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Comparative Analysis of John Locke and Mary Wollstonecraft

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The researcher has done extensive research on the topic “Comparative Analysis of John Locke ” with special focus on the views shared by John Locke and Mary Wollstonecraft. The main objective of this entire project is to analyse the views hold by both of the profound philosophers. The research methodology used in this project is Doctrinal Research which includes variety of sources for effective and exhaustive research. Various offline and online sources were used , the offline resources include the books and the online resources are the site and articles referred to which include

John Locke Ideas

2.1 About John Locke-His Ideas and contributions

One of the impressive works of Locke include “An Essay” which was written in 1689 and it focuses on the nature of the mankind. In the text he formulated his theory of ideas and his views on the genesis of human knowledge. Later, Two Treatises of Government he supported the theory of political authority which was firmly based on natural rights and freedom of the individual and the will of the people.The major purpose of this book was to defend the Glorious Revolution and William’s seizure of the throne. He founded the modern theory of Liberalism and made an outstanding contribution to modern philosophy of empiricism. He also influenced the vast subjects of theology, religious tolerance and educational theory. Some of the other accomplishments of John Locke were remarkable too as he made the first substantial inquiry in the field of linguistics by scrutinizing the role that language plays in human mental life and also touched the modern concepts of identity and the self.

2.2 Concept of Rights

The concept of natural rights has been argued upon by ancient Greeks and the have generally held that these rights belong equally to all men and women at birth and cannot be taken away. Locke believed that the only reason the people formulated the concept of government was to preserve natural rights and also the man’s happiness and security. However, not all men and women chose to respect the natural rights of others and presented threats to the liberties of the others. At this stage man entered into a social contract in which a state (government) was formed to guarantee the rights of the members of society. Locke believed that the only reason for the existence of government was to preserve natural rights and, by extension, man’s happiness and security.

The concept of natural rights includes the basic rights which are often taken from the law of nature and covers the aspects such as life, liberty and property. The theory firmly states that the individual’s self-preservation should be of utmost importance and one can go to any extent to achieve the preservation of the individual. However, Locke does not preach an egoistic way of individual preservation, but also stresses for the need to consider others as equal. For example, the right to life is accessible to every human being, but we also need to take into consideration the preservation of others in so far as not harming or killing them. The main difference that arises between them is consent. The relationship between a parent and a child is of such nature. Natural rights can be compared to contemporary human rights, but natural rights are broader in scope as they have less restrictions. Locke’s natural rights are not the culmination of political, legal and social fields, but are result of our common nature.

Locke in his writings often mentioned that all individuals are endowed with certain ‘inalienable’ natural rights. That is, these rights are given by god and they can’t be taken or even given away. They are absolute in nature. Among these fundamental natural rights, Locke said, are ‘life, liberty, and property.’

Locke believed that the concept of these natural rights are the most basic human law given to us by nature and the main aim is the preservation of mankind. In order to achieve this goal , he put forward , individuals have both a right and a duty to preserve their own lives . Rights and duties are complementary to each other. Murderers, however , lose their right to life since they act outside the law of reason. Locke also argued that everyone in the society should have freedom to make choices about how to control their own lives as long as they do not interfere with the liberty of others. Locke therefore believed liberty should be far-reaching. By ‘property,’ Locke meant more than land and goods that could be sold , Property also referred to ownership of one’s self, which included a right to personal well being. The main aim of government According to Locke , is to secure and protect the God-given inalienable natural rights of the people. In order to achieve this , the people must obey the laws of their rulers. Thus, a sort of contract exists between the rulers and the ruled. But Locke also argued that if the government interferes with these rights then the people have the right to resist that government, alter or abolish it, and create a new political system.

2.2 (A) Cartoon Interpretation

The cartoon mentioned above is an example of the true meaning of life and liberty in the contemporary world of USA. The very first question that arises after seeing this is why has Jefferson used “the pursuit of happiness” instead of property.

