Locke handout 2011

Locke handout 2011 - John Locke (1632-1704): Biographical...

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John Locke (1632-1704): Biographical Note/Background English Philosopher, author of several important books and papers. Among the best known are: Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690); Two Treatises of Government (we are only reading parts of Part II of the Treatise) (1690); “Letter Concerning Toleration” (1689). Essay Concerning Human Understanding : Very simply, the main claims are these: there are no innate ideas or knowledge; that is, there are no ideas or knowledge that are present in one’s mind prior to one’s experience. Knowledge is based on sense experience. This does not mean that reason plays no role. Reason is significant in that it turns sense experience into real knowledge (as opposed to mere opinion).Still, experience from senses are the bases of knowledge. (Locke is thus an Empiricist, like Hobbes; as opposed to the Rationalists, like Descartes.).
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Overview of Treatise Two Treatises of Government is one of the great works in the history of political philosophy. Locke, contra Hobbes, is an opponent of tyranny and oppression, and a defender of liberty, as we will see in our readings. The work is divided into two parts, and the first and second parts are often refered to separately as the First Treaties of Government and the Second Treatise of Government. The First Treatise is mainly a criticism of Sir Robert Filmer’s theory of absolute monarchy that is based on the divine right of kings (Filmer, Patriarcha) . Basically, L’s criticism is that the divine-right doctrine, that God granted Adam absolute and total political authority is an unworkable one because it is impossible to show of any particular ruler that he is one of Adam’s heirs. This criticism of Filmer’s divine right thesis, and absolutism more generally, was important as it paved the way for Locke to present his own account of the state based on the contract approach in the Second Treatise that we will study. Locke, thus, clearly diverged from Hobbes in this important way. While Hobbes defended absolutism, including Royal Absolutism, Locke rejected absolutism in any form. L believed that absolutism can never be defended because he argued that absolutism is worse than being in the state of nature. That is, no person would consent to live under absolute rule. Most scholars are agreed that Hobbes is not Locke’s target as such but Filmer (who, as I mentioned, was explicitly L’s target in the First Treatise. Still it is hard to deny that the spirit of Hobbes lurked in the background as L wrote, and indeed can provide an
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important contrasting contract position to L. Hobbes’s social contract theory and its defense of absolutism, for our purpose, provides a vivid contrast for Locke’s social contract theory that denies absolutism. For Hobbes, the SC idea is used to show individuals why is it rational for them, if
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This note was uploaded on 01/17/2012 for the course PPE 253 taught by Professor Mellers during the Fall '11 term at UPenn.

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Locke handout 2011 - John Locke (1632-1704): Biographical...

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