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Royal Institute of Philosophy

John Locke and Natural Law


Author(s): W. von Leyden
Source: Philosophy, Vol. 31, No. 116 (Jan., 1956), pp. 23-35
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of Royal Institute of Philosophy
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3749204
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JOHN LOCKE
W.

VON

AND NATURAL
LEYDEN,

LAW

D.Phil.

IT has been said, and fewwould deny,that JohnLocke is as importantas the founderof philosophicalliberalismas he is as the
oftheempiricist
theoryofknowledge.
Thoughhe was a most
founder
education,
on philosophy,
politics,medicine,
versatilethinker,
writing
on
all
these
the
knowledge
of an
and
with
religion,and economics,
his fameno doubtderives
of an authority,
expertand the influence
on the one hand fromhis treatiseson Tolerationand CivilGovernon the other.
ment,and fromhis Essay on Human Understanding
are
Whenevertheseare expoundedby scholars,thepoliticalwritings
oftheEssay and theEssayindependently
of
discussedindependently
The reasonforthisis obviouslythat scholars
the politicalwritings.
haveseenverylittleconnexionbetweenLocke'sprincipalworks.This
in whichare
has been changedwiththe appearanceof a manuscript
by Lockein Latin
preserved
eightessayson thelaw ofnaturewritten
shortlyafterthe Restorationof i66o and thirtyyears beforethe
has been
appearancein printof his majorworks.This manuscript
publishedby me,and it is nowpossibleto recognizethatLocke'stwo
mainbodiesofdoctrine,
namelyhispoliticaltheoryand histheoryof
knowledge,have a commongroundand that this lies in his early
thenotionofa naturallawcan be
doctrineofnaturallaw.Admittedly,
in his treatiseon CivilGovernment
seento be ofcentralimportance
littleis
and it also playsits partin the Essay. But disappointingly
and it is
said by Locke about thisnotionin eitherofthesewritings,
not untilthe appearanceof his essayson naturallaw that we learn
relationbetweenthetwomainpartsofhis
thatthereis an important
teachingand whatthisrelationis.
concerning
the
In thispaperI wishto examineLocke'sarguments
existenceand bindingforceof naturallaw. I have alreadytouched
tomyedition,
uponcertainaspectsofthisquestionintheintroduction
but theretheywererelatedto theirhistoricalsettingand othersideissues.Now my purposeis morespecific.I am also concludingthis
paperwithan entryin Locke'sJournal,whichcontainscertainbasic
ideas ofhis theoryofnaturallaw and whichhas forsomereasonor
otherescapedpublication.
is notthesame
The law ofnatureas it occursin Locke'sphilosophy
of
nature:
it is notconlaws
Newton's
so-called
as one ofGalileo'sor
In the
motion
or
cernedwithphysicalphenomena,their
regularity.
it
refers
to
human
behaviour
uses
the
and
sensein whichLocke
term,
a
of
notion
of
law
nature
has
had
the
a
to a morallaw. In thissense
and
well-known
jurists,
historyamongmoralists,politicaltheorists,
