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Locke: Ethics

The major writings of John Locke (16321704) are among the most important texts for understanding some of the
central currents in epistemology, metaphysics, politics, religion, and pedagogy in the late 17 th and early 18th century in
Western Europe. His magnum opus, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) is the undeniable starting
point for the study of empiricism in the early modern period. Lockes best-known political text, Two Treatises of
Government (1693) criticizes the political system according to which kings rule by divine right (First Treatise) and lays
the foundation for modern liberalism (Second Treatise). His Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) argues that much civil
unrest is borne of the state trying to prevent the practice of different religions. In this text, Locke suggests that the
proper domain of government does not include deciding which religious path the people ought to take for salvationin
short, it is an argument for the separation of church and state. Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) is a very
influential text in early modern Europe that outlines the best way to rear children. It suggests that the virtue of a
person is directly related to the habits of body and the habits of mind instilled in them by their educators.
Although these texts enjoy a status of must-reads, Lockes views on ethics or moral philosophy have nowhere near
the same high status. The reason for this is, in large part, that Locke never wrote a text devoted to the topic. This
omission is surprising given that several of his friends entreated him to set down his thoughts about ethics. They saw
that the scattered remarks that Locke makes about morality here and there throughout his works were, at times, quite
provocative and in need of further development and defense. But, for reasons unknown to us, Locke never indulged his
friends with a more systematic moral philosophy. It is thus up to his readers to stitch together his fragmented remarks
about happiness, moral laws, freedom, and virtue in order to see what kind of moral philosophy is woven through the
texts and to determine whether it is a coherent position.
Table of Contents
1. Introduction
2. The Good
Pleasure and Pain
b. The Law of Nature
Reconciling the Law with Happiness
b. Power, Freedom, and Suspending Desire
Passive and Active Powers
The Will
b. Living the Moral Life
c. References and Further Reading
Primary Sources
Secondary Sources: Books
Secondary Sources: Articles
1. Introduction
While Locke did not write a treatise devoted to a discussion of ethics, there are strands of discussion of morality that
weave through many, if not most, of his works. One such strand is evident near the end of his An Essay Concerning
Human Understanding (hereafter: Essay) where he states that one of the most important aspects of improving our
knowledge is to recognize the kinds of things that we can truly know. With this recognition, he says, we are able to
finely-tune the focus of our enquiries for optimal results. And, he concludes, given the natural capacities of human
beings, Morality is the proper Science, and Business of Mankind in general because human beings are both
concerned and fitted to search out their Summum Bonum [highest good] (Essay, Book IV, chapter xii, section 11;
hereafter: Essay, IV.xii.11). This claim indicates that Locke takes the investigation of morality to be of utmost
importance and gives us good reason to think that Lockes analysis of the workings of human understanding in general
is intimately connected to discovering how the science proper to humankind is to be practiced. The content of the
knowledge of ethics includes information about what we, as rational and voluntary agents, ought to do in order to
obtain an end, in particular, the end of happiness. It is the science, Locke says, of using the powers that we have as
human beings in order to act in such a way that we obtain things that are good and useful for us. As he says: ethics is
the seeking out those Rules, and Measures of humane Actions, which lead to Happiness, and the Means to practice
them (Essay, IV.xxi.3). So, there are several elements in the landscape of Lockes ethics: happiness or the highest
good as the end of human action; the rules that govern human action; the powers that command human action; and
the ways and means by which the rules are practiced. While Locke lays out this conception of ethics in the Essay, not
all aspects of his definition are explored in detail in that text. So, in order to get the full picture of how he understands
each element of his description of ethics, we must often look to several different texts where they receive a fuller
treatment. This means that Locke himself does not explain how these elements fit together leaving his overarching
theory somewhat of a puzzle for future commentators to contemplate. But, by mining different texts in this way, we
can piece together the details of an ethical theory that, while not always obviously coherent, presents a depth and
complexity that, at minimum, confirms that this is a puzzle worth trying to solve.
2. The Good
a. Pleasure and Pain
The thread of moral discussion that weaves most consistently throughout the Essay is the subject of happiness. True
happiness, on Lockes account, is associated with the good, which in turn is associated with pleasure. Pleasure, in its
turn, is taken by Locke to be the sole motive for human action. This means that the moral theory that is most directly
endorsed in the Essay is hedonism.
On Lockes view, ideas come to us by two means: sensation and reflection. This view is the cornerstone of his
empiricism. According to this theory, there is no such thing as innate ideas or ideas that are inborn in the human mind.
All ideas come to us by experience. Locke describes sensation as the great source of all our ideas and as wholly

