Explain The Views Of Locke Essay, Research Paper
The life-blood of philosophy is argument and counter-argument. Plato and Aristotle thought of this as what they called dialectic discussion.
D. W. Hamlyn
JOHN LOCKE (1632-1704)
Locke was the first of the British empiricists who held that our concepts and our knowledge are based on experience. He forms his system of knowledge with empiricist idioms, namely: all knowledge comes to us through experience. “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience.” There is no such thing as innate ideas; there is no such thing as moral precepts; we are born with an empty mind, with a soft tablet ready to be written upon by experimental impressions.
Locke was a believer in God; he accepted the cosmological argument of God as a first cause. Our mere existence proved to Locke that there existed a God, nothing short of an eternal, all powerful, and all knowing Being could possibly have been responsible for the existence of man.
It may be, however, that he was not prepared to accept it all in quite this literal way. In his First treatise of Government, for example, he writes: … ‘And therefore I doubt not, but before these words are pronounced, if they must be understood literally to have been spoken… .’ He is here referring to Genesis 28:29 at the point at which God confronts Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: ‘And God said unto them. Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.’ This may be an indication that, although a devout Christian, he often wrote for those with a faith more simple than his own.
The overall aim of the first treatise was to assert the claim that kings did not rule with arbitrary power, nor by right of inheritance in a direct line from Adam. Filmer claimed that God gave Adam dominion over the earth and all other creatures; Locke that God gave the earth to Adam and all his descendants, who were all entitled to a share in its bounty, providing they earned their bread by the sweat of their brows and laboured to make the world even more fruitful.
The basis for understanding Locke is that he sees all people as having natural God given rights. As God’s creations, this denotes a certain equality, at least in an abstract sense. This religious back drop acts as the foundation for all of Locke’s theories, including his theories of individuality, private property, and the state. He believed that humans were autonomous individuals who, although lived in a social setting, could not be articulated as a herd or social animal. Locke believed a person to stand for, “… a thinking, intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places, which it only does by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking.” This ability to reflect, think, and reason intelligibly is one of the many gifts from God and is that gift which separates us from the realm of the beast. The ability to reason and reflect acts as an explanation for individuality. All reason and reflection is based on personal experience and reference.
In the state of nature, man has a natural liberty ‘… to order their actions and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit…. (II:4). Such freedom is not freedom to do anything at all; it is freedom to do anything that does not break the law of nature. Freedom in society, Locke argued, can only exist where people act socially. I can only be free if I respect your freedom and vice versa and if we both respect the law of nature.
Locke believed that the state of nature would be peaceful, overall. Such a view is the opposite of that expressed by Hobbes in Leviathan (1651). That book holds that in a state of nature people would live in anarchy, violence and a selfish pursuit of their own ends, that men act out of passion, not from motives based on reason and justice.
Locke’s theory that liberty is a property, linked the idea of liberty with the idea of possessions and the later liberal tradition that we are responsible for making our own way in the world without interference from governments – so long as we respect each others property.
In The Second Treatise of Government Locke states his belief that all men exist in “a state of perfect freedom to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of Nature, (II: 4).
Locke defines property as “to mean that property which men have in their persons as well as (their) goods. (II:173) and that “Man being born … ‘hath by nature a power not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty, and estate…. (II: 87).
This is a very wide definition of the word “property”, not the meaning we normally give the word in everyday speech. Yet, as many commentators agree, in Chapter 5 of The Second Treatise of Government Locke uses “property” to mean “land”, on almost all occasions. This ambiguity allows different scholars to interpret him in different ways. For Gough he is a mercantilist, for Macpherson a bourgeois apologist for capitalism and for yet others a collectivist.
Mills debt to Locke
Locke was the founder of classic Liberalism in his views on civil government. Civil government, according to Locke, is founded on a “social contract” among citizens who give up some of their rights to form a civil society. But, according to Locke, no central authority has any business restricting the actions of any of the individual citizens except to prevent harm to the society as a whole, or to an individual.