beforeand afterLocke's time.
theologians
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PHILOSOPHY
theidea was Aristotle.
He contrasted
The firstperhapsto introduce
behaviourofthingsin naturewiththevarietiesofhuman
theuniform
codesofbehaviour.Fire,he said,alwaysbumsalikeno matterwhere
in Greeceorin Persia,to-dayor a thousand
orwhenit is lit; whether
yearsago. On the otherhand the customsof men,theirmoraland
municipallaws varyfromplace to place and changefromone time
to another.However,thereis forAristotleone formof morallaw
whichis eternaland immutableand has thesameforceeverywhere;
as a law governing
and becausethislaw is supposedto be as uniform
refers
to
it
natural
as a
morallaw, sharply
naturalphenomenahe
it fromman-madelaws whichhe calls conventional.
distinguishing
the
throughout
Thisidea ofa naturallaw obtainedgreatinfluence
periodwhenthe Roman Empirespreadand the wholeof civilized
in which
humanitywas thoughtto formone universalcommunity,
all menwereequal by virtueoftheircommonrationalnature.The
and the Romanlawyerselaboratedthisidea and
stoic philosophers
He speaks of truelaw as being
Cicerogave it a famousdefinition.
withnature,of universalapplicationand
rightreasonin agreement
thatthereis no needforus to lookoutsideourselvesfor
unchanging;
ofit,thoughGodis theauthorofthislaw and thejudge
an interpreter
it.
who enforces
That Christianity,
fillingthevacuumcausedby thebreakdownof
theRomanempire,adoptedthebeliefin a law ofnaturecan be seen
fromthe factthat the idea of naturallaw appearsas a basic conand
emperor
Justinian
ceptionbothin thelaw-booksoftheChristian
in Canon law. Throughoutthe Middle Ages the ultimateappeal
regarding
morals,politics,law and also divinitywas to naturallaw,
and by naturallaw theschoolmenmeanta law promulgated
by God
in a naturalway and knownby reason,i.e. a law otherthan God's
Naturallaw together
with
positivelaw whichis knownby revelation.
was thusregardedas constituting
thelaw laid downin theScriptures
thewholeofthe divinelaw. As suchit was acceptedas an objective
'ruleand measure,'an absolutecontrolling
principle.
and sixteenthcenturies,
as we know,witnessedthe
The fifteenth
of humanismand the newoutlook
of a secularmorality,
emergence
of the Renaissance.It was in connexionwiththisnew outlookand
whichadvocatedthe'priesthood
of
withtheadventofProtestantism
thatnaturallaw cameto
all believers'and thenecessityoftoleration
be regardedas a bodyofindividualrights,of subjectiveclaimsand
ratherthancontrolling
During
thusmainlyas a liberating,
principle.
and eighteenth
centuriesthe studyof naturallaw
the seventeenth
whothoughtthislaw to be
was pursuedby juristson the Continent
of
and theresultofa purely
independent theologicalpresuppositions
of
a
matter
mathematical
scientific
deduction.At the
construction,
same time,whileBritishmoralistsattemptedto provideethicswith
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JOHN

