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Analytical Essay on Locke's Natural Law Theory

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to suggest that Locke gets half the story right on the issue of tolerance. The arguments for and against tolerance are based on the beliefs and opinions of the citizens who are supposed to live within these regulations. In the case of toleration however, not only did Locke himself reject divisive scriptural interpretations but, because of their fair discord, he argued that they had no place in public debates. In the event of intolerance, he calls for the broadest and most general defense of exclusion to use secular arguments. Why is that barely halfway? Not only does public reason involve arguments which attempt to appeal broadly, but it also constitutes public reasoning. Public reasons are not only public reasoning. These matters are not to be determined by the government. In only one situation, the public plays an active part in building public reason: the revolution.

In Locke, natural law determines the content of public reason. This means there are moral boundaries to which public policy is acceptable. Now you might like to take this to say that the principle of Locke’s common purpose is not created by the public but rather contained in natural law. However, the doctrine of resistance is that it is private citizens who judge when natural laws are infringed, acting as public raisonneurs. Although Locke believes that we all have access to similar very common public-good intuitions, it can not therefore be applied globally without public opinion that can argue from the public perspective.

The state of Locke’s nature is governed by natural laws. There is no linguistic anarchy or fundamental moral subjectivism in Locke’s state of affairs and indeed conflict. The assumption that reality and the protection of morality belong to individuals and not to society is the product of divergent moral evaluation and judgment. A lack of a common moral principle, apart from the civil society, is not the result of human error or deficiency. As the moral point of reference for evaluating action is God’s law, the laws of nature. Natural law, by definition,’ instructs any human being who wishes but to consult him that being fairly and individually, no person can harm others in his life, in safety, in independence and in possession,’ and Locke is still pessimistic about his willingness and ability to seek reason. There is still room for disagreement. Natural law also offers a theoretical basis for judging both private and public actions. In the nature of these decisions, each individual is therefore responsible for administering and applying the no harm principle. It causes discomfort and sometimes tension, because in our own situation we are not good at judging. We have established the government to implement nature laws more systematically, rationally and fairly than it is possible to do in the state of nature. This then is the confidence which the governors place in their hands. It is a trust which can be broken and the very reason that civil society is joining disappears if abused. There is a right of resistance to the possibility of breaking the trust. When a state loses its confidence, the Constitution it governed is revoked. There is no administration and as they see fit, the population can create another constitution. But what’s the truth about it? How do people re-setthemselves by these mechanisms? The first step in this cycle is for the government to really surpass its confidence. Unlike Hobbes, the issue, who will rule, was deeply troubled.It can not be a delegated or impartial judge in this case, for that judge would be inferior to the sovereign and so supreme. Then the question of who judges is simply pushed back one step. For many thinkers at the time any authority that could limit a sovereign must entail a logical reductio ad infinitum.

On a number of occasions Locke says that there is no judge on earth but only appeal to heaven. This appeal is not a vague appeal to providence or divine intervention rather it is an appeal to moral standards rather than legal ones. For he eventually says that of course someone must judge even if there is no official judge: ‘The people shall judge. The people judge whether the government breaks the trust. But what does this mean? What does this mean? How do the people judge, actually? And why does Locke need an appeal to heaven, if the men become judges?

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Human consciences have to determine if basic constitutional provisions are or were not broken, according to the individual’s decision. But the moral conscience is controlled by the interests of people, not by the desires of the individual. Individuals are considered worthy and expected to work to maintain society even when they are in a state of nature. Locke holds a realistic view of the common good. Moreover, constitutional dissolution does not mean that people dissolve like a corporate organisation: the power given to society by every individual when he has entered it can never return once again to the individual while society remains, but always stays in the community. No court, government or constitution; only people rely on their private judgment on public law. We are all asked to think as if we were representatives of a fictional Constitutional Convention or as an individual in moments of political crisis or social unrest.

This question (“Who shall judge?”) cannot mean that there is no judge at all: for where there is no judicature on earth, to decide controversies amongst men, God in heaven is judge. He alone, it is true, is judge of the right. But everyman is judge for himself, as in all other cases, so in this, whether another hath put himself into a state of war with him, and whether he should appeal to the supreme Judge

It is then clear that it is in the hands of the people to decide when a revolution is required. However, how do we understand that people get it right or even when such a judgment is made if at times of dissolution there is no institution for which to speak or represent the people? Ian Shapiro argues that only in the historical fact that a majority rises to throw away a tyrant can the answer be found. The actions of the majority who talk of the people make judgment de facto. Locke sometimes seems to have a de facto argument. This is not the case. In replying to his objection that his doctrine was a permit for constant upheavals and revolutionary activities, Locke responded that people are, in fact, very reluctant to engage in revolution and that is only to be counted on if things are really bad. Even if this were justified empirical generalization, however, it can not be seen as a justification for the revolution as the brute fact that a majority of people are willing to engage in revolutionary action. It seems to be the same political free pass as Hobbes does to the government when it works on behalf of the people. Nevertheless, Locke is pained to explain the reasons for refusing. There are very specific circumstances that contradict the contract and opposition is only justified when these circumstances arise. Whilst it is true that only people have the right to judge if the circumstances prevail, the people can also be mistaken. There are good reasons for the downfall of a government and bad reasons for it, even if there is no power on earth to judge it. there are good reasons. The appeal to heaven therefore requires everyone to seek their personal consciences in order to see if the reasons for resistance are good. What’s good in this case? They’re reasons for public opinion. It is a violation of the public good that speaks for reasons. Fostering political revolt and private feuds would not be a legitimate reason to resist even if it were possible to win a majority. It’s not how many people can be convinced that resistance is legitimate. It’s why you have resistance. While it is possible to imagine why the criteria for public good would fail, there is also no designated authority on earth but the people themselves to assess whether reasons are correct or unsuccessful. The appeal to Heaven then becomes euphemistic and not forceful. Locke’s case for revolution demonstrates that the people who reason from the point of view of community hold a legitimate judgement. Although acknowledging that people frequently disagree with the nature of natural law, Locke’s natural law theory postulates an opportunity to see social questions from a pubic point of view, which is the foundation for logic itself. Because people judge outside all political institutions that might serve their will, the people should decide by possible reasons that they support.


