http://www.constitution.org/jl/2ndtreat.htmThe Second Treatise of Civil GovernmentThis week, I suggest, we focus on the Introduction + Chapters 1 and 2.
Last night I read the introduction and chapter 1 of Locke’s text. Locke’s text was published (also written?) in 1690. Early in in the text he speaks of England’s current king, William, who was called the great restorer. It appears that Locke is speaking of him favorably.Locke also asserts that government “in the consent of the people” is the only lawful government. He also speaks of “just and natural rights”.Curiously, Locke mentions missing papers. I have no idea what he is referring to here. I will look that up.Locke spends the rest of the introduction referring to the writings of Sir Robert Filmer, an English philosopher who justified the divine right of kings.In the First Treatise of government, Locke, so he says (haven’t read it) dissects Filmer’s arguments, which were still popular when Locke was writing in 1690.At the beginning of chapter 1, Locke states the arguments he made in his first treatise, against Filmer.In a key passage he also makes the following points:-all government is the product “only of force and violence”-men live together only by the “rule of beasts,” where only the strong survive.-this condition is constantly violent and chaotic, causing men to look for an alternative.Locke, again referring to his arguments previously made against Filmer, says that he and his supporters must have an alternative view of the origin of government (political power) since they do not accept the premises he just stated (I think this is a fair description of what Locke is saying. Without having read his first treatise, I feel a bit out of the loop in this section.)Locke proceeds to discuss different kinds of power……(will continue….or someone else can jump in)
We can probably add more of Locke's writings. I didn't realize that the material I selected was as short as it is. Any suggestions? Maybe browse the table of contents of the Second Treatise. I will do the same.
tabs101,Locke also asserts that government “in the consent of the people” is the only lawful government.Is that the consent of the people governed (that is, all the people), or just something like a majority of the people?It's hard to imagine any government having consent of all the people, and nearly as hard to imagine having even consent of the majority. For example, if People A want Government A, People B want Government B, and People C want Government C, and if each group of people is roughly 1/3rd the population being governed, then no government has the consent of a majority.I guess it partly depends on what you mean by "consent"... I assume it means a freely-given acceptance with no coercion of any sort. I'd think the biggest problem is the people born after the government is established. They certainly have not "consented" to that government. And the possibility of coercion (inherent or applied) is very high. If you say someone can leave the country if they don't support it, that's a pretty high level of coercion to my mind.He also speaks of “just and natural rights”.By which he means "just and natural rights as ordained by Locke". There's possibly not another person on the planet who had exactly the same list in mind of "just and natural rights" as Locke... or as anyone else.Phil
Hi Phil,I share your views. Is there a philosopher or text you are are of thatcriticizes Locke or the social contract theory?Joe
tabs101,Is there a philosopher or text you are aware of thatcriticizes Locke or the social contract theory?Yes: boards.fool.com/lastposts.asp?limit=99&uid=2210680Phil
Wait, you linked to your own posts ;)Here is a text that summarizes David Hume's view of the social contract theory. I will take a look this evening. Maybe next week I will focus on some of his actual writings.http://web.nmsu.edu/~dscoccia/320web/320conserv.pdf
At the start of chapter 2, Lockes says the following:"TO understand political power right, and derive it from its original, we must consider, what state all men are naturally in, and that is, 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, without asking leave, or depending upon the will of any other man..." To back track for a second, Locke states at the end of chapter 1 that political power, unlike other kinds of power, is the "right of making laws with penalties of death" (and by default, "all lesser penalties") for the "preservation of property" and the protection of the community from foreign enemies.Locke refers to man, in this hypothetical state of nature, as possessing perfect freedom. By making this assertion, Locke is beginning to establish a line of reasoning that will suggest that man will only relinquish this "perfect freedom" if giving it up leads to a better outcome.What does Locke mean by "perfect freedom"? Locke means you can (try to) do whatever you want. Nobody can say to you in a meaningful way "you can't do that!" or "by what right do you do that?". Since there