Second Treatise of Government
Prerogative Power: John Locke’s Dangerous Yet Obligatory Concession
John Locke’s theory of the social contract seems, at first glance, to envision the growth of freedom and the concomitant recession of authority. Considered this way, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government presents a clear contrast, manifesting individual freedom as the dominant political value to which authority submits. A more searching glance, however, discloses a far more complicated theory. Locke’s system of governance struggles to prove how the prerogative of the executive branch can abide by the values of justice and equality supposedly mandated by the Law of Nature and the social contract. In Locke’s tripartite government, where power is shared among the legislative, executive, and federative branches, there will inevitably arise “such cases, which depending upon unforeseen and uncertain occurrences, certain and unalterable laws could not direct.” In these situations, the executive, or ‘the prince,’ has prerogative to act on behalf of the state, so long as his actions provide for the common good of the people. Locke erects his system of liberal governance based on an understanding of inherent human goodness in the state of nature and in doing so, necessarily affords excessive prerogative to the prince. While Locke is careful to control for significant breaches of prerogative power, he leaves his society unprotected against infrequent or minor transgressions on liberty based on a belief in the unscrupulousness and obtuseness of the commonwealth’s majority.
By entering society, Locke posits that man is guaranteed the right “not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man” (IV.22), but rather to the civil laws which are supreme in the society. In the limited instances “wherein a strict and rigid observation of the laws may do harm” (XIV.159), the prince has the authority to exercise his prerogative, so long as it is toward the end of the commonwealth’s preservation. However, Locke expects that the citizens of the society may not monitor the executive’s actions closely enough to prevent his arbitrary and harmful exercise of prerogative. In fact, the prerogative of the executive “is undoubted prerogative, and never is questioned: for the people are very seldom scrupulous” (XIV.161). Note that Locke intends ‘scrupulous’ to mean inattentive, rather than morally unprincipled. The inattentiveness with which Locke describes the society’s people seemingly creates an opportunity for sweeping exploitation of executive prerogative power.
Additionally, Locke argues that even when the people do apprehend a breach of the power entrusted in the executive, they are unlikely “to amend the acknowledged faults in the frame they have been accustomed to” (XIX.223). Thus, Locke paints a picture of society’s masses as both inattentive and obtuse. Even when injustices are perceived, individual cases of mistreatment go largely ignored. In reference to the majority, Locke writes that, “the examples of particular injustice, or oppression of here and there and unfortunate man, moves them not” (XIX.230). According to the Law of Nature, the majority is primarily interested, in the self-preservation of the majority. Locke expects that the Law of Nature and the masses’ inherent tendencies will prevent them from perceiving executive wrongdoing, noting specific injustices against individuals, and demanding change from their government. Given that Locke’s government derives its legitimacy by the consensual route through which it is conceived, it seems entirely plausible that the executive could exercise legitimate–albeit arbitrary and unjust–prerogative power, due to the myopic and stubborn nature of his citizens.
However, Locke argues that the unjust exercise of executive prerogative cannot continue indefinitely: while the people may be inattentive to slight and infrequent injustices committed by the executive in issues unaddressed by law, they will take notice and demand executive change “if a long train of [executive] actions shew the councils tending that way” (XIX.210), meaning if a long train of harmful executive prerogative actions illuminate the prince’s wickedness. When the obtuse citizens eventually apprehend the wrongful actions of the executive, the people will consider “the tendency of the exercise of such prerogative to the good or hurt of the people” (XIV.161) in determining if action should be taken against the prince. Given that the people will consider the long chain of unjust actions to be evidence of the prince’s tendency toward iniquity, the majority will demand usurpation of the prince or punitive action through established political channels. Accordingly, Locke believes that is it impossible for the executive to significantly abuse his prerogative power in a way that does not uphold the liberties of his people.