Political justification refers to reasons, premises and claims made by a political community. The Hobbes and Locke debates show that social explanations have been built and not identified with the introduction of pluralism, although they are shared. This is most evident but most troublesome in Hobbes too. Hobbes realized that people would rely on their private perception of right and wrong, good and bad without some common moral vocabulary to speak about and explain public policy. Public motive is the public’s intent, which is something we are all justified in doing. The collective motive was defined by Locke as a separate state and a potential counter weight or criticism of state power. The morally authoritative judge of political legitimacy is the public reason in this cases. Its power is to be convincing, not to be coercive. Therefore, in the views and desires of people, we do not necessarily find social justification prepared. These may be deeply divided, disagreeable, mistaken or biased and finally there may be no apparent public reason when dealing with some questions. Whereas Locke thought it was true for most of the religious doctrines. Locke believed that social explanations could be offered for fundamental questions of public law. Nonetheless, these explanations had to be identified, explained, articulated and defended. The collective reasoning and statement process revealed these explanations. To Locke, logic will show us what we all have right to do, but only those who’ will, but who will read it.’ The natural law is behind Locke’s image. Moreover, while natural law is the source from which citizens derive arguments and reasons for resistance, justifications shall be sent to the persons who in this case are the final judge and jury. In very small and special circumstances, Locke conceived of the public as a judge. The people take on the role of judges only in times of serious constitutional crisis and political decline. Every citizen is asked at these times to assess claims and arguments from a community point of view. These are the times where people really exist. In reality the efforts to express and engage in public discourse constitute a nation. Yet citizens have a local jurisdiction, not a representative one. Although Locke gives people a very powerful role in moments of crisis, in the everyday life of a political community they play almost no role. I have tried to focus the debate on the role of the public as a judge in this short survey of the public-reason history of Hobbes and Locke. The current debate on public cause is often dominated by the question of what is a public cause or not. For instance, there is a lot of debate as to whether calls for religious arguments or intuitions can be public reasons. This strategy appears to be a perfect court exercise in which we can analyze and question whether the concrete points brought forward in a particular public sphere can be discussed and genuinely communicated. It took a different route in this paper. I have stressed that it is primarily a responsibility of the public, rather than a number of reasons, to judge right from wrong in the public arena. This point of reference allows the general public to understand how in fact, some publicly justify the fact that a public’s actual shares are justified for significant reasons, while others also apply to public reasoning procedures under conditions where there are no common or overlapping substantive reasons, i.e. where there are deep and unambiguous reasons. In other words. Although our views of sovereignty allow for a more nuanced conception of limitation than Hobbes and Locke can find (particularly in the form of judicial reviews), the issue of ‘ Who should Judge? ‘ remains the case. The people have to be our answer.


  1. Gerard J. Postema, ‘Public Practical Reason: Political Practice’, in Nomos XXXVII: Theory and Practice, ed. Ian Shapiro and Judith Wagner DeCew (New York: New York University Press, 1995)
  2. Duncan Ivison, ‘The Secret History of Public Reason: Hobbes to Rawls’, History of Political Thought 18, no. 1 (1997), 126–47
  3. Stephan Macedo, Liberal Virtues: Citizenship, Virtue, and Community in Liberal Constitutionalism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990)
  4. Jeremy Waldron, ‘Theoretical Foundations of Liberalism’, in Liberal Rights: Collected Papers 1981–1991
  5. Gerard J. Postema, ‘Public Practical Reason: An Archeology’, Social Philosophy and Policy 12 (1995), 43–86
  6. David Gauthier, ‘Public Reason’, Social Philosophy and Policy 12, no. 1 (1995), 19–42
  7. John Rawls, Political Liberalism, paperback ed. (New York: Colombia University Press, 1996)
  8. Jürgen Habermas, ‘Reconciliation through the Public Use of Reason’, Journal of Philosophy 92, no. 3 (1995), 109–131
  9. vison, ‘The Secret History of Public Reason: Hobbes to Rawls’; Philip Pettit, Made with Words: Hobbes on Language, Mind, and Politics (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2008)
  10. John Gray, ‘Pluralism and Toleration in Contemporary Political Philosophy’, Political Studies 48, no. 10 (2000), 323–33
  11. William E. Connolly, Pluralism (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2005)
  12. homas Hobbes, Leviathan (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 128
  13. David Johnston, ‘Plato, Hobbes, and the Science of Practical Reasoning’, in Thomas Hobbes and Political Theory, ed. Mary Dietz (Lawrence, KS: University of Kansas Press, 1990), 37–54
  14. John Locke, Two Treatises of Government and a Letter Concerning Toleration (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003

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