An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent, and End of Civil Government

John Locke

I was only assigned portions of this essay for my Social and Political Philosophy class, but I decided to read it all because I felt like I was always only reading sections of Locke and so didn’t have a good grasp of Locke’s full arguments. I now understand why we budding philosophers and political scientists are only ever given snippets. Locke’s philosophy is founded in nothing. While he appeals to Reason, unnecessarily capitalized, he makes no attempt to back up his assertions with analytical arguments. Instead, he suggests that any man who disagrees with him simply does not understand Reason itself (which sounds a lot like an ad hominem, but who needs logic, right?)

A few vague appeals are made to theology, which, though questionable for any non-Christians and anyone with a different biblical interpretation, could serve as at least some sort of basis for the sweeping declarations of rights that Locke makes. However, these appeals are few and far between and, again, not analytically assessed at all. Locke’s essay reads like he was spit-balling reasons for some theories he wanted to be true.

For my entire philosophical career I’ve been assuming that Locke was some sort of philosophical godsend; after all, we study him all the time. Now, I’m genuinely confused why we consider his work so important. I can see this as an important historical document, but fundamentally this is just a bunch of cool sounding words capitalized in between bursts of Latin and references to the unfounded claims of previous philosophers. I don’t see how these theories could have a place in modern philosophical beliefs at all.