In fact, despite his belief in the peoples’ unscrupulousness, Locke argues that the unjust prerogative actions of the prince need not proceed too far because the executive will restrict his own wretched prerogative actions. Locke argues that, “this [unjust prerogative action] operates not, til the inconveniency is so great, that the majority feel it, and are weary of it, and find a necessity to have it amended. But this the executive power, or wise princes, never need come in the danger of: and it is the thing, of all others, they have most need to avoid, as of all others the most perilous” (XIV.168). While it is not immediately clear whether Locke is arguing that the arbitrary exercise of prerogative is perilous for the executive or for the commonwealth, it is reasonable to assume that both are true. Regarding the former, Locke posits that all men are subject to the Law of Nature and necessarily secure their self-preservation above all else. By abusing his prerogative, the prince would indirectly expose himself to the potential danger of loss of power and bodily harm (if his actions threatened the physical safety of the majority) if the people were to rebel in any manner. On the other hand, Locke may be arguing that the prince is inherently good and would avoid actions that led to the peril of his citizens. This view is more consistent with Locke’s theory of human nature. Therefore, while Locke concedes that the prince could, theoretically, abuse his prerogative in areas not covered by law and infringe on the liberty of the commonwealth’s citizens, it is in the best interests of the prince to exercise his prerogative power solely for the preservation of citizens’ liberty.
While it is reasonable to expect that the executive authority will be aware of the personal dangers associated with the hindrance of his citizens’ individual liberties, there is still ample opportunity for the prince to encroach upon his citizens’ liberty for his own prosperity. Certainly, the “wise ruler…” (XIV.164), will also be aware of the inattentiveness of his citizens, their apathy toward individual cases of mistreatment and their tendency not to demand change of the government that is familiar to them. A Machiavellian executive could deliberately infringe upon the rights of his citizens in a minor fashion, in his own interest, without any negative personal consequences. Locke affirms this when he writes that, “revolutions happen not upon every little mismanagement in public affairs” (XIX.225). Locke may have been aware of such opportunities for the prince to abuse his prerogative power, but he believes that the executive is not only wise, but is also “good…” (XIV.164) and so will act only for the preservation of the commonwealth. Thus, all rests on the validity of Locke’s conclusions regarding the benevolence of human nature.
Locke’s insistence on human goodness in the state of nature is absolutely necessary for the liberal political system that he constructs. When the commonwealth’s majority determines the prince’s actions to run counter to their best interests, the prince must necessarily “forfeit the power the people had put into their hands” (XIX.222). If the state of nature were worse than tyrannical government under the arbitrary rule of the prince, the people would be foolish to oppose their prince, who is the only barrier between them and the state of nature, as Thomas Hobbes argues in Leviathan. However, such dissent is appropriate in Locke’s system of government, allowing the people to protect their individual liberty without risking return to a horrid state of nature. Indeed, Locke contends that life under an unjust executive is actually “worse, because under such governments the inconveniences are as great and as near as in the state of nature” (XIX.225) and, thus, encourages opposition to the executive when he betrays the trust of the people. Still, due to Locke’s insistence on humankind’s magnanimity, he was obligated to extend this label to the executive, as well. Locke does not deny that self-serving people exist, nor does he posit that the executive will be faultless. However, Locke considers human goodness to be the norm rather than the exception and so allows the executive needlessly excessive prerogative with the expectation that the benevolent nature of the prince will ensure the liberty of the commonwealth. Yet, while Locke admits that the imperceptive and obtuse nature of the majority could allow for infringement on citizens’ liberties, he believes that the beneficence of the prince will prevent such violations from occurring. Such a view of human nature may be overly optimistic and opens the pathway to tyranny.
 Locke, John. Second Treatise of Government; Edited with an Introduction by C.B. Macpherson. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett, 1980. Print. XIV.158
Lockean Ideals in the Declaration of Independence
In devising the Declaration of Independence, the founding fathers used the work of John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government as an ideological framework. The similarities are mainly notable in the claims against the King, but can also be found in other important respects. Locke’s concept of the state of nature is evident in the founders’ claims, while the influence of Locke’s ideals on political power and the function of government can be seen in the arguments presented in the Declaration. Yet the two texts diverge in important ways; the most significant difference between the two documents is that the Declaration lacks some of the extreme views that Locke takes in his discussion on the state of war. Nonetheless, it is clear that the Declaration of Independence was built on Locke’s concepts of government.
John Locke’s conception of the state of nature heavily influenced the writing of the Declaration. He devotes the second chapter of the Second Treatise of Government to discussing the state he believes men are naturally born into and the rights they deserve. Here, he presents the idea that men are created as equals when he says, “because it is simply obvious that creatures of the same species and status, all born to the same advantages of nature and to use of the same abilities, should also be equal” (Locke 3). This quote has such a strong influence on the Declaration because, through stating that the equality of men is obvious, Locke has made this idea appear to be indisputable. The founding fathers desired a strong, unequivocal statement for addressing the King, so they took inspiration from the passage when writing the famous line, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” (Declaration). This line not only delivers a powerful message, but also sets up the ideals that both drive the rest of the text and become a major part in shaping the new United States of America.
