John Locke's conception of freedom
Kerstetter, William Edward
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The purpose of this dissertation is to examine John Locke's conception of freedom, as related to the self and to society. In Chapter I, freedom is defined as having both a personal and a social meaning and democracy is defined as representative government in which sovereignty resides in the people whose elected representatives express the people's wills in the laws of the land. Locke's life is reviewed, the procedure for gathering data and the structure of the dissertation are set forth, and the literature of the study is surveyed. In Chapter II, Locke's conception of the freedom of the self is examined. In a preliminary study of the problem of determinism (the theory that the total life of the self is explained by the principle of necessary causality) and freedomism (the general theory that the self is, in some manner and to an indefinite degree, independent of mechanistic causality, physical and mental, and free through a principle of its own nature) it is maintained that freedomism is the more adequate theory since (1) determinism lacks much that is required to demonstrate it as universally valid; (2) though relatively true, it depends on minds which transcend given atomic data to formulate a whole law; and (3) proof of it by a person, as proof of any claim, necessarily presupposes freedom as, otherwise, all conclusions would be merely effects of causes, neither true nor false; (4) freedomism is comprehensive in that, in addition, it is not only necessary to an adequate interpretation of morality, of human control of nature and society, of idealism and theistic religion, but admits and coherently includes the fact of determinism or, at least, of a high degree of uniformity and predictability in certain realms. As free spirit then, man is superior to nature, which may be necessitated; as spirit, he may freely surrender to reason or ignore it, do what he ought to do or what he desires to do, is morally responsible, is a person, not a process. On subsequent examination, Locke's conception of freedom as the power to perform what one wills is held to be only incidental to the real problem of the freedom of the self. His theory that desire or uneasiness, naturally given, naturally determines volition is criticized as (1) minimizing man's rational and spiritual nature; (2) excluding freedom of thought and choice; (3) mailing ought and should meaningless; (4) destroying moral responsibility and grounds for praise and blame; (5) making God responsible for all men's acts including their evil ones; (6) destroying the distinction between good and evil; and (7) failing to see that ideas frequently determine desires. His theory of deliberation, connected, as it is, with his hedonistic determinism, is first criticized as untenable because (1) if all volitions are necessitated, one cannot be free to think since thought requires volition and (2) because in failing unequivocally to affirm the self's nature as spirit, Locke excludes the only theory which provides an adequate basis for man's partial independence of necessity. But even if one allowed that Locke's theory of deliberation provides real freedom for the self, his theory would still be criticized because (1) his relativistic theory of good and evil excludes man's escape from the necessity of pursuing his own happiness only; (2) it allows only mercenary morality and religion; (3) subordinates reason to desire; and (4) contradicts the clearly experienced facts of man's unnecessitated devotion to ideals and other persons. In the concluding section of the chapter, Locke's view as a whole is considered. It is criticized, negatively, because (1) his incoherent hedonistic theory is inconsistent with his objective altruism; (2) his several basic conceptions of freedom are left unrelated; (3) he admits that the principle of necessity is not necessary knowledge; (4) his psychology of motivation is inadequate; (5) adequate grounds for moral judgments are destroyed; (6) as a consequence of a narrowly empiricistic interest in what men can know, his theory fails to consider sufficiently how and why men can know; (7) and his determinism leads to an infinite regress. Yet, however inconsistently, he also supports a theory of freedom in his assertion of (1) a real distinction between good and evil; (2) an enlightened pursuit of happiness; (3) moral responsibility for avoidable ignorance and inadvertency, for thinking, and for choosing; and (4) five explicit freedoraistic statements. In conclusion, the influence of Locke's view of the self's freedom is noted. Chapter III begins with a preliminary synopsis of Locke's social thought, in the light of which the fundamental relation between his view of man and his theory of society is set forth. Locke's social theory, which combines self-interest and true altruism, transcends the Essay's hedonistic, deterministic view of man in that it supposes men to be not means to my happiness but ends in themselves and advocates an objectivity of thought and action which rises above mere self-interest. Not his philosophical analysis of man in the Essay, then, but his acceptance of the Christian faith, leads Locke to affirm, in his political writings, freedom of the will, a so-called law of nature or reason which is, more truly, the command of Christ to seek the preservation and well-being of all mankind, that a human soul is of greater worth than the whole world, and that loyalty to God and conscience takes precedence over obedience to the state. His social thought is further founded firmly upon religion since no atheists, because their oaths are thereby worthless, are to be tolerated by the state. Clearly, Locke's full conception of man and his social freedom are, in good measure, rooted in religion. Locke's theory of social contract is discounted as an interpretation of history in favor of theories of organicism, utility, and man's lack of reflectiveness; but as implying the ethical-political principles of consent, popular sovereignty, majority rule, and respect for personality, it is deemed basic in the defense of man's social freedom. Locke's form of government—-his means of securing the ends of government (the preservation of liberty, justice, the public good, private property), especially his balancing of powers between legislative and executive-—is a sound safeguard of freedom, though it was more perfectly developed (with a more prominent place given to the judiciary) by the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America. Another sound emphasis of Locke affirms the authority of the laws rather than the prince's will. His teaching that force is essential to government rule and that enslaved peoples may rightfully use it to throw off tyranny is clearly sound; but Locke fails to note that war may conceivably be removed from society only with the passing of rampant economic competition, the creation of a world political federation, and the dissolution of nationalistic armies. Constructive though it was, Locke's view of tolerance is criticized because its intolerance of opinions contrary to government, of atheists, and of the intolerant, does, itself, exclude tolerance and undermines free expression and free government. Locke is right in affirming that, under popular government, lawbreakers must be penalized even if they break the law for conscience' sake. But his theory is criticized because it fails to give sufficient consideration to the wills of minorities though it does rightfully presuppose possibilities of reason and moral discipline in man. The majority-minority problem can be solved only through intelligence and moral discipline which renders possible majority-minority co-operation, as well as rivalry, in the interest of all people. His view is at its best in its separation of church and state. Contrary to Locke, it is held that even conditional slavery is untenable. It is finally argued that Lockers theory of unlimited private ownership of property is not today compatible with the social freedom and well-being of man. This is held because the accumulation of vast wealth frequently means economic exploitation of the masses and their impoverishment, and leads to wars which take away both wealth and lives. In a necessarily organic world, a democratically planned and controlled economy together with a political federation of nations is indispensable to securing and safeguarding the best possible social freedom of men. It is pointed out, however, that the principles from which Locke derives his capitalism contain the germ of just such a society; some of these principles are: the earth was given by God to all mankind in common; labor accounts for almost all the value of things; ownership of private property beyond capacity to use is justified only on the basis of common consent or majority rule and, by inference, can be denied on the same basis; the unalterable and supreme object of society is the public good. To these may be added further conclusions, namely, that Locke, with his emphasis on individuals, failed (in contrast with Rousseau, for example) sufficiently to stress the organic aspect of political life and failed to affirm explicitly the modem idea that not only permanence but also development are characteristics of sound social organization. His social theory, nevertheless, as contrasted in method with those of the French theorists, had the advantage of rooting in the empirical data of actual political life and practical affairs in England and, whatever its inadequacies in detail or application, clarified for posterity certain fundamental and enduring political principles apart from which mankind's freedom can never be secure. Locke's social theories had highly important and varied effects on the French and American revolutions.
This item was digitized by the Internet Archive. Thesis (Ph.D.)--Boston University