John Locke

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This essay gives an exposition and analysis of the thought of John Locke. Locke is celebrated today as a liberal icon and one of the makers of modern individualism. This essay dissents from that point of view. It finds that natural law was central to Locke’s thinking and explores the ways in which he developed natural jurisprudential arguments about the human mind and human situation in terms that made morality, which he understood in relation to an eternal destiny with God, the proper business of mankind. Locke used natural law in other ways too, not least to underwrite the claims he wished to make about the origins, extent, and end of the societies human beings made to facilitate the performance of their duties to God, themselves, and their neighbours. The duties to preserve themselves and each other called for the creation of civil societies. The duty to worship God publicly necessitated the creation of ecclesiastical societies. In other words, Locke thought in terms of societies, not individuals. The essay goes on to examine the proper relationship between those societies as Locke depicted it. Lastly it briefly draws attention to the distance between the figure its analyses disclose and the liberal icon.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe International Encyclopedia of Ethics
EditorsHugh Lafollette
Publication statusPublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Revised from 2013.

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