. 3
( 9)


of substances, particularly the human species, and the legislative or political problems that may
result from this dif¬culty in his repeated discussion of changelings and monsters and how they
ought to be treated.”
Species and the Shape of Equality
this regard.° One would have thought it was the task of Locke™s theory
of natural law to resolve such disputes, and tell us whether the negro in
Book IV of the Essay ought to get the bene¬t of the Second Treatise doc-
trine of equality. If he is supposed to get the bene¬t of it, then the natural
law theory would provide a basis for criticizing and overthrowing any
conventions or nominal de¬nitions that treat him as sub-human. But it
turns out that the natural law theory uses terms (like “species”) that are
de¬ned by their conventional content. Far from affording a basis for the
evaluation of our conventions, Locke™s natural law premises seem to be
at the mercy of them.
I guess it might be thought that by rejecting essentialism, Locke
is undercutting those theories of human inequality that depend on
“essentializing” super¬cial characteristics like skin color or sex organs.
Kathy Squadrito says, for example, that Locke™s rejection of external
form as real essence means that he doesn™t really think there is an im-
portant difference between men and women.± But this is naive. Quite
apart from the question of whether sex-differences are more than skin
deep, the point about Locke™s anti-essentialism is that it leaves the ¬eld
wide open for anyone to draw the boundaries of humanity wherever he
likes. This looks benign against the background of some tacit assumption
that the default position is a set of very generous boundaries, and that it
is only essentialism “ i.e. the drawing of essentialist lines “ within those
boundaries that is to be discredited. But Locke™s skepticism really does
discredit the whole enterprise. It leaves him with no naturalistic basis
whatsoever for distinguishing those creatures one is allowed to hunt, ex-
ploit, enslave, or eat from those that must not be treated in any of these
ways. Maybe this should boost the morale of anti-speciesist defenders of
animal rights; but it is hardly calculated to cheer those who think there
is something special about humans and human equality.
In any case, even if essentialism is seen by some as a source of evil,
so that they are cheered by its demolition, we need to remember that

° E: .·.±: “[A] Child having framed the Idea of a Man, it is probable that his Idea is just like
that Picture, which the Painter makes of the visible Appearances joyned together; and such a
Complication of Ideas together in his Understanding makes up the single complex Idea which he
calls Man, whereof White or Flesh-colour in England being one, the Child can demonstrate to
you, that a Negro Is Not a Man, because White-colour was one of the constant simple Ideas of the
complex Idea he calls Man.”
± Squadrito, “Locke on the Equality of the Sexes,” p. .
 I have in mind the use of “essentialism” as a pejorative term in critical race theory and feminist
jurisprudence. See, for example, Harris, “Race and Essentialism in Feminist Legal Theory,” and
Wong, “The Anti-essentialism versus Essentialism Debate.”
 God, Locke, and Equality
essentialism is not the only basis on which people discriminate against
and ill-treat one another. For consider again the argument developed in
Chapter . Locke bases a difference in authority upon (what he believes is)
a natural difference in ability between men and women. We reproached
that on the grounds that Locke is also supposed to have committed
himself to a fundamental principle of equality: members of the same
species are naturally equal in authority, whatever the other differences
between them. But now that species-based notion has collapsed, and
there is nothing with which to reproach Locke™s sexism. We may of
course contest his claim about the particular difference; and we do. Still
it is undeniable that there are some differences of “Excellency of Parts and
Merit” among the individuals we regard as human; and without the
natural-law notion of species, Locke seems to have deprived himself of
the resource he needs to limit what we make of these differences in social
and political life.
So there™s the dif¬culty. My strategy in this chapter is to show the
indispensability for Locke™s theory of equality of the religious aspect of
his argument in paragraph  of the Second Treatise. But we can™t just
winch down the religious stuff “ deus ex machina “ whenever it suits us. It
is important to see that, at the stage of the argument we have reached,
neither God nor scripture can supply the de¬ciency of science, so far
as the species-extension of Locke™s principle of equality is concerned.
Divine command gives rise to the problem; divine command cannot
solve it. The species-dif¬culty arises because even if God has announced
that all humans are created equal and commanded us to treat them as
such, we still face the problem of de¬ning the class of beings, the species-
members, who are supposed to get the bene¬t of that commandment.
Let me develop this a little further. In biblical revelation, the only
direct intimation of a basis for the distinction of the human species is
descent from Adam. However, Locke is very doubtful whether that can
do the work. His doubts arise, ¬rst, from the possibility of cross-overs
between humans and other animals:
 I think H. M. Bracken states the position correctly in “Essence, Accident and Race,” p. :
Locke™s discussion of substance constitutes an attack on the model of essential properties . . . It
then becomes possible to treat any or no property as essential. Within the revised framework, it
becomes much more dif¬cult to distinguish men from the other animals. The older model had
the advantage of trying to formulate what was essential to man. In so doing it provided a modest
conceptual barrier to treating race, colours, religion, or sex as other than accidental.
Whether this is the key (as Bracken thinks it is) to Locke™s views on slavery and the exclusion
of Catholics is, however, another matter; for these issues, see below, Chapters · and . (I am
grateful to Robert Gooding-Williams for this reference.)
Species and the Shape of Equality
Nor let any one say, that the power of propagation in animals by the mixture of
Male and Female . . . keeps the supposed real Species distinct and entire . . . for if
History lie not, women have conceived by Drills; and what real Species, by that
measure, such a Production will be in Nature, will be a new Question; and we
have Reason to think this is not impossible. . . . I once saw a Creature, that was
the issue of a Cat and a Rat, and had the plain Marks of both about it; wherein
Nature appeared to have followed the Pattern of neither sort alone, but to have
jumbled them both together. (E: ..)
Secondly, they arise from the fact that monsters sometimes emerge even
from the pure Adamic line:
how far Men determine of the sorts of Animals, rather by their Shape, than
Descent, is very visible; since it has been more than once debated, whether
several humane Foetus should be preserved, or received to Baptism or no, only
because of the difference of their outward Con¬guration, from the ordinary
Make of Children, without knowing whether they were not as capable of Reason,
as Infants cast in another Mould. (E: ..)
Anyway, a purely genealogical basis for equality and inequality would
be practically inadequate. Even for scienti¬c purposes it would be unsat-
isfactory: “[I]f the Species of Animals and Plants are to be distinguished
only by propagation, must I go to the Indies to see the Sire and Dam of
the one, and the Plant from which the Seed was gather™d that produced
the other, to know whether this be a Tiger or that Tea?” (E: ..).
Locke says in his political philosophy that any basis for inequality must
be evident, clear, and manifest.µ The point is connected with his insistence
towards the end of the First Treatise that one cannot obey the idea of an
authority (±st T: ±). One needs to have some ready and reliable way of
identifying who, in particular, the authority is. It™s a point Locke makes
again and again:
The great Question which in all Ages has disturbed Mankind, and brought on
them the greatest part of those Mischiefs which have ruin™d Cities, depopulated
Countries, and disordered the Peace of the World, has been, Not whether there
be Power in the World, nor whence it came, but who should have it . . . For if
this remain disputable, all the rest will be to very little purpose. (±st T: ±°)
A theory of natural political inequality is no good “if there be no Marks
to know him by, and distinguish him, that hath Right to Rule from other
 A kind of ape, like a mandrill.
µ Thus he quali¬es his account of natural equality as follows: “unless the Lord and Master of them
all should, by any manifest Declaration of His Will, set one above another, and confer on him, by
an evident and clear appointment, an undoubted Right to Dominion and Sovereignty” (nd T: , my
 See also ±st T: ± “, ±°“, and ±±“.
 God, Locke, and Equality
men” (±st T: ±). It™s not just a matter of identi¬cation, it is also a matter of
settling men™s consciences and reconciling them to their subordination.·
And exactly the same applies to a principle of equality. One™s allegiance
to the principle of human equality is as nothing until one has a way of
delineating who the putative equals are.

