John Locke (1632-1704): Ethics, Politics, Freedom, and Identity


  • Hedonism: the intrinsic good = pleasure {1}
    • pleasure is the only thing good in and of itself
    • pain is the only thing bad in and of itself
    • every other good or bad thing is instrumentally so
      • good if apt to increase pleasure or diminish pain
      • bad if vice versa
  • No idea is ever experienced "barely in itself"; every idea is "accompanied with pain or pleasure".
  • The ethical problem is to ascertain which course of action produces the greatest good, i.e., the least pain and the most pleasure, and do that.
    • not always easy to ascertain since it's not just immediate p&p to be considered p&p in the long run and all things considered {3}
    • not always easy to do it once ascertained since we may be led astray by immediate p&p: incontinence or "weakness of will" {2}
  • Law
    • embodies the accumulated experience of others about what maximizes pleasure and minimizes pain in the long run and all things considered
    • brings the long term consequences to bear more immediately by imposing punishment for bad deeds and rewards for good behavior. 
    • three sorts of moral rules or laws with three different enforcements {4}

1.       divine laws: salvation & damnation: though not immediate their "infinite weight" and certitude lend them present influence. {6}

2.       civil laws: carry legal sanctions: reflects law of opinion & should aspire to embody divine law.

3.       law of opinion or reputations: bring praise or approbation or disgrace and condemnation. {5}

  • Ethics can be an exact science {7} 
    • proceed from definitions of "justice," "right," etc.
    • to deduce theorems, e.g.,

0.       Where there is no property there is no injustice.

1.       No government allows absolute liberty.

    • criticisms:  giving no moral guidance.

0.       these are empty tautologies: So is murdering someone without property unjust?  No: life is property Locke says since a life can be unjustly taken. {8}

1.       So should alcohol be made illegal?  

1.  Things are good or evil only in reference to pleasure or pain.  That we call good, which is apt to cause or increase pleasure, or diminish pain in us; or else to procure or preserve us in the possession of any other good or absence of any evil.  And, on the contrary, we name that evil which is apt ot produce or increase any pain, or diminish any pleasure in us. (259)

2.   Let a drunkard see that his health decays, his estate wastes; discredit and diseases, and the want of all things, even of his beloved drink attends him in the course he follows: yet the . . . habitual thirst after his cups . . . drives him to the tavern.  . . .  It is not want of viewing the greater good: for he sees and acknowledges it.  (260)

3.   As to present happiness and misery, when that alone comes into consideration, and the consequences are quite removed, a man never chooses amiss: he knows what best pleases him, and that he actually prefers.  (260)

4.   The laws [are] these three: 1. The divine law.  2. The civil law.  3. The law of opinion or reputation, if I may so call it.  By the relation they bear to the first of these, men judge whether their actions are sins or duties; by the second, whether they be criminal or innocent; and by the third, whether they be virtues or vices. (262)

5.   [H]e who imagines commendation and disgrace not to be strong motives to men to accommodate themselves to the opinions and rules of those with whom they converse, seems little skilled in the history of mankind: the greatest part whereof we shall  find to govern themselves chiefly, if not solely, by this law of fashion. (262)

6.   [God] has the power to enforce [divine law] by rewards and punishments of infinite weight and duration in another life; for nobody can take us out of his hands.

7.   I am bold to think morality capable of demonstration, as well as mathematics: since the precise real essence of the things moral words stand for may be perfectly known, and so the congruity and incongruity of the things themselves be certainly discovered; in which consists perfect knowledge.

  1. "Where there is no property there is no injustice," is a proposition as sure as any demonstration of Euclid: for the idea of property being a right to anything, and the idea to which the name "injustice is given being the invasion or violation of a right, it is evident that . . . I can as certainly know this proposition to be true, as that a triangle has three angles equal to two right ones. (264) 


