John Locke: Part Two Enlightenment (1632–1704)

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TWO TREATISES ON GOVERNMENT: SECOND TREATISE

Chapter II

Of the State of Nature

§. 4.
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.
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.


The Founders of the United States relied heavily on the work of John Locke, including his critical assumption of the existence and preeminence of God. In a recent article (read the entire piece HERE) for Literary Life, Melissa Cain Travis said the following:

In other words, nothing can’t produce anything–from nothing, nothing comes. All things that have come into being must be traced back to a source that has existed from eternity (if the dreaded infinite regress is to be avoided). If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is roughly the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which states: Anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence.

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book The Great Books Reader:

The Second Treatise of Government implies to the not-even-careful reader that there must be a First Treatise. That earlier work by Locke was a devastating critique of the argument for an absolute monarch, based mostly on biblical history. Locke was careful to show that nothing in the Bible, or of Christianity, denies humans the right to revolt against a bad government; nothing gives the king absolute power.

Locke finished off serious defense of “divine right” in the English-speaking world, showing not only that philosophy can make progress but also that average citizens can notice that progress.

All the same, that he meant to build a Christian political philosophy does not mean he succeeded. Read Locke and ask yourself if he did. Or did he inadvertently help to bring on the toxic secularism of our own time?

Is America untethered from its founding religious principles or does its structure accommodate atheism?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

 

 

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


Notions of the Public Good
THE POLITICAL POINT IN LOCKE

Jamie Campbell

In modern American politics, everything is open for debate. The efficacy of a candidate, the impact of a tax measure, even the legitimacy of government itself is up for discussion. While valued, political debate often is taken for granted, an assumed privilege born out from the fundamental characteristics of a democratic republican government. Americans talk about government because they believe citizens play a fundamental role in making sure that the government fulfills its function.

The notion that humanity is capable of forming, reforming, and critiquing political society is an idea that gained remarkable momentum in Western political thought during the Enlightenment. In particular, the works of John Locke, influential in the shaping of American political thought, sought to demonstrate that legitimate government comes from the people and operates for the public good.

Locke’s political works begin, not with the rights man has, but with the fact that he was created. Thus, in the Second Treatise, he makes various assertions about man’s political nature and the impact this nature has on the formation of government. Man’s common creation informs man’s essential and political nature. Locke’s writings demonstrate that, at its best, political theorizing is an engagement with man as he is and not as he ought to be; a task of construction, not merely critique.
Published anonymously during his life, Locke’s political writings largely grew out of his own observations of the unrest that plagued England during his lifetime.

[H]is life spanned one of the most tumultuous periods of English history. He was ten years old when England became divided by civil war and still at Westminster School when Charles I was executed nearby in 1649. He lived through the subsequent interregnum when various governments of the Commonwealth and Cromwell’s Protectorate were in power, the subsequent Restoration of Charles II in 1660, and the radicalization of English politics in which he was sufficiently implicated so that he was forced into exile for most of the 1680s—returning only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688.

(Introduction to Two Treatises of Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration: John Locke, ed. Ian Shapiro [New Haven/London: Yale University Press, 2003], x.)

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As an empiricist, Locke valued the role of observation in the development of any fundamental idea. What he observed was that existing notions of government were insufficient to maintain peace and prosperity.

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The volatility and instability of government during Locke’s age led him, and many others, to generate commentary not only on how government should run but also on the essential elements of the beginning of political society in general. Many of these theorists turned to the Bible in support of their conclusions.

Locke respected the Scriptures, but he soundly rejected the arguments of political absolutism and divine right that many contemporaries argued were found there.

In his First Treatise, Locke discussed the significance of God having created Adam, and the type of political power and responsibilities this creation incurred. For Locke, man necessarily exists in a state of self and other—that is, all men are created by God, and no man exists without other men.

This common creation, then, results in equality of freedom. No man can claim any higher source for his existence than God; no man can claim any legitimate authority over any other man because all men are created. Similarly, common creation creates the “obligation to mutual love amongst men” (Second Treatise, §5). The rights or powers man has are an outgrowth of this reality.