dependent on the contact between our sensory organs and the external world. The other source of ideas, reflection or
internal sense, is dependent on the minds reflecting on its own operations, in particular the satisfaction or
uneasiness arising from any thought (Essay, II.i.4). Whats more, Locke states that pleasure and pain are joined to
almost all of our ideas both of sensation and of reflection (Essay, II.vii.2). This means that our mental content is
organized, at least in one way, by ideas that are associated with pleasure and ideas that are associated with pain. That
our ideas are associated with pains and pleasures seems compatible with our phenomenal experience: the contact
between the sense organ of touch and a hot stove will result in an idea of the hot stove annexed by the idea of pain, or
the act of remembering a romantic first kiss brings with it the idea of pleasure. And, Locke adds, it makes sense to join
our ideas to the ideas of pleasure and pain because if our ideas were not joined with either pleasure of pain, we would
have no reason to prefer the doing of one action over another, or the consideration of one idea over another. If this
were our situation, we would have no reason to acteither physically or mentally (Essay, II.viii.3). That pleasure and
pain are given this motivational role in action entails that Locke endorses hedonism: the pursuit of pleasure and the
avoidance of pain are the sole motives for action.
Locke notes that among all the ideas that we receive by sensation and reflection, pleasure and pain are very
important. And, he notes that the things that we describe as evil are no more than the things that are annexed to the
idea of pain, and the things that we describe as good are no more than the things that are annexed to the idea of
pleasure. In other words, the presence of good or evil is nothing other than the way a particular idea relates to us
either pleasurably or painfully. This means that on Lockes view, good is just the category of things that tend to cause
or increase pleasure or decrease pain in us, and evil is just the category of things that tend to cause or increase pain
or decrease pleasure in us (Essay, II.xx.2). Now, we might think that, morally speaking, this way of defining good and
evil gets Locke into trouble. Consider the following scenario. Smith enjoys breaking her promises. In other words,
failing to honor her word brings her pleasure. According to the view just described, it seems that breaking promises, at
least for Smith, is a good. For, if good and evil are defined as nothing more than pleasure and pain, it seems that if
something gives Smith pleasure, it is impossible to deny that it is a good. This would be an unwelcome effect of
Lockes view, for it would indicate that his system leads directly to a kind of moral relativism. If promise breaking is
pleasurable for Smith and promise keeping is pleasurable for her friend Jones and pleasure is the sign of the good,
then it seems that the good is relative and there is no sense in which we can say that Jones is right about what is good
and Smith is wrong. Locke blocks this kind of consequence for his view by introducing a distinction between
happiness and true happiness. This indicates that while all things that bring us pleasure are linked to happiness,
there is also a category of pleasure-bringing things that are linked to true happiness. It is the pursuit of the members
of this special category of pleasurable things that is, for Locke, emblematic of the correct use of our intellectual
b. Happiness
Locke is very clearwe all constantly desire happiness. All of our actions, on his view, are oriented towards securing
happiness. Uneasiness, Lockes technical term for being in a state of pain and desirous of some absent good, is the
motive that moves us to act in the way that is expected to relieve the pain of desire and secure the state of happiness
(Essay, II.xxi.36). But, while Locke equates pleasure with good, he is careful to distinguish the happiness that is
acquired as a result of the satisfaction of any particular desire and the true happiness that is the result of the
satisfaction of a particular kind of desire. Drawing this distinction allows Locke to hold that the pursuit of a certain sets
of pleasures or goods is more worthy than the pursuit of others.
The pursuit of true happiness, according to Locke, is equated with the highest perfection of intellectual nature
(Essay, II.xxi.51). And, indeed, Locke takes our pursuit of this true happiness to be the thing to which the vast majority
of our efforts should be oriented. To do this, he says that we need to try to match our desires to the true instrinsick
good that is really within things. Notice here that Locke is implying that there is distinction to be drawn between the
true intrinsic good of a thing and, it seems, the good that we unreflectively take to be within a certain thing. The idea
here is that attentively considering a particular thing will allow us to see its true value as opposed to the superficial
value we assign to a thing based on our immediate reaction to it. We can think, for example, of a bitter tasting
medicine. A face-value assessment of the medicine will lead us to evaluate that the thing is to be avoided. However,
more information and contemplation of it will lead us to see that the true worth of the medicine is, in fact, high and so
it should be evaluated as a good to be pursued. And, Locke states, if we contemplate a thing long enough, and see
clearly the measure of its true worth; we can change our desire and uneasiness for it in proportion to that worth
(Essay, II.xxi.53). But how are we to understand Lockes suggestion that there is a true, intrinsic good in things? So far,
all he has said about the good is that it is tracked by pleasure. We begin to get an answer to this question when Locke
acknowledges the obvious fact that different people derive pleasure and pain from different things. While he reiterates
that happiness is no more than the possession of those things that give the most pleasure and the absence of those
things that cause the most pain, and that the objects in these two categories can vary widely among people, he adds
the following provocative statement:
If therefore Men in this Life only have hope; if in this Life they can only enjoy, 'tis not strange, nor unreasonable, that
they should seek their Happiness by avoiding all things, that disease them here, and by pursuing all that delight them;
wherein it will be no wonder to find variety and difference. For if there be no Prospect beyond the Grave, the inference
is certainly right,Let us eat and drink, let us enjoy what we delight in, for tomorrow we shall die [Isa, 22:13; I Cor.
15:32]. (Essay, II.xxi.55)
Here, Locke suggests that pursuing and avoiding the particular things that give us pleasure or pain would be a
perfectly acceptable way to live were there no prospect beyond the grave. It seems that what Locke means is that if
there were no judgment day, which is to say that if our actions were not ultimately judged by God, there would be no
reason to do otherwise than to blindly follow our pleasures and flee our pains. Now, given this suggestion, the
question, then, is how to distinguish between the things that are pleasurable but that will not help our case on
judgment day, and those that will. Locke provides a clue for how to do such a thing when he says that the will is
typically determined by those things that are judged to be good by the understanding. However, in many cases we use
wrong measures of good and evil and end by judging unworthy things to be good. He who makes such a mistake errs
because [t]he eternal Law and Nature of things must not be alterd to comply with his ill orderd choice ( Essay,
II.xxi.56). In other words, there is an ordered way to choose which things to pursuethe things that are in accordance

with the eternal law and nature of thingsand an ill-ordered way, in accordance with our own palates. This indicates
that Locke takes there to be a fixed law that determines which things are worthy of our pursuit, and which are not. This
means that Locke takes there to be an important distinction between the good, understood as all objects that are
connected to pleasure and the moral good, understood as objects connected to pleasure which are also in conformity
with a law. Though the distinctions between good and moral good, and between evil and moral evil are not discussed
in any great detail by Locke, he does states that moral good and evil is nothing other than the Conformity or
Disagreement of our voluntary Actions to some Law. Locke states punishments and rewards are bestowed on us for
our following or failure to follow this law by the Will and Power of the Law-maker ( Essay, II.xxviii.5). So, Locke affirms
that moral good and evil are closely tied to the observance or violation of some law, and that the lawmaker has the
power to reward or punish those who adhere to or stray from the law.

3. The Law of Nature

a. Existence
In the Essay, the concepts of laws and lawmakers do not receive much treatment beyond Lockes affirmation that God
has decreed laws and that there are rewards and punishments associated with the respect or violation of these laws
(Essay, I.iii.6; I.iii.12; II.xxi.70; II.xxviii.6). The two most important questions concerning the role of laws in a system of
ethics remain unanswered in theEssay: (1) how do we determine the content of the law? This is the epistemological
question. And (2) what kind of authority does the law have to obligate? This is the moral question. Locke spends much
time considering these questions in a series of nine essays written some thirty years before the Essay, which are
known under the collected title Essays on the Law of Nature (hereafter:Law).
The first essay in the series treats the question of whether there is a rule of morals, or law of nature given to us. The
answer is unequivocally yes (Law, Essay I, page 109; hereafter: Law, I: 109). The reason for this positive answer, in
short, is because God exists. Locke appeals to a kind of teleological argument to support the claim of Gods existence,
saying that given the organization of the universe, including the organized way in which animal and vegetable bodies
propagate, there must be a governing principle that is responsible for the patterns we see on earth. And, if we extend
this principle to the existence of human life, Locke claims that it is reasonable to believe that there is a pattern or a
law that governs behavior. This law is to be understood as moral good or virtue and, Locke states, it is the decree of
Gods will and is discernable by the light of nature. Because the law tells us what is and is not in conformity with
rational nature, it has the status of commanding or prohibiting certain behaviors (Law, I: 111; see also Essay,
IV.xix.16). Because all human beings possess, by nature, the faculty of reason, all human beings, at least in principle,
can discover the natural law.
Locke offers five reasons for thinking that such a natural law exists. He begins by noting that it is evident that there is
some disagreement among people about the content of the law. However, far from thinking that such disagreement
casts doubt on the existence of the law, he takes the presence of disagreement about the law as evidence that such a
true and objective law exists. Disagreements about the content of the law confirm that everyone is in agreement about
the fundamental character of the lawthat there are things that are by their nature good or evilbut just disagree
about how to interpret the law (Law, I: 115). The existence of the law is further reinforced by the fact that we often
pass judgment on our own actions, by way of our conscience, leading to feelings of guilt or pride. Because it is not
possible, according to Locke, to pronounce a judgment without the existence of a law, the act of conscience
demonstrates that such a natural law exists. Third, again appealing to a kind of teleological argument, Locke states
that we see that laws govern all manner of natural operations and that it makes sense that human beings would also
be governed by laws that are in accordance with their nature (Law, I: 117). Fourth, Locke states that without the
natural law, society would not be able to run the way that it does. He suggests that the force of civil law is grounded
on the natural law. In other words, without the natural law, positive law would have no moral authority. Elsewhere,
Locke underlines this point by saying that given that the law of nature is the eternal rule for all men, the rules made by
legislators must conform to this law (The Two Treatises of Government, Treatise II, section 135, hereafter: Government,
II.35). Finally, on Lockes view, there would be no virtue or vice, no reward or punishment, no guilt, if there were no
natural law (Law, I: 119). Without the natural law, there would be no bounds on human action. This means that we
would be motivated only to do what seems pleasurable and there would be no sense in which anyone could be
considered virtuous or vicious. The existence of the natural law, then, allows us to be sensitive to the fact that there
are certain pleasures that are more in line with what is objectively right. Indeed, Locke also gestures towards, but does
not elaborate on, this kind of thought in the Essay. He suggests that the studious man, who takes all his pleasures
from reading and learning will eventually be unable to ignore his desires for food and drink. Likewise, the Epicure,
whose only interest is in the sensory pleasures of food and drink, will eventually turn his attention to study when
shame or the desire to recommend himself to his Mistress will raise his uneasiness for knowledge (Essay, II.xxi.43).
So, Locke has given us five reasons to accept the existence of the law of nature that grounds virtuous and vicious
behavior. We turn now to how he thinks we come to know the content of the law.
b. Content
Locke suggests that there are two ways to determine the content of the law of nature: by the light of nature and by
sense experience.
Locke is careful to note that by light of nature he does not mean something like an inward light that is implanted
in man and like a compass constantly leads human beings towards virtue. Rather, this light is to be understood as a
kind of metaphor that indicates that truth can be attained by each of us individually by nothing more than the exercise
of reason and the intellectual faculties (Law, II: 123). Locke uses a comparison to precious metal mining to make this
point clear. He acknowledges that some might say that his explanation of the discovery of the content of the law by
the light of nature entails that everyone should always be in possession of the knowledge of this content. But, he

