Two Treatises of Government Analysis

John Locke

Two Treatises of Government

(Critical Survey of Ethics and Literature)

The Work

The Two Treatises of Government was supportive of the political agenda of the Whigs and articulated a revolutionary sophisticated political theory of classical liberalism. John Locke’s political theory and political ethical arguments were derived from his interpretation of the natural and rational human self-interests to survive and to acquire private property. The moral premises of universal natural rights and government’s ethical obligation to protect such rights underpinned Locke’s interpretation of natural law.

The law of nature was a source of rational moral political principles and a universal code of ethics. It was morally obligatory for all individuals to consult and comply with these moral precepts. Because of partiality, self-interest, and the personal pursuit of private property, however, humans often misunderstood the law of nature. The law of nature required all individuals to preserve their own lives and property, and “no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.” Locke asserted a moral objectivist perspective, based on his assumption that the law of nature had universal applicability and transcended any particular historical or social context. In the state of nature, because of the lack of public authority each individual was responsible for the interpretation and implementation of the law of nature as well as for the punishment of transgressors. Although individuals were relatively equal, free, and independent rational moral agents who pursued property in the state of nature, inconveniences and disputes regarding property transactions prompted individuals to unite by means of a social contract to institute a civil society.

The concept of a state of nature was viewed by Locke as a fictional...

(The entire section is 742 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Franklin, Julian. John Locke and the Theory of Sovereignty. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1978. Emphasizes Locke’s role in transforming the theory of sovereignty from a limited concept to a broad principle of the eighteenth century. Includes the influence on Locke of George Lawson and his radical views concerning the dissolution of government and reveals Locke’s relationship to the English Whig Party.

Harrison, Ross. Hobbes, Locke, and Confusion’s Masterpiece: An Examination of Seventeenth-Century Political Philosophy. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. Explains and critiques the political ideas of Locke and Thomas Hobbes, placing their philosophies within the context of the political, intellectual, and religious turmoil of seventeenth century Britain. Explores the limits of political authority and the relationship of the government’s legitimacy to the will of its people.

Jolley, Nicholas. Locke: His Philosophical Thought. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. A general introduction to Locke’s philosophical concepts. Chapter 10, “The Evils of Absolutism,” focuses on his political philosophy, including the desire for a more tolerant society expressed in Two Treatises of Government.

Lamprecht, Sterling Power. The Moral and Political Philosophy of John Locke. New York: Russell and Russell, 1962. Centers on the...

(The entire section is 446 words.)