The arguments made by Locke are often used to support the Declaration’s claims against the King. Beginning with the very first claim, Locke’s definition of political power is referenced. He defines political power as the right to make, regulate, and enforce laws, highlighting that political power is only meant to be used for the public good. The first claim uses this definition to support the contention that King George III has overstepped his power, as the authors state that “He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good” (Declaration). This statement is in reference to the King vetoing laws that the colonies made, laws which would improve their societies. To bolster this claim, the founding fathers provide examples of how the laws made by the King have harmed the colonies. These arguments lead into the claims which concern the importance of consent when dealing with government.
Two of the important ideals on government that Locke expresses are the significance of the consent of the governed and the problems inherent in monarchy. He ends his chapter on the state of nature by highlighting how consent is required by the people; as Locke says, “and I also affirm that all men are naturally in the state of nature, and remain so until they consent to make themselves members of some political society” (Locke 7). In the Declaration, the authors emphasize that the people of the colonies have not consented to the acts of the King, further supporting the notion that the king has abused his political power. This abuse is specifically noted in the claim that the King has kept troops in the colonies against the residents’ will. Locke would attribute this abuse of power to the problems created when one man controls the government of many. The claims provided in the Declaration exemplify the problems that Locke raises about such monarchies, as this document explicitly says, “He has made judges dependent on his will alone” (Declaration). Government with a single man in charge is subject to the bias and flaws of that single man, thus leading to the unfair and tyrannical rule of King George III over the colonies. The Declaration of Independence serves as the colonies’ proclamation of departure from the King’s rule; their citizens will enter into a new political society with ideals informed by Locke’s work.
Despite many similarities between the Second Treatise of Government and the Declaration of Independence, there are a few differences between the two documents. One of these involves the rights of men, which are designated as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration (Declaration). The difference here is very subtle, as Locke states that the rights of man in the state of nature are “his life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke 4). Though the distinction between happiness and possessions seems insignificant, it highlights the difference in values between Locke and the authors of the Declaration. Locke puts emphasis on how property and wealth are the most valuable things one can gain. The authors of the Declaration did not share this ideal and broaden it to the pursuit of happiness to accommodate a wider range of beliefs. This perspective on the rights of man would later influence the formation of the United States government, specifically with the Bill of Rights of the US Constitution.
The second and more notable difference is that the Declaration avoids some of the extreme ideals that Locke expresses in his work. Within his chapter on the state of war, Locke discusses the punishments man has the right to enforce on others for violating the laws of nature. Several of these penalties can be viewed as extreme. For example, Locke raises the possibility that the penalty for theft is death when he says, “This makes it lawful for me to kill a thief who hasn’t done me any harm or declared any plan against my life, other than using force to get me in his power so as to take away my money or whatever else he wants” (Locke 8). As examined previously, King George III had infringed upon many of the laws of nature, and therefore the founding fathers had every right to demand the death of the King according to Locke’s ideals. No such demand is present in the Declaration, though, due to the political impact that such divisive and violent rhetoric would have exerted. Such a demand could have created an even greater uproar from those loyal to the King and could have compromised some of the support for the founders’ cause. Beyond trying to avoid any chaos that a demand for death would have caused, the founding fathers do not demand the king’s death in order to rise above King George III’s tyrannical rule. This departure from Locke’s influence elevates the Declaration of Independence by positioning the newly-formed government of the United States as more righteous than the rule of the King.
The Second Treatise of Government had a clear influence on the authors of the Declaration of Independence. Locke’s chapter on the state of nature inspired several points in the Declaration, including its introduction and many of the claims made against the King. The founding fathers used Locke’s work to support their arguments that King George III was unfit to rule them, and used Locke’s premises to set up the preliminary values of the new United States. Overall, there are several similarities between the two documents, but there are a few fundamental differences as well. Despite these variances, the Declaration of Independence makes apparent the influential role that John Locke’s ideas played in the formation of government in the United States of America.