is no government, because the existence of a government implies the loss of "perfect freedom", you will not face the consequences of legal/government authorities. After all, they do not yet exist. But, we know, you will still lface consequences.Is any of this meaningful? The reality is no condition of perfect freedom has ever existed for people. As long as human beings have found themselves living with other human beings, by choice or by imposition, there is a struggle for control. You have your will, and I have my will. Isn't this all we can truthfully say? Whether my will is exerted over you, or vice versa, depends on a variety of factors. Maybe you trust me. Maybe I am scared of you. Power is a concept that only has meaning in a social context. For Locke to talk about a condition of "perfect freedom" he is trying to assert that different kinds of power exist in different social settings. One social setting is 'before government', which he calls a state of nature. The other is 'after government has been established'. We can criticize this point by saying that in terms of power the only factor that has changed is who wields it and how. In a 'before government' setting, there are no formal institutions of government. But there still are people trying to control one another, which, I would argue, is the more substantive definition of government. Whether formal institutions of government exisit is almost an aside. Living in a country where the word freedom has such a positive connotation, the expression "perfect freedom" is, on the surface, a positive term. But if we go far back into humanity's past, we can imagine what life was like before formal institutions of government existed. But, when I go there in my head, it is frightening. (Locke knows this. Later he will argue that it is only reasonable that man would want to get out of this "state of nature", which we could also call a "state of anything goes", a "state of absolute chaos".)
Here is another excerpt.Locke: "A state also of equality, wherein all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another; there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty.""A state also of equality" (it appears the complete opposite is true? There is tremendous inequality in a state of nature), wherein all the power and jurisdiction is Reciprocal (what does he mean?), no one having more than another (what about power that is derived from intelligence? From physical strength?); there being nothing more evident, than that creatures of the same species and rank, promiscuously born to all the same advantages of nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also be equal one amongst another without subordination or subjection, unless the lord and master of them all should, by any manifest declaration of his will, set one above another, and confer on him, by an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted right to dominion and sovereignty (This section seems to suggest that Locke is talking about equality in a more general sense? He starts with the observation that people are all the same. They come from the same place. Nobody possesses any inherent power over any other. But people are different. Does Locke acknowledge this? For people who believe in divine right, that god gives some power over others, arguing that there is no god (Locke does not do this) or that god favors no one individual (Locke does this) may be persuasive.)
I think an idea that keeps coming up to me as I read Locke is that a state of nature does not seem persuasive, as if it ever existed. I know Hobbes also wrote about a state of nature. Are these descriptions meant to be hypothetical? Or should we treat them as literal. If literal, it seems to me that as soon as you are living with more than person, authority tends to be exerted by one over the other. Once authority is exerted, for all practical purposes, can't we say that one does not live in a state of nature? Let me work on defining some termsState of Nature- The condition of man before he lived under the control of a governmentHas man ever lived in a state of nature? It seems to me he has not.How do we know when someone is living under the control of a government?First, the government does not have to be accepted or acknowledged by the subject. It is easy to imagine someone asserting that the people who claim to comprise the government are not legitimate. This, however, does not change the fact that people are trying to control you, which is the definition of authority. If people are trying to control you, then, whether you like it or not, there is a claim on limiting your power. This is what government does. Government limits the power of the individual, either peacefully or coercively.
Edit: This, however, does not change the fact that people are trying to control you, which is the definition of (authority).---------------This, however, does not change the fact that people are trying to control you, which is the definition of GOVERNMENT.