So what is to be done? I think that in order to make Locke™s account of
equality in the Two Treatises consistent with his discussion in Book III of the
Essay, we have to forget about real essences, and abandon the emphasis
on species altogether. I think we should focus instead on what Locke is
prepared to concede “ namely, real resemblances between particulars:
“Nature makes many particular things, which do agree one with another
in many sensible qualities” (E: ..). We have to make do with that.
We must ask which resemblances are actually doing the crucial work
in Locke™s account of equality, whether they afford a basis for a natural
kind or not. That will give us his de¬nition of humanity, at least for moral
What would the Lockean doctrine of equality look like if we ap-
proached it in this spirit? Well, if we read out any reference to species and
focus only on characteristics, the crucial passages from the beginning of
the Second Treatise read as follows:

[T]here [is] nothing more evident than that Creatures . . . promiscuously born to
all the same advantages of Nature, and the use of the same faculties, should also
be equal one amongst another without Subordination or Subjection . . . [ B]eing
furnished with like Faculties . . . there cannot be supposed any such Subordination
among us, that may Authorize us to destroy one another, as if we were made
for one anothers uses, as . . . creatures [who do not share such faculties] are for
ours. (nd T:  and )

· See ± st T: ±°: “Our A [Filmer] having placed such a mighty Power in Adam, and upon that
supposition, founded all Government, and all Power of Princes, it is reasonable to expect, that
he should have proved this with Arguments clear and evident, suitable to the weightiness of the
Cause. That since Men had nothing else left them, they might in Slavery have such undeniable
Proofs of its Necessity, that their Consciences might be convinced, and oblige them to Submit
peaceably to that Absolute Dominion, which their Governors had a Right to exercise over
 The contrast between a real-resemblance approach and a real-essence approach is repeated in
E: ..·: “I do not deny, but Nature, in the constant production of particular Beings, makes
them not always new and various, but very much alike and of kin to one another: But I think it
is nevertheless true, that the boundaries of Species, whereby Men sort them, are made by Men.”
Species and the Shape of Equality
The emphasis now is on characteristics not on species or ranks of species.
The domain of equality will simply be the domain of relevant similar-
ity “ i.e. the possession of faculties that can be regarded as the same
or (relevantly) similar. The change may seem slight, except when you
remember that the species-words “man” and “human” are no longer
put to any work at all. Our heuristic now is emphatically not to survey
the class of beings we are inclined to call human and come up with some
likeness in their faculties that will, as it were, do the job so far as a basis
for equality is concerned. Instead we have to start from the idea of a
similarity among faculties that would be robust enough to sustain the
sort of equality thesis Locke wants, and then actually look and see what
class of creatures that applies to, i.e. what class of creatures comes within
the range of the relevant similarity.
This is not just my bright idea for the reconstruction of Locke™s posi-
tion. It is what Locke himself says, in the only passage in the Essay where
he ever really considers the implications for morality of his skepticism
about species. He says this:
Nor let any one object, that the names of Substances are often to be made use
of in Morality . . . from which will arise Obscurity. For as to Substances, when
concerned in moral Discourses, their divers Natures are not so much enquir™d
into as supposed; v.g. when we say that Man is subject to Law: we mean nothing
by Man, but a corporeal rational Creature: What the real Essence or other
Qualities of that Creature are in this Case, is no way considered. And therefore,
whether a Child or Changeling be a Man, in a physical Sense, may amongst
the Naturalists be as disputable as it will, it concerns not at all the moral Man,
as I may call him, which is this immovable unchangeable Idea, a corporeal rational
Being. (E: .±±.±)
And he says too that he is willing to follow this resemblance where it
[W]ere there a Monkey, or any other Creature to be found, that had the use
of Reason, to such a degree, as to be able to understand general Signs, and
to deduce Consequences about general Ideas, he would no doubt be subject to
Law, and, in that Sense, be a Man, how much soever he differ™d in Shape from
others of that Name. (E: .±±.±)
In other words, Locke is going to ¬nesse the whole problem of biological
taxonomy “ all this “pudder . . . about essences” (E: .µ.±) “ by focusing
moral attention not on species, but on the complex property of corporeal

 This passage is also cited by Grant in John Locke™s Liberalism, p. °.
 God, Locke, and Equality
rationality. If the moralist can secure that idea (as the basis of a fundamen-
tally relevant resemblance among certain individuals), then the detail of
the issue about species can be left as a purely speculative problem for the
naturalists and philosophers.µ°
Notice yet again how John Locke™s care in this regard makes nonsense
of the Laslett thesis that he wrote his philosophy wearing an entirely
different hat, without regard to its implications for political theory. In
the passage just cited, Locke is raising (and answering) questions about
the implications of his philosophical position for morals and politics. He
does not aim to seal off the one discussion from the other. By showing a
philosophical difference between species and real resemblance, he puts
himself in a position to explore in a philosophically rigorous way the
possibility that morality requires only the latter, not the former.

