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How far do we take John Locke's writings to heart? (life, liberty . . . happiness)

Aunt Spiker

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Of course - in debates it's common for someone to point out that the original phrase was 'life, liberty, and possessions" and that we changed it to 'pursuit of happiness' . . . but beyond that what do people *know* about Locks thoughts and sentiments in regard to these inalienable rights we so proudly embrace?

Not a lot, apparently.
I checked 'Two Treatises of Government" out of the library and started to read it. I'm quoting an online version here, though - for your perusal.

The section in which this famed paraphrase is gleamed is Chapter II (Of the State of Nature) - Section 6:

Sect. 6. But though this be a state of liberty, yet it is not a state of licence: though man in that state have an uncontroulable liberty to dispose of his person or possessions, yet he has not liberty to destroy himself, or so much as any creature in his possession, but where some nobler use than its bare preservation calls for it. The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions: for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent, and infinitely wise maker; all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business; they are his property, whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another's pleasure: and being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us, that may authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another's uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for our's. Every one, as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station wilfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he, as much as he can, to preserve the rest of mankind, and may not, unless it be to do justice on an offender, take away, or impair the life, or what tends to the preservation of the life, the liberty, health, limb, or goods of another.
Now - that all sound right, yes - he's defining our natural rights granted by nature and ensured by God - and that no man has the right to take it away.

What makes it interesting, if you'll notice - is 'health' is missing - not only from our paraphrased version which we cherish - but from every repeat of the 'whole actual phrase' that people give. (I found it interesting, anyway)

"life, health, liberty, or possessions"

After this section - skipping section 7 - is section 8 in all it's beauty.
I'm pointing this out because here is where he defines why and when someone has the *right* to overthrow *your rights*

Sect. 8. And thus, in the state of nature, one man comes by a power over another; but yet no absolute or arbitrary power, to use a criminal, when he has got him in his hands, according to the passionate heats, or boundless extravagancy of his own will; but only to retribute to him, so far as calm reason and conscience dictate, what is proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for reparation and restraint: for these two are the only reasons, why one man may lawfully do harm to another, which is that we call punishment. In transgressing the law of nature, the offender declares himself to live by another rule than that of reason and common equity, which is that measure God has set to the actions of men, for their mutual security; and so he becomes dangerous to mankind, the tye, which is to secure them from injury and violence, being slighted and broken by him. Which being a trespass against the whole species, and the peace and safety of it, provided for by the law of nature, every man upon this score, by the right he hath to preserve mankind in general, may restrain, or where it is necessary, destroy things noxious to them, and so may bring such evil on any one, who hath transgressed that law, as may make him repent the doing of it, and thereby deter him, and by his example others, from doing the like mischief. And in the case, and upon this ground, every man hath a right to punish the offender, and be executioner of the law of nature.
I'm pointing out section 8 because a lot of people seem to *love* to reference these rights and then somehow further it by stating that the death penalty, or prison-sentences and so on *curb* these rights (at the least) and thus we're hypocrites.

Are we hypocrites, though?
We merely borrowed a partial phrase and idea from him - we were inspired but we didn't really take on all of his beliefs.
 
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tacomancer

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Re: How far do we take John Locks writings to heart? (life, liberty . . . happiness)

My opinion is that they are generally good ideas but the world is far too complex to really follow them dogmatically.
 

soccerboy22

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Re: How far do we take John Locks writings to heart? (life, liberty . . . happiness)

We maybe hypocrites, but it would be silly of us to think that Locke was the only major influence to our Founding Fathers. Hell I think Thomas Hobbes can be found in places as well. Plus I agree with Mega's opinion on the matter. We take what Locke said to heart, but we don't have to follow it word for word.
 

Diogenes

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Re: How far do we take John Locks writings to heart? (life, liberty . . . happiness)

My opinion is that they are generally good ideas but the world is far too complex to really follow them dogmatically.
Agreed, but that is what makes the difference between philosophy and the law (i.e., the Constitution). Philosophy is subject to nuance and reinterpretation on the fly, whereas the law must be followed dogmatically; if it gets too far from changing social norms, then we change it. The sophisticated phrasing from Section 8 above,
but only to retribute to him, so far as calm reason and conscience dictate, what is proportionate to his transgression, which is so much as may serve for reparation and restraint:
is just an elaboration of Hammurabi's dictum which, although now decried as overly harsh, is still the first known demand that punishment should be proportional to the crime.
 

Yossarian

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Re: How far do we take John Locks writings to heart? (life, liberty . . . happiness)

It appears to me that in s 8 Locke is referring primarily to 'natural justice' within the 'state of nature', a hypothetical situation which is not the central thrust of his thesis.

To cut a long story short, the crux's of Locke's TTOG was to imagine a hypothetical 'state of nature', governed only by God's natural law, that formed the basis of a common desire of the people to band together into some 'civil society' and establish functioning statist machinery for the sole purpose of protecting 'life, liberty and property'. That is the purpose of the state of nature in Locke's writings.

Locke's attitude towards justice in such a civil society can be found in s 87:

Sec. 87. Man being born, as has been proved, with a title to perfect freedom, and an uncontrouled enjoyment of all the rights and privileges of the law of nature, equally with any other man, or number of men in the world, hath by nature a power, not only to preserve his property, that is, his life, liberty and estate, against the injuries and attempts of other men; but to judge of, and punish the breaches of that law in others, as he is persuaded the offence deserves, even with death itself, in crimes where the heinousness of the fact, in his opinion, requires it. But because no political society can be, nor subsist, without having in itself the power to preserve the property, and in order thereunto, punish the offences of all those of that society; there, and there only is political society, where every one of the members hath quitted this natural power, resigned it up into the hands of the community in all cases that exclude him not from appealing for protection to the law established by it. And thus all private judgment of every particular member being excluded, the community comes to be umpire, by settled standing rules, indifferent, and the same to all parties; and by men having authority from the community, for the execution of those rules, decides all the differences that may happen between any members of that society concerning any matter of right; and punishes those offences which any member hath committed against the society, with such penalties as the law has established: whereby it is easy to discern, who are, and who are not, in political society together. Those who are united into one body, and have a common established law and judicature to appeal to, with authority to decide controversies between them, and punish offenders, are in civil society one with another: but those who have no such common appeal, I mean on earth, are still in the state of nature, each being, where there is no other, judge for himself, and executioner; which is, as I have before shewed it, the perfect state of nature.
Do you agree with me that this is closer to the reality of modern political society, and therefore makes said society less 'hypocritical' as you put it?
 

Aunt Spiker

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Re: How far do we take John Locks writings to heart? (life, liberty . . . happiness)

I agree with you on that.
I don't consider our society to be hypocritical, though - I was interjecting people's argument in that direction as a focus for the debate.
 
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