  • State of nature {1}
    • a state of perfect liberty
    • but not, contrary to Hobbes, of license {2}
    • each endowed by law of Nature with creator with natural rights {3}
      • life
      • liberty
      • property
    • these rights may not be transgressed except to better preserve these very rights from unjust transgression. {4}
    • Reply to the objection that there never was such a state of Nature
      • rulers of political states are in that state
      • and so is everyone else by birth, until they consent to recognize some political authority. {5}
    • Underlying ideal of equality
      • not equality of position or income or achievement {6}
        • depends on merit
        • birth & connections, etc.
      • equality of natural rights: political equality {7}
  • Political authority derives from the consent of the governed {8}
    • people are and remain sovereign
    • a collection of autonomous and independent individuals
    • who may not be compelled to join a community
    • but who agree to be accept communal authority in the form of majority (or super majority) rule once they belong. {9}
  • Property {10}
    • in a state of nature the earth and all it contains are the common inheritance of all. 
    • but each has exclusive natural rights of ownership to their own bodies
    • and by extension, to the fruits of their labor
    • but, by rights, one may acquire only as much property as one can use.
      • this applies to land and its produce {11}
      • but not to money {12}
    • Issue: "Locke's rule was that `appropriation' must not `invade the rights of others.'  It is not self-evident that massive accumulation of capital in a few hands is harmless.  Indeed there may well be a contradiction between the political equality on which Locke insisted so eloquently and the economic inequality that his doctrine of property approves." (Jones, p. 273)
  • Utility of Political Societies
    • Our natural rights to life, liberty, and property may be to easily transgressed by others in the state of Nature {13} for three reasons {14}

1.       the absence of any settled commonly agreed upon rules

2.       the absence of any impartial judges to apply the rules

3.       absence of accepted agencies for punishing transgressions. 

    • We consent to the diminution of our rights in exchange for greater security in the enjoyment of these diminished rights -- especially property rights. {15}
  • Locke v. Hobbes: The Social Contract
    • Human Nature
      • H: selfish & irrational
      • L: sociable & rational
    • The state of nature
      • H: intolerable war of each against all
      • L: not so awful, but capable of improvement
    • The grant of political authority
      • H: by forced consent, absolute, & irrevocable
      • L: by free consent, limited, & revocable
    • Type of government licensed by the Social Contract
      • H: autocracy (monarchy or dictatorship)
      • L: representative democracy with legislative and executive powers "in distinct hands."
  • Locke & Religious Toleration
    • various religious beliefs and practices do not threaten the state unless the state tries to suppress them -- which makes them hostile to it {16}
    • therefore there should be complete toleration of religious belief {17}
    • and toleration of religions practices so long as they do not threaten peoples' lives, liberty, or property. {18}
    • separation of church and state. {19}

1.   To understand political power aright, and derive it from its original, we must consider what estate all men are naturally in, and that is, a state of perfect freedom. (267)

2.     But thought this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of license. (267)

3.    The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions . . . . (267)

4.    And that all men may be restrained from invading others' rights, and from doing hurt to one another, and the law of Nature be observed . . . the execution of the law of Nature is in that state put into every man's hands, whereby every one has the a right to punish the transgressor of that law to such a degree as may hinder its violation. (267)

5.     To those that say that there were never any men in the state of Nature, I . . . affirm that all men are naturally in that state, and remain so till, by their own consents, they make themselves members of some politic society . . . . (268)

6.     Though I have said . . . "That all men by nature are equal," I cannot be supposed to understand all sorts of "equality." (269)

7.     [Y]et all this consists with the equality which all men are in in respect of jurisdiction or dominion one over another . . . being that equal right that each man hath to his natural freedom . . . . (269)

8.     Men being, as has been said, by nature all free, equal, and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent . . . . (269-270)

9.     Whosoever, therefore, . . . unite into a community, must be understood to give up all the power necessary to the ends for which they unite into society to the majority of the community, unless they expressly agreed in any number greater than the majority. (270)

10.   [T]hough the earth and all inferior creatures be common to all men, yet every man has a "property" in his own "person."  This nobody has any right to but himself.  The "labour" of his body and the "work" of his hands, we may say, are properly his. (271)

11.   As much as any one can make use of to any advantage of life before it spoils, so much he may by his labour fix a property in.  Whatever is beyond this is more than his share, and belongs to others. (271)

12.   [G]old and silver may be hoarded up without injury to anyone. (272)

13.   [W]hy will he part with his freedom, this empire, and subject himself to the dominion and control of any other power?  To which it is obvious to answer, that though in the state of Nature he hath such a right, yet the enjoyment of it is very uncertain and constantly exposed to the invasions of others. (273)