Before going any further, I want to pause and consider the philosophical
character of the position we have saddled Locke with. We began by
noticing that he seemed to associate the principle of basic equality with
membership of the human species. But species and species-membership
turned out to be an unstable basis for equality, given Locke™s skepticism
about real essences. So now we have him associating basic equality, not
with species-membership, but with a certain real resemblance “ corporeal
rationality “ which a number of creatures of various shapes and sizes might
possess, and in virtue of which they might loosely be termed “men” (in
both a gender-neutral and non-speciesist sense).
In a moment we will turn to the dif¬culty of pinning down exactly the
degree or type of rationality that Locke has in mind here. But ¬rst, I want
to ask: what exactly is the relation supposed to be between possession
of this property (however we end up de¬ning it) and the normative
consequences associated with equality? It™s a question we could ask as
well about the initial species-oriented position, or about rationality, or
about any account of what we are supposed to have in common in terms
of faculties and capabilities. All such accounts identify something like a
descriptive property (or kind) or a cluster of properties, D; and from the
fact that two given individuals both exhibit D, it is supposed to follow,
as a normative or prescriptive matter, that they are to be treated as
µ° The argument is analogous to Locke™s discussion of personal identity: we can™t see our way
through that issue either until we see that “Person,” which looks like a species term, is in fact “a
forensic” term, and works in a somewhat different way.
Species and the Shape of Equality
one another™s equals. If we call this prescriptive consequence P, then we
may ask: what exactly is the logical relation supposed to be between
D and P?
Matthew Kramer has argued that Locke deserves to be chastised for
jumping from the descriptive to the prescriptive, for what he calls an
illicit is/ought cross-over.µ±
From the fact that people were generally alike in strength and capabilities, he
concluded that people were morally alike in that no one could properly enjoy
nonconsensual control over fellow human agents . . . He focused on similarities
among human agents in regard to key observable traits. And he drew from
his observations a general norm for human life . . . Even if one adopts the view
that people™s overall capabilities were uniform by and large, one can certainly
refuse to credit the deduction by which Locke held that people™s rights and
privileges of autonomy in their interactions with one another should have been

But I don™t think we should read Locke this way at all. I don™t think he is
attempting to commit the naturalistic fallacy by inferring our normative
equality from some factual similarity. He says in the Second Treatise that
the connection is “evident” (nd T: ), but that this is not the same as
saying that it is logically implied is indicated by his going on to add
that creatures who share the relevant descriptive property might still be
unequal if God had so ordained it.
There is a difference between saying that the truth of a descriptive
statement (a has property D) implies a prescription (a ought to be treated
in manner P), and saying that P supervenes upon D. Supervenience
implies that if a is to be treated differently from b, then there must be some
other difference between a and b on which that prescriptive difference
supervenes. This is arguably a feature of all moral discourse, not just
of moral discourse that attempts to commit the naturalistic fallacy or
to bridge the is/ought gap.µ Of course, if P supervenes upon D, and
there is no attempt to establish a relation of implication between them,
then there must be some other way of explaining their relation. We
must be able to say why the fact that a has D and b doesn™t is a reason
for treating a in accordance with P but not b. That explanation will
normally be itself a moral proposition, and of course it too will need to
be defended.

µ± µ Ibid., pp. , , and .
Kramer, John Locke and the Origins of Private Property, p. .
µ The best account of supervenience in the moral context remains Hare, Language of Morals, pp. °
ff. But see also Blackburn, Essays in Quasi-Realism, pp. ±°“.
·° God, Locke, and Equality
Now in the case of equality, we know that we are getting near the
rock-bottom of moral justi¬cation. It may well be that there is no other
explanation of the difference in the way it is appropriate to treat a and b
than an appeal to a principle “Anything which is D should be treated
in manner P.” That principle may be regarded as self-evident (which,
again, is not the same as saying that D implies P). Or there may be
some further account of the relation between them, although, as I have
stressed throughout, that is unlikely to be an ordinary or mundane moral
account (for example a utilitarian account) since the P in question, in
the case of basic equality, is one of the fundamental presuppositions of
utilitarian reasoning.
There is more to say about all this, but I cannot pursue it now.µ Just
one additional thought. If P is a principle of equality, then the superve-
nience relation is complicated. Strictly speaking, if a is to be treated the
same as b, supervenience does not require that there be any descriptive
property that they share. Supervenience would have to be invoked to ex-
plain why b, but not c, should be treated the same as a; there must be
some relevant difference between b and c. And if we say that a but not c
is to be treated the same as b, we will presumably point also to a relevant
difference between a and c. And it is likely that that difference will be the
same as the difference we thought relevant between b and c; so that it
will follow, indirectly, that a and b do have something in common. (But
these last two steps are not logically necessary, and it is not unimaginable
that one could defend a principle of equality without them.)
Elsewhere I have considered the possibility that one might defend a
principle of human equality, without prejudice to the question of whether
non-human animals are our equals. One says: humans, at any rate, are
one another™s equals, whatever the relation between humans and other
primates or humans and dolphins, etc. But of course to do this, one has
to have some sense of who it is one is defending equality among: one
has to have at least an intuitive idea of the class of humans, and one
has to be able to explain or defend one™s con¬dence that individuals
in this class, at any rate, are one another™s equals. I suspect that that
is almost always going to involve pointing to some descriptive property
or cluster of properties that individuals in this class share, and that was
doubly important for John Locke, since, as we have seen, for philosophical
reasons he was not prepared to say that we are in possession of a secure
or intuitive grasp of the class of humans. So there will almost always be

µ See Waldron, “Three Essays on Basic Equality.”
Species and the Shape of Equality
some descriptive characteristic, D, in play here. Where this differs from
the naturalism, however, for which Kramer wrongly chastises Locke, is
that it is taken to be a further question why D should be relevant to

