Locke’s Second Treatise on Government

Sections 1-15; 84-89; 95-99; 123-131 from John Locke’s Second Treatise on Government, for ‘USP3509 Law and Violence’.

I think the overarching question of today’s class was, ‘What is a right?’ One useful leading question was about why ‘might is right’ seems intuitively wrong (although this also had the side-effect of leading to silly refractions around the sense and semantics of ‘right’). The most intuitive bases seemed to be equality and liberty affirming the effectiveness of reciprocity as a social policy, but this view presumes the necessity or value of the social. As we persisted with the question of why the power of ‘might is right’ seems to be something we prefer to distinguish from the right to use power, the notion of a right being something ‘deserved’ rather than something due to chance or luck, like a native capacity for strength or intelligence, came up.

The final thought I had was that if qualities granting power don’t seem to cut it, then we are either going to be looking for a quality of qualities, like hard work, or we’re going to be looking for things like needs and wants. Someone mentioned earlier in the class that perhaps a reason why power seems inadequate as a moral basis is that power shifts, so perhaps a quality of qualities would be the quality of enduring.


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