tabs101,I think an idea that keeps coming up to me as I read Locke is that a state of nature does not seem persuasive, as if it ever existed. I know Hobbes also wrote about a state of nature. Are these descriptions meant to be hypothetical?I think they are meant to be hypothetical. At least, when I try to explain governmental concepts by starting with "people before any government", I'm being hypothetical.Phil
I recently learned about John Rawls idea of an original position. Until I read a post today (http://mattbruenig.com/2012/06/20/why-does-everyone-misunder...) comparing social contract theory to the original position (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_position), I hadn't viewed the social contract theory in the same hypothetical way as Rawls's idea.I need to remember that all of this philosophical thought is looking for a foundation, a place to begin. If concepts such as justice and right vs. wrong mean anything they must be measured against something.Often, when reading a philosophical text, the author's tone is as if his/her ideas are absolute, objective truth. More often not, I think this is because they assume their readers are sophisticated enough to understand the philosophical approach, something I am still trying to adjust to. Hobbes started with a social contract theory and ended up reaching the conclusion that absolute monarchy was the most desirable form of government.
This, however, does not change the fact that people are trying to control you, which is the definition of GOVERNMENT. tabs101,It is interesting to watch you try to work through some of these concepts in this thread. However, I think that this statement is wrong - or at least, it defines the term "government" in a way that is flatly inconsistent with how it is normally understood.Government involves people trying to control other people. However, that does not mean that all contexts in which people try to control other people involve government. My wife and I try to influence and direct each other's behavior all the time - it's the nature of marriage. My 4-year-old daughter tries to control me as well, using the tools at her disposal (some combination of affection and tantrums, generally). A mugger holding you up at gunpoint is trying to control your actions; so too is your employer, who uses a variety of incentives and consequences to elicit desired behaviors. None of these individuals are acting with governmental authority, nor are they exercising a governmental power, as we commonly understand that term to be used. We would never describe a kidnapper (for example) as exercising a governmental power, or acting as a government merely because he had seized someone by force. "Government" involves some claim of civil authority by the person trying to control the other person, typically deriving from some institutionalized framework of social organization. Clearly government can include organizational structures that act as governments but are not formally labelled as such - a tribal elder that enforces societal norms of behavior by passing judgments would be serving in such a capacity, as he is acting under a claim of authority which is recognized by others. But it goes beyond all instances of one party trying to control another. You could construct a political philosophy wherein you define the term "government" to include all of these examples, and indeed any instance in which one party tries to control another party's actions - through force, inducement, bribery, or what have you. But you'll end up with some pretty weird results if you try to import that definition into the political philosophies of other writers.So when Locke talks about a state of nature preceding goverment, he's talking about the absence of any asserted or recognized authority. People will still threaten, cajole, and actually use force against each other - but his state of nature contemplates that those actions are not limited by governmental authority, either informal or formal, but merely by the defensive actions taken by other people.Albaby
Thanks for jumping in...I will add this resource to the discussion: http://lsolum.typepad.com/legal_theory_lexicon/2006/09/index... .Haven't had a chance to look at it closely, but I will this evening.
Hobbes started with a social contract theory and ended up reaching the conclusion that absolute monarchy was the most desirable form of government.Smith started by agreeing with Hobbes' premise, but found that the behavior which Hobbes wants to PREVENT via absolute monarchy is the best route to prosperity however one cares to define it - and even allowing for different people to define it differently.
As I near the end of chapter 2, I am going to attempt to synthesize my thoughts by writing a scenario that embeds, or at least attempts to, some of the main concepts discussed in the text.If you lived alone on an island, very little of what we are about to discuss is of much relevance. Alone on an island, Locke would argue that while the laws of nature still applied to you, these laws would only be significant if another person or people ended up on the island with you.Imagine a scenario where other people begin to inhabit the island you are on, a place you like to call “your island”. Is the island your property, and like an invader of your home, do you have a *right* to kill these people? Before proceeding, a discussion about the previous question is necessary? What exactly do we mean by “a right to do something”? What is a right? We know for sure that if you so choose you have the ability *to try* to kill these new inhabitants. But, the question is, do you have the authority to kill these people? If so, where does this authority come from? Is it legitimate for you to kill these people? Questions about authority and legitimacy are what Locke focuses on in the Second Treatise of Civil Government (STofCG). When we say someone has the authority to do something we mean they possess power for some reason and from some source. Legitimacy refers to the proper exercise of this authority. For what reason and by what authority are you killing the people who seek to live on your island? A discussion of the origins of property rights seems to be needed. Is it correct to refer to the island as “your island”? Do you own the island? I think for now I am going to avoid this topic and attempt to focus on some of the bigger themes discussed in chapter 2 of STofCG.Let’s imagine a scenario where you are unable or unwilling to use force against the invaders, who you now refer to as “the others”. You are content to leave them alone if they leave you alone. It is easy to imagine that given the constraints of the island there will eventually be conflict over its resources.Different philosophers have different conceptions of the state of nature, which we are imagining this island to be. While their views about the specifics of this situation may vary, a common definition can be found: A state of nature exists in an environment where there is no government.Imagine the others on the island quickly organized themselves and eventually came to possess a government. You are not part of their society, of their government.More to come....