Let me return now to the main line of argument, and focus on the
characteristic that seems to interest Locke. The key, he says, is corporeal
rationality. That equality (and indeed the issue of humanity, in the moral
sense) would depend upon rationality is a perfectly familiar position. It
makes sense in relation to issues of authority and jurisdiction, which,
on Locke™s account, constitute the domain of basic equality. Our being
regarded as one another™s equals has to do with the way we can think, rea-
son, and act. I will come back to this shortly, for it is the primary domain
within which the equality claim has to be articulated and defended.
It is intriguing, though, that corporeality is also invoked “ “a corporeal
rational Being” (E: .±±.±). Locke is not talking now about the corpore-
ality of any particular form or species, but corporeality as such, which
I take to mean the mere fact of embodiment. Why would this be? This
little point, I believe, is quite unintelligible apart from the moral theol-
ogy. Locke speculates that there are all sorts of rational beings in the
cosmos “ probably “more Species [!] of intelligent Creatures above us,
than there are of sensible and material below us” (E: ..±) “ but there
is an important distinction between the moral standing of those that are
corporeal and those like angels, for instance, that are not. Though Locke
was not a believer in original sin, I think he accepted that the moral cir-
cumstances “ if you like, the moral predicament “ of a rational being that
was embodied are of quite a different order than the moral circumstances
of a disembodied spirit.µµ (This is something like Kant™s distinction in the
Groundwork between beings whose reason infallibly determines their will,
and beings whose will may vary from the requirements of reason “ i.e.
beings for whom imperatives are necessary.)µ
Let us turn now to the rationality criterion. In the First Treatise, Locke
said that God made man “in his own Image after his own Likeness . . . an
intellectual Creature . . . For wherein soever else the Image of God con-
sisted, the intellectual Nature was certainly a part of it, and belong™d
to the whole Species” (±st T: °). Unfortunately, however, imago dei does
µµ See also the distinction in Locke™s Paraphrase between animal man and spiritual man (P&N: i.±··).
µ Kant, Grounding, pp. “ (: ±“±).
· God, Locke, and Equality
not solve the following problem. On the one hand, non-human animals
have minds, at least to the extent of having and acting on ideas and
combinations of ideas (E: .±±.µ“·). Since they are “not bare Machins
(as some would have them), we cannot deny them to have some Reason”
(E: .±±.±±). On the other hand, those we are accustomed to calling hu-
man vary enormously in their intellectual capacities. If the imago dei idea
is supposed to help us, it has to help us make discriminations along this
spectrum “ not necessarily now in a way that is guided by some spurious
concept of species “ but discriminations nevertheless, which will enable
us to resist the temptation to treat all beings who are less intellectually
able than we are (or than we think we are) as something less than our
equals, without giving up some version of the distinction Locke relies
on in the Second Treatise between animals that are and animals that are
not “made for one anothers uses” (nd T: ). Taken literally, imago dei
is not going to help with this. For even if we (that is, you and I, dear
Reader) can con¬dently think of ourselves as created in the image of
God, there is no denying that we are a rather blurred image “ intellectu-
ally as well as spiritually.µ· And the intellectual differences between us
would seem to be important in this regard, indicating that some of us
are less blurred than others in the image of God that we present. By
itself imago dei goes no way towards answering our threshold question:
how blurred may the image be, exactly, before it ceases to count in the
relevant respect?
The dif¬culty at this stage of the argument is quite general. A principle
of basic equality requires a binary distinction “ (i) those who are one
another™s equals, and (ii) those who are not the equals of the members of
class (i) “ and reason or rationality is not really a binary concept. There
are degrees of rationality, both among those we are pre-theoretically
inclined to call humans and in a broader class of animals that includes
apes and dolphins, dogs and cats, as well as those we call humans. On
this gradual scale, who gets the bene¬t of equality? Or why is it not more
sensible to abandon equality and take as the basic premise of moral and
political philosophy the idea of a proportionate response to each entity™s
particular location on the scale?
Once again, it is Locke himself who provides the raw material for this
skeptical, anti-egalitarian approach. We can discern, he says, enormous
differences in reason and rational ability among those we are accustomed
to call human. There is, for example, the human fetus, which, Locke

µ· See Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity, pp. ±° ff.
Species and the Shape of Equality
says, “differs not much from the State of a Vegetable . . . [There are] few signs
of a soul accustomed to much thinking in a new-born child” (E: .±.±).
And something similar is true of humans at the end of their lives:
Take one, in whom decrepit old Age has blotted out the Memory of his past
Knowledge and clearly wiped out the Ideas his Mind was formerly stored with;
and has, by destroying his Sight, Hearing, and Smell . . . stopp™d up almost all
the Passages for new ones to enter; or, if there be some of the Inlets yet half open,
the Impressions made are scarce perceived, or not at all retained. How far such
an one . . . is in his Knowledge, and intellectual Faculties above the Condition
of a Cockle, or an Oyster, I leave to be considered. (E: ..±)
Locke continues, “if a man had passed Sixty Years in such a State . . .
I wonder what difference there would have been, in any intellectual
Perfections, between him, and the lowest degree of Animals” (E: ..±).
Now among the very grossest differences in mental capacity, Locke
is evidently not committed to any thesis of equality. That is, he is not
committed to following our nominal conception of humanity where it
leads, and to drawing a rationality-line that will include all whom we
pre-theoretically describe as human. In the case of “defects that may
happen out of the ordinary course of nature,” lunacy, idiocy, and so on,
he is quite clear: such a being “is never capable of being a free man,
[and] is never [to be] let loose to the disposure of his own will (because
he . . . has not understanding, its proper guide)” (nd T: °). Infants are
a slightly different case, and I will say more about this in Chapter µ.µ
In their case, however, Locke™s argument is that they are to be treated as
beings destined for equality, though not our equals at present.
But even in the ordinary run of things, even without the contrast be-
tween “Westminster-hall or the Exchange on the one hand, [and] Alms-Houses
or Bedlam on the other” (E: .°.µ), there are intellectual differences that
seem to leave us all at sea, once we abandon the notion of species. There
are some who fall short of lunacy but suffer nevertheless from some de-
¬ciency in the mind “ for instance, “[t]hat it moves slowly, and retrieves
not the ideas, that it has . . . quick enough to serve the mind upon occasion”
(E: .±°.). There is what Locke calls “the obstinacy of a worthy man,
who yields not to the evidence of reason, though laid before him as clear
as day-light” (E: ..). This, he says, may perhaps be considered a
form of madness, for although everyone uses his mind in this way on
some occasions, we ought to wonder whether one who “should on all
occasions argue or do as in some cases he constantly does, would not
µ See below, pp. ±±°“±.
· God, Locke, and Equality
be thought ¬tter for Bedlam, than Civil Conversation” (E: ..). And
¬nally there are the familiar distinctions between the wise and the silly,
those who have attended to and those who have neglected their mental
cultivation, the lazy and the assiduous, the learned and the illiterate, the
philosophical and the intuitive, and so on.µ If we start paying attention
to these differences, then we are going to ¬nd that, having let go of the
species-concept of humanity, there is nothing much to hang on to so far
as social and political equality is concerned. If there is, as Locke says, “a
difference of degrees in Men™s Understandings . . . to so great a latitude,
that one may, without doing injury to Mankind, af¬rm that there is a
greater distance between some Men and others in this respect than be-
tween some Men and some Beasts” (E: .°.µ), then how can we work
with or justify any notion of basic equality? Against a background of
this sort of variation, how are we supposed to set the sharp divides or
maintain the thresholds on this scale that the idea of equality appears to
Locke is sometimes tempted by the position “ which I guess his radi-
cal empiricism leaves open “ that, considered as tabulae rasae, our minds
are all the same, and that the intellectual differences between us are
simply a matter of input and exercise. In a late work, Of the Conduct of
the Understanding, he speculated that “[a]s it is in the body, so it is in the
mind; practice makes it what it is, and most even of those excellences
which are looked on as natural endowments will be found, when en-
quired into more narrowly, to be the product of exercise.”° But such a
possibility cannot do all the work.± For as Locke also said, in the same
There is, it is visible, great variety in men™s understandings, and their natural
constitutions put so wide a difference between some men in this respect, that
art and industry would never be able to master; and their very natures seem to
want a foundation to raise on it which other men easily attain unto.
We are back where we were in the discussion of essences. Whether we
look at the outward workings of the human mind, or at “the Wheels,
or Springs . . . within” (E: ..), whether we look at individuals as they
µ E: ±..±µ: “[ T ]he wise and considerate Men of the World, by a right and careful employment
of their Thoughts and Reason, attained true Notions in this, as well as other things; whilst the
lazy and inconsiderate part of Men, making far the greater number, took up their Notions by
chance, from common Tradition and vulgar Conceptions, without much beating their Heads
about them.”
° Locke, Of the Conduct of the Understanding, p. ±·.
± See also Spellman, John Locke and the Problem of Depravity, pp. ±° ff.
 Locke, Of the Conduct of the Understanding, p. ±.
Species and the Shape of Equality
have developed or at their natural abilities, we don™t seem to have any
cut-off point at which we could say this intellectual apparatus or this
degree of rational ability marks a being as entitled to equality with all
other embodied creatures that rise above the threshold.

