To bring this portion of Locke to a much too premature conclusion, we can see how Locke influenced America in the chapters that start with the beginning of political societies. We find language in that chapter almost identical language that is in the Virginia Declaration of Rights. Essentially, we take with us into society the rights we have by nature–the law of nature follows us into the compact.
We enter society by unanimous consent–that is every individual agrees to make a compact and then after that majority rules thereafter. I probably do not have to remind people, that this has epic consequences when thinking through the morality of the southern notion of secession. If you reject the beginnings of societies as Locke has constructed it, then you reject the law of nature that undergirds it. Suffice to say, the foundation stripped out of the thought, everything else falls to the ground.
At any rate, Locke, the real one not the one who tries to play him on TV, begins chapter 9 with a list of those things that are the ends of political society:
- the preservation of property
- settled and known law
- indifferent judges
- just execution of the laws
So not very high is it? Is this really the end of society? The listing seems like a minimum does it not? To protect oursevles and our property is the end of government? Really, that’s it in total? Well, yes, that is it partly. And Locke does not seem to remain in this lowly moderated Hobbesian state for long. What I have hinted at throughout these last 3 posts on Locke is that Locke may actually not be the modern we think he is. We at least ought to hold open the possibility that Locke is really a kind of closet Aristotelian in modern form. However, he cannot write in the fashion he wants for fear of 3rd degree burns (note he never signed his name to the Treatises).
Locke = Aristotle? Seriously?
Perhaps the headline puts it too vulgarly (too simplistically), but by the time we get to §131 Locke is speaking in terms of good and evil/better and worse. We do not enter society to make our condition worse. We might say, Hobbes thought the same. However, Hobbes does not put it in quite the same way as Locke. At the end of the section he gives us much reason to dispute that headline–for he states that the end of society is for the peace and safety of the people. However, he adds, it is also for the “publick good” of the people. In the end, Locke is concerned with justice and right living, though he does not emphasize the virtues as Aristotle has done. Yet, clearly, there is something more to life than mere safety. We have to remember that Locke speaks of duties and obligation in the context of reasonable living. Locke may be setting the bar low in terms of the beginning of societies, and he may disagree with Aristotle in a few places, but, he has not therefore, omitted the requirement that men, to be happy, must live according to nature. He essentially asserts in §131 that all men aim at some good–hello book 1 of the Politics!
Thomas G. West has a nice post about locke and Hobbes, and Happiness here. He is critiquing Michael Zuckert who will be visiting WLU March 15th. Hence:
My suggestion, then, is that Lockean natural law has a “utilitarian” foundation. The laws of nature are rules of convenience that are useful to human happiness. In this respect, Locke is still in the tradition of Plato, Aristotle, Cicero, Aquinas, Hobbes, and most other major philosophers preceding Kant. Locke shares what Kant called the “eudaimonism” of that tradition, which Kant rejected, followed by Hegel and Marx. (“Eudaimonism” is “happinessism”—the view that the ultimate ground of morality and political right is human well-being.) That is, in this fundamental respect, Locke is closer to the classics, who also grounded natural right in a “utilitarian” way. In the end, according to this tradition, what is right is right because it is useful for human well being. (For example, in Plato’s Republic, book 9, and in the Protagoras, the virtues are good because they promote pleasure or happiness; in Xenophon’s Hiero, tyranny is bad because the tyrant is the most miserable of men.)
Locke’s argument for natural law and natural rights is not easy to figure out, because he never presents it systematically in one place. He touches on it in several of his books, leaving it to the reader to piece together. In fact, its foundation lies in arguments that do not even mention natural law explicitly.
I start with book 2 of Locke’s Essay. Happiness, Locke writes, “is that which we all aim at in all our actions.” Zuckert says that for Locke, happiness “is defined in terms of a negation—the absence of unease.” But this formulation wrongly equates Locke’s explanation of what motivates human choice with his account of what the goal of choice is, namely, “satisfaction, delight, pleasure, happiness, etc.” We act, Locke says, only when we feel unease; that is, when we feel the pain of desire. But the goal of our unease-motivated actions is happiness. Happiness is something real for Locke: “the highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness.” We must, says Locke, take “care of ourselves, that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness.” Our desires often lead to short-term pleasure but long-term misery. Locke’s example is habitual drunkenness, which leads to “the loss of health and plenty.” The task of one’s own reason is to figure out which desires to pursue and which to deny. Since people often make mistakes about that, it is necessary to evaluate and rank one’s desires, and sometimes to cultivate new ones by habituation.
So we might have to go outside this book and into the Essay to get the full brunt of Locke’s natural happiness explication. There is nothing in West’s view of Locke, and I think it is the correct view, that places Locke outside the Ancients in regard to nature and happiness. West continues:
…Locke’s reasoning does not repudiate nature as a standard. In fact, it follows nature’s direct guide: “Nature, I confess, has put into man a desire of happiness and an aversion to misery: these indeed are innate practical principles which (as practical principles ought) do continue constantly to operate and influence all our actions without ceasing.” The rational pursuit of happiness also follows nature in a second sense: in determining the best path to happiness, reason must be attentive to the distinctness of one’s own nature. Different men have different natures, so there is no single path to what Locke calls “real happiness” for everyone. Locke does not mean that one can (to use the words of the U. S. Supreme Court) “define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” On the contrary, Locke insists that we “suit the relish of our minds to the true intrinsic good or ill that is in things.” If one chooses wrongly, for example by pursuing “a glass of wine” and “the idle chat of a soaking club” night after night, “by a too hasty choice of his own making, he has imposed on himself wrong measures of good and evil. . . . He has vitiated his own palate, and must be answerable to himself for the sickness and death that follows from it.”
Only by considering one’s own nature, its longings and its tastes, its strengths and weaknesses, can a rational path to happiness be found. Locke’s book on education gives many examples describing how parents should cope with children whose temperaments are bold or timid, or whose minds are quick or slow. In Locke as in Plato, the best life is the one kata ten phusin, “going along with nature,” just as one parts one’s hair with the grain and not against it. For example, if you don’t have the talent and inclination for it, trying to live the philosophic life will be a waste of time, a painful labor that produces frustration, anxiety, and boredom. It will not be pleasant. It will lead to misery, not to happiness. This is Locke’s qualified argument against the “teleological” approach of Aristotle, who posits the philosophic life as the best. Locke would answer, yes, it is best for those who have the capacity for it, but for everyone else, it is decidedly not the best.
From here he moves into the formation of government and the separation of powers. In order to live the good life, there must be certain necessary conditions met in this life. Locke emphasizes those means to be sure, but it does not mean he rejects the ends.
A Government Forms
In interest of length, I am going to skip all this, but in class we will go through it. So, do not ignore it. Suffice to say, that the government of sparate powers is meant to secure our safety, protect our natural rights, and also secure the public good. It allows for much greater freedom than Hobbes, and certainly the entire ancient world.
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Next up: the Letter of Toleration.