John Locke's Politics of Moral Consensus

Dissertation, Yale University (2002)

The aim this dissertation is to reintroduce the historically accurate thought of John Locke into the discourse of political theory in a way that shows his continuing relevance to politics in our own time. Locke confronted a social problem very similar to our own: the emergence of deep social divisions over ultimate belief, such that politics could no longer be based on the worldview of a single cultural group. But Locke rejects political neutralism, the solution many liberal theorists are pursuing today. Instead, he develops a method this dissertation calls "moral consensus." Locke builds a political system on rational moral principles that all cultural groups can accept. He shows that some religious moral laws are very certain while others are uncertain, and builds a political theory on the most certain laws. Opposing religious groups can thus be unified by a moral code composed of rationally certain moral laws they all agree on. ;Locke achieves moral consensus through epistemological, theological, and political analysis. This is a goal that runs throughout and unifies his major works. In epistemology, Locke shows each denomination that it cannot be sure it has possession of the one true set of religious beliefs. In theology, he argues that morality must be based on divine command, and that some divine commands are more certain than others. In politics, Locke argues that political community ought to be based on moral beliefs which are both very certain and very clearly within government's sphere of competence. The moral law that passes these tests is the command to preserve human life. Because it is confirmed by examination of divine handiwork in the construction of human nature, this law is shared by members of all faiths and can serve to unify a political community
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