History of the Human Sciences 20 (3):1-20 (2007)

Scholarly discussion has treated the account of the state of nature which Locke presents in his Second Treatise as neither an hypothesis nor a description but rather as a fiction. John Dunn, for example, claims that it is a `theoretical analysis of the fundamental relations of right and duty which obtain between human beings, relations which are logically prior to the particular historical situations in which all actual human beings always in fact find themselves'. Here Dunn presents a misleading account of Locke's argument, presumably, as the title of his paper suggests, in order to mount an argument of his own about the `political relevance' of Locke's work to a time when no one takes seriously the early modern idea of the state of nature. However, this article also has a more serious concern. I argue that the representation of the state of nature as a merely imaginary, `theoretical analysis' of social relations obscures the significance of the early modern idea of a state of nature, not only for the work of Locke and his near contemporaries, but also, more importantly, for the broader development of western social and political thought. The idea of an original condition of freedom and equality played a central role in Locke's argument, serving as a means both to undermine the view that humans were born into a natural condition of subjection to the rule of others and to justify European expropriation of land in the Americas. It also represented one end of a developmental continuum, running from the original, most primitive, condition of humanity through to the societies of contemporary western Europe, which was thought to encompass all sections of humanity. While the idea of an original asocial condition on which this continuum was based was later brought into question, a closely related developmental framework nevertheless informed later movements in history and the social sciences. After being abandoned in its original form, this category was finally revived in 20th-century political theory, this time precisely in the form that Dunn mistakenly ascribes to Locke. The article concludes by speculating on the relationship between these normative and empirical perspectives on the state of nature
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DOI 10.1177/0952695107079331
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References found in this work BETA

Two Treatises of Government.John Locke - 1988 - Cambridge University Press.
Political Liberalism.J. Rawls - 1995 - Tijdschrift Voor Filosofie 57 (3):596-598.
Anarchy, State, and Utopia.Robert Nozick - 1974 - Philosophy 52 (199):102-105.

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Value and Growth: Rethinking Basic Concepts in Lockean Liberalism.Jennifer Leigh Bailey & May Thorseth - forthcoming - Etikk I Praksis - Nordic Journal of Applied Ethics.

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