Locke needs to specify a threshold. Here™s how I think he does it. In
Book II of the Essay, he argued that what distinguishes humans from
other animals is not their capacity to reason per se “ for brute animals
have some sort of reason “ but rather the “power of Abstracting,” the
capacity to reason on the basis of general ideas. Animals have and act
on ideas, and therefore have some reason: “but it is only in particular
Ideas, just as they receiv™d them from their Senses” “ they don™t have
“the faculty to enlarge by any kind of Abstraction” (E: .±±.±±). It is “the
having of general ideas,” a faculty connected of course with the use of
language, which puts “a perfect distinction betwixt man and brutes,” if
not in the sense of biological taxonomy, then at least in the sense required
for the moral application of the idea of corporeal rationality. And there
is a similar reference to the capacity to entertain general ideas in that
passage I mentioned at the end of section VII where Locke inquires
about the moral application of his skepticism about species (E: .±±.±).
So, maybe this is Locke™s equality-threshold. Can we say that he regards
possession of the power of abstraction as the basis of a bright line on
the rationality scale, for the purposes of his moral de¬nition of humanity
and his belief in basic equality?
It won™t do as a species distinction of course. True, Locke™s claim in
Book II of the Essay is that it is “in this, that the Species of Brutes are
discriminated from Man” (E: .±±.±±). But he quickly indicates that many
who bear the nominal essence of man lack the ability to abstract. Many
of those we call idiots or naturals “cannot distinguish, compare, and
abstract” (E: .±±.±). And if there were an animal “that had Language
and Reason, but partaked not of the usual shape of a Man, I believe it
would hardly pass for a man,” in the taxonomic sense. So Locke is not
offering this capacity to abstract as the real essence of the species human.
 Cf. the solution proposed in Grant, John Locke™s Liberalism, pp. ± “, which does not involve any
bright-line threshold. Instead, Grant talks about “ ˜gray areas™ at the boundaries in considering
species” and suggests that this sort of “open texture” is unavoidable in legal contexts. She is right
in that last point (cf. Hart, Concept of Law, pp. ±“) but I do not ¬nd her approach satisfactory:
open texture at this level would indicate a fundamental indeterminacy in what one is trying to
say about equality.
· God, Locke, and Equality
He is offering it as an interesting resemblance among all the beings we
are disposed to call “rational” for moral purposes, distinguishing them
from all the beings (human-shaped or not) that we are disposed to call

I think this is a promising lead. But of course it is not enough, in an area
fraught with this much dif¬culty, simply to point to a similarity. It must
be an interesting or relevant similarity for the purposes of the weight
that is going to be placed upon it. And in the realm of basic equality,
that weight is very heavy indeed. To put it another way, it is not enough
just to announce a bright line. It is not enough to stipulate a threshold. The
threshold in question has to be explained and it has to be defended. Locke
has to show that even when there are differences in people™s capacities
above this line “ differences that he acknowledges may be important
for various practical purposes (nd T: µ) “ still the fact that an entity is
above rather than below the threshold is of overwhelming signi¬cance so
far as the basics of social and political organization are concerned. And
he has to explain why that is so, why differences above the line should
matter much less than the difference indicated by the line itself.
One way of putting this is to say that for Locke the real resemblance
on which basic equality rests “ the ability to form and work with abstract
ideas “ must work rather like what modern political philosophers call
a range property. The idea of a “range property” was introduced into
the modern discussion of equality by John Rawls in A Theory of Justice,
though it has not, I™m afraid, been very widely discussed in that context.µ
A range property may be understood in terms of a region on a scale.
The idea is that although there is a scale on which one could observe
differences of degree, still once a range has been speci¬ed, we may use
 Rawls, Theory of Justice, p. µ°: “[ I ]t is not the case that founding equality on natural capacities
is incompatible with an egalitarian view. All we have to do is to select a range property (as I
shall say) and to give equal justice to those meeting its conditions. For example, the property of
being in the interior of the unit circle is a range property of points in the plane. All points inside
this circle have this property although their coordinates vary within a certain range. And they
equally have this property, since no point interior to a circle is more or less interior to it than any
other interior point.”
µ There is some discussion of Rawls™s own use of the idea in the following books and articles:
Lloyd Thomas, “Equality Within the Limits of Reason Alone,” p. µ; Wikler, “Paternalism and
the Mildly Retarded,” p. ; Gorr, “Rawls on Natural Inequality,” pp. ±± “±; and Coons and
Brennan, By Nature Equal, pp. “. But I have not been able to ¬nd any general discussion of
the idea of a range property in relation to equality.
Species and the Shape of Equality
the binary property of being within the range, a property which is shared by
something which is in the center of the range and also by something
which is just above its lower threshold.
A juridical example may help. Consider the legal or administrative
characteristic which a town might have of being in New Jersey (e.g. as
opposed to being in New York or being in Pennsylvania). Though the
city of Princeton is in the heart of New Jersey, well away from the state
line, and Hoboken is just over the river from New York, right on the
boundary, still Princeton and Hoboken are both in New Jersey, and they
are both in New Jersey to the same extent, so far as the law is concerned.
One could point to the scalar geographical difference between them
and for various reasons that might be important; but jurisdictionally it is
irrelevant. Being in New Jersey, then, is a range property, ranging over all
the points within the boundaries of the state.
In John Rawls™s own use of the idea, the relevant range property is the
capacity for moral personality. That™s what he takes as the basis of equality,
the basis on which an individual is entitled to the bene¬t of the Rawl-
sian theory of justice. Like being in New Jersey, Rawls™s capacity for moral
personality ranges over a class of cases which might be classi¬ed on a scale
(variation in capacity for a sense of justice, and geographical position,
respectively); but in fact it classi¬es them in a non-scalar way. Another
example of a range property might be found in Thomas Hobbes™s ac-
count of equality of bodily strength. Remember how Hobbes argued in

Nature hath made men so equall . . . that, though there be found one man some-
times manifestly stronger in body . . . than another, yet when all is reckoned to-
gether the difference between man and man is not so considerable . . . For as to
the strength of body, the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.·

Though there is an important scalar property here “ namely, strength of
body “ the relevant range property is the property of being a non-dismissible
mortal threat. When I look at all the animals around me, I might rank
them on a scale of bodily strength. But what should particularly interest
me about that scale (according to Hobbes) is the threshold at which some

