Locke criticizes, Sir Robert Filmer, a proponent of divine right of kings, for not defining terms clearly and building an edifice of political theoryLocke criticizes, Sir Robert Filmer, a proponent of divine right of kings, for not defining terms clearly and building an edifice of political theory on a dubious foundation. I find it ironic that he makes the same mistake, and consequently, “there was never so much glib nonsense put together in well-sounding English”.
Objections from Philosophy
Locke's political philosophy is based on some a priori notions of good, namely, life, equality and freedom -- it is not a blank slate. He asserts the natural right of men provided by "the law of nature". But, nowhere does he give a definition of right, what “right” is, how the concept of right can be constructed from simpler concepts, and how it relates to other concepts, such as obligation and freedom. Despite claims to the contrary, these notions are not “self-evident" at all, neither to sense nor to reason.
Being and right are two different categories. From the fact that one is a human being, it doesn't follow that he has the right to be a human being, as opposed to an amoeba; Desire and right are also two different categories. One might desire and choose a high standard of living by joining a state that provides it, but it does’t follow that he has the right to a high standard of living.
Locke's notion of property is also full of non sequiturs. A human being has de facto use of the creatures and other things for his subsistence, it doesn't follow that he therefore has ownership of those same creatures and things. Ownership and usage are two different realities. Without ownership, a human being has no right to destroy other creatures at will.
If, as Locke argues, a person can claim something as his private property if he labours for its acquisition and formation, an argument can be made that a citizen is a property of the State, because the State contributes a great deal to his coming into existence, his education and formation as a human being. The same logic would prove that children are the property of their parents.
Objections from Politics
Firstly, government by the consent of the governed is a contradiction in terms.
The government envisioned by Locke is essentially an extension of the individual. The purpose of the government must be in line with that of the individual, viz. to protect his life and property. The government is legitimate only when it represents and executes the collective will of the people, which is the will of the individual writ large. Hence "the government of the people, by the people and for the people."
However, the government qua government must have absolute authority independent of the consent of the governed. Locke acknowledges that government is the ultimate arbiter of conflicts and disagreements among its people, for the wills of the people are seldom unanimous. By joining the state, the individual implicitly consents to relinquish control, to submit to the authority of the government, even when it acts against his person, property and will. In other words, the individual must give consent before he is governed by an authority other than himself, but he has no say in how he is to be governed by said authority.
Secondly, are there laws which are independent of the will of the people, by which they are governed, and which they transgress at their own peril?
Plato, Cicero and other proponents of natural law would argue that the laws governing civil society are like the laws of nature, which are independent of the will of the people. The society can only thrive if the people abide by those objective laws, just as a person can be healthy only if he heeds the laws of health sciences. Unless the people are willing and able to exercise self-control according to law and reason, the will of the people would be no different from the will of a tyrant. This is in fact part of Plato's original conception of social contract in Crito. It is important to Plato that everybody, including the guardians of the state, respect the law, and nobody is above the law.
What concerns me the most about Locke’s political theory is his exaltation of right to the neglect of obligation. Individuals or groups can put themselves above the law any time they perceive an offence against themselves, and have no shortage of “reasons” to justify their lawlessness. When everything is evaluated in terms of rights and not obligations, nobody is obligated to safeguard another’s right, consequently, no rights are safeguarded. If the state has no obligation to defend the right of its citizens, the rights of citizens become void; if the citizens have no obligation to abide by the laws of the commonwealth, the commonwealth disintegrates.
Conciseness has always seemed to me to be the most essential problem in art. To fit his destiny to a man so nicely as to leave no vacuum, to inclose h
Conciseness has always seemed to me to be the most essential problem in art. To fit his destiny to a man so nicely as to leave no vacuum, to inclose him as radiantly as the ember does the fly and yet the while preserve every detail of his being has, of all tasks, ever been the dearest to me. –Stefan Zweig
Stefan Zweig was an Austrian journalist and playwright, with a Ph.D. in philosophy. He was a pacifist and a friend of Romain Rolland. Emulating Rolland's style, Zweig wrote many biographies, including Balzac, Dickens, Dostoevsky, Nietzsche, Casanova, Stendhal, and Tolstoy. As a Jew, he was forced into exile after the rise of Nazis, and eventually committed suicide together with his wife in Brazil, far away from his homeland.
Through the story of an old art connoisseur, Zweig conveys a haunting sense of loss and nostalgia: Having fallen on hard times during the war, the old man's family was forced to sell his prized collection of prints and engravings to survive, despite his firm instructions not to sell them, for they were his life. Opportunistic dealers took advantage of their ignorance, and swindled them out of their most valuable possession. The old man had been blinded by illness, so his family concealed the loss from him by replacing the prints with blank sheets. Hence, the "invisible" collection--one that exists only in the old man's memory. The story reaches a climax when the grandson of an art dealer who had previously sold the old man some engravings came to visit him, with the intent to buy them back.
The story of the invisible collection is an allegory of the values of human life. The moral and spiritual values that are most important to us have been and are being eroded, by the incessant demands of our material lives, by our own lack of courage, integrity and discernment, by the vain opinions and influences of the fallen powers around us, little by little, day by day, such that our values eventually become either entirely invisible, or fossilized like fly in ember, no longer possessing vitality and energy of life, but only retaining abstract and lifeless forms, of interest to none but few academics....more
I was taught from a very young age that reality is what exists independently of human perception and knowledge, and we gain knowThe Meaning of Reality
I was taught from a very young age that reality is what exists independently of human perception and knowledge, and we gain knowledge of reality if and only if our ideas correspond to it. Fantasy is that which has no correspondence in reality, and exists only in the mind of an individual -- unless he communicates his fantasy, others have no way of knowing it.
George Berkeley, after whom University of California at Berkeley was named, shows a different way of interpreting reality. He reasons that ideas in the mind can only be derived from ideas in the mind, and not what exists independently of the mind. Therefore, our sense perceptions are signs, not of material substances existing outside the mind, instead, they are signs of ideas which subsist in the mind of God and are communicated to us directly and individually, without "nature" as an intermediary. The "laws of nature" are not attributes of material substances, but attributes of the inter-relations of the divine ideas communicated to us, like the rules of syntax and semantics in the study of language.
Descartes and Berkeley
Descartes is known for the dictum, "I think therefore I am". Berkeley's philosophy can be simplified as, "I think thereby the world exists". Both philosophers converge on one point: "I think therefore God is".
Like Descartes, Berkeley started from meditating within his own mind, and saw that the mind is different in nature from the object it perceives -- the former is active and immortal whereas the latter is not. They both inferred the existence of God, by acknowledging the limitation of their mind -- they can only effect and perceive a very small portion of reality, of which a far superior Mind must be the Author.
Unlike Descartes, Berkeley denies the reality of matter as an inert substrate with the potential to come into existence by participating in forms. To his mind, matter is inconceivable, and what is inconceivable is non-existent by definition. However, he can't explain the fact that others can conceive it. In addition, he admits that he doesn't perceive other minds from the senses, and must infer their existence indirectly by logic. An argument can be made that the existence of matter is inferred indirectly by logic apart from the senses. Personally I think Descartes is the more logically consistent of the two.