The Muddled Philosophy and Life of John Locke
The examination of philosophy requires an in-depth look at two aspects of the philosopher. First one must examine their writings to grasp their points and perspectives, and then one must be able to examine the philosophers’ personal lives to see whether they maintain their written philosophies, or whether they live their lives by alternative standards. The examination of John Locke thus becomes inherently necessary and extremely tricky. Often described as an incredibly virtuous man and portrayed as the founder of modern democracy, Locke is in truth a far more complex human being than many are aware. Although John Locke appears to condemn slavery on paper, his actions reveal a man torn between the acceptance and condemnation of slavery.According to Locke, it is only a certain kind of slavery that is inappropriate. In his Second Treatise of Government, Locke protests outright slavery where the slave is owned as property by the slave holder and the slave subsequently no longer has in his possession the rights given to him in the state of nature. Locke explicitly states, “For a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot by compact or his own consent enslave himself to any one” (Locke 22). With this statement Locke firmly and pointedly argues against what at the time was the growing popularity of chattel, or “ownership” slavery. This practice had slaves surrendering power over their own lives to owners who then used them at their discretion. Locke writes, “Nobody can give more power than he has himself”; in essence, he believes that since no man has full power over his own life (that power is reserved for God) he cannot under any circumstances surrender himself and his life and liberty to any other man (Locke 22). Locke, in his writings at least, seems fully prepared to fight the growing rise of ownership slavery, perhaps even to the point where he would lose his own standing in the public eye and in the government. Also, under this tenet of his philosophy Locke would deem the rising practice of enslaving Africans in North America wrong and illegal because it is blatant ownership slavery. Despite this vaunted position that Locke takes on chattel slavery, he does condone slavery under certain conditions.In his Second Treatise Locke comes to terms with two types of slavery. First off, there is “retribution” slavery, which he sums up as the perfect condition of slavery: it entails limited power on one side of the contract and obedience on the other (Locke 23). It is also defined by Locke as a continuation of a state of war in which the person who has committed such an act as deserves death is given delay by the person whom he has attacked in order that he may make him useful for his own services (Locke 22). This form of slavery is modernly defined as imprisonment. Simply put, someone who has done wrong must enter into a contract with those whom he has wronged in order to make retribution for his actions. This idea is often called retribution slavery because the criminal is making up for what he has done by forfeiting his services to the government or person that he has harmed in some way. The other type of slavery that Locke recognizes is the kind found in the Bible. He only condones this because “it is plain this was only to drudgery, not to slavery” (Locke 23). He says that the Jews were not under full control because the master did not have the power to kill them at will; therefore, this was not chattel slavery and was thus somewhat acceptable. These two cases are important to a full understanding of Locke’s ideas on slavery. He allows imprisonment and Biblical slavery because their tenets do not fall under the category of chattel or ownership slavery, which he feels is wrong. As many scholars and authors have noted, Locke frequently contradicts himself in his writings, but he may also have contradicted himself in his actions, as well.In Chapter V, Locke discusses the nature of property and how it factors into the ownership of a man. It is through labor that a man can make any piece of the state of nature his. By taking something from the state of nature and mixing it with his inherently held labor, a man makes that something his own. He clarifies this idea further by saying, “For this ‘labor’ being the unquestionable property of the laborer, no man but he can have a right to what that is once joined to” (Locke 26). This clarification raises an obvious question in terms of slavery: if a slave uses his inherent labor to make something from the state of nature his property, is it really his, or is it his master’s? Locke never truly addresses this contradiction; it seems that there is no obvious explanation. It can be surmised, however, that Locke would say that a slave is not a man and does not have to rights that men do; thus, he has forfeited his “labor” to his owner or master. If slaves are not men, how can Locke stand behind his premise of all men being equal in stature in the state of nature? Locke also found other ways to contradict his stance on slavery by writing a highly controversial charter for the Carolinas and investing in the slave trade itself. The charter that Locke wrote for the Carolinas (which was never used) gave them the right to institute slavery and gave the men who settled there the right to import and own slaves in the form of chattel slavery (Norton Anthology). How is it possible that a man who condemns chattel slavery would suggest that this very form of slavery was condonable? There is another case to be made for Locke’s acceptance of slavery that involves his personal actions. Locke’s commercial trading activities as a government official eventually spilled over into the slave trade. He was an investor in the East India Trading Co.: one of the first companies to precipitate the slave trade (Norton Anthology). He is said to have viewed the slave trade as an important and economically empowering venture for England. This may seem preposterous given his opinion of chattel slavery, but there is strong empirical evidence to support this contention. Whatever Locke may have written on the topic of slavery, he most certainly did not back up his stated beliefs with his personal actions.Although it is impossible to definitively state why a man who wrote a treatise that condemned chattel slavery would have gone on to invest in that same form of slavery, that is the legacy of John Locke. We can discern from his Second Treatise of Government that he condemned outright ownership or chattel slavery, but we can also discern that Locke wrote an unused charter for the Carolinas that included a provision allowing chattel slavery and that he then went on to invest in companies that precipitated the slave trade for the sake of his country’s economic advancement. Whatever Locke’s writings may say about his perspective on slavery, they directly contradict with the actions of his personal and professional life. Indeed, it appears that John Locke led a decidedly muddled life outside of the philosophies that he committed to paper.
