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Locke's Second Treatise of Government

Essay by review  •  September 27, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,186 Words (5 Pages)  •  1,233 Views

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Locke's Second Treatise of Government, by far, is his most influential and important piece of writing. In it he set forth his theory of natural law and natural right. He shows that there does exist a rational purpose to government, and one need not rely on "mysticism and mystery." Against anarchy, Locke saw his job as one who must defend government as an institution. Locke's object was to insist not only that the public welfare was the test of good government and the basis for properly imposing obligations on the citizens of a country, but also that the public welfare made government necessary.

Locke believed that the mind is blank upon birth. As a person grows and develops, so does their mind. He urged individuals to formulate theories and to test them through experiments. The fundamental claim is that human knowledge begins with sense experience and primarily is derived from it. Locke begins his philosophical examination of knowledge by trying to disprove the claim that some of our knowledge is original, in the sense that it comes from ideas which are innate or inborn. Locke's attempted refutation depends on a questionable assumption: if an individual has an idea, then that individual would understand it and assent to its content.

Also, Locke believed in religious freedom and the separation of church and state. He thought that God established divine law. This could be discovered by reasoning, and to disobey it was morally wrong. He also held the opinion that no one should dictate the form of another's religion. But Locke points out that there is widespread disagreement over the concept of God. Furthermore, it does not seem to be present at all in small children. We form ideas as the endpoint of the action of physical bodies on our own bodies. Locke points out that sometimes he uses 'idea' to refer to the end product, what exists in the mind, and sometimes he uses it to refer to the quality in the body which causes the idea. The ideas of sense are the first ideas we have. Once the mind begins to be populated with them, it can operate upon them.

Locke classified ideas as simple and complex. All complex ideas are said to be made up, ultimately of simple ideas, and their complexity is the work of the mind. A simple idea is "one uncompounded appearance," said Locke. But it should be noted that the relation of simple to complex ideas is not the relation of part to whole. In general, our simple ideas are the effects of the operations of sensation or the observation of the workings of our own minds . In a famous passage (Section 11), Locke compares the mind to a "dark room" with only a narrow inlet. Ideas are analogous to the images projected onto the back of the room.

Besides the right to self preservation, Locke also believed that all individuals had a natural right to property. This natural right carried with it two preconditions of natural law. First, since the earth was given by God to all individuals, people must be sure to leave enough property remaining for others to have, and secondly nothing may be allowed to spoil. These conditions met, an individual was granted exclusive rights to any object that they mixed their labor with. For Locke, mixing labor was in effect placing a part of the self into an object, and thereby making it part of the individual and therefore their property.

Human nature being the way it is, people eventually found a way around the natural law restrictions on property accumulation through the creation of money. Instead of only being allowed to accumulate as much property as could be used with out spoilage, people created money as a means around the natural law. Since money does not spoil, the burden of upholding the law now became that of the consumer rather than of the producer. People were granted the ability to accumulate unlimited money based upon their industriousness. This meant that some people acted more rationally than others, and thus were more deserving of property. Locke also argued that when people agreed to start using money, they also agreed to the "disproportionate and unequal possession of the Earth." He believed that

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