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Pateman On Locke Essay Research Paper For

Pateman On Locke Essay, Research Paper

For years social contract theorists had monopolized the explanation of modern

society. John Locke was among those who advocated this theory of a collectively

chosen set of circumstances. Carole Pateman, on the other hand rejects many of the

pillars of the social contract and specifically attacks certain aspects of Locke’s argument

regarding paternalism and patriarchy. Pateman defends her idea that the individual about

which Locke writes is masculine, instead of the gender-encompassing form of the word

"man." Pateman also argues that Locke denies the individuality of women. Instead of

scrapping his entire work, however, she grants him a couple of concessions, even

acknowledging Locke as anti-patriarchal. If John Locke were around to defend his

theories, he would probably have an opinion about the treatment of his work.

To accurately discuss Pateman’s view of Locke’s paternal/patriarchal theory, a

working knowledge of the theory itself is necessary. According to Locke "all men by

nature are equal"(Second Treatise: 43) with the exception of children who have not

reached the full state of equality, but must obey their parents. Domestic and political

power is vested in the Father, according to Locke. As he puts it, "the natural fathers of

families, by an insensible change, became the politic monarchs of them too."(Second

Treatise: 42) Locke does not reserve domestic power regarding children solely to the

Father, however. Instead he claims that the mother "hath an equal title."(Second

Treatise: 30) He even defends the rights of children. Locke argues that children have the

same moral rights as any other person, though the child’s inadequate mental faculties

make it permissible for his parents to rule over him to a limited degree. "Thus we are

born Free, as we are born Rational; not that we have actually the Exercise of either:

Age that brings one, brings with it the other too." (Second Treatise: 30) Locke does

specify that children are free because of their "father’s title," in addition to being

governed by the law of their father. It is less clear in this situation whether Locke is using

the term "father" to include both parents as the "term" man can be interpreted to mean

both sexes. It is likely, based on the tradition of male heredity prevalent during his time,

that Locke literally meant only a Father’s legacy affects the children.

With at least a basic background of Locke’s views on paternal power, it is

possible to examine a feminist, namely Carole Pateman’s, view of the same theories.

Much like the other social contract theorists, Pateman believes that Locke leaves women

out of the picture. In Pateman’s eyes Locke excludes women from "participation in the

act that creates civil society."(Sexual Contract: 21) Others have generously argued that

Locke omitted women from the original contract in order to keep from alienating his

(male) audience or, even though they are not mentioned directly, women still "could

have been party to the social contract."(Sexual Contract:21) Pateman believes his

omission was the direct result of Locke’s idea of an individual being masculine. When

Locke speaks of man and man’s role in the social contract, Pateman takes "man" literally

to mean the male gender instead of as a universal term.

Pateman also concerns herself with Locke’s status as a believer in paternal or

parental power. Although Locke stresses the Bible’s fifth commandment (Honor thy

father and mother) he does not extend women’s equality to other arena’s. Instead,

according to Pateman, "the husband still exercises power over his wife, but the power is

less than absolute."(Sexual Contract: 22) It is in this manner that Pateman attributes

male dominated government and politics to a traditional patriarchal system. To quote

Pateman directly:

The genesis of the (patriarchal) family is frequently seen as synonymous with

the origin of social life itself, and the origin of patriarchy and the origin of

society are treated as the same process.(Sexual Contract: 25)

Despite the image depicted here Pateman does grant that Locke appears to be

anti-patriarchal in many of his views.

Locke separates the family from politics. It is through this separation that

Pateman benevolently attributes his anti-patriarchalism. To begin, Locke states that a

man has no more power over his offspring because he conceived them than he earns

through the care for these children. From this it can be drawn that fathers have only the

power of benevolence with which to control the home. Paternal power in the home

must be earned and is forfeited through misuse. Pateman claims that "the separation of

the family from political life had everything to do with Locke’s view of

women."(Sexual Contract: 21) Locke also brings into the picture a different kind of

domestic power, that of conjugal power. Unlike many other critics, Pateman realizes

the difference Locke presents between conjugal power and paternal power. A man

exercising control of his wife conjugally is using "the power that men exercise as men,

not as fathers."(Sexual Contract: 22) The status Pateman grants Locke as

Anti-patriarchal does not mean Locke accepts women as equals in the political arena,

but simply that the kind of control men express at home is different from their political


A discussion of the critique of Locke’s work would not be fair if the subject of

criticism were not given a forum to retaliate. Locke would most likely have a response

to much of Pateman’s description of his theories. Based on his emphasis of the fifth

biblical commandment and the equality of respect parents deserve from their children,

Locke could argue that Pateman unfairly describes the role of fathers. Locke questions

the dominance of a father in the family by stating:

But what reason can hence advance this care of the parents due to

their off-spring into an absolute arbitrary dominion of the father,

whose power reaches no farther, than by such a discipline, as he finds

most effectual, to give such strength and health to their bodies, such

vigour and rectitude to their minds, as may best fit his children to be

most useful to themselves and others.(Second Treatise: 35)

It is obvious from this that Locke does not mean for a father’s power to extend into all

facets of the family. Therefore, he could contest that he allotted only the same small

measure of control to men in the political world. Although it seems logical for Locke to

argue that the same checks apply to a father’s political power as his domestic, Pateman

could easily counter this defense by drawing attention to the passage where Locke

pronounces fathers as "political monarchs." Another far-reaching defense Locke could

pose for his theories is a simple clarification of terms. Pateman relies heavily on the fact

that Locke’s definition of "man" is man, not humanity. If the late philosopher were

present today he could clarify precisely what he meant by this term, and dispel or

support Pateman’s accusation.

John Locke’s view of the the social contract comes under attack by the

criticism of Carole Pateman. She not only refutes his use of terms, but also accuses

Locke of ignoring women. Pateman claims that Locke purposefully left women out of

the original contract in the same fashion that he denies their individuality. Like most

people, Locke would likely defend himself and his theories to the best of his abilities if

he were able. Either way, Pateman’s critique provides the opportunity for

reexamination of a widely accepted theory and theorist.

Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government. Indianapolis: Hackett

Publishing Co, 1980.

Pateman, Carole. The Sexual Contract. Stanford: Stanford UP, 1988.

Comments: This is an evaluation of modern-feminist philosopher Carole Pateman’s description of John Locke’s theories.