 Rawls, Theory of Justice, p. µ°: “It should be stressed that the suf¬cient condition for equal
justice, the capacity for moral personality, is not at all stringent . . . Furthermore, while individuals
presumably have varying capacities for a sense of justice, this fact is not a reason for depriving
those with a lesser capacity of the full protection of justice. Once a certain minimum is met, a
person is entitled to equal liberty on a par with everyone else.”
· Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. ±, pp. “·.
· God, Locke, and Equality
animal becomes a non-dismissible threat. In Hobbes™s view all humans
are above that threshold; and particular theories of human inequality “
such as the suggestion that women are not men™s equals “ are refuted by
showing that all of the putative unequals are above that threshold too.
Notice the way that, in the Hobbesian example, a particular interest “
the interest in survival “ drives us away from the scalar differentiations,
and drives us to concentrate on the mere fact that something is a mortal
threat. And there is an interest doing this work too in the New Jersey
example “ a constitutional and administrative interest. Relative to the
interest driving the speci¬cation of the range property, the precise loca-
tion of an entity on the scale is uninteresting. That it is within the range is
all we need to know. Without such an interest, of course a range property
seems merely arbitrary. One might stipulate it. But it would be hard to
see the point. To return to some terminology we introduced at the be-
ginning of this chapter, the interest shapes the range property and makes
it intelligible.
Is there anything which can do this work for Locke? Is there anything
which can give the Lockean basis of equality “ the power of abstraction “
its appropriate sense and shape as a range property? Is there anything
which can motivate our attention to this as a threshold and our refusal
to be distracted by intellectual differences above it?
This, at last, is where the religious argument comes in, on my inter-
pretation. To motivate and explicate the power of abstraction as the
relevant equality-threshold, we must consider the moral and theological
pragmatics which lie at the back of Locke™s account of the human intel-
lect. We must look at what he says about the fundamental adequacy of our
mental powers and the reasons he has for saying that in the case of all
standard-model humans, each of them has intellect enough, for some fun-
damental purpose, whatever the intellectual differences between them.
In this discussion, Locke insists (in terms not dissimilar to Hobbes on
mental equality)·° that humans have reason to be satis¬ed with their
mental capacities:

 Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. °, p. ±: “And whereas some have attributed the Dominion to the
Man only, as being of the more excellent Sex, they misreckon in it. For there is not always that
difference of strength or prudence between the man and the woman as that the right can be
determined without War.”
 Above, pp. ·“. I am grateful to Jules Coleman for this point.
·° There is, in Hobbes (Leviathan, Ch. ±, p. ·), a nice joke about intellectual equality: “And as to
the faculties of the mind . . . I ¬nd yet a greater equality amongst men than that of strength . . . For
such is the nature of men that howsoever they may acknowledge many others to be more witty, or
more eloquent or more learned, yet they will hardly believe there be many so wise as themselves;
Species and the Shape of Equality
For though the Comprehension of our Understandings, comes exceeding short of
the vast Extent of Things; yet . . . Men have Reason to be well satis¬ed with
what God hath thought ¬t for them, since he hath given them . . . Whatsoever
is necessary for the Conveniences of Life and Information of Vertue; and has
put within the reach of their Discovery the comfortable provision for this life,
and the way that leads to a better.·±

No matter how inadequate the average human intellect is for a “univer-
sal, or perfect Comprehension,”
it yet secures their great Concernments, that they have Light enough to lead
them to the Knowledge of their Maker, and the sight of their own Duties . . . It
will be no Excuse to an idle and untoward Servant, who would not attend his
Business by Candle-light, to plead that he had not broad Sun-shine. The Candle
that is set up in us, shines bright enough for all our Purposes.·

“[T]hey have Light enough to lead them to the Knowledge of their
Maker.” The implicit reference here is Locke™s argument for the existence
of God. The existence of God, Locke believes, is something that can
be established by the unaided human intellect, whatever that intellect™s
other limitations. It is not an idea that is innate in us (E: ±.. ff.) but
it is readily attainable. All that is needed is some power of abstraction
applied to what we see in the world around us: “For the visible marks of
extraordinary Wisdom and Power appear so plainly in all the Works of
the Creation, that a rational Creature, who will but seriously re¬‚ect on
them, cannot miss the discovery of a Deity” (E: ±..). Some argue, says
Locke, that it is “suitable to the goodness of God” (E: ±..±) to imprint an
idea of His being directly on our minds. But God has used a different
strategy. He has conferred on those whom He intends to serve Him the
rational power that is required for easy recognition of His existence.
Thus we can identify the class of those whom God intends to serve Him
by discerning which beings have and which beings do not have these
So Locke™s position seems to be this. Anyone with the capacity for
abstraction can reason to the existence of God, and he can relate the
idea of God to there being a law that applies to him both in his conduct in
this world and as to his prospects for the next. The content of that law may
not be available to everyone™s reason, but anyone above the threshold

for they see their own wit at hand, and other men™s at a distance. But this proveth rather that
men are in that point equal, than unequal. For there is not ordinarily a greater sign of the equal
distribution of anything than that every man is contented with his share.”
·± · Ibid.
Locke, Essay, Introduction, p. µ.
° God, Locke, and Equality
has the power to relate the idea of such law to what is known by faith and
revelation about God™s commandments, and is in a position therefore
to use such intellect as he has to follow and obey those commandments.
Moreover, he can think of himself, abstractly, as a being that endures
from moment to moment, and as the same being that may commit
a sin today and have to account to the Almighty for it tomorrow: in
short he has the minimal capacity to think of himself as a person. No
doubt there are all sorts of differences in the ways in which people ¬gure
all this through “ some attempt the precarious path of reason, some
wander through the mine¬eld of revelation. (I™ll talk more about this in
the next chapter.) But the fact that one is dealing with an animal that has
the capacity to approach the task one way or another is all-important,
and it makes a huge difference to how such a being may be treated in
comparison to animals whose capacities are such that this whole business
of knowing God and ¬guring out his commandments is simply out of
the question.
The fact that a being can get this far, intellectually, by whatever route,
shows that he is a creature with a special moral relation to God. As a
creature who knows about the existence of God and who is therefore in
a position to answer responsibly to His commandments, this is someone
whose existence has a special signi¬cance. Now, that specialness is a
matter of intense interest ¬rst and foremost, of course, to the person who
has the ability. Knowing that he has been sent into the world by God, “by
his order, and about his business,” the individual person has an interest
in ¬nding out pretty damned quick what he is supposed to do.· But
Locke believes this also affects fundamentally the way we ought to deal
with one another. When I catch a rabbit, I know that I am not dealing
with a creature that has the capacity to abstract, and so I know that there
is no question of this being one of God™s special servants, sent into the
world about his business. But if I catch a human in full possession of
his faculties, I know I should be careful how I deal with him. Because
creatures capable of abstraction can be conceived as “all the servants
of one Sovereign Master, sent into the World by his order, and about
his business,” we must treat them as “his Property, whose Workmanship
· Cf. Locke, Letter Concerning Toleration, p. : “Every man has an immortal soul, capable of eternal
happiness or misery; whose happiness depending upon his believing and doing those things in
this life which are necessary to the obtaining of God™s favour, and are prescribed by God to that
end. It follows from thence . . . that the observance of these things is the highest obligation that
lies upon mankind and that our utmost care, application, and diligence ought to be exercised
in the search and performance of them; because there is nothing in this world that is of any
consideration in comparison with eternity.”
Species and the Shape of Equality
they are, made to last during his, not one anothers Pleasure” and refrain
from destroying or harming or exploiting them.· That, it seems to me,
is the interest that is driving and shaping Locke™s moral conception of
“man,” and motivating the interest in the particular range of capacities
that forms the basis for Lockean equality.

