Rousseau and Locke - Constitutional Rights Foundation
John Locke (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
Locke's theory of the state of nature will thus be tied closely to histheory of natural law, since the latter defines the rights of personsand their status as free and equal persons. The stronger the groundsfor accepting Locke's characterization of people as free, equal, andindependent, the more helpful the state of nature becomes as a devicefor representing people. Still, it is important to remember that noneof these interpretations claims that Locke's state of nature isonly a thought experiment, in the way Kant and Rawls arenormally thought to use the concept. Locke did not respond to theargument “where have there ever been people in such astate” by saying it did not matter since it was only a thoughtexperiment. Instead, he argued that there are and have been people inthe state of nature. (Two Treatises 2.14) It seems importantto him that at least some governments have actually been formed in theway he suggests. How much it matters whether they have been or notwill be discussed below under the topic of consent, since the centralquestion is whether a good government can be legitimate even if itdoes not have the actual consent of the people who live under it;hypothetical contract and actual contract theories will tend to answerthis question differently.
SparkNotes: Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government
At the beginning of An Essay Concerning Human UnderstandingLocke says that since his purpose is “to enquire into theOriginal, Certainty and Extant of human knowledge, together with thegrounds and degrees of Belief, Opinion and Assent” he is goingto begin with ideas—the materials out of which knowledge isconstructed. His first task is to “enquire into the Original ofthese Ideas…and the ways whereby the Understanding comes to befurnished with them” (I. 1. 3. p. 44). The role of Book I of theEssay is to make the case that being innate is not a way inwhich the understanding is furnished with principles and ideas. Locketreats innateness as an empirical hypothesis and argues that there isno good evidence to support it.