would answer this question affirmatively. Whenever people have not agreed to establish a common political authority, they remain in the state of nature. Perhaps the historical development of states also went though the stages of a state of nature.
An alternative possibility is that the state of nature is not a real historical state, but rather a theoretical construct, intended to help determine the proper function of government. If one rejects the historicity of states of nature, one may still find them a useful analytical device. For Locke, it is very likely both. The chief end set us by our creator as a species and as individuals is survival. A wise and omnipotent God, having made people and sent them into this world:. So, murder and suicide violate the divine purpose.
If one takes survival as the end, then we may ask what are the means necessary to that end. So we have rights to life, liberty, health and property. These are natural rights, that is they are rights that we have in a state of nature before the introduction of civil government, and all people have these rights equally.
There is also a law of nature. It is the Golden Rule, interpreted in terms of natural rights. Thus Locke writes:.
The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges everyone: and reason which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions…. Treatises II. Locke tells us that the law of nature is revealed by reason.
Locke makes the point about the law that it commands what is best for us. If it did not, he says, the law would vanish for it would not be obeyed. It is in this sense that Locke means that reason reveals the law. If you reflect on what is best for yourself and others, given the goal of survival and our natural equality, you will come to this conclusion.
Locke does not intend his account of the state of nature as a sort of utopia. Rather it serves as an analytical device that explains why it becomes necessary to introduce civil government and what the legitimate function of civil government is.
Thus, as Locke conceives it, there are problems with life in the state of nature. The law of nature, like civil laws can be violated. There are no police, prosecutors or judges in the state of nature as these are all representatives of a government with full political power. The victims, then, must enforce the law of nature in the state of nature.
In addition to our other rights in the state of nature, we have the rights to enforce the law and to judge on our own behalf. We may, Locke tells us, help one another. We may intervene in cases where our own interests are not directly under threat to help enforce the law of nature.
This right eventually serves as the justification for legitimate rebellion. Still, in the state of nature, the person who is most likely to enforce the law under these circumstances is the person who has been wronged. The basic principle of justice is that the punishment should be proportionate to the crime. But when the victims are judging the seriousness of the crime, they are more likely to judge it of greater severity than might an impartial judge.
As a result, there will be regular miscarriages of justice. This is perhaps the most important problem with the state of nature. In chapters 3 and 4, Locke defines the states of war and slavery. Such a person puts themselves into a state of war with the person whose life they intend to take. This is not the normal relationship between people enjoined by the law of nature in the state of nature. Locke is distancing himself from Hobbes who had made the state of nature and the state of war equivalent terms. For Locke, the state of nature is ordinarily one in which we follow the Golden Rule interpreted in terms of natural rights, and thus love our fellow human creatures.
Slavery is the state of being in the absolute or arbitrary power of another. In order to do so one must be an unjust aggressor defeated in war. The just victor then has the option to either kill the aggressor or enslave them. Locke tells us that the state of slavery is the continuation of the state of war between a lawful conqueror and a captive, in which the conqueror delays to take the life of the captive, and instead makes use of him. This is a continued war because if conqueror and captive make some compact for obedience on the one side and limited power on the other, the state of slavery ceases and becomes a relation between a master and a servant in which the master only has limited power over his servant.
Illegitimate slavery is that state in which someone possesses absolute or despotic power over someone else without just cause. Locke holds that it is this illegitimate state of slavery which absolute monarchs wish to impose upon their subjects. It is very likely for this reason that legitimate slavery is so narrowly defined. Still, it is possible that Locke had an additional purpose or perhaps a quite different reason for writing about slavery. However, there are strong objections to this view. Had he intended to justify Afro-American slavery, Locke would have done much better with a vastly more inclusive definition of legitimate slavery than the one he gives.
This, however, is also not the case. These limits on who can become a legitimate slave and what the powers of a just conqueror are ensure that this theory of conquest and slavery would condemn the institutions and practices of Afro-American slavery in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries. Nonetheless, the debate continues. Indeed, some of the most controversial issues about the Second Treatise come from varying interpretations of it. In this chapter Locke, in effect, describes the evolution of the state of nature to the point where it becomes expedient for those in it to found a civil government.
In discussing the origin of private property Locke begins by noting that God gave the earth to all men in common. Thus there is a question about how private property comes to be.