If all this is accepted, then it is pretty clear that the bracketing strategy
we spoke about at the beginning of this chapter “ bracketing off the
God stuff from the equality stuff “ is simply not going to work. The
two parts of the Lockean doctrine are intricately related. Once we see
Locke acknowledging that he is not entitled to help himself to any ready-
made notion of the human species, then it is clear that he has no choice
but to shape his theory of equality on the basis of certain resemblances
among created beings. And the signi¬cance of those resemblances “
their relevance qua resemblances at this level of moral theory “ can be
established only in the light of certain theological truths.
Someone in denial of or indifferent to the existence of God is not
going to be able to come up with anything like the sort of basis for
equality that Locke came up with. An atheist may pretend to talk about
the equality of all members of the human species, but his conception of
the human species is likely to be as chaotic and indeterminate as Locke™s
was in Book III of the Essay. The atheist may pretend to ground our
equality in our rationality, but he will be at a loss to explain why we
should ignore the evident differences in people™s rationality. He will be
at a loss to defend any particular line or threshold, in a non-question-
begging way. (At best, he will have to stake his rationality threshold on an
already accepted principle of human equality rather than the other way
round, leaving the principle itself bare of any rationalization.) Locke
emphasized possession of a degree of rationality that consisted in the
power of abstraction and the power to relate an abstraction like God to
the idea of one™s own actions and one™s own person. There is no reason
for an atheist to recognize such a threshold, and there is no reason to
believe that he could defend it if he did. The atheist has no basis in
his philosophy for thinking that beings endowed with the capacity that

· Hence the fearful dissent of Supreme Court Justice McLean in Dred Scott v. Sandford, ° US 
(±µ), at µµ°: “A slave is not a mere chattel. He bears the impress of his Maker, and is amenable
to the laws of God and man; and he is destined to an endless existence.”
 God, Locke, and Equality
Locke emphasizes are for that reason to be treated as special and sacred
in the way Locke thought.
If this account of Locke™s philosophical strategy is anything like cor-
rect, then Alasdair Macintyre is right and the Waldron of ± is wrong.
Locke™s equality claims are not separable from the theological content
that shapes and organizes them. The theological content cannot sim-
ply be bracketed off as a curiosity. It shapes and informs the account
through and through; the range property on which Locke relies is simply
unintelligible apart from these religious concerns. And so there is no way
round it “ Lockean equality is not ¬t to be taught as a secular doctrine;
it is a conception of equality that makes no sense except in the light of a
particular account of the relation between man and God.

“The Democratic Intellect”

Locke™s political theory has been associated so insistently with a cor-
relation between class or status on the one hand, and differences in
rationality on the other,± that it may seem perverse of me to attribute to
him a democratic view of the human intellect. But that is what I now want
to argue.
The gist of my argument in Chapter  was that humans are one an-
other™s equals, in Locke™s eyes, by virtue of their possession of a rather
modest intellectual capacity “ the capacity to form and manipulate ab-
stract ideas, which enables a person to reason to the existence of God and
to the necessity of ¬nding out what if anything God requires of him. The
existence of this capacity in a very wide array of the beings we call human
is of course compatible with enormous variations in other aspects of their
intellect and rationality. And Locke never denies that. But his position
seems to be that the capacity to abstract trumps these other differences so
far as the establishment of our basic moral status is concerned. Consider
the greatest statesman and the most humble day-laborer. Even if they do
not differ in their “natural constitutions” (a possibility that Locke leaves
open), the ¬rst has greater experience and has had more opportunity
to exercise his intellectual faculties, while the second “has commonly
but a small pittance of knowledge, because his ideas and notions have
been con¬ned to the narrow bounds of a poor conversation and employ-
ment,” and he is virtually incapable of following a train of argument of
any complexity. That™s a huge difference. Yet if both of them have the
capacity to reason to an understanding of the existence of God, then
they are one another™s equals so far as any relations of authority are
concerned. This modicum of rationality is a mark of the fact that each
of them is the servant (not just a creature) of God, “sent into the World

± See especially Macpherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, pp. ± ff.
  Ibid., pp. ±·± and ±·“.
Locke, Of the Conduct of the Understanding, p. ±.