Individual Identity: Locke on the “Sameness of a Being”
In defining “sameness of a being”, Locke distinguishes between the idea of the “same man” and the “same person”. Although he acknowledges that the words are often used interchangeably, he states that “person” is in fact representative of personal identity, which is defined by consciousness alone, and is completely separate from the material body. Each individual has a personal identity defined by his unique motions or thoughts; although two people may make the “same” motion, or have the “same” thought, each thought or motion is actually distinct because it occurs at a different time and/or in a different place. Each person distinguished from another by his diversity of experience; as such, one can identify a person based on the experiences about which he is conscious. Locke’s account of personal identity is open to several criticisms: one, that it violates transitivity, and two, that it is a circular argument.Each person, according to Locke, is “a thinking intelligent being that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places” (Ariew & Watkins 321). Each person is able to do this because they possess consciousness, which goes hand-in-hand with thought. When a person perceives something, he is aware that he perceives it, and therefore Locke argues that one cannot think without being conscious of it. It is through this consciousness that a person knows that he is, indeed, himself: “By this everyone is to himself that which he calls self” (AW 322). He is, therefore, able to distinguish himself from all other thinking beings.In this manner, a person can both define his personal identity as distinct and also use it to determine the sameness of his personal identity over time, regardless of the changes that take place in the body in which his consciousness presently resides. In defining identity, there are two types of philosophers: absolute identity theorists, who believe that for a person to be himself every aspect of his self, including the people around him, must remain the same, and relative identity theorists, who allow for a more lenient view of identity. As a relative identity theorist, Locke argues that not all aspects of a man are required to be unchanging for his identity to remain the same. He asserts that if some X exists that is both F and G, and some Y exists that is also both F and G, then it is possible for F of X to be equal to F of Y, despite the fact that G of X is not equal to G of Y. Take, for example, a man who at one moment in time possesses all of his limbs. Let X represent the composite of his mind and body at this time. Now imagine at a second moment in time, when this man has lost an arm and now possesses only one. Allow Y to represent the composite of his mind and body at time two. If F is taken to be the man’s mind, and G is taken to be his body (as defined by its set of physical simples), it can be said that X and Y are the same F, but not the same G. Therefore, although the man has become a different substance, he remains the same person so long as his remaining parts are united by the same consciousness that once united all his parts.The proof of this sameness, Locke reasons, lies in memory. Just as man can know at one particular moment that he is himself, based on that which his consciousness identifies as “himself”, he is also able to assert that his identity reaches as far back as his consciousness can recall. That is, if he remembers being himself in the past, and exists now with the same consciousness as he did previously, the self that now reflects on the past person is, in fact, the same person. Locke points out one problem in his argument: that over the course of a man’s life, his consciousness is regularly interrupted by forgetfulness, and he is not always able to reflect on the past. At these moments, when a man loses sight of his past self, Locke acknowledges that it is doubtful whether the man retains his sense of self. He equates this with substance, however, and argues that it has no effect on personal identity, which he sees as a question of “what makes the same person, and not whether it is the same identical substance which always thinks in the same person” (AW 323). According to Locke, so long as a man sustains the same mental life, he is the same person. If he now acts with the same consciousness that he acted with in previous times, his identity is preserved by the unity of a continuous life, regardless of his current substance.The two main objections to Locke’s account of personal identity are the problems of transitivity and circularity. I will first address the former. By the law of transitivity, it would seem that if X is the same F as Y, and Y is the same F as Z, then X should be the same F as Z. The trouble, however, is that Locke’s idea of memory does not seem to obey this law. For example, suppose a young boy steals a candy bar. He later grows into a law-abiding, honest