notes, this is to take the light of nature as something that is stamped on the hearts on human beings, which is a
mistake (see Law, III, 137-145). While the depths of the earth might contain veins of gold and silver, Locke says, this
does not mean that everyone living on the stretch of land above those veins is rich ( Law, II: 135). Work must be done
to dig out the precious metals in order to benefit from their value. Similarly, proper use must be made of the faculties
we have in order to benefit from the certainty provided by the light of nature. Locke notes that we can come to know
the law of nature, in a way, by tradition, which is to say by the testimony and instruction of other people. But it is a
mistake to follow the law for any reason other than that we recognize its universal binding force. This can only be done
by our own intellectual investigation (Law, II: 129).
But what, exactly, is the light of nature? Locke acknowledges that it is difficult to answer this questionit is not
something stamped on the heart or mind, nor is it something that is exclusively learned by tradition or testimony. The
only option left for describing it, then, is that it is something acquired or experienced by sense experience or
by reason. And, indeed, Locke suggests that when these two faculties, reason and sensation, work together, nothing
can remain obscure to the mind. Sensation provides the mind with ideas and reason guides the faculty of sensation
and arranges together the images of things derived from sense-perception, thence forming others [ideas] and
composing new ones (Law, IV: 147). Locke emphasizes that reason ought to be taken to mean the discursive faculty
of the mind, which advances from things known to thinks unknown, using as its foundation the data provided by
sense experience (Law, IV: 149).
When directly addressing the question of how the combination of reason and sense experience allow us to know the
content of the law of nature, Locke states that two important truths must be acknowledged because they are
presupposed in the knowledge of any and every law (Law, IV: 151). First, we must understand that there is a
lawmaker who decreed the law, and that the lawmaker is rightly obeyed as a superior power (a discussion of this point
is also found inGovernment, I.81). Second, we must understand that the lawmaker wishes those to whom the law is
decreed to follow the law. Let us take each of these in turn.
Sense experience allows us to know that a lawmaker exists. To demonstrate this, Locke appeals, once again, to a kind
of teleological argument: by our senses we come to know the objects external world and, importantly, the regularities
with which they move and change. We also see that we human beings are part of the movements and changes of the
external world. Reason, then, contemplates these regularities and orders of change and motion and naturally comes to
inquire about their origin. The conclusion of such an inquiry, states Locke, is that a powerful and wise creator exists.
This conclusion follows from two observations: (1) that beasts and inanimate things cannot be the cause of the
existence of human beings because they are clearly less perfect than human beings, and something less perfect
cannot bring more perfect things into existence, and 2) that we ourselves cannot be the cause of our own existence
because if we possessed the power to create ourselves, we would also have the power to give ourselves eternal life.
Because it is obviously the case that we do not have eternal life, Locke concludes that we cannot be the origin of our
own existence. So, Locke says, there must be a powerful agent, God, who is the origin of our existence ( Law, IV: 153).
The senses provide the data from the external world, and reason contemplates the data and concludes that a creator
of the observed objects and phenomena must exist. Once the existence of a creator is determined, Locke thinks that
we can also see that the creator has a just and inevitable command over us and at His pleasure can raise us up or
throw us down, and make us by the same commanding power happy or miserable (Law, IV: 155). This commanding
power, on Lockes view, indicates that we are necessarily subject to the decrees of Gods will. (A similar line of
discussion is found in Lockes The Reasonableness of Christianity, 14446.)
As for the second truth, that the lawmaker, God, wishes us to follow the laws decreed, Locke states that once we see
that there is a creator of all things and that an order obtains among them, we see that the creator is both powerful and
wise. It follows from these evident attributes that God would not create something without a purpose. Moreover, we
notice that our minds and bodies seem well equipped for action, which suggests, God intends man to do something.
And, the something that we are made to do, according to Locke, is the same purpose shared by all created things
the glorification of God (Law, IV: 157). In the case of rational beings, Locke states that given our nature, our function is
to use sense experience and reason in order to discover, contemplate, and praise Gods creation; to create a society
with other people and to work to maintain and preserve both oneself and the community. And this, in fact, is the
content of the law of natureto preserve ones own being and to work to maintain and preserve the beings of the
other people in our community. This injunction to preserve oneself and to preserve ones neighbors is also endorsed
and stressed throughout Lockes discussions of political power and freedom (see Government, I.86, 88, 120; II.6, 25,
c. Authority
Once we have knowledge of the content of the law of nature, we must determine from where it derives its authority. In
other words, we must ask why we are bound to follow the law once we are aware of its content. Locke begins this
discussion by reiterating that the law of nature is the care and preservation of oneself. Given this law, he states that
virtue should not be understood as a duty but rather the convenience of human beings. In this sense, the good is
nothing more than what is useful. Further, he adds, the observance of this law is not so much an obligation but rather
a privilege and an advantage, to which we are led by expediency (Law, VI: 181). This indicates that Locke thinks that
actions that are in conformity with the law are useful and practical. In other words, it is in our best interest to follow
the law. While this characterization of why we in factfollow the law is compelling, there is nevertheless still an inquiry
to be made into why we ought tofollow the law.
Locke begins his treatment of this question by stating that no one can oblige us to do anything unless the one who
obliges has some superior right and power over us. The obligation that is generated between such a superior power
and those who are subject to it results in two kinds of duties: (1) the duty to pay obedience to the command of the
superior power. Because our faculties are suited to discover the existence of the divine lawmaker, Locke takes it to be
impossible to avoid this discovery, barring some damage or impediment to our faculties. This duty is ultimately
grounded in Gods will as the force by which we were created (Law, VI: 183). (2) The duty to suffer punishment as a
result of the failure to honor the first dutyobedience. Now, it might seem odd that it would be necessary to postulate
that punishment results from the failure to respect a law the content of which is only that we must take care of