14.   Firstly, there wants an established, settled, known law, received and allowed by common consent to be the standard of right and wrong, and the common measure to decide controversies among them.  . . .  Secondly, in the state of Nature there wants a known and indifferent judge, with authority to determine all the differences according to the established law.  . . . Thirdly, in the state of Nature there often wants power to back and support the sentence when right, and to give it due execution. (273-274)

15.   The great and chief end, therefore, of men uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property; to which in the state of Nature there are many things wanting. (273)

16.   The magistrate is afraid of other Churches, but not of his own; because he is kind and favourable to the one, but severe and cruel to the other. (276)

17.   [I]t is absurd that things should be enjoined by laws, which are not in men's powers to perform.  And to believe this or that to be true, does not depend on our will. (276)

18.   The business of laws is not to provide for the truth of opinions, but for the safety and security of th Commonwealth, and of every particular man's goods and person. (276)

  1. If each of them [state and Church] would contain itself within its own bounds, the one attending to the worldly welfare of the Commonwealth, the other to the salvation of souls, 'tis impossible any discord should ever have happened between them. (277)

Freedom and Necessity

nvoluntary: not from desire
voluntary*: from desire.
chosen: from desire via deliberation (Locke's "voluntary").

Free Will Controversy
Whether our so called free choices (our voluntary acts in Locke's sense) are uncaused. Whether there's "absolute will" (Spinoza): willing that's totally free and unconstrained.

  • Will: the power of the mind to control its own thoughts and the associated body {1} {2}
  • Volition: exercise of the will: an order or command of the mind. {3}
  • Voluntary & Involuntary
    • voluntary: volition caused or commanded by the mind.
    • involuntary: not so caused
  • Liberty and Necessity: concerned not with the act itself, but with the efficacy of the willing. {4}
    • liberty = "power to think or not to think, to move or not to move, according to the preferences or direction of his own mind" (xxi:8) {6}  = the absence of constraint
    • necessity = "wherever doing or not doing will not equally follow upon the preference of his mind directing it." (xxi: 8) = constraint
      • external constraint: e.g., falling 
      • internal constraints:
        • physical: e.g. convulsions & reflexes
        • mental: e.g., boistrous passions
  • Alleged upshots of these analyses:
    • some voluntary acts are not free: against the traditional identification. {5}
    • the traditional free will question is nonsensical & so neither requires nor allows answering {7}
  • Free will again: is the volition free?! {8}
    • Locke: freedom concerns effects or efficacy of volition
    • Worry about absolute freedom 
      • concerns cause of volition
      • an impractical {9} and absurd {10} worry 
  1. The idea of a beginning of motion we have only from reflection on what passes in ourselves, where we find by experience that barely by willing it . . . we can move the parts of our bodies. (xxi: 4}
  2. This power which the mind has thus to order the consideration of any idea, or the forbearing to consider it; or to prefer the motion of any part of the body to its rest, and vice versa, in any particular instance, is that which we call the will. (xxi:5)
  3. The actual exercise of that power, by directing any particular action, or its forbearance, is that which we call volition or willing. The forbearance of that action, consequent to such order or command of the mind, is called voluntary. And whatsoever action is performed without such a thought of the mind, is called involuntary. (xxi:5)
  4. From consideration of the power of the mind over the action of man, which everyone finds in himself, arise the ideas of liberty and necessity. (xxi: 7)
  5. [L]iberty cannot be where there is no thought, no volition, no will; but there may be thought, there may be will, there may be volition where there is no liberty. (xxi:8)
  6. So far as anyone can, by the direction or choice of his mind, preferring the existence of any action to the non-existence of that action and vice versa, make it to exist or not to exist; so far is he free. (xxi:21)
  7. [T]o ask whether the will has freedom is to ask whether one power has another power, one ability another ability; a question at first sight too grossly absurd to make dispute or need an answer. For . . . powers belong only to agents, and are attributes only of substances, and not of powers themselves. (xxi: 16)
  8. [T]hey who can make a question of it must suppose one will to determine the acts of another; and so on in infinitum. (xxi:25)
  9. [I]t passes for a good plea, that a man is not free at all, if he be not as free to will as he is to act what he wills (xxi: 22).
  10. [A] question that needs no answer [is] to ask whether a man can will what he wills. (xxi: 25) 


Identity and Diversity

Note: Leibniz's I-of-I laws address how numerical and qualitative identity relate.