The phrase has different meaning to different people. Some Europeans feel that this change was done so as to hold United states unique among nations in positive as well as negative connotations . And sadly, Many Americans feel that the word property could have been better in place of the pursuit of happiness. To them the pursuit of happiness meant nothing more than the pursuit of wealth and status as embodied in a McMansion, a Lexus, and membership in a country club. Even more sadly, Jefferson’s own “property” included about two hundred human beings whom he did not permit to pursue their own happiness. The other interpretation that arises is the difference between the views held by John Locke and the Government of USA. The cartoon shows that despite being endowed with the natural rights , the government puts restrictions on its citizens. The cartoon takes a dig at the government who under the pretext of ensuring the right of life and liberty are actually caging them to satisfy their own needs are not permitting them to pursue their own happiness .2.3 Views on the rights of women

The very notion of assuring equality between the men and women has never been paid heed upon by most political theorists. Most of them have stayed neutral on this assumption that there is a natural inequality between the existing genders which has to be preserved in civil society. Locke made 3 assumptions on the inequality existing between the two sexes, which are as follows-

First, ‘natural’ inequality exists between the sexes and the male member is considered the most superior being.

Second, that reproduction is not the eternal truth of political life and is of no incentive in making life remarkable for man.

Third , that the family is a ‘natural’ institution which remains outside the political circle.

Thus Locke held that the subjugation faced by women found with respect to men is not because of the prevailing law, or any sort of arbitrary means and not even due to the will and authority of God. Rather it is because the women is ‘the weaker Sex’, and is forced to bring forth children in pain and sorrow. Women are, thus, weaker than men, and this weakness is itself a direct result of the capabilities of women have with respect to reproduction. Locke says that this was The Curse of God laid on women which by nature disadvantaged women and the disadvantage was clearly considered to be her reproductive capacities. The fact that women and women alone can bear children was considered as a natural disadvantage which leads to a natural inequality between the sexes. explains and justifies the general subjugation of women by men.Strong willed women stood as an exception because of the presence of social differences and they also overcame their natural disadvantage so as to escape the discrimination.Locke believed that there was a natural inequality between the sexes, that men were superior, and that this superiority ordinarily gave them a right to the obedience of their wives. It also seems clear that he believed that the source of women’s inferiority lay in her reproductive capacities, and that he regarded this as a natural rather than a conventional disadvantage. Locke also emphaised that the wives were at the liberty to leave their husbands if the latter didnt act for their good , and also considered that the ideal figure of father was composed of calmness and reason and no power beyond that was needed for a concern for the child’s good and exercised with their tacit consent. John Locke political view on the human mankind offers us a glimpse to scrutinize and criticize various thoughts. Many feminist believe that Locke’s assumptions and his theories have failed to address the actual biological and the circumstances faced by women throughout history.

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2.3(A) Cartoon Interpretation

The above cartoon clearly depicts the wish of the woman of getting rid of the responsibilities imposed on her. This throws light on the fact that how women are subjected to certain chores and have been restricted throughout history. The picture of gender inequality comes into the scenario. LOCKE on this , in his writings and essays has often elaborated that all the differences between the two genders are as a result of the existing physical and emotional distinctions. The society since ages has objectified women as a reproduction and a household chore machine . Locke in this scenario says that humans should realise that reproduction is not the eternal truth of life.

2.4 Views on Religion

Locke’s viewpoint on religious toleration were very broad based. According to him humans should not tolerate the ones who would forcibly impose their religious views on others. Similarly, any institution religious in nature which posed a threat to political stability or public safety should not be tolerated at any cost. The most important aspect was that Locke included Roman Catholics in this group. He respected the diverse opinions originating in the society and also stood for the rights of the individuals. But at the same time, he opposed the atheists.

2.5 Views on Education

In order to understand the views on Locke’s view on education we must take into account that his views were largely influenced by the time period and the place where he spent his life. In his early life, he was tutored by his father. This very fact explains that he was in the favour of tutorial form of education. As his father was a parliamentary colonel, the rigid and complex structure, discipline affected him badly. Thus he opposed the so called “public schools “of his times. Locke reasons that parents should play a leading role in educating their wards. He was a staunch defender of parents rights in the realm of education. Also, Locke’s political argument for defining education as a duty of parents rather than the state does not mean that the state has no legitimate interests in providing or regulating education.

Mary Wollstonecraft Ideas

3.1 Mary Wollstonecraft ideas and contributions

During the late 18th century when single women had little protection under the law and Married women had lost their legal identity and had no rights to express themselves, when Women couldn’t retain a lawyer, sign a contract, inherit property, vote, or have rights over their children, came passionate and bold Mary Wollstonecraft who revolutionised the world by writing “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman” (1792). She openly held that both women and men were human beings and are endowed with certain inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. She stood for the women education and stressed for the upliftment of women. She was also of the view that women should be free to enter business, pursue professional careers, and vote if they wanted to. She spoke for the improvement and the emancipation of whole sex. She also supported the physical training programmes to help stimulate and balance the mind.