LOCKE

AND

NATURAL

LAW

a rationalfoundation,
Anglicanssoughtin thelightofcontemporary
knowledgeto redefinethe place of naturallaw withinChristian
apologetics.
thenineteenth
Throughout
century,
owingto theadvanceofcritical
therewas a markedtendencyto rejectmany
and scepticalarguments,
of the traditionalcriteriaof moralityand to adopt positivistapin legal theory.In fact,the rise of modem
proaches,particularly
is characterized
of the theoryof
jurisprudence
by the abandonment
naturallaw. Also most modernphilosophers,
analystsas well as
have cometo regardthisnotionas obsolete.Yet we find
positivists,
that betweenthe two wars and again in recenttimesa numberof
have admittedthattheycannotdispensewiththisconcept.
thinkers
maintainthatnatural
Whileadmitting
this,somewouldnevertheless
is pure superis
with
which
this
associated
law and the theology
is
because
the
facts
involvedin law include
stition.For themit only
theideasmenhave ofcertaingeneralor supernatural
characteristics
musttakethemintoaccount.On theother
thatthelegalphilosopher
thinkers
whogenuinely
believein some
hand,therearecontemporary
sortofnaturallaw and makethisthe basis of theirowntheories.
in thisconnexionto notethatit is only
It is certainlyinteresting
in Russia that no tracesof natural-lawtheoryhave existedat any
time.ThoughRussia, like the West, has a Christiantradition,it
fromtheWestin havingno humanisttradition.And theidea
differs
of a naturallaw, as I have triedto show,was derivedin the first
theStoics,and
thatofAristotle,
instancefrompre-Christian
thought,
linkedwiththehumanistbeliefin theefficacy
Cicero:it is intimately
ofhiswill,and hismoralresponsibility.
ofman'sreason,thefreedom
oftheidea ofnatural
Havingsketchedthehistoricaldevelopment
in hispublished
law,let us considerwhatdoctrineLockecontributed
can be
works.His teachingin the Second Treatiseof Government
as follows:
summarized
The law ofnatureis a declarationof God's willand a standardof
rightand wrong.It is a law thatalreadygovernsthestateofnature,
statein whichall menarefreeand equal,and in which
i.e. a pre-social
in peace. If menmakepromisesto one anotherin
theylive together
boundby them,
the stateof nature,theymustconsiderthemselves
'for truthand keepingfaithbelongto men as men, and not as
membersofsociety.'It is likewiseaccordingto thislaw and priorto
is determined.
anypositivecivillawsthateachman'sprivateproperty
and
all
its
fruits
to
men
in common,
earth
the
God
has
Though
given
the law of naturesets boundsto what each man is allowedto appropriateand keepforhimself.Sincewithintheseboundsa person's
'rightand conveniency'go together,therecan be littleroom for
quarrelsaboutproperty.
Further,forLocke partofGod's purposein
to
man
was
creating
'put himunderstrongobligationsofnecessity,
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PHI LOSOPHY
convenience,
and inclination
to drivehimintosociety,as wellas to
fithimwithunderstanding
and languageto continueand enjoyit.'
man'slifein societyand underpoliticalgovernment,
the
Throughout
obligationsof thelaw ofnatureremainvalid,and it is onlyas they
are foundedon thislaw thatthemunicipallaws ofcountriesare just
onlyin so faras
laws. In general,politicalpowerforLockeis justified
of
men'snaturalrights,
it preserves
especiallythose lifeand property.
is thuslimitedbothby naturallaw and by men'srights,
Government
and thesetwo came to be almostidenticalforLocke. On the other
hand, what man did not possessin the state of naturehe cannot
whenhe entersit: sincehe had no arbitrary
resignto thecommunity
rightin the state of natureto act againstthe law of nature,i.e. to
whichis nothis,
destroyhimselfor others,or to take awayproperty
thereshouldnotbe any sucharbitrary
powerin society.
It can be seen that the part played by naturallaw in Locke's
It is becausehe believesthis
politicaltheoryis indeedfundamental.
law to be thelaw ofthestateofnature,and thisstateofnatureto be
by men'slifein society,
notaltogether
annulledwhenit is superseded
that forhim naturallaw remainsvalid in societyand in factsets
To put thepointless metaphorically:
limitsto politicalgovernment.
becausehe is rational,man,accordingto Locke,is eternallysubject
to naturallaw,itselfa rationallaw,regardlessof whetheror not he
livesin an establishedsociety.
Unfortunately,
despitethe basic importanceof naturallaw for
Locke's politicaltheory,thereis littlereal discussionofit in any of
In a passageofhisSecondTreatiseof
his maturepublishedwritings.
he evenexpressly
declinesan investigation
oftheparticuGovernment
is
larsofthislaw; yetwhatwe shouldlikehimto tellus particularly
how he thinkswe cometo knownaturallaw, and how and to what
extentit can be said to be binding.In myview,Locke tendedin his
lateryearsto regardthenotionofa law ofnatureas a merepremise
ofhis thought,as something
he believedin but barelyinvestigated.
The reasonforthisattitude,I think,is to be foundin difficulties
he
had in reconciling
the notionof thislaw withsome of his mature
ofhishedonisticviewsand
For instance,thedevelopment
doctrines.
his philosophy
forhim
oflanguagein theEssay had madeit difficult
to attempta fullexpositionof naturallaw or even to believein it
whole-heartedly.
However,with the discoveryof Locke's early manuscripton
naturallaw we are in a positionto fillin the picturewhichis left
rathervague in his matureworks.We can see nowthatmostofhis
remarksaboutthelaw ofnaturein theSecondTreatiseand theEssay
have their originin his early essays. In particular,two crucial
questions(about whichthereis hardlyany discussionat all in his
maturewritings)
obviouslyexercisedhis mindwhenhe was writing
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JOHN