  • At issue: "the very being of things" {1} especially
    • their continuity across time
    • through various changes 
  • Qualitative v. Numerical Identity
    • Qualitative: how identical twins are identical
      • likeness or similarity in properties
      • as between two or more separate and distinct individuals
    • Numerical: wherein identical twins differ 
      • nothing is identical with anything else
      • everything is identical with itself
  • Identity, time, and place: distinct things have distinct spatio-temporal origins. {2} {3}
  • Identity of sorts of substances: God, Bods, & Finite Intelligences {4}
    • God: doesn't change over time: no problem {5}
    • finite spirits: distinguished by time & place of origin. {6}
    • bodies as bodies {7}
      • distinguished by time and place of origin
      • so long as "no addition or subtraction of matter"
    • Events: property instantiations 
      • in general: identified by their time and place of origin {8}
      • special case: momentary existents: changes -- e.g., thoughts & motions -- have definite spatio-temporal loci: but no duration
  • Principle of Individuation by Sorts
    • simple masses: remain the same so long a no addition or subtraction of matter is made
    • same statue: remains the same so long as no change in the form is made.
    • organisms: remain numerically the same despite additions & subtractions: e.g., acorn to oak.
  • observation: relativity of identity to sort: "in these two cases - a mass of matter and a living body- identity is not applied to the same thing." (xxvii:3)
  • Organisms: continuity of life or "like continued [functioning] organization conformable to that species" (xxvii: 4) 
  • Brutes & Machines: cf. Ship of Theseus
    • animals like plants and machines
    • identity determined by enduring  funtional organization {9}
  • Human Identity: same man (as for any organism above)
    • <> same person (see the prince and the cobbler thought experiment).
    • <> same soul or thinking substance 
  • Personal Identity: "same [train of] consciousness" {12}
  • Same Soul <> Person in principle (1 per in fact)
    • possibly same person different soul: I'm a new substance every time I wake. {13}
    • possibly different persons share one soul: reincarnation one such possibility.
  1. Another occasion the mind often takes of comparing, is the very being of things, when, considering anything as existing at any determined time and place, we compare it with itself existing at another time, and thereon form the ideas of identity and diversity. (xxvii: 1)
  2. For we never finding, nor conceiving it possible, that two things of the same kind should exist in the same place at the same time, we rightly conclude that whatever exists anywhere at any time excludes all the same kind and is there itself alone. (xxvii:1) 
  3. From whence it follows that one thing cannot have two beginnings of existence, nor two things one beginning. (xvii:1)
  4. We have the ideas but of three sorts of substances: 1. God. 2. Finite intelligences. 3. Bodies.
  5. God is without beginning, eternal, unalterable, and everywhere, and therefore concerning his identity there can be no doubt. (xxvii:2)
  6. Secondly, Finite spirits having had each its determinate time and place of beginning to exist, the relation to that time and place will always determine to each of them its identity, as long as it exists. (xxvii:2)
  7. Thirdly, The same will hold of every particle of matter, to which no addition or subtraction of matter being made, it is the same. (xxvii:2)
  8. All other things being but modes or relations ultimately terminated in substances, the identity and diversity of each particular existence of them too will be by the same way determined. (xxvii:2) 
  9. I say . . . our consciousness being interrupted and we losing the sight of our past selves, doubts are raised whether we are the same thinking thing, i.e., the same substance or no (10)
  10. As far as consciousness can be extended backwards . . . so far reaches the identity of that person. (xxvii: 10)
  11. For should the soul of a prince, carrying with it the conscious-ness of the prince's past life, enter and inform the body of a cobbler . . . everyone sees he would be the same person with the prince, accountable only for the prince's actions: but who would say it's the same man. (xxvii: 15)
  12. [A person is] a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different places or times, which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking. (xvii:9)
  13. [It is] one thing to be the same substance another to be the same man, and a third to be the same person, if person, man and substance are three names standing for different ideas; for such as is the idea belonging to that name, such must be the identity (II:xxvii:7).

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