ourselves. In other words, how could anyone express so little interest in taking care of himself or herself that the fear
of punishment is needed to motivate the actions necessary for such care? It is worth quoting Lockes answer in full:
[A] liability to punishment, which arises from a failure to pay dutiful obedience, so that those who refuse to be led by
reason and to own that in the matter of morals and right conduct they are subject to a superior authority may
recognize that they are constrained by force and punishment to be submissive to that authority and feel the strength
of Him whose will they refuse to follow. And so the force of this obligation seems to be grounded in the authority of a
lawmaker, so that power compels those who cannot be moved by warnings. (Law, VI: 183)
So, even though the existence, content, and authority of the law of nature are known in virtue of the faculties
possessed by all rational creaturessense experience and reasonLocke recognizes that there are people who refuse
to be led by reason. Because these people do not see the binding force of the law by their faculties alone, they need
some other impetus to motivate their behavior. But, Locke thinks very ill of those who are in need of this other
impetus. He says the these features of the law of nature can be discovered by anyone who is diligent about directing
their mind to them, and can be concealed from no one unless he loves blindness and darkness and casts off nature in
order that he may avoid his duty (Law, VI: 189, see also Government, II.6).
d. Reconciling the Law with Happiness
The main lines of Lockes natural law theory are as follows: there is a moral law that is (1) discoverable by the
combined work of reason and sense experience, and (2) binding on human beings in virtue of being decreed by God.
Now, in 1 above, we saw that Locke thinks that all human beings are naturally oriented to the pursuit of happiness.
This is because we are motivated to pursue things if they promise pleasure and to avoid things if they promise pain. It
has seemed to many commentators that these two discussions of moral principles are in tension with each other. On
the view described in Law, Locke straightforwardly appeals to reason and our ability to understand the nature of Gods
attributes to ground our obligation to follow the law of nature. In other words, what is lawful ought to be followed
because God wills it and what is unlawful ought to be rejected because it is not willed by God. Because we can
straightforwardly see that God is the law-giver and that we are by nature subordinate to Him, we ought to follow the
law. By contrast, in the discussion of happiness and pleasure in the Essay, Locke explains that good and evil reduce to
what is pleasurable and what is painful. While he does also indicate that the special categories of good and evilmoral
good and moral evilare no more than the conformity or disagreement between our actions and a law, he
immediately adds that such conformity or disagreement is followed by rewards or punishments that flow from the
lawmakers will. From this discussion, then, it is difficult to see whether Locke holds that it is the reward and
punishment that binds human beings to act in accordance with the law, or if it is the fact that the law is willed by God.
One way to approach this problem is to suggest that Locke changed his mind. Because of the thirty-year gap
between Law and the Essay, we might be tempted to think that the more rationalist picture, where the law and its
authority are based on reason, was the young Lockes view when he wrote Law. This view, the story would go, was
replaced by Lockes more considered and mature view, hedonism. But this approach must be resisted because both
theories are present in early and late works. The role of pleasure and pain with respect to morality is present not only
in the Essay, but is invoked in Law (passage quoted at the end of 2c), and many other various minor essays written in
the years between Law and Essay (for example, Morality (c.167778) in Political Essays, 26769). Likewise, the role of
the authority of God's will is retained after Law, again evident in various minor essays (for example, Virtue B (1681)
in Political Essays, 287-88),Government II.6), Lockes correspondence (for example, to James Tyrrell, 4 August
1690,Correspondence, Vol.4, letter n.1309) and even in the Essay itself (II.xxviii.8). An answer to how we might
reconcile these two positions is suggested when we consider the texts where appeals to both theories are found sideby-side in certain passages.
In his essay Of Ethick in General (c. 168688) Locke affirms the hedonist view that happiness and misery consist only
in pleasure and pain, and that we all naturally seek happiness. But in the very next paragraph, he states that there is
an important difference between moral and natural good and evilthe pleasure and pain that are consequences of
virtuous and vicious behavior are grounded in the divine will. Locke notes that drinking to excess leads to pain in the
form of headache or nausea. This is an example of a natural evil. By contrast, transgressing a law would not have any
painful consequences if the law were not decreed by a superior lawmaker. He adds that it is impossible to motivate the
actions of rational agents without the promise of pain or pleasure (Of Ethick in General, 8). From these considerations,
Locke suggests that the proper foundation of morality, a foundation that will entail an obligation to moral principles,
needs two things. First, we need the proof of a law, which presupposes the existence of a lawmaker who is superior to
those to whom the law is decreed. The lawmaker has the right to ordain the law and the power to reward and punish.
Second, it must be shown that the content of the law is discoverable to humankind ( Of Ethick in General, 12). In this
text it seems that Locke suggests that both the force and authority of the divine decree and the promise of reward and
punishment are necessary for the proper foundation of an obligating moral law.
A similar line of argument is found in the Essay. There, Locke asserts that in order to judge moral success or failure, we
need a rule by which to measure and judge action. Further, each rule of this sort has an enforcement of Good and
Evil. This is because, according to Locke, where-ever we suppose a Law, suppose also some Reward or Punishment
annexed to that Law (Essay, II.xxviii.6). Locke states that some promise of pleasure or pain is necessary in order to
determine the will to pursue or avoid certain actions. Indeed, he puts the point even more strongly, saying that it
would be in vain for the intelligent being who decrees the rule of law to so decree without entailing reward or
punishment for the obedient or the unfaithful (see also Government, II.7). It seems, then, that reason discovers the
fact that a divine law exists and that it derives from the divine will and, as such, is binding. We might think, as Stephen
Darwall suggests in The British Moralists and the Internal Ought, that if reason is that which discovers our obligation to
the law, the role for reward and punishment is to motivate our obedience to the law. While this succeeds in making
room for both the rationalist and hedonist strains in Lockes view, some other texts seem to indicate that by reason
alone we ought to be motivated to follow moral laws.
One striking instance of this kind of suggestion is found in the third book of the Essay where Locke boldly states that
Morality is capable of Demonstration in the same way as mathematics (Essay, III.xi.16). He explains that once we
understand the existence and nature of God as a supreme being who is infinite in power, goodness, and wisdom and

