Locke and the Problem of Slavery

Teaching Philosophy 26 (3):261-282 (2003)
Abstract
In John Locke’s “Two Treatises of Government”, Locke defends a doctrine of universal rights along with a principle of liberty that rejects hereditary chattel slavery. While rejecting the practice of slavery at a theoretical level, Locke was nevertheless involved in ventures that show a commitment to the practice of slavery, e.g. his role in writing the “Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina”, a document sanctioning African slavery in Carolina. In contrast to recent interpreters who claim to reconcile Locke’s stance on universal rights with his commitment to slavery, this paper argues that Locke’s view on slavery was, in fact, incongruous with his practical commitments outside of philosophy. While such a view raises a number of pedagogical problems, this paper argues that these can be attended to by giving greater attention to Locke’s view about the guidance that philosophy offers daily life
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