LOCKE

AND

NATURAL

LAW

the essays,i.e. the epistemological


question-how do we knowthe
law ofnature?-and themoralquestion-howand to whatextentis
thatlaw binding?
Because of the relativelyfullaccountwhichthe essays provide
of Locke's viewson naturallaw, it is also possiblenow to pointto
definiteweaknessesin his theoryand to state one's criticismsin
preciseterms.In a senseit is not surprising
to findthatthethought
of publishinghis earlyworkon naturallaw recededfromLocke's
mind and that the moral doctrinesof his youthwerenot wholly
absorbedin the writingsof his maturity.Thereis a greatdeal of
in thisnotionofa law ofnature,and a philosopher
ambiguity
natufeels
calledupon to disentangle
the complexof different
rally
issues
that it contains.
in theoriesofnatural
The conceptthathas givenriseto confusion
and I proposenowto investigate
law is thatofreasonor rationality,
themeaningofthistermin so faras it concernsus here.
If asked exactlywhatcommandsformpartof the law of nature,
I believe,wouldincludethefollowLocke and mostothertheorists,
to worshipGod,
ing:to preservelife,to begetand bringup children,
to benefactors,
to respectanother's
to obeyparents,to showgratitude
and to live in societywithothermen.Now all thesecomproperty,
mandshave a showof truthor reasonand implydutiesthatwould
seemto be obviousand readilyacceptableto commonsense.However,otherdictatesofthislaw mightnot seemto be equallypatent,
beenconsidered
and it has therefore
necessaryforman,in orderthat
he mayknowhisduties,to employhismentalfaculties,
i.e. hissenses
One of the reasons,in fact,whynaturallaw
and hisunderstanding.
ofit is said to be
has beencalleda naturallaw is thattheknowledge
i.e. sense-perception
and reason,
acquiredby man'snaturalfaculties,
whatLocke and otherscalled
the jointexerciseofwhichconstitutes
the 'lightofnature.'The 'lightofnature'is thusreasonand thelaw
ofnatureis a law ofreason,a law thatdoesnotbindchildren,
idiots,
or animals,preciselybecause theyare by naturedevoid of understandingin the ordinarysense.
To conceiveoflaw as a law ofreasonhas no doubtadvantages,particularlythat of makingit capable of treatmentapart fromman's
emotionalnatureand therebysecuringforit completeimpartiality.
'Law,' as Aristotlehas said, 'is reasonfreefromall passionand a
neutralauthority.'But-and here we come to the crucialpointdoestheconceptionoflaw as a law ofreasonimplythatit is possible
and if so, has any one of the manytheorists
to justifyit rationally,
the
whothroughout ages have made attemptsin thisdirectionbeen
successful?
I am inclinedto answerboth these questionsby sayingthat a
rationaldefenceofnaturallaw is boundto failbecauseit is liableto
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PHILOSOPHY
involveconfusedideas about reason.Issues that shouldbe clearly
fromone anotherin any trulyrationalexpositionare
distinguished
mattersof fact
obscuredif one passes fromstatementsconcerning
about
ways
of
knowledge,to
to
statements
to definitions,
thence
throughof
and
to
truths,
assuming
finally
logical
judgments value,
of
the
is
a
in
one
and the same sortof
step
out that each
passages
withone and thesame
inferential
process,and thateachis concerned
meaningofrationality.
ofthiskindoccursin
It can be shown,I believe,thata confusion
everytheoryofnaturallaw: I can onlygiveone examplehere,and I
arisesin Locke'stheory.The line
willtryto showhowtheconfusion
of my enquirywillfollowwhat I take to be the logicalstepsofhis
argument.They are brieflythese: Locke passes fromthe factual
statement
thatmanpossessesreasonto theconclusionthatreasonis
and henceto the assumptionthatreason
his essentialcharacteristic
leads to the discoveryofmoraltruthsand,ifproperlyemployed,to
ofoneand thesamesetofmoraltruths,
i.e. naturallaw.
thediscovery
Fromthishe is led to inferethicalassertionsto the effectthat the
moralstandardsdiscoveredby reasonare themselvesrationaland
thattheyare commandsbindingon all men.Fromthishe passesto
canbe provedbyreason,
thebeliefthatthevalidityofsuchcommands
and even shownto be necessaryin the same way as a geometrical
or a logicaldeduction.
demonstration
issimple:it is thefactualstatement
thatmen
Locke'sstarting-point
possessreasonand use theirreason.The factthatsomemencannot
reasonand thatsomeofthosewhocan do notis admittedby Locke,
and to thosewhobecauseoftheir
and he refers
to idiotsand children
emotionalnatureorbecausetheyarelazyorcareless,makeno proper
hisnextstepis to assert
use oftheirreason.In spiteofthisadmission,
property
thatmennotonlycanreasonbutthatreasonis theirdefining
is
their
function
to
i.e.
that
exercise
and thattherefore special
they
it,
are obligedto use theirreason.
proposition-ifit
Locke's inference
hereis fromthematter-of-fact
is a matter-of-fact
proposition-thatall men are rational,to the
in orderto be trulymen,men
is a definition-that
statement-which
is notso muchaboutan indisputable
mustbe rational.Thisstatement
idea of'fixednatures.'Though
factas a beliefderivedfromAristotle's
definitions
dependin somesenseon evidence,theyare notempirical
i.e. statementsabout fact,whichcan be eithertrueor
statements,
cannotbe validatedor invalidatedby statefalse;hencedefinitions
mentsof a purelyfactualkind.Moreover,froma statementabout
i.e. a statement
man'sdefining
thatis neithera moral
characteristic,
is inferred
thathe has
one nora necessaryone,themoralproposition
withhisessentialnature.Thisconformity
a dutyto livein conformity
is in itsturntwofold:it maymeanthatit is man'sdutyto use reason
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JOHN