3.2 Mary Wollstonecraft views on women rights

Contending for the rights of women, her main argument was based on this simple principle, that if a woman is not prepared by education to become the companion of man, she will not progress and would lag behind in knowledge and virtue. She advocated that truth must be common to all, or it will be inefficacious with respect to its influence on general practice. She held that education for women was important was the women were primarily responsible for the education of the young. Mary Wollstonecraft also put forward that enlightening women with education would strengthen the marriage relationship. Her concept of subtle marriage was that marriage is a social contract between two individuals. A woman thus needs to have equal knowledge and sense, to maintain the partnership. Mary Wollstonecraft also acknowledges that women and men are sexual beings. Thus both male and female should uphold the virtues of celibacy and faithfulness. Also Men are required, as much as women, to put duty over sexual pleasure. The area in which the male dominated the female is the area of physical domination. As for any other difference between the sexes, she acknowledges no differences. Wollstonecraft’s essay draws the attention of the readers on Rousseau’s Social Contract and partly on Edmund Burke’s Reflections on the French Revolution as she thought that these philosophers had failed to present a particular standpoint i.e. the belief that women too could have access to a rational understanding of the world.

Such was the influence of Mary Wollstonecraft radical ideas that it resulted in the origin of a great wave called “The first wave of Feminism” in the early 19th century. The first wave of feminism resulted in a mass movement where women stood for themselves for the very first time. . This phase revolved largely around gaining basic legal rights for women that today we cannot imagine our lives without. Politics and business and every other arena were completely dominated by powerful men who didn’t consider women capable enough to be a threat. Suffrage, the right of women to vote in elections, became the goal of the movement with the formation of the American Equal Rights Association in 1866.

The strategic construction of this women’s movement took multiplicity of forms. The campaigns included biographical sketches, suffrage drama and fiction and even prompted satiric writings which parodied the political divisions

3.3 Cartoon interpretation

This cartoon draws our attention to the reaction of men when the great suffrage movement arose. The women in the cartoon is referred to as “the wild rose”, the men represent the anti-suffragists. Anti-suffragists belonged to the middle-class and were conservative in nature. They were of the view that women were destined to be child-bearers and homemakers, whereas men were to be the lawmakers and leaders. In short, anti-suffragists believed it was against the laws of nature for women to seek enfranchisement. They objectified women as alluring mistress who were subject to household chores.

This cartoon reflects the contemporary notion of feminism. In the contemporary times, the word feminism has been misunderstood by some as the hatred for men. This very notion defeats the very purpose of feminism. True feminism lies in gender equality. It lies in treating men and women equal and providing them all the rights on a equal platform. In this cartoon , the women refuses to acknowledge the banner of feminism as she believes that feminism is no more about gender equality. It has turned out to be a group of feminazis instead. She openly believes that the true essence of feminism lies in the real equality i.e. the quality between the genders.

3.4 Views on education and religion

The major focus was placed on the minimum education that was provided to women at the time. From this, the reader actually comes to know the lacunas in the education system of that time. Hence Wollstonecraft’s idea on proper education was that it was a resourceful training of the mind which would enable women to accomplish a virtuous and respectful place in society. She resorts that adequate education for women as the major suggestion in her plea for feminine improvement and self-fulfilment.

One major cause of the exploitation of women was the false system of education, which objectified women as considerate of everything and a slave which had no legal rights than affectionate wives and rational mothers. Wollstonecraft also alleged that women were also at fault as they indirectly complied with the very system that oppressed them.

Wollstonecraft dedicated herself to making women see that they could use reason as well as men could, and rejected the feminine mystique put forward in male treatises of the time such as James Fordyce’s Sermons to Young Women (1765), John Gregory’s Fat her’s Legacy to His Daughter (1774) who have contributed to render women artificial, weak characters.

Wollstonecraft embraced a religion that acknowledged faith with logic, morality with wisdom , and which placed no restrictions on human inquest. She said that one should submit to the moral laws which one infers. According to her, this was not to an arbitrary will but to unerring reason. She rejected the notion that the faculty of reason is exclusively a male attribute. In particular, she challenged the dogma and authoritarianism of the Church of England. She also felt that the True grace arose from some kind of independence of mind.

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Comparative Analysis of John Locke and Mary Wollstonecraft. (2022, March 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 22, 2023, from
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