According to Locke, man in the state of nature, prior to the formation of political society, has two basic powers (or rights): the power to preserve his own life and the life of others, and the power to punish someone who has caused harm. Within political society, man yields these powers, in varying extents, to the political community. Through express consent, man yields the power that is necessary for the formation of government.

Locke claimed that the purpose of all this power yielding is the public good, or “the good of every particular member of that society, as far as by common rules it can be provided for” (First Treatise, § 92). The concept of public good woven throughout most of the Second Treatise must be read in light of Locke’s primary notions of man, of reason, and of freedom; all the foundational elements that contribute to his political theory are interconnected.

By establishing “public good” as the object of political society, Locke also placed it as a limit:

[T]he power of society . . . can never be supposed to extend farther than the common good . . . to be directed to no other end but the peace, safety and public good of the people. (Second Treatise, §131)

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Even Locke’s axiom of majority rule in a political society stems from a desire to properly utilize the power that’s been transferred from the individual to the society. It’s not that the majority gets to decide what’s best, based on their own interests against any minority political interests; rather, the majority is bound by the very responsibility of the public good.

In so far as self and other are interdependent for Locke, even in a state of nature, it’s a rational conclusion that government’s primary responsibilities, once formed, are aimed at maintaining and providing for the preservation and flourishing of the whole, not just the individual. For John Locke, the public good is the point of political society.

 

Jamie Y. Whitaker Campbell, JD, is an assistant professor of Humanities and Law in the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University; she also teaches American Constitutional Law, focusing on the development of individual liberties within the American justice system.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

John Locke: Part One Enlightenment (1632–1704)

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AN ESSAY CONCERNING HUMAN UNDERSTANDING

Book I

An Inquiry into the understanding, pleasant and useful. Since it is the understanding that sets man above the rest of sensible beings, and gives him all the advantage and dominion which he has over them; it is certainly a subject, even for its nobleness, worth our labour to inquire into. The understanding, like the eye, whilst it makes us see and perceive all other things, takes no notice of itself; and it requires art and pains to set it at a distance and make it its own object. But whatever be the difficulties that lie in the way of this inquiry; whatever it be that keeps us so much in the dark to ourselves; sure I am that all the light we can let in upon our minds, all the acquaintance we can make with our own understandings, will not only be very pleasant, but bring us great advantage, in directing our thoughts in the search of other things.


A recent article in the Harvard Business Review examined the importance of metacognition, or “thinking about thinking.”  Broadly speaking, metacognition is about being more inspective about how you know what you know. It’s a matter of asking ourselves questions like: ‘Do I really get this idea?’

John Mark Reynolds said this in his book, The Great Books Reader:

Many Americans fear that philosophy will make them useless. They will start thinking about ideas, and soon that will lead to thinking about thinking.

They’re right that the topic will quickly arise, but they shouldn’t fear it. John Locke, the intellectual founder of most of the world’s democracies, thought it necessary that free men and women should think about thinking. In fact, he believed bad thinking about thinking would undermine society.

John Locke lived in an age when every educated person was expected to have a coherent philosophy. This sensible expectation included having a view about what was “knowable” and how it could be “known.” Questions about knowledge were part of the philosophical discipline called epistemology, and Locke’s generation believed any person worthy of voting should have thought out how to make good decisions about that vote.

Can you examine your thoughts objectively?

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

John Mark Reynolds is the president of The Saint Constantine School, a school that aspires to preschool through college education. He is also a philosopher, administrator, and joyous curmudgeon. Reynolds was the founder and first director of the Torrey Honors Institute at Biola University. He was provost at Houston Baptist University where he was instrumental in starting the graduate Apologetics program and a cinema and new media arts major. John Mark blogs at Eidos on the Patheos Evangelical platform and has written for First Things and the Washington Post. He is an owner of the Green Bay Packers.