LOCKE

AND

NATURAL

LAW

and also thathe has a dutyto obeyreason,i.e. to acceptthefindings


ofreason.Further,it is impliedin Locke's wholeargumentthatthe
reasonis an essentialcharacveryquestionat issue,namelywhether
obligedto use it is
teristicof men and whethertheyare therefore
by reasonitself.I concludethenthat we are
decidedaffirmatively
with variousmeaningsof the termreason which
here confronted
Locke does not disentangle,and also with statementsof different
kindsso thatit is not alwayspossibleto pass fromone to the other
and to applyto each the same sortof proof.
Let us nowconsiderLocke'sanswerto thequestionhowmencome
to knownaturallaw.
Obviously,in connexionwiththisquestion,reasonwillhave to be
as a mental'activity'ofmanleading
discussedon twolevels:firstly,
to the productionor discoveryof moral truth;secondly,as the
spiritualproductof this activity,consistingof a body of rational
between
or rulesofconduct.Lockeis carefulto distinguish
principles
the two meaningsof reason.By the firsthe understandsthe discursivefacultyofthemindwhichseeksto discovertruthby forming
fromthingsknownto thingsunknown.By the secondhe
arguments
understandsa set of moraltruthswhichcan becomean object of
knowledgeand a rule of action,and this he calls 'rightreason.'
Whereasforhim the discursivefacultylike the organsof senseis
inbornin man, 'rightreason' is not. And forhim also, the moral
truthscomingbeforethe mindare not made or dictatedby human
by it. Thus in a way
reason,but merelydiscoveredand interpreted
he stillregardshumanreasonas a sortofcause ofwhichtruthis the
it does notbringtruthintoexistencebut it leads to its knoweffect:
reasoncanbe regarded
ledge.I willnotraiseherethequestionwhether
someas a cause ratherthansimplyas a wayofdoingor considering
thing;nor will I examinewhetherrulesof conductare discovered
would suggest.I
ratherthan made, as the studyof anthropology
ofreasonwas
thinkhoweverthatLocke'sbeliefin thecausal efficacy
one sinceaccordingto himreasoncannotbe regarded
a half-hearted
By itself,he wouldsay,reasonprovidesno
as a sourceofknowledge.
requiressome materialwhichcan
primarynotionsand it therefore
forits operations.Accordingto him the
serveas a starting-point
materialin questionis providedby sense-perception.
It is here,in connexionwithhis earlytheoryof naturallaw that
his well-known
emphasison knowledgeby the
Locke's empiricism,
of my
senses,has its origin.For thisreasonI said at the beginning
paperthat Locke's two mainbodiesof doctrine,namelyhis theory
havea commongroundand
andhispoliticalphilosophy,
ofknowledge
thatthislies in his earlydoctrineofnaturallaw.
The stepswherebyin Locke's viewreasonleads to the knowledge
these:
ofnaturallaw fromsuchdata as the sensessupplyare briefly
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PHI LOSOPHY
Our sensestellus notonlyofbodiesand theirmotionsbut also of
beautyand regularity
in all partsoftheworld.Sincethisbeautyand
regularity
mustbe the resultof somesuperiordesign,reasoninfers
the existenceof a mostwise and powerfulCreator.This argument
fromdesigntogether
withtheso-calledanthropological
argument
are
singledout by Locke fromamongthe traditionalproofsof God's
existencepreciselybecause thesetwo argumentsare derivedfrom
sense-experience
and,apartfromrationalinference,
requireno further
support,whereasall othersuch proofspresupposea priorinotions
whichLockeis unwilling
to accept.Lockegoeson to showthatsince
God is notonlypowerful
butalso wise,He has designedtheworldfor
somepurposeand thatwe findin everything
a definite
ruleorpattern
appropriate
to its nature.God's purposein creatingmanwas thathe
should live accordingto reason. Two particularfunctionshe is
intendedto perform
are to worshipGod and to live in societywith
othermen.
What Locke has endeavouredto establishso far is firstlythat
thereexistsa law-maker,
i.e. some superiorpowerto whichman is
rightlysubject,and secondlythat this law-makerhas expresseda
will,thisbeingthelaw ofnature.Thusin Locke'sviewit is reasonin
withsense-experience
co-operation
whichrevealsthe existenceof a
naturallaw and also the dictatesof thislaw. The wholeof Locke's
argumenthereis derivedfromthe scholasticsand thereis nothing
originalaboutit exceptperhapshisinsistenceon thepartplayedby
sense-perception.
Whethernovelor not,one maywonderiftheargumentformstherightapproachto thequestionat issue.Whenasking
himselfwhethernaturallaw can be known,Locke does not fora
momentconsiderthe possibilitythat this law, and expressionsof
value generally,
mightnot belongto the class of thingsof whichit
makessenseto say thattheyare knownin theordinarysenseofthe
word,i.e. that statementsabout themcan be justifiedby reference
to empiricalfacts,to rules of inference,
or to self-evident
truths.
Locke does notfacethisissueand insteadmakestheproperemploymentof man's naturalfacultiesa necessaryand sufficient
condition
fortheknowledge
ofnaturallaw. Yet no matterto whatextentmen's
sensesand theirreasonare foundto be efficient,
thisefficiency
is no
criterion
by whichto decidewhether
naturallaw is a properobjectof
knowledge.Such a decisionmustbe derivedfroman analysisofthe
conceptofnaturallaw ratherdifferent
fromtheone Lockeoffered.
The nextstepin Locke's argumentagain consistsofan inference:
he passesfromwhathe has hitherto
establishedto ethicalassertions
thebindingforceofnaturallaw. Havingshownthatman's
concerning
reasoncan lead to thediscovery
ofcertainrationalprinciples,
he goes
on to concludethatman is morallyobligedto acceptthesefindings
of his reason.In otherwords,Locke startswithcertainstatements
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JOHN

