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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