"It is interesting to watch you try to work through some of these concepts in this thread."Hopefully I am not embarrassing myself.
If you wanted to join “the others” government, and they were willing to accept you, you would have to submit to their laws. In return you would receive the security that is concomitant with laws and law enforcement.Locke, and I would say other social contract theorists as well, start with the assumption that people are rational actors. To be rational means to follow the laws of nature. Laws of nature, which Locke ultimately connects to God, revolve around the idea that people are equal, in the sense that God put people on earth and does not favor one person over another. He then looks at society, as it actually existed, and sought to examine whether or not government and the institutions associated with it were in accordance to the laws of nature. If a government existed that was not in synch with that laws of nature, it was unjust.If people are rational, then at some point they will band together to create a society. Social contract theory asks, what kind of government (and there are also implications for what kind of economic system) is most in accordance with the laws of nature?Once you join “the others” government you will no longer *enforce* the laws of nature (up to a point. You still retain the right to self defense), a right you possessed in the state of nature. A major benefit of government, Locke argues, is that since it is difficult to remain rational/impartial when someone infringes on your rights, government can intervene in a more measured and less violent way. Locke states that “Civil government is the proper remedy for the inconveniences of the state of nature.”Locke immediately proceeds to remind the reader that since absolute monarchs are “but men”, supporters of this form of government are ultimately allowing one person to assume great power with few constraints. How much better than the state of nature is it to live under an absolute monarch if he has the same tendencies to partiality as every other man? In fact, it might be better to live in a state of nature. At least in a state of nature you are not bound to any laws but the laws of nature. Under an absolute monarch, the tendency to be forced to submit to just and unjust laws is great.In Hobbes view (haven’t read Hobbes yet) the state of nature is such a nasty place to live that living under an absolute monarch would be preferred since only an absolute monarch could bring a swift and lasting end to this chaos. In Locke’s view, there is no difference. In fact, living in a state of nature may be better than living under an absolute monarch.Where are, or have their ever been, people living in a state of nature? To this objection Locke says that all “princes and rulers of independent governments” are in a state of nature with each other. Unless there is a single “body politic”, a single community, then a state of nature exists (will explore this more). Locke finished chapter 2 by referencing Richard (?) Hooker, who he quotes.It appears that in this last section Locke is addressing the objections of some who assert that there never has been a state of nature and that men have never specifically spelled out the specifics of the social contract, what they can do and cannot do. Locke responds, apparently relying on the authority of Hooker, that since people are not equipped to survive alone, in isolation, we are naturally induced to living in concert with one another. This decision, Locke adds, is done with the consent of each member of society. So to sum upThe state of nature, life before government, is a condition that is embedded in the nature of man. Man is a social animal, not equipped to live alone; but he is also a rational creature. Therefore, the government that man creates, or ought to create, is rational. The test of rationality is whether or not something is in accordance with the laws of nature, which emanate from the creator (Do all social contract theorists ultimately rely on god to argue about the nature of man/natural law? Hard to imagine they all do. Will explore this more.)
Best Of |
Favorites & Replies |
Start a New Board |
My Fool |