Locke’s “State of Nature”
• Locke explains the state of nature as a state of equality in which no one has power
over another, and all are free to do as they please.
• Each individual in the state of nature has the power to execute natural laws, which
are universal. Locke then posits that proof of this natural law lies in the fact that,
even though a person cannot reasonably be under the power of a foreign king, if a
person commits a crime in a foreign country they can still be punished.
• The state of nature involves people living together, governed by reason, without a
common superior, whereas the state of war occurs when people make designs of
force upon other people, without a common authority. In this case, the attacked
party has a right to war. Want of a common judge or authority is the defining
characteristic of the state of nature; force without right is adequate basis for the
state of war.
• One of the major reasons people enter into society is to avoid the state of war, for
the presence of a supreme power limits the necessity for war and increases
stability and security.
• Natural liberty as a person's right to be ruled solely by the laws of nature
• Social liberty as the right to be under no legislative power other than that founded
by the consent of the commonwealth, functioning for the commonwealth's
• Locke starts out with the idea of the property of person--each person owns his or
her own body, and all the labor that they perform with the body. When an
individual adds their own labor, their own property, to a foreign object or good,
that object becomes their own because they have added their labor. He uses the
simple example of picking an apple--the apple becomes mine when I pick it,
because I have added my labor to it and made it my property.
• People are free of paternal power when they are old enough to function as
individuals; but political power is built on wholly different foundations.
The Moral Role of Government
According to Locke, political power is the natural power of each man collectively given
up into the hands of a designated body. The setting up of government is much less
important, Locke thinks, than this original social–political “compact.”Acommunity
surrenders some degree of its natural rights in favor of government, which is better able
to protect those rights than any man could alone. Because government exists solely for
the well-being of the community, any government that breaks the compact can and should
be replaced. The community has a moral obligation to revolt against or otherwise replace
any government that forgets that it exists only for the people’s benefit. Locke felt it was
important to closely examine public institutions and be clear about what functions were
legitimate and what areas of life were inappropriate for those institutions to participate in
or exert influence over. He also believed that determining the proper role of government
would allow humans to flourish as individuals and as societies, both materially and
spiritually. Because God gave man the ability to reason, the freedom that a properly executed government provides for humans amounts to the fulfillment of the divine
purpose for humanity. For Locke, the moral order of natural law is permanent and self-
perpetuating. Governments are only factors contributing to that moral order.
An Empirical Theory of Knowledge
For Locke, all knowledge comes exclusively through experience. He argues that at birth
the mind is a tabula rasa, or blank slate, that humans fill with ideas as they experience the
world through the five senses. Locke defines knowledge as the connection and
agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy, of the ideas humans form. From this
definition it follows that our knowledge does not extend beyond the scope of human
ideas. In fact, it would mean that our knowledg