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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The basics of John Locke's ethical theory

John Locke
  • 1632-1704
  • protestant, not on side of Chromwell's Republic, but was against the monarchy in England
  • Locke trained as a philosopher and a physician
  • the best basis of political order is consent
    • the line of Adam is lost
  • mid 1600s, Renaissance
    • reorientation on reason
      • on the value of the individual
      • on beauty, style
  • if you have a claim, an entitlement to something; and that changes your moral relationship to those who don't have claims
  • some rights: Freedom
    • this made the church go, “Oh Shit!”
  • what is freedom?
    • Highest princes say: “Wait a minute...why do I have to give you my money? Where are your soldiers? Make me!”
    • this idea trickled down to lower classes
    • idea that God created us as free and equal flourishes during the Dark Ages
  • Locke and others realize: freedom to its fullest may undermine equality
    • we ought to have freedom because we are each made equal
    • we are each made equal and so we have equal claim to liberty
    • better to trade equality for more liberty than the other way around
  • this is a liberal theory
    • liberal – political/theoretical roots in the prioritization of liberty over equality
  • you are free to live under the bridge and eat out of McDonald's waste binds - free to enjoy your freedom
    • liberals prioritize freedom over equality
    • (you could say that once you lose equality it is hard to get it back)
  • in the absence of consent, whatever the individual is made to do is wrong
  • Morality is based in rational agreement → contract ethics / contract theory
    • Socrates says this in Crito: I am free to leave, but by staying I agree to abide by the rules
    • by agreeing to stay, you agreed to abide by these rules, and these rules, by your agreement, have authority over you
      • this is the cornerstone of Locke's ethics
State of Nature
  • the State of Nature is a thought experiment
    • ex. literature is an opportunity to think about a situation other than the actual situation
    • philosophy deals in ideas; so when experimenting in philosophy, it is in our minds
    • ex. in Crito, thought experiment is when Socrates has a dialogue with the laws
      • suppose the laws could speak to me, what would they say
    • thought experiment always begins like:
        suppose 'X'
        well, then 'Y'
  • State of nature thought experiment:
    • suppose there were no society, no government, no civil society, no institutions which derive from government & civil society
    • suppose man were in a natural condition
    • idea of the state of nature was common thought experiment during Locke's time
  • understand the State of Nature → learn about the fundamentals of human nature
  • why is human nature so important? Because government is about governing people – misunderstanding human nature would mean poorly understanding government
  • (Hobbes – life would be nasty, brutish and short without social contract)
  • human nature: Hobbes: selfish, equal, free (of choice), vulnerable to each other, respond to pleasure & pain; we lust after power because if not, we will be destroyed
  • human nature: Locke: selfish, equal – we are all created by God in God's equal and no one has any authority over anyone else, free (independent – I am only dependent on you if I choose to be)
  • Natural Lawsgovern the moral order just as the
    laws of nature
    govern the physical order
    • natural laws are normative + self-evident by reason
    • state of nature holds as long as people use their rights
    • in our self-interest, it is rational to follow natural laws
    • except for a few people, who are either not rational or against reason because they believe it is in their self-interest to be so
    • everyone is bound by the natural law
    • “one freedom we don't have is the freedom to destroy ourselves”
      • you are fundamentally at war (either with yourself or with others) if you destroy somebody
    what could possibly make natural freedom and natural equality stop? The state of war.
  • for Hobbes, we are mechanistic – in responding only to pleasure and pain, we acting only out of fear and desire
    • state of nature is like a state of war, an arms race
    • the only way I can keep you away is to have a bigger stick
  • The Natural Laws:
    • 1. no one ought to harm himself or another in life, liberty and possessions
      • 1. no harm upon self / duty of self-preservation
        • I ought to do whatever I must do in order to ensure my own life
      • 2. by the like reason, preservation of the others
        • it is in my best interest to help you, because maybe down the line you will help me
        • more than “don't harm others” (negative duty – one in which you are required to not do something))
      • also includes a positive duty – help to assist and preserve others
        • if I have a supply of potatoes and you are starving (because maybe a tornado ripped yours out of the ground) then I am obligated to give you some food
        • best way to assist: help enforce the natural laws, to help remove the harm
    • 3. to seek peace
      • Hobbes: reason would tell you this, but only once you are motivated by reason through so much fear
      • Locke: straight to this as natural law
    • these truths are self-evident - true in and of themselves
  • The Natural Rights (follow from the natural laws)
    • if you have no rights, nobody has to believe anything you say or you want
    • rights: you are doing something wrong if you impede this right
    • 1. universal – right to execute law of nature and punish violations
    • 2. universal – right to of reparation (compensation for insult or injury [wrongs/violations of natural law])
    • 3. universal – right of self-preservation
    • 4. universal – right of preservation of others
    • 5. universal – right of property in his own being (implies exclusive control)
      • you can sell your labor, but you cannot sell yourself as a slave
      • this is because it violates self-preservation
      • this means that you control yourself: I own myself
      • revolutionary idea – as I own myself, everything that I engage with, transform, take from the natural condition in which is is, I make my own
        • plucking an apple off a tree, an act of removing it from its natural environment, makes it your own
        • what is it made into? Property
        • what do I make you into, when I capture you? Property
    • Natural Right of Property
      • in our our person → in all with which we mix our labor
      • property is stuff which is subject to natural laws itself
      • anything that I mix my labor with, anything that I remove from its natural condition becomes its property