LOCKE

AND

NATURAL

LAW

offact, i.e. statementsabout human nature,containingno judgmentsofvalue; he thenpassesto certainmetaphysical


and theological statements
whichcontainno moralwordseither;fromthesestatementshe drawsa conclusionabout what men oughtto do, as if the
conclusionofa validargument
couldcontainanything,
e.g.an 'ought,'
whichis notcontainedin thepremises.
The pointthatit is impossible
to deducean ethicalconclusionfrompremisesthat are non-ethical
was madeforcibly
by Humein a celebratedpassage.'In everysystem
of morality,'he says, ' . . . I have always remarked,that the author

proceedsfor some time in the ordinaryway of reasoning,and


establishesthe being of a God, or makes observationsconcerning
humanaffairs;
whenofa suddenI am surprised
to find,thatinstead
oftheusualcopulationsofpropositions,
is, and is not,I meetwithno
proposition
thatis not connectedwithan ought,
or an oughtnot....
As thisought,
or oughtnotexpressessomenewrelationoraffirmation,
it is necessarythatit shouldbe explained;and at thesametimethat
a reasonshouldbe given... howthisnewrelationcan be a deduction
fromothers,whichare entirelydifferent
fromit.' Hume concludes
fromthese observationsthat they would 'subvertall the vulgar
systemsof morality,
and let us see, thatthe distinction
ofvice and
virtue is not . . . perceived by reason.'

Let us considerbriefly
at whichpointin Locke's argumentmoral
assertionsare introduced.
Theyappearin twocontexts.One is where
Locke advances his proofof God's existenceand the 'voluntarist'
thatlaw or men'sdutiesare the exprestheory(orratherdefinition)
sionofa superiorwill.For Locke thenmoralobligationsare binding
becausetheyarisefromGod's commands.NowfromsayingthatGod
commandsus to do certainactionswe cannotinferthatwe oughtto
do them,notevenifwe add thefurther
premisethatGod commands
us to obeyHis commands.The ethicalstatement
ourduty
concerning
to do certainactionscan be derivedonlyfromanotherethicalstatementsuchas thatwe oughtto do whatGod commands.For Locke
sucha derivation
is in factpossiblesincehe arguesthatobedienceto
God's willis right,thatis, obligatory.
Howeverany deductionfrom
thispremiseorfirstmoralprinciple,
i.e. thata creatureoughtto obey
thewishofhisCreator,maybe said to be compellingonlyif thepremise is self-evident,
whichis doubtfulin Locke's example,forit
wouldnotbe self-contradictory
to rejecttheprinciple
thatobedience
to God's willis right.Moreover,
the 'voluntarist'
theorycarrieswith
it an implicationwhich Locke obviouslyfounddissatisfying,
for
element
togetherwiththe conceptof willit introducesan arbitrary
intomorality.
In orderto makehistheorymoreperfect,
Lockeattemptsto derive
moral obligationin some otherway. He does this as part of his
endeavourto arriveat a purelyrationalfoundationof ethics.For
3I

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PHILOSOPHY
himhumanreasonnot onlyindicatesor teacheswhatman's duties
are,but at thesame timemakeshis dutiesbinding;it is thusa selfdependingsourceof obligation.He maintainsthat naturallaw is
coevalwiththehumanraceand thatall menare subjectto it sinceit
is 'so firmly
rootedin thesoil ofhumannature.'In his viewthereis
in fact a 'harmony'or 'conformity'
betweenmoral
(convenientia)
valuesand man'srationalnature;foras man's natureis alwaysthe
ruleof morals.
same so reason'pronounces'a fixedand permanent
One maywonderhowfromtheseviewsLocke can arriveat a theory
ofmoralobligation.
To derivenaturallaw fromman'srationalnature,
and this,in its turn,fromGod's wisdomin creatingman suchthat
is to drawan ethicalconcertaindutiesfollowfromhis constitution
thesameobjecnon-ethical
premises.Therefore
clusionfromentirely
theoryoflaw.
tionapplieshereas in connexionwiththe'voluntarist'
To put the pointdifferently
one mightsay thatreasoncan perhaps
declarewhattypeof actionis in accordancewithman's natureand
in somesensenecessary;but it does nottherebyprovea
is therefore
moralobligationto perform
the action.Grotius,Locke's contemporary,admittedthatnaturallaw,ifdefinedas a dictateofrightreason
only indicateswhetheror not an action is morallynecessary,and
beforehim Suarezhad pointedout thatin thiscapacityit wouldbe
ofthenatureofa directive
ruleratherthanofa law in thestrictsense,
a law havinga bindingforce.
But thisdifficulty,
Locke wouldargue,can be overcomeby establishinga close analogy betweenmoral knowledgeand mathemaif
exampleofa doubtful,
tics.The stephe proposesnowis a further
For
not illegitimate,
passagefromone kindof discourseto another.
fromassertionsabout moralruleshe passesto theassertionthatthe
validityoftheserulescan be proved,and evenshownto be necessary
in thesameway as a geometrical
demonstration.
Locke advanceshis new argumentin connexionwithhis notion
of a harmonybetweennaturallaw and man's rationalnature.Thus
fromthe
he says: 'In factit seemsto me to followjust as necessarily
natureofman that,ifhe is a man,he is boundto love and worship
to therationalnature,
God and also to fulfil
otherthingsappropriate
i.e. to observethe law of nature,as it followsfromthe natureof a
its threeanglesare equal to tworight
trianglethat,ifit is a triangle,
angles.' By analogy with mathematicalnecessityLocke here endeavoursto establishthe necessary
validityof moralrules.It is not
in thispassagehe thinksofmoral
altogether
clear,however,whether
truthsas self-evident
principlesor as deductionsfromself-evident
Fromanotherpassagewherehe wantsto makeclearthat
principles.
man'sdutiesnecessarily
followfromhis verynatureit mightappear
forhe comparestheway
thathe regardsmoraltruthsas self-evident;
in whichtheseare apprehended
to theway in whichmen,so longas

