Treatise on Civil Government
Essays Concerning Human Understanding
2. Influences on Locke:
1. Association with Lord Ashley as physician and confidential secretary.
2. Witness of Glorious Revolution (1688) that led to replacement of absolute monarchy by responsible government.
3. Philosophers like Filmer and Hobbes.
4. Sydney who’s “Discourses Concerning Government” emphasized sovereignty of the people.
5. From Hobbes, Locke borrowed the theory of consent and contract.
3. On Human Nature:
Locke’s concept of human nature is expounded in his “Essays Concerning Human Understanding”, but is not as systematic as Hobbes.
In this opinion, human beings are social creatures, decent and have attributes of ruling themselves. They are moral and rational. They are equal in the sense that they possess the tool of reason.
They enjoy the natural right to life, liberty and property by virtue of being human. Locke explains the motive. Force behind all human action in terms of pleasure and pain.
According to him “the object of all human action is to substitute pleasure for pain”. Moreover “What has an aptness to produce pleasure is called good and what is apt to produce pain is called evil”.
Locke’s understanding of human nature is opposite of Hobbes. Unlike Hobbes, who was witness to the civil war in England; Locke witnessed Bloodless Revolution (1688) and believed in goodness of human nature. But, his theory lacked a scientific basis as Hobbes. Moreover, he wrongly integrates individuals good with collective good.
4. Locke on State of Nature:
Locke, being a contractarian conceives of a situation prior to the formation of state. But his views are opposite to his predecessor Hobbes.
Firstly, While Hobbes state of nature is a pre-social phenomenon; Locke conceives of it as a pre-political rather than presocial phenomenon.
Secondly, While Hobbes’s state of nature is marked by fear, fraud and constant anarchy; Locke’s state of nature is an organized society in which peace and reason prevail.
According to Locke, even prior to the formation of state, there existed an organised society. For reason teaches men to live in a spirit of brotherhood. The individuals enjoy their natural rights.
5. On Law of Nature:
According to Locke, law of nature is in the form of prescription. It does not describe how men behave, but as to how they ought to behave. It is concerned with conducts of men.
The basic interpreter of Law of nature is the tool of ‘reason’ held equally by everyone. It follows that if there occurs a violation of law of nature a man can punish the transgressor by the instrumentality of reason.
While Hobbes’s Law of nature is significant only for transference of state of nature into civil society, Locke’s Law of nature operate in the state of nature and remains in operation even after civil state comes into existence.
Locke explains the reason of contract with respect to some inconsistencies in the law of nature. He says that even though there is peace and order in the state of nature, individuals enter into contract.
1. Towards off confusion and uncertainty arising out of nature, content and interpreter of the law of nature.
2. To establish a common agency for interpreting and executing the laws of nature.
While in Hobbes, individuals enter into contract as it was prime necessity to pressure their lives, Locke’s individuals enter into contract to tide over certain difficulties in the state of nature.
Though Locke fails to provide a convincing argument as regards his basic assumptions, he lucidly fit together a number of political ideas. His concept of human nature, law of nature and reason went a long way in ushering individualism.
6. Locke on Property:
Locke’s views on property are colored by his individual’s stance. According to him, there was common ownership of property in the state of Nature.
Apart from it, every individual possesses the property of labour. A person by mixing his labour with an object makes it his own private property. He does not put any limitation on the amount of property an individual could accumulate.
7. Locke’s View on State:
Locke’s view on state is outcome of his concept of human nature. According to Prof. Vaughan “everything in Locke’s system revolves round the individual; everything is disposed so as to ensure the sovereignty of the individual”.
He expounds a mechanical state whose prime raison-de-ere is to protect the natural rights to life, liberty and property. In fact the state is secondary and natural rights are of primary importance in his scheme.
Locke, a great individualist advocated a negative conception of the state. Its role is limited to prevent the subjects from infringing one another’s rights.
The moment it fails to live up to its expectations, it forfeit the right to rule and can be legitimately over thrown. The state is limited to no more than a limited liability company.
According to Locke, law of nature has primacy over laws of state. In fact all laws made by the state must commensurate with law of nature.
Locke’s government is based on the consent of individual. In its absence, the government may become absolute and people may not obey the state laws.
He makes division of power so as to ensure that it fulfills the paramount requirement of preservation of individual freedom.
Locke’s love for individual makes him to forward a theory of minimal state. The true sovereign is individual who can throw up the Yoke of state if it did not live up to their expectations.