University of Pittsburgh, Summer Term 1997
Philosophy 0330: Political Philosophy
Ben Eggleston, Instructor

Locke, Second Treatise of Government

I. Background Information

John Locke was born in England in 1632 and studied philosophy and medicine at Oxford. Through a chance encounter, he became a colleague of the politically powerful Earl of Shaftesbury and took an active role in English public affairs as a supporter of parliamentary limits on monarchical power. In 1683, after being involved in a failed four-year conspiracy against King Charles II, Locke fled to Holland. In 1685, Charles was succeeded by James II. An unpopular king, he in turn was deposed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 when Parliament invited his daughter, Mary, to reign as queen with her husband, William, as king with the understanding that the English monarchs’ authority would be secondary to that of the people’s representatives in Parliament. In 1689 Locke returned to England, publishing his Two Treatises of Government a year later. He died in 1704.

The first half of Locke’s Two Treatises of Government is an attack on the view advanced by Sir Robert Filmer in his book Patriarcha: or The Natural Power of Kings, published in 1680. Filmer claimed the authority of kings is unlimited, because it had been given to them by divine decree: God originally gave Adam dominion over the entire world, and God also intended for political power to be transmitted by inheritance. With the assumption (which Filmer defended) that modern monarchs are (or are believed to be) the heirs of Adam, it followed that the monarchs of Filmer’s day had a divine claim to absolute power, with ctitizens having no right to resist. But in the first of his two treatises, Locke argues that Filmer’s view is fatally flawed in several respects, both theoretical and practical, which Locke summarizes in the beginning of his second treatise. In the rest of the latter treatise, Locke leaves Filmer behind and proceeds to construct his own theory of political authority and obligation, using arguments echoed nearly a century later by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence.

for May 27:

II. Reading Assignment

III. Study Questions

  1. In the “Preface,” what does Locke say he hopes to accomplish in the Second Treatise?
  2. What is the only aim for which Locke says it’s permissible to use punishment and other means of force?
  3. According to Locke, what is the main command of the law of nature?
  4. According to Locke, for what three specific purposes can a person punish another for breaking the law of nature?
  5. In Locke’s view, are persons in the state of nature obligated to keep promises (or, as Hobbes refers to them, covenants)?
  6. According to Locke, how does a person put himself or herself in a state of war relative to another person?
  7. According to Locke, how does a person become a slave of another person?
  8. According to Locke, how does a person acquire private property without getting the consent of other people?
  9. In Locke’s view, what in the law of nature limits the amount of possessions that one can accumulate?
  10. What event does Locke say made it possible for people to accumulate possessions in unlimited amounts without violating the law of nature?

IV. Outline of Topics to be Covered in Class

  1. Who was Locke?
    1. an Englishman
    2. a critic of Filmer
  2. introductory material
    1. subtitle
    2. “Preface”
    3. chapter I: political power
  3. chapters II–V: the law of nature explained
    1. the main idea of the law of nature
    2. enforcing the law of nature
    3. the state of war
    4. the state of nature
    5. slavery
    6. property
      1. acquisition
      2. the proviso
      3. money

V. Suggestions for Further Reading

  1. Bertrand Russell, A History of Western Philosophy: And Its Connection with Political and Social Circumstances from the Earliest Times to the Present Day (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1945) (Hillman circulating B72 R961), particularly book III, chapter XIV: “Locke’s Political Philosophy” (pp. 617–40).
  2. Peter Laslett, “Introduction,” John Locke, Two Treatises of Government (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1967) (Hillman circulating JC153 L814t 1967), pp. 1-120.
  3. J. W. Gough, John Locke’s Political Philosophy, second edition (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1973) (Hillman circulating JC153 L87G68 1973).
  4. C. B. Macpherson, “Editor’s Introduction,” John Locke, Second Treatise of Government (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Company, 1980) (Hillman circulating JC153 L85 1980), pp. vii-xxi.
  5. John Dunn, Locke (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1984) (Hillman circulating B1297 D86 1984).
  6. Stephen Priest, The British Empiricists: Hobbes to Ayer (London: Penguin Books, 1990) (Hillman circulating B816 P7 1990), particularly “Locke: Politics,” pp. 100-03.
  7. Anthony Kenny, Oxford History of Western Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) (Hillman reference B72 O8 1994b), pp. 323–25.

for May 29:

VI. Reading Assignment

VII. Study Questions

  1. According to Locke, what does everyone have to give up in order to establish a political society?
  2. Why, according to Locke, is an absolute monarchy inconsistent with civil society?
  3. What does Locke say is the “chief end” of political society? What features of the state of nature hinder the attainment of this end?
  4. According to Locke, under what circumstances is it permissible to compromise a person’s property rights for purposes of taxation?
  5. In Locke’s view, is dissolving a society’s government essentially the same thing as dissolving the society itself?
  6. What legislative conduct does Locke think of as a violation of trust?
  7. What are Locke’s replies to the objection that his doctrine “lays a ferment for frequent rebellion”?
  8. What is Locke’s defense of his claim that the people shall be the judge of whether the prince or legislative acts contrary to trust?

VIII. Outline of Topics to be Covered in Class

  1. chapter VII: relations of power
    1. non-political power
    2. political power
  2. chapters IX–XI: political society
    1. the “chief end” of political society
    2. forms of political society
    3. limits on legislative power
  3. chapter XIX: revolution
    1. revolution by procedural interruptions
    2. revolution by substantive offenses (i.e., violation of trust)
    3. Who shall be judge?

IX. Suggestions for Further Reading

See the suggestions for further reading for May 27, above.