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JOHN

LOCKE

AND

NATURAL

LAW

theycan see and thesun shines,mustofnecessitycometo knowthe


betweencoloursand
ofday and nightand thedifferences
alternations
betweena curvedand a straightline.The pointhe seemsanxiousto
makein bothpassagesis that fromthe conceptof man's nature,if
suitablydefined,propositionsconcerningmoral obligationwould
or by therulesofdeductiveinference,
just
followeitheranalytically
we acceptsomeprocertaindefinitions,
granting
as in mathematics,
and othersas demonstrable.
positionsas self-evident
Here,in the settingof his earlydoctrineof naturallaw, we meet
thatmathewiththe firstexampleof Locke's celebratedcontention
areparallelin thattheybothcontainself-evident
maticsandmorality
Severalof his contempotruthsand are capable of demonstration.
him,
raries,e.g. Grotius,and also certainBritishmoralistsfollowing
view.
found
view
a
similar
this
attracheld
They
Clarke,
e.g. Samuel
on a legisit presentedan improvement
tivefortworeasons:firstly,
as
of the
because
lative ethicswhichtheyregarded unsatisfactory
view
it
the
of
the
demonelementofarbitrarinesscontains;secondly,
ofethicsseemedto themto allowmoralrulesto be regarded
strability
ofa superiorwilland at thesametimeas necessarily
as independent
valid, i.e. not merelydirectivebut binding.Whateveradvantages
Locke mayhave hopedto derivefromthisview,it raisesdifficulties
in theessays.
forhis argument
On theonehand,Locke
to be considered.
Therearetwoalternatives
as the startingmay have been temptedto acceptmoraldefinitions
deductionofethics;he did so, forinstance,
pointofa demonstrative
in hismaturework,theEssay (IV. III. i8), wherehe derivestheprothereis no injustice'from
positionthat 'wherethereis no property
of propertyas a rightto anythingand of
definitions
preliminary
withthe
injusticeas theviolationofthatright.Herehe is confronted
same problemas in the case of someonetryingto draw an ethical
conclusionfromnon-ethical
premises;forto deducean ethicalproshouldbe just as impossible.On the other
positionfromdefinitions
moraltruthsas the firstprinciples
hand,ifLocke acceptsself-evident
he has for
scienceofethicstheonlyjustification
ofhisdemonstrative
and mathethisis hisbeliefin theanalogybetweenmoralknowledge
It is farfromobvious,however,that
matics,or visionrespectively.
sucha parallelcan be accepted.AllthatLockehas shownis thatthere
and thatcertainempirical
in mathematics
are self-evident
principles
Withouta
propositionscan in some sense be called self-evident.
ofthetruthoftheanalogyon whichhe relieshe cannot
demonstration
moralproposiclaimto have indicatedthe existenceof self-evident
scienceof ethics.In
tions,or, forthat matter,of a demonstrative
fromthose of
fact,moralideas and judgmentsare very different
a
of
is
kind
thatdiffers
moral
and
necessity
obligation
mathematics,
In otherwords,
fromlogicalnecessityas it doesfromcausalnecessity.
c
33