 

D I G  D E E P E R


On Certainty

Janelle Klapausak

John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding begins with the stated project to “search out the bounds between opinion and knowledge.” Like most early modern philosophers (writing from c. 1600–1800), Locke was fascinated by the question of certainty. He wanted to know what, of all we take for granted, is truly certain (knowledge) and what is merely opinion. This question was a natural one for Locke and his contemporaries to be asking after decades of profound change for Western Europe.

During the sixteenth century, two overhauls of thought had permeated the Continent. The first was the Protestant Reformation, which “began” with Luther’s posting of his Ninety-Five Theses in 1517, and the second was the Scientific Revolution, which most scholars date to the publication of Copernicus’s On the Revolutions of the Celestial Spheres in 1543.

These two intellectual movements, different as they might have been in other ways, shared one crucial characteristic: both cast doubt on propositions that had been accepted for centuries. The Reformation called into question Roman ecclesial authority; the Revolution cast doubt on the authority of Aristotle’s method of scientific inquiry.

The philosophers reacting to these revolutions in the early seventeenth century felt the foundations of knowledge shifting under their feet. Their understandable response was to try to find a way to sort through the list of things we all think we know and figure out which are true and which are false. They wanted to reestablish a solid foundation for knowledge by developing a method to discern that which is certainly true.

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John Locke’s first move in addressing this question was to reject the theory of innate ideas. In the preceding centuries, most philosophers had believed there are certain propositions with which we’re “preprogrammed.” These might include logical and mathematical concepts (like the idea that a proposition cannot be both true and false at the same time) but might also include ethical propositions (e.g., that murder is always wrong). Locke rejects this doctrine that certain beliefs come “preprogrammed” in all people. Instead, he argues that the mind is a blank slate, or tabula rasa, at birth, and that every belief we have we get from observing the world around us.

This point is especially interesting because in René Descartes’s Meditations, published forty years before Locke’s Essay, he’d argued that our idea of God is one of these innate ideas, and that it is through this notion that we can be certain that God exists. Descartes believed that only God could cause this idea of God to exist in our minds; Locke maintained that we can get our concept of God from observing the world around us, whether or not God exists.

In a second important shift, Locke insisted that all knowledge comes from observing the world, but it’s not the case that all the things we observe are actually in the world. Locke said the qualities we observe in the world can be split into two categories. Some qualities—like an object’s solidity or its shape—are qualities in the object itself, what Locke calls primary qualities. However, in Locke’s argument, sometimes when we’re observing a quality of an object, what’s actually happening is that the object is affecting us in some way. This is why, he said, the same water can feel hot on cold hands and cold on hot hands: the hotness or coldness isn’t a quality the water itself has, but, instead, it’s a power that the water has to affect us. It’s not that an object is yellow, but, rather, that an object produces a yellow effect on us when we observe it.

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The practical effect of these two propositions, taken together, is to create a gap between how we experience the world and how the world really is. The rejection of innate ideas means that our observations are the only way we can get knowledge about the world, and the distinction between primary and secondary qualities means our senses don’t give us information about the world as it is. Instead, objects in the world cause us to have impressions, which may or may not be related to how those things actually are.

Locke deduced that the list of “things we can be sure about” is much shorter than we may have thought. The world presents us with impressions, and we have no way of getting at the world itself to discover whether or not the impressions are true.

This itself was a common story among early modern philosophers. The search for certainty did not lead to sure knowledge, as thinkers like Descartes hoped it would. Instead, it led to increasing skepticism about our ability to know anything for certain.

This may seem like a depressing conclusion, but it isn’t one at which Christians should be too surprised. The “early modern project” was to ground certainty in human reason. If this project fails, it may be simply because human knowledge depends on something else for its certainty.
Discovering that we cannot trust in our reason alone, but, crucially, must trust that God has made our reason and our perceptions accurate, may be a substantial and necessary correction in our view both of ourselves and of our relationship to God—a correction we can thank Locke for revealing.

Janelle Klapausak is an assistant professor at Biola University’s Torrey Honors Institute and is currently a doctoral candidate at Baylor University.

