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  • Michael P. Zuckert


Jeremy Waldron's much noted book, God, Locke, and Equality, has put the topic of “God and Equality in Locke” at the center of many perhaps most, discussions of Locke these days. I am going to raise some critical objections to Waldron's interpretations, but all the more reason to begin by noting the very many things about this book that I admire.

First, he rejects the insistence by many of the most outspoken Locke scholars that a proper understanding of Locke—or any philosopher of the past—must be purely historical—that it must have nothing to do with us or our concerns, questions, or problems. Professor Waldron cuts through this claim as mere arbitrary assertion.

Second, many Locke scholars, often some of the same ones, insist that Locke's political writings must be understood in isolation from his philosophic writings, especially from his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke's editor, Peter Laslett, set the tone long ago when he pronounced judgment: “Locke did not write as a philosopher, applying to politics the implications of his views of reality as a whole.” Rather, according to Laslett, Locke appealed to or drew off of preexisting “modes of discourse.” This approach makes it very difficult to understand Locke as an integral personality, much less as a coherent author or as a thinker to be taken seriously. Waldron thus reopens the lines of communication between Locke's political and his philosophical writings and makes Locke a significant thinker, not just a corpse for the historians.



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1. Waldron, , God, Locke, and Equality (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002), pp. 5459.

2. Ibid., p. 66.

3. Locke, , Essay Concerning Human Understanding, 3.11.16.

4. Waldron, , God, Locke, and Equality, p. 72.

5. Ibid., p. 75.

6. Ibid., p. 79.

7. Ibid., p. 81.

8. Ibid., pp. 81–82 (emphasis added).

9. Sigmund, Paul E., “Locke's Religion and the (Mis)interpretation of his Political Thought,” Paper prepared for presentation at the American Political Science Association annual meeting, 09 2003, p. 3.

10. Ibid., p. 18.

11. Contra Waldron, , God, Locke, and Equality, pp. 192–93.

12. Locke, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, IV.18.7. It might be added in passing that Locke is quite clear that the human reason cannot prove immortality in any form. It will not do, as some readers of Locke would, to distinguish the resurrection of the body from immortality of the soul, for Locke denies the rational provability of the one as well as of the other. In IV.3.6, he denies that we can know that we have a soul without divine revelation. A fortiori, reason cannot tell us that we have an immortal soul. Much of course hinges on this claim, for Locke made a great deal of the need to prove immortality and future rewards and punishments as part of the preconditions for establishing a natural law. His denials of the rational availability of immortality and reward and punishment therefore has great implications for his moral philosophy. Also see Locke's, “Reply to the Second Letter of the Bishop of Stillinglfleet” (pp. 209210), where he explains the fourth edition's change of language introduced in IV.18.7. The new language was intended to make the point that all forms of knowledge of “the dead rising again” are unavailable to the unassisted human reason, not just the raising of “the bodies of men.” as Locke had it in the first three editions. Cf. Sigmund, , above, pp. 413–14.

13. See Waldron, , God, Locke, and Equality, p. 95n32.

14. The Workmanship argument is not entirely absent from Waldron's book, for he mentions it in passing (see, e.g., Waldron, , pp. 80–81.111–13, 162–64).

15. Locke, , Second Treatise, 54.

16. Also see Locke, , Essay Concerning Human Understanding, IV. 3.18.

17. Locke, , Essay Concerning Human Understanding, IV. 10.

18. Or perhaps it is more accurate to say Locke establishes God as the image of man? See Essay Concerning Human Understanding, IV. 10.5–6. Waldron takes up the general problem of the workmanship argument proving too much, and identifies this problem as the main reason for not putting much weight on it (Waldron, , God, Locke, and Equality, pp. 162–63). He does not follow up on the imago dei theme, however.

19. Waldron, , God, Locke, and Equality, p. 80.

20. Ibid., pp. 80–81. Also see pp. 111–13.

21. Ibid., p. 12.

22. Ibid., p. 215.

23. Ibid., p. 278.

24. Ibid., p. 105.

25. Locke, , Essay Concerning Human Understanding, II. 11.10.

26. Cf. Waldron, , God, Locke, and Equality, pp. 7677.

27. Zuckert, Michael, Natural Rights and the New Republicanism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994), chap. 9.

28. Zuckert, Michael, Launching Liberalism (Lawrence, KA: University Press of Kansas, 2002), Introduction.

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The Review of Politics
  • ISSN: 0034-6705
  • EISSN: 1748-6858
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