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?

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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.)

———

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.

———

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)

———

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).

Analyzing the Account of Adam and Eve Using Dante’s Fourfold Method by Melissa Cain Travis

Melissa Cain Travis

In book two, chapter one of Convivio, Dante outlines a fourfold method for the interpretation of literature. The first level of understanding is the literal, which involves the plain, superficial meaning of the text. The second is the allegorical, the identification of symbols of higher truths, what Dante refers to as “truth hidden beneath a beautiful fiction.”[1] The third is the moral, by which wisdom about virtue and vice is gleaned from the text. The fourth understanding is the anagogical or spiritual sense, in which “supernal things of eternal glory” are signified, even if the work is also literally true. Using this fourfold method, we may analyze the account of mankind’s fall recorded in the third chapter of Genesis.

In the literal reading of the story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman are created in a sinless state and given one command: not to eat the fruit of a tree that grows in their garden dwelling, the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. If they do so, they are told, they will “surely die.” A crafty serpent approaches the woman and manipulates her into believing and acting in a way contrary to divine proclamation. Tempted by the idea of having her eyes opened and being like God (as the serpent has promised), she partakes of the forbidden fruit and offers it to her husband, who willfully accepts it. As a result, both are banished from their idyllic home, exiled to a difficult mortal life of toil, pain, contention, and distance from God.

Allegorically, the man and woman represent all of humankind, past, present, and future. Like Adam and Eve, all of us exploit our God-given free will to our own detriment, failing to achieve moral perfection. The serpent is a metaphor for the influence of external evil, whether satanic or human in origin. The fruit of the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil represents the pervasive, superficially attractive opportunities for moral depravity, while the Tree of Life may be thought of as symbolizing access to immortality and intimacy with God.

The moral understanding of the account is the lesson that disobedience to divine command is objectively wrong and cannot go unpunished. Sin corrupts the human soul, leading to natural negative consequences and the added misery of broken fellowship with the Creator. Moreover, disobedience has ramifications that affect others to a magnitude and temporal extent that we cannot even begin to fathom.

The anagogical reading offers higher, spiritual truths about good, evil, human nature, and God’s plan of redemption. We are a fallen race living in the midst of cosmic conflict; Satan’s objective is the destruction of the souls of men by the distortion of truth in one manner or another. However, from the very beginning, God has preordained his inevitable victory, which will come through the descendent of the woman. God incarnate, the “offspring,” will eventually trample the enemy, defeating evil and its myriad effects once and for all.

Logo

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.

 

[1] http://digitaldante.columbia.edu/library/dantes-works/the-convivio/book-02/#01

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.

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

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.

 

G.K. Chesterton on Art and the Imago Dei by Melissa Cain Travis

Melissa Cain Travis

In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton argues that man, as a species, is different in kind, not just degree, from all other living creatures. Man’s origin, he says, is one of the three grand mysteries of the cosmos, along with the birth of the universe itself and the emergence of the first life. Endowed with rationality and free will, mankind exploded onto the scene and “a third bridge was built across a third abyss of the unthinkable…not merely an evolution, but rather a revolution.”[1]

Chesterton rejects the “gray gradations of twilight” suggested by materialist accounts of evolutionary gradualism in favor of a human nature that was mature at first appearance. He describes the character of ancient cave art in order to support his assertion; instead of the crude, simplistic scratchings of the so-called caveman, these are “drawings or paintings of animals; and they were drawn or painted not only by a man but by an artist.”[2] “So far as any human character can be hinted at by such traces of the past,” says Chesterton, “that human character is quite human and even humane.”[3] Man alone seeks meaning in the world, and evidence suggests that this has been the case all along. Roger Scruton has similarly observed: “From the earliest drawings in the Lascaux caves to the landscapes of Cezanne…art has searched for meaning in the natural world.”[4]

Chesterton’s point goes beyond the fact that artistic activity can only be carried out by creatures with rationally-informed will; the inherent desire to create art for its own sake—the “impulse of art” as he calls it—further highlights the singularity of man. Unlike any other creature of the animal kingdom, man is a rational creator who creates not only for utilitarian purposes, but for the simple joy of celebrating the wider world through his artistry. Chesterton is convinced that, as part of the wide gulf of separation between man and brute, “art is the signature of man.”[5] With his trademark wit-laced wisdom he argues that:

The very fact that a bird can get as far as building a nest, and cannot get any farther, proves that he has not a mind as man has a mind…But when he builds as he does build and is satisfied and sings aloud with satisfaction, then we know there is really an invisible veil like a pane of glass between him and us, like the window on which a bird will beat in vain. But suppose our abstract onlooker saw one of the birds begin to build as men build. Suppose in an incredibly short space of time there were seven styles of architecture for one style of nest….Suppose the bird made little clay statues of birds celebrated in letters or politics and stuck them up in front of the nest…we can be quite certain that the onlooker would not regard such a bird as a mere evolutionary variety of the other birds…[6]

As with the appearance of human nature, such a bird would be a true revolution, not just a slightly more advanced bird. Thus, the same should be said for man, whose unique characteristics appeared from seemingly out of nowhere and sharply distinguish him from all other living things.

