PHIL 41150: Political Philosophy
Dr. Robert Lane
Lecture Notes: Wednesday March 26, 2003

[3.4.] "The Ends of Political Society and Government."


[3.4.1.] Why We Leave the State of Nature.


Individuals agree to turn over their EPLN to the community (the first step in leaving the state of nature) in order to preserve their property. Here Locke is using the word "property" very broadly to include "lives, liberties and estates":


For all being kings as much as he, every man his equal, and the greater part no strict observers of equity and justice, the enjoyment of the property he has in this state is very unsafe, very unsecure. This makes him willing to quit this condition, which, however free, is full of fears and continual dangers: and it is not without reason, that he seeks out, and is willing to join in society with others, who are already united, or have a mind to unite, for the mutual preservation of their lives, liberties, and estates, which I call by the general name, property.

124. The great and chief end, therefore, of men's uniting into commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the preservation of their property. (IX:123-124, pp.483-4, bold added)


The "constitutional form" to which the community then turns over its collective EPLN will preserve individuals' property by providing:

1.       a law that is the agreed standard of right and wrong and that will serve as a standard for deciding disagreements

2.       an indifferent judge who will decide how differences are to be settled and do so according to law

3.       a power to enforce the rightful decisions of the judge. (IX:124-126, p.484)



[3.4.2.] Limits on Governmental Power.  After explaining why individuals surrender their own EPLN to the community, Locke reasons as follows:


1)      Individuals create civil society for their own good (to protect their property).

2)      Therefore, the power of that society "can never be supposed to extend farther, than the common good" (IX:131, p.485)

3)      Therefore, individuals cannot give binding consent to participate in an arrangement that does not improve their condition from what it would be in the state of nature. (You can give consent, but you're not obligating yourself to abide by the agreement.)

4)      Therefore, if a government acts so as to reduce the well-being of its constituents to below that of the state of nature, that government no longer has authorityN -- it will be as if it has declared war on its own citizens, or as if it has enslaved them. Those citizens can then rightfully revolt, depose the rulers, and make them pay reparations to those they've harmed.


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