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John Locke: Natural Laws

John Locke lived from 1632 to 1704 and he was a British Philosopher. Most of his work is based on authoritarianism, whereby he advises people to reason in search of truth, instead of giving in to authorities’ opinions or engaging in superstition matters. As much as he wants us to reason, we must assert evidences to our reasoning. Cicero based his work of the primacy of the government’s laws as being of primary morals. The term he used for these standards is natural law. He argued that, the government has a right to protect human life as well as private property. However he advised people that, they have a right to rebel whenever the government is going against the agreed morals. He insisted that law and justice originated from God. These two historians have contradicting views but this article is going to support the opinion of John Locke because he is the founder of liberal political philosophy upon which the American Constitution and Political Systems of the western countries are based today. Locke was also a medical researcher and a successful government official who wrote on economics, trade and a revolutionist among others. These experiences gave Locke a wider perspective of natural law as compared to his partner Cicero (James 11).


Locke with other historians like Shaftsbury bought shares in the Royal African Company that was practicing slave trade for England and later sold these shares making some profit. He also had a share in the Banana Advertisement that was also practicing slave trade in the islands of Bahama. Given this and the various involvements in commercial ventures and the English colonial policies, Locke understood slave trade, slavery and the colonies. When he was doing his work on slavery, he was well equipped with knowledge on the nature of slave trade and the practices of Afro-American slavery during the years of 1670s. John Locke served as a captain in the parliamentary army at the period when English civil war took place. After the war, Locke won a scholarship to attend the prestigious Westminister school and later on moved to Oxford where he studied classics. After getting his Master’s Degree, Locke joined the faculty of rhetoric and teaching Greek and later on studied medicine (Ashcraft 34).

Locke talks of a state of nature comprising of equal, free and independent people. He further argues that, the government should respect the rights of its citizens, for example, in chapter two of the second treaty of government, he talks of free, equal and men at liberty, who can do whatever they wish in the state of nature but only to be bound by the law of nature. In other words, Locke is saying that, individuals have the obligation to respect the rights of their colleagues even if it means in the state of nature.

Locke’s biggest controversy is his teachings being seen as traditional natural laws and more especially when conveying secrets. He believes in the natural duty in the respect of others rights and not laws. In the first treatise of government, Locke says that, God is the source of origin of the natural law. Locke does recognize the importance of the government or states’ laws in managing peoples’ morality in the society; for example, the case of US Supreme Court that was Buck versus Bell, it teaches us that, the attack was not upon procedure but on the substantive law. The case of Buck and Bell shows clearly that, the state is very important in maintaining the welfare of the public. Instead of waiting to exercise degenerate offspring for crime, the society is delegated the obligation of preventing those whose behaviors are not fit in the society, from continuing the unacceptable practices. The law is believed to have done all it can after doing all that is needed to be done (U.S. Supreme Court 1).

Civil Rights

In Locke’s framework of resistance, he says that citizens have got right to resist the government in case it is going astray. This is because sometimes the state acts against the trust of its citizens hence violating their human rights. A social contract was signed and it was supposed to show the expected relationship between the government and the people. Individuals are asked in the contract to unite in various political societies through mutual consent, agreeing to obey the common rules and perform the duties corresponding so as to protect themselves from violence and other forms of harm (Ashcraft 42).


Studying Locke’s work on law and morality empowers one to get knowledge and understand liberalism which includes enshrining individual rights and at the same time exercise the right responsibility. This is done by people taking their duties seriously and respecting other people’s rights. Locke’s main idea was to make us understand the limits of human understanding of God, the self artifacts and other natural living things. We should understand that, natural law and rights come from man’s nature as well as the world. Due to our animalistic nature, we have the right to defend ourselves incase we are violated and to protect our property as well. The true law is believed to have been derived from this right and not from powers of states. Natural law is very much alive today and not an imagined thing that existed during Locke’s time which is three hundred years ago. This law constrains the arrogance of the government officials as it was the case of Libya in Africa this year (James 23).

Work Cited

Ashcraft, Richard. Revolutionary Politics and Locke's Two Treatises of Civil Government, Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986.

James, Wilson. Of the Law of Nature: in the Works of James Wilson, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1967.

U.S. Supreme Court. Buck v. Bell. 2 May 1927. 17 December. 2011. <>.