on whom we depend, and our own nature as understanding, rational Beings, we should be able to see that these two
things together provide the foundation of both our duty and the appropriate rules of action. On Lockes view, with
focused attention the measures of right and wrong will become as clear to us as the propositions of mathematics
(Essay, IV.iii.18). He gives two examples of such certain moral principles to make the point: (1) Where there is no
Property, there is no Injustice and (2) No Government allows absolute Liberty. He explains that property implies a
right to something and injustice is the violation of a right to something. So, if we clearly see the intensional definition
of each term, we see that (1) is necessarily true. Similarly, government indicates the establishment of a society based
on certain rules, and absolute liberty is the freedom from any and all rules. Again, if we understand the definitions of
the two terms in the proposition, it becomes obvious that (2) is necessarily true. And, Locke states, following this logic,
1 and 2 are as certain as the proposition that a Triangle has three Angles equal to two right ones (Essay, IV.iii.18). If
moral principles have the same status as mathematical principles, it is difficult to see why we would need further
inducement to use these principles to guide our behavior. While there is no clear answer to this question, Locke does
provide a way to understand the role of reward and punishment in our obligation to moral principles despite the fact
that it seems that they ought to obligate by reason alone.
Early in the Essay, over the course of giving arguments against the existence of innate ideas, Locke addresses the
possibility of innate moral principles. He begins by saying that for any proposed moral rule human beings can, with
good reason, demand justification. This precludes the possibility of innate moral principles because, if they were
innate, they would be self-evident and thus would not be candidates for justification. Next, Locke notes that despite
the fact that there are no innate moral principles, there are certain principles that are undeniable, for example, that
men should keep their Compacts. However, when asked why people follow this rule, different answers are given. A
Hobbist will say that it is because the public requires it, and the Leviathan will punish those who disobey the law. A
Heathen philosopher will say that it is because following such a law is a virtue, which is the highest perfection for
human beings. But a Christian philosopher, the category to which Locke belongs, will say that it is because God, who
has the Power of eternal Life and Death, requires it of us (Essay, I.iii.5). Locke builds on this statement in the following
section when he notes that while the existence of God and the truth of our obedience to Him is made manifest by the
light of reason, it is possible that there are people who accept the truth of moral principles, and follow them, without
knowing or accepting the true ground of Morality; which can only be the Will and Law of God (Essay, I.iii.6). Here
Locke is suggesting that we can accept a true moral law as binding and follow it as such, but for the wrong reasons.
This means that while the Hobbist, the Heathen, and the Christian might all take the same law of keeping ones
compacts to be obligating, only the Christian does it for the right reasonthat Gods will requires our obedience to that
law. Indeed, Locke states that if we receive truths by revelation they too must be subject to reason, for to follow truths
based on revelation alone is insufficient (seeEssay, IV.xviii).
Now, to determine the role of pain and pleasure in this story, we turn to Lockes discussion of the role of pain and
pleasure in general. He says that God has joined pains and pleasures to our interaction with many things in our
environment in order to alert us to things that are harmful or helpful to the preservation of our bodies ( Essay, II.vii.4).
But, beyond this, Locke notes that there is another reason that God has joined pleasure and pain to almost all our
thoughts and sensations: so that we experience imperfections and dissatisfactions. He states that the kinds of
pleasures that we experience in connection to finite things are ephemeral and not representative of complete
happiness. This dissatisfaction coupled with the natural drive to obtain happiness opens the possibility of our being led
to seek our pleasure in God, where we anticipate a more stable and, perhaps, permanent happiness. Appreciating this
reason why pleasure and pain are annexed to most of our ideas will, according to Locke, lead the way to the ultimate
aim of the enquiry in human understandingthe knowledge and veneration of God (Essay, II.vii.56). So, Locke seems
to be suggesting here that pain and pleasure prompt us to find out about God, in whom complete and eternal
happiness is possible. This search, in turn, leads us to knowledge of God, which will include the knowledge that He
ought to be obeyed in virtue of His decrees alone. Pleasure and pain, reward and punishment, on this interpretation,
are the means by which we are led to know Gods nature, which, once known, motivates obedience to His laws. This
mechanism supports Lockes claim that real happiness is to be found in the perfection of our intellectual naturein
embarking on the search for knowledge of God, we embark on the intellectual journey that will lead to the kind of
knowledge that brings permanent pleasure. This at least suggests that the knowledge of God has the happy doubleeffect of leading to both more stable happiness and the understanding that God is to be obeyed in virtue of His divine
will alone.
But given that all human beings experience pain and pleasure, Locke needs to explain how it is that certain people are
virtuous, having followed the experience of dissatisfaction to arrive at the knowledge of God, and other people are
vicious, who seek pleasure and avoid pain for no reason other than their own hedonic sensations.
4. Power, Freedom, and Suspending Desire
a. Passive and Active Powers
In any discussion of ethics, it is important not only to determine what, exactly, counts as virtuous and vicious behavior,
but also the extent to which we are in control of our actions. This is important because we want to be able to
adequately connect behavior to agents in order to attribute praise or blame, reward or punishment to an agent, we
need to be able to see the way in which she is the causal source of her own actions. Locke addresses this issue in one
of the longest chapters of the EssayOf Power. In this chapter, Locke describes how he understands the nature of
power, the human will, freedom and its connection to happiness, and, finally, the reasons why many (or even most)
people do not exercise their freedom in the right kind of way and are unhappy as a result. It is worth noting here that
this chapter of the Essay underwent major revisions throughout the five editions of the Essay and in particular
between the first and second edition. The present discussion is based on the fourth edition of the Essay (but see the
References and Further Reading below for articles that discuss the relevance of the changes throughout all five
Locke states that we come to have the idea of power by observing the fact that things change over time. Finite
objects are changed as a result of interactions with other finite objects (for example fire melts gold) and we notice that
our own ideas change either as a result of external stimulus (for example the noise of a jackhammer interrupts the
contemplation of a logic problem) or as a result of our own desires (for example hunger interrupts the contemplation of
a logic problem). The idea of power always includes some kind of relation to action or change. The passive side of

power entails the ability to be changed and the active side of power entails the ability to make change. Our
observation of almost all sensible things furnishes us with the idea of passive power. This is because sensible things
appear to be in almost constant fluxthey are changed by their interaction with other sensible things, with heat, cold,
rain, and time. And, Locke adds, such observations give us no fewer instances of the idea of active power, for
whatever Change is observed, the Mind must collect a Power somewhere, able to make that Change (Essay, II.xxi.4).
However, when it comes to active powers, Locke states that the clearest and most distinct idea of active power comes
to us from the observation of the operations of our own minds. He elaborates by stating that there are two kinds of
activities with which we are familiar: thinking and motion. When we consider body in general, Locke states that it is
obvious that we receive no idea of thinking, which only comes from a contemplation of the operations of our own
minds. But neither does body provide the idea of the beginning of motion, only of the continuation or transfer of
motion. The idea of the beginning of motion, which is the idea associated with the active power of motion, only comes
to us when we reflect on what passes in our selves, where we find by Experience, that barely by willing it, barely by a
thought of the Mind, we can move the parts of our Bodies, which were before at rest (Essay, II.xxi.4). So, it seems, the
operation of our minds, in particular the connection between one kind of thought, willing, and a change in either the
content of our minds or the orientation of our bodies, provides us with the idea of an active power.
b. The Will
The power to stop, start, or continue an action of the mind or of the body is what Locke calls the will. When the power
of the will is exercised, a volition (or willing) occurs. Any action (or forbearance of action) that follows volition is
considered voluntary. The power of the will is coupled with the power of the understanding. This latter power is defined
as the power of perceiving ideas and their agreement or disagreement with one another. The understanding, then,
provides ideas to the mind and the will, depending on the content of these ideas, prefers certain courses of action to
others. Locke explains that the will directs action according to its preferenceand here we must understand
preference in the most general sense of inclination, partiality, or taste. In short, the will is attracted to actions that
promise the procurement of pleasing things and/or the distancing from displeasing things. The technical term that
Locke uses to describe that which determines the will is uneasiness. He elaborates, stating that the reason why any
action is continued is the present satisfaction in it and the reason why any action is taken to move to a new state is
dissatisfaction (Essay, II.xxi.29). Indeed, Locke affirms that uneasiness, at bottom, is really no more than desire, where
the mind is disturbed by a want of some absent good (Essay, II.xxi.31). So, any pain or discomfort of the mind or
body is a motive for the will to command a change of state so as to move from unease to ease. Locke notes that it is a
common fact of life that we often experience multiple uneasinesses at one time, all pressing on us and demanding
relief. But, he says, when we ask the question of what determines the will at any one moment, the answer is the most
pressing uneasiness (Essay, II.xxi.31). Imagine a situation where you are simultaneously experiencing discomfort as a
result of hunger and the anxiety of being under-prepared for tomorrows philosophy exam. On Lockes view the most
intense or the most pressing of these uneasinesses will determine your will to command the action that will relieve it.
This means that no matter how much you want to stay at the library to study, if hunger comes to be the more pressing
than the desire to pass the exam, hunger will determine the will to act, commanding the action that will result in the
procurement of food.
While Locke states that the most pressing uneasiness determines the will, he adds that it does so for the most part,
but not always. This is because he takes the mind to have the power to suspend the execution and satisfaction of
any of its desires (Essay, II.xxi.47). While a desire is suspended, Locke says, our mind, being temporarily freed from
the discomfort of the want for the thing desired, has the opportunity to consider the relative worth of that thing. The
idea here is that with appropriate deliberation about the value of the desired thing we will come to see which things
are really worth pursuing and which are better left alone. And, Locke states, the conclusion at which we arrive after
this intellectual endeavor of consideration and examination will indicate what, exactly, we take to be part of our
happiness. And, in turn, by a mechanism that Locke does not describe in any detail, our uneasiness and desire for that
thing will change to reflect whether we concluded that the thing does, indeed, play a role in our happiness or not
(Essay, II.xxi.56). The problem is that there is no clear explanation for how, exactly, the power to suspend works.
Despite this, Locke nowhere indicates that suspension is an action of the mind that is determined by anything other
than volition of the will. We know that Locke takes all acts of the will to be determined by uneasiness. So, suspending
our desires must be the result of uneasiness for something. Investigating how Locke understands human freedom and
judgment will allow us to see what, exactly, we are uneasy for when we are determined to suspend our desires.

