The Academy: session abstract and readings

Philosophy, Lecture 2: Locke’s Two Treatises of Government

Dr Hannah Dawson

Locke is one of England’s greatest political thinkers, and the influence of his ideas reaches across the world. He is often heralded as the father of our liberal selves. Human beings are naturally equal and free, he says. Political power comes from the people, and is entrusted to the government on the condition that the government protects them. He is also a radical: if the government breaks the trust that the people have placed in it, then the people have the right of violent revolution. He is a complicated figure, who can appeal to both the left and the right. He can be read as a libertarian, who declares that the sole purpose of government is to protect property. But he also has strong things to say about our duties to others.

The lecture will lay out these fundamental tenets of his political philosophy, while insisting that one must be careful of reading back onto his text our 21st century ideologies. He had his own battles to fight – against tyranny and religious persecution, and can only be properly understood when read in the Christian, patriarchal, and monarchical contexts of his day.
You may like to think about the following questions:
1. Why do human beings need government according to Locke?
2. What are the limits of political obligation?


See the Academy 2015 readings page for attendees.

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