      • now, if this were unlimited and I picked all the apples that I could find from the tree, and took every flower, and carved out every piece of land that was available, isn't it possible, if this were unlimited, each one of us could undertake this appropriation from nature by making it my own
      • for Locke: this is a worrysome potentiality
      • just as things are, property cannot be unlimited
        • it cannot be the case that my natural right of ownership of property is unlimited
      • what happens when I take too much → people must steal in order to self-preserve
        • when it is my property, you have no claim, no entitlement to it
      • So.......the right of property is constrained by the 2nd and 3rd laws of nature
      • Lockean proviso – your natural right is limited: one may take only as much and as good as is left for others
        • this is where Locke and marx deviate: in their understanding of the social relations between people
  • 2 states of war
    • 1. a state of war that arises when most of us fail to comply with the laws of nature
    • 2. failure of a civil society
    • a just war: a war that was fought to regain natural rights against a government [whose purpose is to enforce our rights]
      • if a government fails to do this, we are obligated to bring things back into the state of nature
    • under Locke's view: better to be under a
  • according to Locke, we are mostly self sufficient, free, equal, and rational
  • about laziness: most people are only lazy only as long as they believe others will take care of their needs
  • these are very general, abstract principles – up to the interpretation of a rational being
  • Locke introduces money: now interesting fact: money cannot spoil, so it can be horded
    • money gets around this proviso, and turns this natural right of property into an unlimited right of property
    • money is incredibly convenient, you can transform it into anything else
    • complying with the proviso is much easier without money
    • but also, money allows property ownership to be unlimited
    • money introduces inequality: but materially inequality
      • though we are still each morally equal
      • this is where Marx starts to critique Locke, because you begin to justify moral inequality
      • the boss and the laborer are worth 1 morally speaking, but not in property
    • sacrifice of equality for liberty
  • For Locke, if we cannot have both liberty and equality, liberty is more important
    • everyone is free to accumulate and discharge as they will, because each individual has property in their own person
    • liberty and equality will conflict
    • liberty is primary for Locke
  • now why would we want to leave the state of nature?
    • What makes the state of nature worth leaving is the natural right to execute the natural rights
    • self-centered human nature leads each human to judge in their own favor
    • so we need a neutral judge to impartially settle conflicts
    • if it is my life or your life, it is natural to be biased toward your own life
    • so, it is rational for us to leave the state of nature, but only if that neutral judge is an arbiter, who's job is to preserve the natural laws
slavery justification: in a just, defensive war, instead of killing you, I will enslave you, sparing your life through mercy
  • what could possibly justify government?
    • only by consent
  • Locke was familiar with the colonies, and how they basically started from scratch
    • to European eyes, it looked like the native Americans had no government, civil society, were in the state of nature
    • why? Because they are using their powers of reason to understand natural laws & natural rights
  • whether or not the state of nature is hypothetical or the past, consent
  • man's self-centered interests eventually lead us out of the state of nature
  • this leads to explicit consent, which forms the 1st civil society
  • someone issues too much punishment, when their rationality is lost due to intense emotion or something
  • rational free and roughly equal beings would consent
  • Locke is a moral naturalist:
    • given human nature (rational and equal)
    • given the circumstances of the state of nature
    • human nature, functioning in its natural condition, would result in consent, forming civil society
    • therefore, if would, then should
    • why? That's the way naturalism works
    • some say: this is the naturalistic fallacy
      • taking facts, circumstances and deriving a morality from it
    • it becomes rational to consent to a civil society
  • Locke: monarchy is an unjust form of governence because it not a form of consent – the subjects are property of the king, and are not so because of a just war
  • the original form of civil society
    • the form the consent takes is very important
    • people in civil society transfer their rights to each other
    • this creates an entity, which is civil society
    • we hold our rights in common
    • it is a simultaneous exchange of rights
    • as a result I get my share of natural rights back
    • that is hwat makes us a civil society, we are no longer individuals
    • we are a whole, a body politic
    • we have transformed ourself from random individuals in a natural condition to a community, in a civil society
  • in turn, we transfer these to the government
    • this could be an assembly, a group of the wise, etc.
  • Two Kinds of Consent:
    • 1. consent to form the community (transfer our rights to each other, hold them in common)
    • 2. consent to transfer the right of enforcement to government
    • consent is will, in the case of the community, the majority will of individuals
    • purpose of gov't – enforce the natural laws, ensure the natural rights of the community
    • we don't give up all our natural rights to gov't, just the rights that cause all the problems – right to seek reparation
  • government must comply – if it fails to do what it was designed to do, it is rightfully rescinded
    • this is the full on right to revolution
    • why – because the government is not the legitimate authority
    • civil society is the legitimacy
    • the purpose of government is a moral purpose
    • this is not an individual right, it is a right of the community
  • notice: one individual cannot rebel, because one individual doesn't have these rights separate from the others in civil society
  • if the government takes property, it is a sure sign that the government is not doing its job
    • civil society has no obligation to those who are outside the law
    • the moral obligation to obey comes through consent
  • Tacit Consent
    • any rational being, in its natural condition, given the kind of thing it is
    • any being who is traveling on roads in a country tacitly consents to the rules of the road
    • like implied consent, if you choose to be part of this community, if you choose to be here, you are implying that it is ok with your
    • when you don't seek to remove obligations, when you don't leave, when you don't resist, when you don't refuse

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