young man, but can still remember being a young candy thief. Even later, the young man grows into a retired elderly man who can remember being the young man, but not the thieving child. The common-sense view of transitivity would argue that the old man is the same person as the young boy because although he does not remember being the young boy, it is enough that he remembers being the young man who remembered being the young boy. If Locke is taken literally, however, the boy and the young man are the same person, and the elderly man and the young man are the same person, but the elderly man is not the same person as the young boy. How can this be possible?It appears as though Locke is caught in a trap by this argument, and may have to concede that his account of personal identity violates transitivity. However, I find that it is possible to overcome the problem of transitivity. To begin with, if transitivity is being used to prosecute a crime, it is nearly impossible to prove. Locke argues that a person cannot be punished for something that he is not conscious of. In this case, the old man cannot be prosecuted for stealing the candy bar, since he does not recall being the boy that committed the crime. One argument for transitivity holds that since the elderly man recalls being the young man, and the young man recalled being the boy, the old man is guilty. However, since there is no way to prove that the young man remembered being the boy, or even that the old man remembers being the young man, this argument is useless. There is no way to prove the guilt of the old man.Furthermore, the argument of transitivity is rendered futile if its basic principles are undermined. That is, transitivity relies on the fact that the old man remembers being the young man. A large part of the young man, however, was his memory of existing as, and possessing the same consciousness as, the young boy. If the old man has no recollection of being the young boy, then it cannot be said that he truly possesses the same consciousness as the young man. Therefore, the old man is not the same person as the young man, and transitivity ends there. If, on the other hand, the old man does recall being the young boy, but has simply forgotten the event of stealing the candy bar, he can still be considered the same person as the young boy: he possesses the same consciousness, despite the fact that it has been interrupted by forgetfulness. In this case, I would argue that the man can, in fact, be punished for the crime of the young boy, even if Locke might argue otherwise.This brings us to the second, more extreme objection to Locke’s argument: circularity. The problem of circularity rests in the question of whether the statement “remembers that” is factive, as “knows that” is. For a statement to be factive, it must rely on the truth of what is being stated. For example, if a person says that he “knows that it is raining”, we can be sure that it actually is raining. This is a necessary truth in order for his statement to be considered knowledge. The question lies in whether the same can be said of the statement “remembers that”. If a person says that he “remembers that it was raining last Monday”, is it necessarily true that it rained at that time? On the one hand, if “remembers that” is not factive, Locke’s account is too permissive, allowing that any later person can be made to be the same as any earlier person. In this example, if it seems to later person that he was the earlier person, then he was, but this can obviously not be true.This argument is reasonable but irrelevant; I believe that “remembers that” is factive, although it is often incorrectly used in instances where the appropriate phrase would perhaps be “thinks he remembers that”. As such, it still seems permissive in the sense that it can be difficult to know the truth of a given situation; therefore, a later person may appear to be the same as an earlier person, even if he is, in fact, not. However, “to be” and “to appear to be” are two distinct ideas, and despite the possibility that a man may not be able to determine which is truly the case, the fact of the situation does not change. The truth may never be known, but there is still one truth. Locke argues that this truth is known to God, who has seen all that has actually transpired. Therefore, although “remembers that” may be used incorrectly, when stated properly it is indeed factive.With the consideration that “remembers that” is indeed factive, Joseph Butler charges in “The Analogy of Religion” (1997):one should really think it self-evident, that consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute, personal identity, any more than knowledge, in any other case, can constitute truth, which it presupposes. (__)Simply put, Butler attempts to shatter Locke’s notion of identity by arguing that if “remembers that” is to be taken as a factive statement, memory cannot be used to define identity, as