c. Freedom
When the nature of the human will is under discussion, we often want to know the extent of this facultys freedom. The
reason why this question is important is because we want to see how autonomously the will can act. Typically, the
question takes the form of: is the will free? Locke unequivocally denies that the will is free, implying, in fact, that it is a
category mistake to ask the question at all. This is because, on his view, both the will and freedom are powers of
agents, and it is a mistake to think that one power (the will) can have as a property a second power (freedom) ( Essay,
II.xxi.20). Instead, Locke thinks that the right question to pose is whether the agent is free. He defines freedom in the
following way:
[T]he Idea of Liberty, is the Idea of a Power in any Agent to do or forbear any particular Action, according to the
determination or thought of the mind, whereby either of them is preferrd to the other; where either of them is not in
the Power of the Agent to be produced by him according to his Volition here he is not a Liberty, that Agent is
under Necessity. (Essay, II.xxi.8)
So, Locke considers that an agent is free in acting when her action is connected to her volition in the right kind of way.
That is, when her action (or forbearance of action) follows from her volition, she is free. And, her volition is determined
by the thought of the mind that indicates which action is preferred.

Notice here that Locke takes an agent to be free in acting when she acts according to her preferencethis means that
her actions are determined by her preference. This plainly shows that Locke does not endorse a kind of freedom of
indifference, according to which the will can choose to command an action other than the thing most preferred at a
given moment. This is the kind of freedom most often associated with indeterminism. Freedom, then, for Locke, is no
more than the ability to execute the action that is taken to result in the most pleasure at a given moment. The problem
with this way of defining freedom is that it seems unable to account for the kinds of actions we typically take to be
emblematic of virtuous or vicious behavior. This is because we tend to think that the power of freedom is a power that
allows us to avoid vicious actions, perhaps especially those that are pleasurable, in order to pursue a righteous path
instead. For instance, on the traditional Christian picture, when we wonder about why God would allow Adam to sin,
the response given is that Adam was created as a free being. While God could have created beings that, like automata,
unfailingly followed the good and the true, He saw that it was all things considered better to create beings that were
free to choose their own actions. This decision was made despite the fact that God foresaw the sinful use to which this
freedom would be put. This traditional view explains Adams sin in the following way: Adam knew that it was Gods
commandment that he was not to eat of the tree of knowledge. Adam also knew that following Gods commandment
was the right thing to do. So, in the moment where he was tempted to eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge, he knew
it was the wrong thing to do, but did it anyway. This is because, the story goes, and in that moment he was free to
decide whether to follow the commandment or to give in to temptation. Of his own free choice, Adam decided to follow
temptation. This means that in the moment of original sin, both following Gods commandment and eating the fruit
were live options for Adam, and he chose the fruit of his own agency.
Now, on Lockes system, a different explanation obtains. Given his definition of freedom, it is difficult, at least prima
facie, to see how Adam could be blamed for choosing the fruit over the commandment. For, according to Locke, an
agent acts freely when her actions are determined by her volitions. So, if Adams greatest uneasiness was for the fruit,
and the act of eating the fruit was the result of his will commanding such action based on his preference, then he
acted freely. But, on this understanding of freedom, it is difficult to see how, exactly, Adam can be morally blamed for
eating the fruit. The question now becomes: is Adam to be blamed for anticipating more pleasure from the
consumption of the fruit than from following Gods command? In other words, was it possible for Adam to alter the
intensity of his desire for the fruit? It seems that on Lockes view, the answer must be connected to one of the powers
he takes human beings to possessthe power to suspend desires. And, in certain passages of the Essay, Locke implies
that suspending desires and freedom are linked, suggesting that while agents are acting freely whenever their
volitions and actions are linked in the right kind of way, there is, perhaps, a proper use of the power to act freely.
d. Judgment
Locke asserts that the highest perfection of intellectual nature is the pursuit of true and solid happiness. He adds
that taking care not to mistake imaginary happiness for real happiness is the necessary foundation of our liberty.
And, he writes that the more closely we are focused on the pursuit of true happiness, which is our greatest good,
the less our wills are determined to command actions to pursue lesser goods that are not representative of the true
good (Essay, II.xxi.51). In other words, the more we are determined by true happiness, the more we will to suspend our
desires for lesser things. This suggests that Locke takes there to be a right way to use our power of freedom. Locke
indicates that there are instances where it is impossible to resist a particular desirewhen a violent passion strikes, for
instance. He also states, however, that aside from these kinds of violent passions, we are always able to suspend our
desire for any thing in order to give ourselves the time and the emotional distance from the thing desired in which to
consider the worth of thing relative to our general goal: true happiness. True happiness, or real bliss, on Lockes view,
is to be found in the pursuit of things that are true intrinsic goods, which promise exquisite and endless Happiness in
the next life (Essay, II.xxi.70). In other words, true good is something like the Beatific Vision.
Now, Locke admits that it is a common experience to be carried by our wills towards things that we know do not play a
role in our overall and true happiness. However, while he allows that the pursuit of things that promise pleasure, even
if only a temporary pleasure, represents the action of a free agent, he also says that it is possible for us to be at
Liberty in respect of willing when we choose a remote Good as an end to be pursued (Essay, II.xxi.56). The central
thing to note here is that Locke is drawing a distinction between immediate and remote goods. The difference between
these two kinds of goods is temporal. For instance, acting to obtain the pleasure of intoxication is to pursue an
immediate good while acting to obtain the pleasure of health is to pursue a remote good. So, we can suppose here
that Locke is suggesting that forgoing immediate goods and privileging remote goods is characteristic of the right
use of liberty (but see Rickless for an alternative interpretation). If this is so, it is certainly not a difficult suggestion to
accept. Indeed, it is fairly straightforwardly clear that many immediate pleasures do not, in the end, contribute to
overall and long-lasting happiness.
The question now, and it is a question that Locke himself poses, is How Men come often to prefer the worse to the
better; and to chase that, which, by their own Confession, has made them miserable (Essay, II.xxi.56). Locke gives
two answers. First, bad luck can account for people not pursuing their true happiness. For instance, someone who is
afflicted with an illness, injury, or tragedy is consumed by her pain and is thus unable to adequately focus on remote
pleasures. Quoting Lockes second answer Other uneasinesses arise from our desire of absent good; which desires
always bear proportion to, and depend on the judgment we make, and the relish we have of any absent good; in both
which we are apt to be variously misled, and that by our own fault (Essay, II.xxi.57).
Here Locke states that our own faulty judgment is to blame for our preferring the worse to the better. This is because,
on his view, the uneasiness we have for any given object is directly proportional to the judgments we make about the
merit of the things to which we are attracted. So, if we are most uneasy for immediate pleasures, it is our own fault
because we have judged these things to be best for us. In this way, Locke makes room in his system for
praiseworthiness and blameworthiness with respect to our desires: absent illness, injury, or tragedy, we ourselves are
responsible for endorsing, through judgment, our uneasinesses. He continues, stating that the major reason why we
often misjudge the value of things for our true happiness is that our current state fools us into thinking that we are, in
fact, truly happy. Because it is difficult for us to consider the state of true, eternal happiness, we tend to think that in
those moments when we enjoy pleasure and feel no uneasiness, we are truly happy. But such thoughts are mistaken
on his view. Indeed, as Locke says, the greatest reason why so few people are moved to pursue the greatest, remote
good is that most people are convinced that they can be truly happy without it.