John Mark Reynolds, The Great Books Reader: Excerpts and Essays on the Most Influential Books in Western Civilization (Grand Rapids, MI: Bethany House, 2011).

John Locke’s Argument for the Existence of God by Melissa Cain Travis

Melissa Travis
Melissa Cain Travis

John Locke (1632-1704) is considered one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment. His treatise, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, discusses the limits of human knowledge in relation to a wide range of topics. In Chapter 10 of Book 4, he offers an argument for the existence of God that reminded me of the debt contemporary apologetics owes to great thinkers of the Western Tradition.

Following Descartes, Locke declares that nothing is more certain than that we ourselves exist. To doubt that we exist is to affirm that a doubter exists! Remember Decartes’ famous “cogito ergo sum” (I think, therefore I am”). Locke argues that from the fact of our own existence, we can demonstrate the existence of God.

This is how he proceeds:

In the next place, man knows, by an intuitive certainty, that bare nothing can no more produce any real being, than it can be equal to two right angles….If, therefore, we know there is some real being, and that nonentity cannot produce any real being, it is an evident demonstration, that from eternity there has been something; since what was not from eternity had a beginning; and what had a beginning must be produced by something else.

In other words, nothing can’t produce anything–from nothing, nothing comes. All things that have come into being must be traced back to a source that has existed from eternity (if the dreaded infinite regress is to be avoided). If this sounds familiar, it’s because it is roughly the second premise of the Kalam Cosmological Argument, which states: Anything that begins to exist must have a cause of its existence.

Locke goes on to explain how he believes we can deduce some of the attributes of this first cause of all being:

Next, it is evident, that what had its being and beginning from another, must also have all that which is in and belongs to its being from another too. All the powers it has must be owing to and received from the same source. This eternal source, then, of all being must also be the source and original of all power; and so this eternal Being must also be the most powerful.

He is saying that because we have some powers (abilities), our source must have powers, even greater than our own.

The final leg of his argument is what I find most interesting and relevant to the current project of apologetics. Men, he says, find themselves to be knowing, rational creatures, and from this fact we should infer that an intelligent being is our source. To materialists who would claim that there was a time in cosmic history when “no being had any knowledge,” he responds:

I reply, that then it was impossible there should ever have been any knowledge: it being as impossible that things wholly void of knowledge, and operating blindly, and without any perception, should produce a knowing being, as it is impossible that a triangle should make itself three angles bigger than two right ones. For it is as repugnant to the idea of senseless matter, that it should put into itself sense, perception, and knowledge, as it is repugnant to the idea of a triangle, that it should put into itself greater angles than two right ones.

If, nevertheless, any one should be found so senselessly arrogant, as to suppose man alone knowing and wise, but yet the product of mere ignorance and chance; and that all the rest of the universe acted only by that blind haphazard; I shall leave with him that very rational and emphatical rebuke of Tully, to be considered at his leisure: “What can be more sillily arrogant and misbecoming, than for a man to think he has a mind and understanding in him, but yet in all the universe beside there is no such thing: Or that those things, which with the utmost stretch of his reason he can scarce comprehend, should be moved and managed without any reason at all?”

(“Sillily,” as in: absurdly.) Just as it is impossible for the interior angles of a triangle to exceed a sum of 180 degrees (two right angles–yay, geometry!), so it is impossible for perception and knowledge to result from blind chance acting upon matter.

Arguments related to human reason, since Locke, have become more sophisticated, but at their root is this very idea, that it is nonsensical to propose that intelligence could ever arise from any non-intelligent source.

For further reading on related (and quite powerful) arguments, I recommend C.S. Lewis’ Miracles, Dr. Alvin Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies, and Dr. Angus Menuge’s Agents Under Fire.

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John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

.


Melissa Cain Travis serves as Assistant Professor of Apologetics at Houston Baptist University. She is the author of Science and the Mind of the Maker (forthcoming, Harvest House 2018) and the Young Defenders series (Apologia Press). She is a writer for Christian Research Journal and blogs at melissatravis.com.