it presupposes the existence of the identity that is being reflected upon. If a man remembers that he has performed a specific action, and memory is factive, then he truly did perform that action, in which case he must already have possessed an identity before he was able to reflect upon it.This objection, while seemingly logical, is nevertheless not applicable to the issue at hand. Although it is true that for one to reflect upon a former identity, that identity must have existed to begin with, and therefore cannot be based solely on memory, this does not disprove Locke’s account of the sameness of identity over time. Although the original identity must have been based on something more than memory, Locke’s account of the sameness of identity says nothing of the identity itself. It is not necessary for the original identity to be rooted in memory, as this is not all that Locke relies on in his definition of personal identity as a whole (which will be discussed below). The question of sameness simply asks whether a man at Time A has the same personal identity as a man at Time B. Regardless of what this original identity was founded on (Locke argues that it is consciousness), the later memory of this self and the retention of the same consciousness possessed when the original action was performed, is proof that the man at Time B has the same personal identity as the man at Time A.For the sake of argument, let us eliminate the question of memory from our discussion of original personal identity. The man at Time A is a blank slate, watches an operation on television, and thinks that he could never become a doctor, since he feels sickened by the sight of blood. Let us take these perceptions and thoughts as representations of the man’s personal identity. The man at the later time, Time B, reminisces about watching this program, and can recall his perceptions and feelings at the time. Memory was not needed to define the identity of the man, but was simply used to connect the man at Time A with the man at Time B.Furthermore, Butler’s argument of circularity poses no problem to Locke’s definition of identity as a whole because the defining of oneself does not rely solely on memory, but rather on consciousness in its entirety. Identity is based on a man’s consciousness about that which he defines as himself based on his thoughts, actions, memories, and reactions. A person consists of all of these elements combined into a single identity, not of several discrete pieces of consciousness (recalling again that Locke allows for forgetfulness and times of sound sleep, and does not argue that it is necessary for all consciousness to remain the same for the person to be unchanged).Returning to the case of the old man, the young man, and the young boy, I think that it is important to distinguish between individual memories and a complete set of memories. As I argued earlier, if the old man recalls being the young boy and has simply forgotten the single instance of stealing the candy bar, he is still the same person. He still possesses the consciousness that makes him capable of such theft, and can therefore be held accountable for the actions of the young boy. Human beings are constantly losing memories and replacing them with new experiences, but they do not necessarily become different people. Substances constantly lose and gain particles and cells, but these pieces unite to form the same whole substance, so long as the change is continuous and successive, rather than abrupt and complete. The same is true of the components of personal identity. As long as a consciousness moves along a successive path and retains enough experiences to be considered the same consciousness (which I would define as understanding oneself and the world in relation to the same experiences and actions of a person), the self remains the same. If, however, the old man has somehow forgotten all aspects of his boyhood due, for example, to amnesia, he is no longer the same person he once was. His physical body has the same beginning in time and place as the boy’s physical body, and so may be considered the same, but this is not true for his personal identity. The boy’s personal identity began when he first began to experience and perceive (at the moment of conception or at the time of birth, depending on one’s view of life), whereas the old man’s began when the boy’s ended: at the point in time and space that the amnesia began. The old man is a tabula rasa, as the boy once was, and his consciousness will now be shaped by entirely new experiences, having nothing to do with the consciousness and memories of the young boy. In this case, the man’s self should only be examined from its starting point, and he cannot be punished for the actions of the boy. Bodies cannot act on their own, and so it is consciousness alone that makes up a person and dictates his actions. As such, it appears reasonable to punish the person and not the body.
