John Locke and Consent – Political Philosophy Research
In Chapters 3 and 4, Locke defines the states of war and slavery. Thestate of war is a state in which someone has a sedate and settledintention of violating someone’s right to life. Such a personputs themselves into a state of war with the person whose life theyintend to take. In such a war the person who intends to violatesomeone’s right to life is an unjust aggressor. This is not thenormal relationship between people enjoined by the law of nature inthe state of nature. Locke is distancing himself from Hobbes who hadmade the state of nature and the state of war equivalent terms. ForLocke, the state of nature is ordinarily one in which we follow theGolden Rule interpreted in terms of natural rights, and thus love ourfellow human creatures. The state of war only comes about when someoneproposes to violate someone else’s rights. Thus, onLocke’s theory of war, there will always be an innocent victimon one side and an unjust aggressor on the other.
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What then can we know and with what degree of certainty? We can knowthat God exists with the second highest degree of assurance, that ofdemonstration. We also know that we exist with the highest degree ofcertainty. The truths of morality and mathematics we can know withcertainty as well, because these are modal ideas whose adequacy isguaranteed by the fact that we make such ideas as ideal models whichother things must fit, rather than trying to copy some externalarchetype which we can only grasp inadequately. On the other hand, ourefforts to grasp the nature of external objects is limited largely tothe connection between their apparent qualities. The real essence ofelephants and gold is hidden from us: though in general we supposethem to be some distinct combination of atoms which cause the groupingof apparent qualities which leads us to see elephants and violets,gold and lead as distinct kinds. Our knowledge of material things isprobabilistic and thus opinion rather than knowledge. Thus our“knowledge” of external objects is inferior to ourknowledge of mathematics and morality, of ourselves, and of God. We dohave a limited sensitive knowledge of external objects, which islimited to things we are presently experiencing. While Locke holdsthat we only have knowledge of a limited number of things, he thinkswe can judge the truth or falsity of many propositions in addition tothose we can legitimately claim to know. This brings us to adiscussion of probability.
For contemporary Americans, one reason for studying Locke (together with Hobbes) is to understand the character of liberalism. A liberal system such as ours enshrines individual rights, but its health depends upon people exercising those rights responsibly. It depends on people taking seriously their duty to respect the rights of others. Many observers believe that, while Americans today are eager to claim their rights, too few are willing to shoulder the attendant responsibilities. Is a rights-based society doomed to degenerate into simple selfishness? Or is it possible to construct a rights philosophy with a robust element of responsibility built into it? Must such a philosophy place natural law above individual right? Must this law have a religious dimension? These are questions that should send us back to Hobbes, Locke, and the architects of the .
John Locke (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Limited government, private responsibility, and the private provison of charity are all parts of the Liberal vision from Locke, to , to John Stuart Mill, to
John Locke (1632-1704) - Friesian School
Other commentators focus on the third argument, that the magistratemight be wrong. Here the question is whether Locke's argument isquestion begging or not. The two most promising lines of argument arethe following. Wootton argues that there are very good reasons, fromthe standpoint of a given individual, for thinking that governmentswill be wrong about which religion is true. Governments are motivatedby the quest for power, not truth, and are unlikely to be good guidesin religious matters. Since there are so many different religions heldby rulers, if only one is true then likely my own ruler's views arenot true. Wootton thus takes Locke to be showing that it isirrational, from the perspective of the individual, to consent togovernment promotion of religion. A different interpretation of thethird argument is presented by Tuckness. He argues that the likelihoodthat the magistrate may be wrong generates a principle of tolerationbased on what is rational from the perspective of a legislator, notthe perspective of an individual citizen. Drawing on Locke's laterwritings on toleration, he argues that Locke's theory of natural lawassumes that God, as author of natural law, takes into account thefallibility of those magistrates who will carry out the commands ofnatural law. If “use force to promote the true religion”were a command of natural law addressed to all magistrates, it wouldnot promote the true religion in practice because so many magistrateswrongly believe that their religion is the true one. Tuckness claimsthat in Locke's later writings on toleration he moved away fromarguments based on what it is instrumentally rational for anindividual to consent to. Instead, he emphasized testing proposedprinciples based on whether they would still fulfill their goal ifuniversally applied by fallible human beings.
would lay the foundation of the ideas of liberal democracy and ..
Locke claims that legitimate government is based on the idea ofseparation of powers. First and foremost of these is the legislativepower. Locke describes the legislative power as supreme (TwoTreatises 2.149) in having ultimate authority over “how theforce for the commonwealth shall be employed” (2.143). Thelegislature is still bound by the law of nature and much of what itdoes is set down laws that further the goals of natural law andspecify appropriate punishments for them (2.135). The executive poweris then charged with enforcing the law as it is applied in specificcases. Interestingly, Locke’s third power is called the“federative power” and it consists of the right to actinternationally according to the law of nature. Since countries arestill in the state of nature with respect to each other, they mustfollow the dictates of natural law and can punish one another forviolations of that law in order to protect the rights of theircitizens.