Several years prior to the publication of The Everlasting Man, Chesterton had suggested that artistic creativity is among the hallmark differences between man and beast. In Orthodoxy, he argues that similarities between man and some lower animals is not what should surprise us; rather, the astonishment should come from the fundamental differences: “That an ape has hands is far less interesting to the philosopher than the fact that having hands he does next to nothing with them; does not play knuckle-bones or the violin; does not carve marble or carve mutton…the chasm between man and other creatures may have a natural explanation, but it is a chasm.”[7] In this passage, as in Everlasting Man, Chesterton emphasizes the fact that, even if mankind’s history includes biological gradualism, it is the existence of the wide chasm, which includes artistic inclination, that needs philosophical explanation—the “why” rather than the “how.”

Chesterton highlights the fact that, unlike naturalism, the Christian worldview can adequately account for the remarkable revolution that is mankind by way of the doctrine of the imago Dei. Man alone, as the crown of creation, bears the image of the good Creator and thus has within himself the capacity and desire to create beautiful and meaningful things for their own sake. When it comes to art, says Chesterton, “a monkey cannot do it; and when a man does it, he is exercising a divine attribute.”[8]


John 1: 1-5

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. The same was in the beginning with God. All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life; and the life was the light of men. And the light shineth in darkness; and the darkness comprehended it not.

 

 

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.

Endnotes

[1] G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man (Seaside, Oregon: Watchmaker Publishing, 2013), 15.

[2] Ibid., 17.

[3] Ibid., 17-18.

[4] Roger Scruton, Beauty: A Very Short Introduction, (New York: Oxford University press, 2009), 65.

[5] Ibid., 20.

[6] Ibid., 22.

[7] G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, in The Everyman Chesterton (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2011), 389-390.

[8] G.K. Chesterton, “Are the Artists Going Mad?” The Century Magazine, Vol. 105 No. 2 (December 1922), 277.


Literary Life spotlights feature writers every Sunday. We welcome your submission:
  1. The theme must be consistent with our mission.
  2. Either prose or poetry is terrific, but no more than about 800 words. 500 is better.
  3. The work of others should be properly noted.
Submissions may be sent to us at Rick@LiteraryLife.org for review.

 


 

 

Telling the Truth Through Whimsy by Melissa Cain Travis

The Surprise
G.K. Chesterton

“The most monstrous of all monsters are marching across your stage, shaking the earth like dragons and chimeras; the most towering, the most terrible creatures that life ever let loose upon chaos. Stand back—stand out of their way. They are living men.”


Melissa Cain Travis

G.K. Chesterton wrote extensively on the subjects of creativity, imagination, and art, and did so as an accomplished artist in his own right. During his distinguished career, he produced an impressive body of poetry, sketches, novels, short stories, essays, and even a few works of drama. Chesterton’s keen insight is that man, unlike the brute, beholds the world he inhabits with wonder and celebrates that wonder through artistic creation. The goal of good art is to awaken the beholder to the “white light of wonder”—a light that reveals the truth of things.

Chesterton wrote nine complete plays and left behind fragments of two more. The Surprise, which was published posthumously, is quintessential of his aesthetic philosophy—that art should be both thoroughly enjoyable and expressive of truth. This charming romp of a play is laced with rich humor, praise of good wine, and subtle theological statements, yet it is cleverly choreographed to convey much deeper truths about creation, God, man, and free will. It has been said that Chesterton “tended to be least solemn when he was most serious.”[1] The Surprise is an excellent demonstration of this fact.

The first act of The Surprise introduces a Franciscan friar who, walking through the countryside, happens upon a playwright travelling by caravan with a collection of automaton puppets. The playwright, who refers to himself as the “Master Puppet-Maker of the World,” entreats the friar to watch a play he has written, one that involves a happy world in which the creatures all “behave with majesty and magnanimity” and where virtue always prevails. It turns out that the playwright considers his play a confession of sorts, and wishes the friar to hear it. “We poets never tell the truth,” he explains, “except when we tell it in fables…these clockwork dolls will tell you the truth about me.” The short play-within-a-play turns out to be a melodramatic romance devoid of conflict or villainy.

At the conclusion of his play, the playwright explains to the friar that what he really wants is for the people of his plays to really exist—by which he means possess free will and thus be truly alive. “I want them to be and not to do. I want them to exist,” pleads the playwright. The implication of his statement is that without free will, humans would not exist as such; they would be mere clockwork dolls on a stage. By some miracle, the playwright’s wish comes true and the puppets come to life, but the friar warns that “the most monstrous of all monsters are marching across your stage, shaking the earth like dragons and chimeras; the most towering, the most terrible creatures that life ever let loose upon chaos. Stand back—stand out of their way. They are living men.”

After this turning point, the play-within-a-play begins anew, with the plot proceeding in similar fashion right up to the climax. Chesterton cleverly interweaves one of the key themes of the work: the element of surprise making a good thing even better. The characters begin degenerating, speaking hatefully to one another, and two of them wind up in a violent duel of swords. Free will, it seems, has caused utter disaster.

Suddenly, the playwright’s head bursts through the top of the set and he shouts down to the stage, “And in the devil’s name, what do you think you are doing with my play? Drop it! Stop! I am coming down.” Thus, with whimsical levity, Chesterton conveys fundamental truths about man’s orientation to the Creator, human fallen-ness, and the grand, wonderful surprise of the Creator’s incarnation—a saving intervention on a cosmic scale. The Surprise harmonizes well with Chesterton’s words in Orthodoxy: “According to most philosophers, God in making the world enslaved it. According to Christianity, in making it, He set it free. God had written, not so much a poem, but rather a play; a play he had planned as perfect, but which had necessarily been left to human actors and stage-managers, who had since made a great mess of it.”

[1] Chesterton, Collected Works Vol. XI, 297.


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.