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PHI LOSOPHY
any attemptto provethata moralruleis bindingis doomedto fail
ifit is consideredto be thesame as an attemptto provethat a geois valid.
metricaldemonstration
I concludethat,forthe reasonsI have given,Locke's theoryof
which
naturallaw is open to criticism;that becausethe difficulties
defence
besethis theoryare liableto be presentin any philosophical
ofthislaw as a law ofreason,no suchdefencecan eversucceed.To
say thisis not to denythatnaturallaw is acceptableas thebasis of
moral obligationif one regardsit as a premiseof thoughtwhich
justifiedby reason,i.e. as an articleoffaith,or an
cannotbe further
issuefromthatwhichI have
ideal.But thiswouldbe a verydifferent
a philosophical
discussedin thispaper,and becauseit is notprimarily
into
it
further.
It
shouldbe reto
I
do
not
go
propose
problem,
in
his
later
came to
that
Locke
years,
himself,
however,
membered,
of
mere
nature
as
a
his
thought,
of
a
law
of
premise
regardtheidea
in
and that he musthave perceivedcertaintheoreticaldifficulties
this notion,for he could neverbringhimselfto publishhis own
doctrinein the essays.
Here thenis a summaryofwhatI have triedto say in thispaper.
First I outlinedthe developmentof the idea of naturallaw from
antiquityto moderntimes.ThenI gavea briefaccountofwhatLocke
and showedthat
saysaboutnaturallaw in his TreatiseofGovernment
forhispoliticaland
importance
as a rationallaw it is offundamental
However,we findthemostdetailedaccountofhis
moralphilosophy.
discoveredessays,theworkofhis
doctrineofnaturallaw in recently
youth,and it is becausetherehe entersso fullyintothe particulars
of thislaw thatit is possibleforus to subjecthis theoryto a close
examinationand to pointout exactlywherethe weaknesseslie. We
arisesfroman ambiguityin the central
saw thatthe chiefdifficulty
notion,that of reason.I explainedthat this ambiguityis liable to
in anytheoryofnaturallaw to theextentthat
giveriseto confusions
an attemptto justifyrationallythe moral
such a theoryrepresents
wouldbe in the
law as a law ofreason.Sucha processofjustification
formofa logicaldeduction;but sincethemainterm,thatofreason,
senses,thereare bound to occur
would be employedin different
fromone kindof discourseto another.The
illegitimateinferences
in Locke's argumentare fromfactualstatementsconinferences
reason;thenceto statements
concerning
cerningreasonto definitions
about discoveriesmade by reason,fromwhichcertainethicalstateare derived;
thebindingforceofrationalprinciples
mentsconcerning
in theirturn,are thoughtto be like statements
in
thesestatements,
i.e. capableoflogicalproof,an analogywhichobscures
mathematics,
betweenmoraland logicalnecessity.
the distinction
is Locke'sJournalentryforI5 July,i678 (Bodleian
[The following
34

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JOHN

LOCKE

AND

NATURAL

LAW

MS. Locke f.3, pp. 20I-2), headed Lex naturae.The chronological


contextin whichit fallsis discussedin myeditionofLocke's essays
on naturallaw,pp. 66-7; themoraldoctrineofwhichit formsa part
is to my mindbest explainedby H. Sidgwickin his Outlinesofthe
Historyof Ethics,6th ed., 1946,pp. 175-8. I have modernizedthe
spellingand punctuationof the passage,publishedhereforthe first
time.
creatures
'God havinggivenman aboveother
ofthishabitable
partof
theuniverse
a knowledgeofhimselfwhichthe beastshave not,he is
thereby
underobligations,
whichthebeastsarenot,forknowingGod
to be a wiseagent;he cannotbutconcludethathe has thatknowledge
whichhe findsinhimself
and thosefaculties
abovetheothercreatures
the
givenhim forsome use and end. If therefore
he comprehends
relationbetweenfatherand son and findsit reasonablethathis son
whom he has begot (only in pursuanceof his pleasurewithout
ofhis son) and nourishedshouldobey,love, and reverence
thinking
to him,he cannotbut findit muchmorereasonhimand be grateful
able thathe and everyotherman shouldobeyand revere,love and
thanktheauthoroftheirbeingto whomtheyowe all thattheyare.
If he findsit reasonableto punishone of his childrenthat injures
another,he cannotbut expectthe same fromGod the Fatherof all
men,whenany one injuresanother;ifhe findsit reasonablethathis
childrenshouldassistand helpone anotherand expectsit fromthem
as theirduty,willhe notalso by thesamereasonconcludethatGod
expectsthesame ofall menone to another?If he findsthatGod has
made himand all othermenin a statewhereintheycannotsubsist
withoutsocietyand has giventhemjudgementto discernwhat is
that society,can he but concludethat he is
capable of preserving
obligedand thatGodrequireshimto followthoseruleswhichconduce
to thepreserving
ofsociety?']
University
ofDurham.

35

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