Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thus We Are Born Free, As We Are Born Rational: John Locke 1632-1704

John Locke believed the basic premise underlying human nature is that people are independent and self-interested.

Locke envisioned the nature of a newborn baby as a blank slate. On this blank state, a person’s experience creates their character. Locke was also influenced by the Enlightenment philosophy that placed art and science as the rationalization agent of all human nature. This belief in the individuality of human nature and the right to freedom manifested itself in the popular philosophy of government by the consent of the people. This is one of Locke’s lasting contributions to present day society and has influenced thinkers for centuries.

Locke believed that humans have a natural right to freedom, which includes a right to property. Property rights are an important element of Locke’s discourse, and such a discussion is essential to his paradigm of the human condition, especially in relation to nature. Nature holds a divine right to property; according to Locke, human agency is at the top of the natural hierarchy and as such, has full rights to the use of all natural resources, “so long as nothing perishes.” As such, the human dominion over earth comes with an awesome responsibility. Centuries before global urbanization and industrialization Locke recognized the power of the human agency, for growth or destruction, and the concept of sustainability.

This belief in the property rights and responsibilities of individuals also lead to his instructive ideology of equality. Consistent with the Protestant work ethic, Locke believed that those who work hard and put genuine effort and skill into a task will be successful. Based on the premise that if a government provides its people with human rights and the ability to obtain property, Locke claimed that equality can exist in a free and open society: The disadvantaged will become equal with the advantaged. His rational for this claim is that such a society disperses its resources equally, making opportunities available to all.

Yet, Locke held tightly to the belief that if a government of social consent fails to meet the needs of the population that brought it into power, it is then the right and the duty of that population to assert their self-interest and revolt against the failing government.
Works Referenced:
Locke, John. The Second Treatise on Civil Government. First published in 1690. This printing by Prometheus Books: New York. 1986.
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