The cause of our mistaken judgments is the fact that it is very difficult for us to compare present and immediate
pleasures and pains with future or remote pleasures and pains. In fact, Locke likens this difficulty to the trouble we
typically experience in correctly estimating the size of distant objects. When objects are close to us, it is easy to
determine their size. When they are far away, it is much more difficult. Likewise, he says, for pleasures and pains. He
notes that if every sip of alcohol were accompanied by headache and nausea, no one would ever drink. But, the
fallacy of a little difference in time provides the space for us to mistakenly judge that the alcohol contributes to our
true happiness (Essay, II.xxi.63). We experience this difficulty of judging remote pleasures and pains due to the weak
and narrow Constitution of our Minds (Essay, II.xxi.64). The condition of our minds makes it easy for us to think that
there could be no greater good than the relief of being unburdened of a present pain. In order to correct this problem
and convince a man to judge that his greatest good is to be found in a remote thing, Locke says that all we must do is
convince him that Virtue and Religion are necessary to his Happiness (Essay, II.xxi.60). Locke explains that a due
consideration will do it in most cases; and practice, application, and custom in most (Essay, II.xxi.69). The suggestion
is that contemplation and deliberation alone may be sufficient to correct our problem of considering all immediate
pleasures and pains to be greater than any future ones. And, if that does not work, practice and habit can also correct
this problem. By practice and exposure, we can, according to Locke, change the agreeableness or disagreeableness of
things. It seems, then, that the power to suspend desire must be the power to reject immediate pleasures in favor of
the pursuit of remote or future pleasures. However, it seems that in order to suspend in this way, we must already
have judged that these immediate pleasures are not representative of the true good. For, without this kind of prior
judgment, it seems that we would not be in a position to suspend in the way that is required. This is because absent
the prior judgment, there would be no reason for the uneasiness we felt for the perceived good to not determine the
will. The question to resolve now is how to get ourselves into a position where we are uneasy for the remote, true good
and can suspend our desires for immediate pleasures. In other words, we must determine how we can come to
seriously judge immediate pleasures to not have a part in our true happiness.
5. Living the Moral Life
In order to behave in a way that will lead us to the greatest and truest happiness, we must come to judge the remote
and future good, the unspeakable, infinite, and eternal joys of heaven to be our greatest and thus most
pleasurable good (Essay, II.xxi.3738). But, on Lockes view, our actions are always determined by the thing we are
most uneasy about at any given moment. So, it seems, we need to cultivate the uneasiness for the infinite joys of
heaven. But if, as Locke suggests, the human condition is such that our minds, in their weak and narrow states, judge
immediate pleasures to be representative of the greatest good, it is difficult to see how, exactly, we can circumvent
this weakened state in order to suspend our more terrestrial desires and thus have the space to correctly judge which
things will lead to our true happiness. While in the Essay Locke does not say as much as we might like on this topic,
elsewhere in his writings we can get a sense for how he might respond to this question.
In 1684, Locke was asked by his friend Edward Clarke, for advice about raising and educating his children. In 1693,
Lockes musings on this topic were published as Some Thoughts Concerning Education (hereafter: Education). This text
provides insight into the importance that Locke places on the connection between the pursuit of true happiness and
early childhood education in general. Locke begins his discussion by noting that happiness is crucially dependent on
the existence of both a sound mind and a sound body. He adds that it sometimes happens that by a great stroke of
luck, someone is born whose constitution is so strong that they do not need help from others to direct their minds
towards the things that will make them happy. But this is an extraordinarily rare occurrence. Indeed, Locke notes: I
think I may say, that, of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by
their education (Education, 1). It is the education we receive as young children, on Lockes view, that determines
how adept we are at targeting the right objects in order to secure our happiness. He observes that the minds of young
children are easily distracted by all kinds of sensory stimuli and notes that the first step to developing a mind that is
focused on the right kind of things is to ensure that the body is healthy. Indeed, the objective in physical health is to
get the body in the perfect state to be able to obey and carry out the minds commands. The more difficult part of this
equation is training the mind to be disposed to consent to nothing, but what may be suitable to the dignity and
excellency of a rational creature (Education, 31). And Locke goes further still, stating that the foundation of all virtue
is to be placed in the ability of a human being to deny himself his own desires, cross his own inclinations, and purely
follow what reason directs as best, though the appetite lean the other way (Education, 33). The way to do this, he
says, is to resist immediately present pleasures and pains and to wait to act until reason has determined the value of
the desirable things in ones environment.
Locke states that we must recognize the difference between natural wants and wants of fancy. The former are the
kinds of desires that must be obeyed and that no amount of reasoning will allow us to give up. The latter, however, are
created. Locke states that parents and teachers must ensure that children develop the habit of resisting any kind of
created fancy, thus keeping the mind free from desires for things that do not lead to true happiness ( Education, 107).
If parents and teachers are successful in blocking the development of wants of fancy, Locke thinks that the children
who benefit from this success will become adults who will be allowed greater liberty because they will be more
closely connected to the dictates of reason and not the dictates of passion (Education, 108). So, in order to live the
moral life and listen to reason over passions, it seems that we need to have had the benefit of conscientious caregivers in our infancy and youth (see alsoGovernment, II.63). This raises the difficulty of how to connect an individuals
moral successes or failures with the individual herself. For, if she had the bad moral luck of unthinking or careless
parents and teachers, it seems difficult to see how she could be blamed for failing to follow a virtuous path.
One way of approaching this difficulty is to recall that Locke takes the content of law of nature, the moral law decreed
by God, to be the preservation both of ourselves and of the other people in our communities in order to glorify God
(Law, IV). The dictate to help to preserve the other people in our community shifts some of the moral burden from the
individual onto the community. This means that it is every individuals responsibility to do all they can, all things
considered, to preserve themselves and to ensure, to the best of their ability, that the children in their communities
are raised to avoid developing wants of fancy. In this way, children will develop the habit of suspending their desires
for terrestrial pleasures and focusing their efforts on attaining the true happiness that results from acting to secure
remote goods.
6. References and Further Reading

