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Locke-State of Nature Review.docx

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Political Science
Mark Lippincott

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 benefit. • 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
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