Essays In Legal And Moral Philosophy

This brings us to the second major stumbling block: What Locke does provide us by way of moral theory in these works is diffuse, with the air of being what J. Schneewind has characterized as “brief, scattered and sometimes puzzling” (Schneewind 1994, 200).

This is not to suggest that Locke says nothing specific or concrete about morality.

Locke makes references, throughout his works, to morality and moral obligation.

However, two quite distinct positions on morality seem to emerge from Locke's works and it is this dichotomous aspect of Locke's view that has generated the greatest degree of controversy. In this work, we find Locke espousing a fairly traditional rationalistic natural law position, which consists broadly in the following three propositions: first, that moral rules are founded on divine, universal and absolute laws; second, that these divine moral laws are discernible by human reason; and third, that by dint of their divine authorship these rules are obligatory and rationally discernible as such.

His views on morality are a case in point” (Schneewind 1994, 199).

Schneewind argues that the two strands of Locke's moral theory are irreconcilable, and that this is a fact Locke must have realized.James Tyrell, one of those who attended that evening, is a source of enlightenment on this matter—he later recalled that the discussion concerned morality and revealed religion.But, Locke himself refers to the subjects they discussed that fateful evening as ‘very remote’ from the matters of the is certainly not intended as a work of moral philosophy; it is a work of epistemology, laying the foundations for knowledge.In recounting his original inclination to embark on the project, he recalls a discussion with “five or six friends”, at which they discoursed “on a Subject very remote from this” (Locke 1700, 7).According to Locke, the discussion eventually hit a standstill, at which point it was agreed that in order to settle the issue at hand it would first be necessary to, as Locke puts it, “examine our own Abilities, and see, what Objects our Understandings were, or were not fitted to deal with” (Locke 1700, 7).We have to conclude, then, that the is strongly motivated by an interest in establishing the groundwork for moral reasoning.However, while morality clearly has a position of the highest regard in his epistemological system, his promise of a demonstrable moral science is never realized here, or in later works.There are two main stumbling blocks to the study of Locke's moral philosophy.The first regards the singular lack of attention the subject receives in Locke's most important and influential published works; not only did Locke never publish a work devoted to moral philosophy, but he dedicates little space to its discussion in the works he did publish.The traditional moral concept of natural law arises in Locke's (1690) serving as a major plank in his argument regarding the basis for civil law and the protection of individual liberty, but he does not go into any detail regarding how we come to know natural law nor how we might be obligated, or even motivated, to obey it.In his ) Locke spends little time discussing morality, and what he does provide in the way of a moral epistemology seems underdeveloped, offering, at best, the suggestion of what a moral system might look like rather than a fully-realized positive moral position.


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