a. Primary Sources
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Edited by Peter H. Nidditch. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1975.
This is the critical edition of Lockes Essay. The body of the text is based on the fourth edition of
the Essay and all the changes from the first edition through the fifth (1689, 1694, 1695, 1700, 1706) are indicated in
the footnotes. The text also includes a comprehensive forward by Nidditch. Note that Lockes orthography, grammar,
and style are often quite different from the way that academic English is written today. In the citations from this text
in particular, all emphases, capitalization, and odd spelling are original to Locke.
Essays on the Laws of Nature. Edited and translated by W. von Leyden. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954.
This edition includes both the original Latin and the English translation of the essays. It also includes
Lockes valedictory speech as censor of moral philosophy at Christ Church and some other shorter pieces of writing.
Von Leydens introduction provides a very detailed discussion of the sources of Lockes arguments in these essays,
the arguments themselves, and the relations these arguments bear to other of Lockes writings. It is worth noting
here that on von Leydens interpretation, it is not possible to render Lockes discussion of natural law consistent with
his endorsement of a hedonistic motivational system in later works.
Political Essays. Edited by Mark Goldie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
This collection includes major writings on politics and government, including Essays on the Laws of
Nature, Of Ethick in General, and An Essay on Toleration, in addition to many other minor essays.
The Correspondence of John Locke, in Eight Volumes. Edited by E.S. De Beer. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976
A complete database of Lockes correspondence including notes about his correspondents, notes about
events and proper names mentioned in letters, as well as signposts for what was going on in Lockes life at the time
he was writing. The first volume of the collection includes an exhaustive introduction to Lockes life, work, and
contacts in the academic and social world; an explanation of how Lockes letters were preserved; a discussion of
previous publications of Lockes correspondence and how they relate to this collection; and information about
transcription practices, including details about editorial grammar decision and dating of the letters.
The Works of John Locke, in Nine Volumes, 12th edition. London: Rivington, 1824.
This collection includes most of Lockes longer texts, some shorter texts and a selection of letters.
Among other things, the collection contains: Essay (vols.1 and 2), his correspondence with Stillingfleet (vol.3), Two
Treatises of Government (vol.4), Letters on Toleration (vol.5), The Reasonableness of Christianity (vol.6), notes on St.
Paul's Epistles (vol.7), Some Thoughts Concerning Education and A Discourse of Miracles (vol.8), and a selection of
letters (vol.9).
b. Secondary Sources: Books
Aaron, Richard I. John Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.
This is a comprehensive study of Lockes life and works and includes fifteen very nice pages on Lockes
moral philosophy. Importantly, Aaron concludes that Locke fails to provide his readers with a science of morals and,
in fact, that Lockes disparate comments about ethics and moral principles cannot be reconciled.
Colman, John. John Lockes Moral Philosophy. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1983.
In this study, Colman addresses the major themes and problems of Lockes moral theory including the
connection between law and obligation, and the connection between moral principles and demonstrability.
Darwall, Stephen. The British Moralists and the Internal 'Ought': 16401740. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1995.
This is a deep and broad study of moral philosophy from the mid 17th to the mid 18th century. Locke is
one among several central figures under discussion. The reader greatly benefits from Darwalls careful discussions of
the theoretical connections between Locke and his contemporaries and his influences on the topics of natural law,
autonomy, motivation, duty, and freedom.
Lolordo, Antonia. Lockes Moral Man. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.
In this study, Lolordo draws on different parts of the Essay in order to see Lockes theory of agency.
She argues in favor of the interpretation according to which there are two senses of freedom in Lockes view, one of
which is properly used to attain the goal proper to a moral agent. Of particular interest is her discussion that links
Lockes comments about personal identity to moral agency and her claim that, for Locke, metaphysics is
unnecessary for ethics.
Mabbot, J.D. John Locke. London: Macmillan Press, 1973.
This is a study of Lockes philosophical system that focuses on knowledge acquisition, logic and
language, ethics and theology, and political theory. In his discussion of ethics and theology, Mabbot traces Lockes
discussions of moral principles, their demonstrability, and their binding force through The Two Treatises of
Government, The Essays on the Laws of Nature, and An Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
Schouls, Peter A. Reasoned Freedom: John Locke and Enlightenment. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.
This is a defense of the view that Locke was a great influence on enlightenment thought, in particular
in the domains of reason and freedom. Schouls also points out what he takes to be
many inconsistencies across
and sometimes within Lockes texts.
Yaffe, Gideon. Liberty Worth the Name: Locke on Free Agency. New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2000.
This is a book-length study of Lockes view of human freedom. The content includes careful analysis of
the chapter 'Of Power' of the Essay in addition to comments about how this chapter is connected to Lockes
discussion of personal identity. Yaffe defends an interpretation according to which Lockes view contains two
definitions of freedom, only one of which is worth the namethe kind of freedom that allows the pursuit of true
c. Secondary Sources: Articles
Chappell, Vere. Locke on the Intellectual Basis of Sin. Journal of the History of Philosophy 32 (1994): 197207.
Chappell, Vere. Locke on the Liberty of the Will. In Lockes Philosophy: Content and Context. Edited by G.A.J.
Rogers, 10121. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Chappell, Vere. Power in Lockes Essay. In The Cambridge Companion to Lockes An Essay Concerning
Human Understanding. Edited by Lex Newman, 13056. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007.
In these articles, Chappell advances the interpretation that changes made in the fifth edition of
the Essay indicate that Locke changed his view about human freedom.
Darwall, Stephen. The Foundations of Morality, In The Cambridge Companion to Early Modern Philosophy.
Edited by Donald Rutherford, 22149.

This paper canvasses the main themes explored by and influences on early modern moral theories,
including Lockes.
Glauser, Richard. Thinking and Willing in Lockes Theory of Human Freedom, Dialogue 42 (2003): 695724.
Glauser argues that Lockes view remains consistent across the changes made in the various editions
of the Essay.
Magri, Tito. Locke, Suspension of Desire, and the Remote Good, British Journal for the History of Philosophy8
(2000): 5570.
Magri argues that Lockes view changes over the course of the different editions of the Essay, in
particular that he moves from having an internalist view of motivation to having an externalist view of
motivation. Magri casts doubt on the consistency of Lockes position.
Mathewson, Mark D. John Locke and the Problems of Moral Knowledge, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 87
(2006): 50926.
Mathewson argues that Lockes comments about the nature of moral ideas leads to moral subjectivity
and relativism.
Rickless, Samuel. Locke on Active Power, Freedom, and Moral Agency, Locke Studies 13 (2013): 3151.
Rickless, Samuel. Locke on the Freedom to Will. Locke Newsletter 31 (2000): 4368.
In these papers, Rickless argues that Locke holds one and only one definition of freedom: the ability to
act according to our volitions. According to Rickless, Locke holds the same definition of freedom as Hobbes. The
2013 paper is a direct argument against the interpretation advanced by Lolordo in Lockes Moral Man.
Schneewind, J.B. Lockes Moral Philosophy, The Cambridge Companion to Locke. Edited by Vere Chappell.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994.
Schneewind is one commentator who thinks that Lockes moral philosophy ends up in a contradiction
between the natural law view and hedonism.
Walsh, Julie. Locke and the Power to Suspend Desire, Locke Studies, 14 (2014).
Walsh argues that Lockes view remains consistent and coherent across the various editions of
the Essay and emphasizes the role played by suspension and judgment in attaining true happiness.

Author Information
Email: julie.walsh@wellesley.edu
U. S. A.


Source: Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy, A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource http://www.iep.utm.edu/locke-et/