Locke and Rousseau
Students and scholars alike are often deceived by the association between Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau as founders of the social contract. Grouping these authors together often causes people to forget the essential variations presented by each man. The issue of liberty, for example, takes on an entirely different meaning when viewed from the eyes of either Locke or Rousseau.In understanding John Locke’s opinions on liberty in The Second Treatise of Government, it is important to begin with his definition of the idea. Fundamentally, Locke identifies liberty as the ability to do whatever one pleases without ever having to be dependent on another (Locke 2.4:116). However, Locke also recognizes that there are certain logical restrictions on this freedom, which he terms natural law: “A state of perfect freedom…within the bounds of the law of nature” (Locke 2.4:116). These natural laws prevent an individual from harming another man’s “life, health, liberty, or possessions” (Locke 2.6:117), and thus maintain order within a society. By restricting certain actions, natural laws shape a new form of freedom called societal liberty, where citizens may be under the control of a legislative power, but only one which is consented to by all (Locke 4.22:126).Under societal liberty, a new government, sovereign, and set of laws seem unnecessary. Locke explains, however, that over time a political society must be created in order for people to retain their freedom. Since men are naturally inclined to seize property (Locke 5.26:127), they eventually require preservation of their property because people “in this state [feel] very unsafe, very insecure” (Locke 9.123:178). Therefore, to reestablish liberty and preserve property, man, in common, agrees to be presided over by a unifying government (Locke 9.124:178). The true brilliance of Locke’s proposition comes in his defense of liberty under this established government. For man only relinquishes two powers – the ability to do whatever one wishes which is now regulated by a legislature (Locke 9.129:180), and the power of punishment which falls under executive authority (Locke 9.130:180). Despite these two forfeitures, each individual is guaranteed the opportunity to “preserve himself his liberty and property” (Locke 9.131:180). Likewise, individuals of the society are granted a consistent interpretation of the otherwise vague laws of nature (Locke 7.89:159). In this way, there is never a tradeoff of liberty for security, but an equal enhancement of both.Maintenance of a government that upholds freedom requires a few institutional arrangements. In order for the commonwealth to initiate this organization, the community must unanimously consent to the new establishment (Locke 8.96:163). Next, the body must agree, “to act as one body, which is only by the will and determination of the majority” (Locke 8.96:163). Furthermore, the commonwealth instills a great deal of power within the legislature (Locke 11.135:183), and the power to enforce laws within the executive (Locke 12.144:189).Lastly, Locke warns against the ways in which freedom can be restricted within society. The first form is legislative abuses, which Locke anticipates by requiring the legislature to act according to standing laws and always in the interest of the commonwealth (Locke 11.136:184). Secondly, the executive can also use his power to limit the freedom owed to the public. Once again, however, Locke foresees this problem by stating that, “When they are hindered by any force…wherein the safety and preservation of the people consists, the people have a right to remove it by force” (Locke 13.155:194). Locke protects against any injustice aimed towards the liberty of the commonwealth and summarizes his entire concept of freedom with the Latin words, “Salus populi suprema lex” (Locke 13.158:196): The people’s safety is the supreme law.Jean-Jacques Rousseau, in The Social Contract, although discussing the same topic of liberty, approaches the argument from a different perspective. Freedom, in Rousseau’s mind, is the right to function completely independent of others (Rousseau 1.7:58), and to be the judge and master of his own decisions (Rousseau 1.1:46). Political government is eventually sought to protect liberty because, “there is a point in the development of mankind at which the obstacles to men’s self-preservation…are too great to be overcome by the strength of any one individual” (Rousseau 1.6:54). At this point, individuals come together to form a society in which these obstacles can be overcome (Rousseau 1.6:54). Rousseau argues that, despite the new society and government, liberty is protected in three aspects; the social contract is based on freedom and self-preservation and thus will never contradict itself (Rousseau 1.6:55); nothing is lost in the new establishment, “in giving himself to all…he gains the equivalent of all that he loses, and greater strength for the conservation of what he possesses” (Rousseau 1.6:55). The ultimate goal of government, society, and the individual is the greatest good which consists of “liberty and equality” (Rousseau 2.11:86).In organizing a political authority which protects freedom as Rousseau has anticipated, the first step is to unanimously agree on a social contract aimed towards the general will (Rousseau 1.6:55). Next, the civilians of the new society form a sovereign, or collective entity, to exercise the universal general will (Rousseau 2.1:63). With the social contract and sovereign in place, the people continue by discovering a legislator, “who frames the laws, therefore, has not, or should not have, any rights of making law” (Rousseau 2.7:78). Lastly, a government is created to ensure crucial correspondence between the sovereign and subject, execute the laws, and maintain liberty (Rousseau 3.1:92). Despite the detailed instructions Rousseau gives in establishing a protective political society, he does recognize that violations of freedom can still occur.The two most probable restrictions on freedom, Rousseau claims, concern the sovereign’s power and minority presence. Rousseau states that, “To violate the act through which [the sovereign] exists would be to destroy itself, and that which is nothing can give rise to nothing” (Rousseau 1.7:57). Secondly, it appears as though Rousseau assumes that a general will is established easily and without controversy, but what would take place if a powerful minority dissented against the majority? Rousseau explains that in this case the majority would force the minority to understand and consent to the general will, and thus the minority, “will be forced to be free” (Rousseau 1.7:58).Although John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau display similar interests in the social contract and a political society’s preservation of freedom, their individual methods often vary. In order to completely understand each author’s perspective on liberty, they must be viewed separately. In doing so, we see the first signs of a political organization which is able to successfully maintain freedom despite a system of government and laws.