 God, Locke, and Equality
by his order, and about his business, . . . made to last during his, not one
another™s pleasure” (nd T: ). It is to this that Locke refers when he says
that humans are “furnished with like Faculties” (nd T:  “ my emphasis),
not like in all respects or by all measures, but like in this fundamental
ability. And this is the basis from which he infers not only that we are
not authorized to destroy or exploit one another “as if we were made
for one anothers uses, as the inferior ranks of Creatures are for ours,”
but that we “should also be equal one amongst another without Sub-
ordination or Subjection” (nd T:  and ). Basic equality is predicated
on this very lowly intellectual capacity, so that no one who has that ca-
pacity, whether high or low, male or female, rich or poor, smart or dim,
“can be . . . subjected to the Political Power of another, without his own
Consent” (nd T: µ).
I have entitled this chapter “The Democratic Intellect,” but its topic
is not really democracy in the political sense. In the recent Locke litera-
ture, inspired in large part by Richard Ashcraft, there has been a lot of
discussion about Locke™s attitude to democracy and his views about the
basis of the franchise “ both what it was and what it ought to be “ in late
seventeenth-century England. I don™t really want to get into that here,
though for what it™s worth, I am persuaded by Ashcraft™s argument that
Locke™s political views were more radical “ rather closer to the Levellers “
than has sometimes been supposed.µ I will say more about democracy
in the political sense in Chapter µ. In the present chapter, however, I am
going to use the term “democratic intellect” in a broader, perhaps more
Tocquevillian sense of “democratic” than just these matters of political
suffrage. My questions are the following. What was Locke™s understand-
ing of the relation between the low-level rationality of the poorest class
in society, and the extraordinary reason of (say) a philosopher like him-
self ? Did he denigrate the former and privilege the latter? Did he regard
scienti¬c reason as an ideal for moral, political and religious purposes,
and treat the ordinary reason of the common man as a sort of dim ap-
proximation “ or worse, a social and political disquali¬cation? We know
that Locke believed it was possible to improve the use that people made
of the intellectual capacities that God had given them: he devoted his
·°°-page Essay to the subject. But does this mean that he despaired of
the intellect in its most modest manifestations?
 I adapt this phrase from George Davie™s study of Scottish universities, The Democratic Intellect.
µ Ashcraft, Revolutionary Politics, pp. ±“µ and µ°“µ. Compare Schochet, “Radical Politics”;
Wootton, “John Locke and Richard Ashcraft™s Revolutionary Politics”; and Marshall, Locke,
pp. °µ“± .
“The Democratic Intellect”
I think not. There are hints at times of a view that is almost ex-
actly the opposite. It is in many ways the educated intellect that Locke
regarded as a social danger. He often said that the capacities and disposi-
tions of ordinary people were much more reliable morally and politically
than the effete corrupt sensibility of “all-knowing Doctors” and “learned
Disputants” (E: .±°.). When he cited those who had undermined the
basis of trustworthy government in England, it was learned men “ schol-
ars, statesmen, bishops, “the Divinity of this last Age,” and “Flatterers
[who] talk to amuze Peoples Understandings” (nd T:  and ±±). There
is no suggestion of any threat from masterless men or from halting at-
tempts at political thinking by uppity laborers. On the contrary, when
Locke considers lower-class malcontents, he is anxious to assure his read-
ers that they are not a real threat at all, certainly not compared to those
who are in a position to ¬‚atter and encourage the pretensions of absolute
power (nd T: °). I don™t think we should exaggerate the point: obvi-
ously someone in Locke™s position is not going to say that the educated
intellect is worthless. But what he does say on the matter we will ¬nd
suf¬cient to acquit him of the charge of attaching political, social, or
religious privilege to the sort of reasoning that he himself deployed in his
political, social, and theological thought.

According to C. B. Macpherson, John Locke shared the view of most of
his contemporaries “that the members of the laboring class do not and
cannot live a fully rational life.” Macpherson acknowledges that Locke
wasn™t entirely consistent in this. He thinks the lack of consistency is a
re¬‚ection of Locke™s having adopted uncritically the view prevalent in his
society: since he took the view for granted, he carried it into his premises
without the need for argumentation, and it is only argumentation that
would have revealed its inconsistency with some of the other things he
argued.· But Macpherson is wrong. The position he attributes to Locke
is certainly inconsistent with the premises of Locke™s argument in social
and political philosophy; but Macpherson is wrong to think that there is
anything in Locke that warrants the attribution to him of this position,
even acknowledging the inconsistency. We are not dealing here with
anything like the situation we considered in Chapter  “ a patent in-
consistency between what Locke said about women™s subjection to their
 ·
Macpherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, pp.  and . Ibid., pp. “°.
 God, Locke, and Equality
husbands and what he said about basic equality. In the case of the labor-
ing class, Locke does not even stake out the inegalitarian position that
Macpherson attributes to him, let alone hold it inconsistently with his
foundational theory of equality.
I will not be able to do full justice to Macpherson™s argument in this
chapter: there are aspects of his case whose consideration I would like
to postpone until later chapters. In Chapter , for example, we will
consider the inferences about differential rationality that Macpherson
wants to draw from what Locke says about property, speci¬cally from
his suggestion that “God gave the World to . . . the Use of the Industrious
and Rational” (nd T: ). Right now, though, I want to look at the most
direct evidence that can be adduced for the Macpherson interpretation
“that Locke assumed in his own society a class differential in rationality
which left the labouring class incapable . . . of ordering their lives by the
law of nature or reason.”
In Chapter ° of Book IV of the Essay, Locke talks about the epistemic
situation of those, “the greatest part of Mankind, who are given up to
Labour, and enslaved to the Necessity of their mean Condition; whose
Lives are worn out, only in the Provisions for Living” (E: .°.).±° Locke
says that the “Opportunities of Knowledge and Enquiry” for such per-
sons “are commonly as narrow as their Fortunes”; they have little energy
for instruction or improvement “when all their whole Time and Pains
are laid out, to still the Croaking of their own Bellies, or the Cries of their
Children” (E: .°.). Such people, Locke goes on, have no experience
of “the variety of Things done in the World,” they lack the resources of
“Leisure, Books, and Languages, and the Opportunity of conversing with
variety of Men,” and they are in no position to collect or consider “those
Testimonies and Observations, which are in Being, and are necessary
to make out many, nay most of the Propositions, that, in the Societies
of Men, are judged of the greatest Moment; or to ¬nd out Grounds of
Assurance so great, as the Belief of the points he would build on them, is
thought necessary” (E: .°.). They simply lack the resources that are
required for the scienti¬c or philosophic use of the intellect.
What does Locke infer from this? Does he conclude, as Macpherson
says he does, that people in this predicament are incapable of ordering
their lives by reason? Well, the passage is complicated in two ways. First,
although Macpherson thinks Locke is distinguishing here between those
 Ibid., pp. ± “. See Chapter , pp. ±·“·.
 Macpherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, p. .
±° Ibid., p. µ, where this passage is cited.
“The Democratic Intellect”
who have the ability to think for themselves and those who must submit
to the intellectual leadership of others,±± Locke is in fact very reluctant to
infer from the predicament of the laboring classes any general doctrine
of submission to authority. Far from saying that the laborers must defer
to the intellects of their betters, he compares their position to “those
who are cooped in close by the Laws of their countries” concerning political
censorship and indoctrination (E:.°.), and he evinces considerable
alarm on the laborers™ behalf at the prospect of their having to take
certain truths on faith from authority:
Are the current Opinions, and licensed Guides of every Country suf¬cient
Evidence and Security to every Man to venture his great Concernments on . . . ?
Or can those be the certain and infallible Oracles and Standards of Truth, which
teach one Thing in Christendom, and another in Turkey? (E: .°.)
Locke knows that those who actually have political authority are unlikely
to be reliable guides, for they are mainly interested in tailoring their
doctrines to accumulate as many followers as possible, rather than seeking
followers for what they have reason to believe is the truth (E: .°.±).
And anyway, as Locke emphasizes in the Letter Concerning Toleration, people
have a responsibility to think for themselves. There are “things that every
man ought sincerely to inquire into himself, and by meditation, study,
search, and his own endeavours, attain the knowledge of ” (LCT: ).
So far as those things are concerned there is just no option, according
to Locke. Even the hard-pressed day-laborer must regard the honest
workings of his own intellect, not the learning of others, as normative
in the conduct of his life. Any other strategy is too much of a risk: “Or
shall a poor Country-man be eternally happy, for having the Chance to
be born in Italy; or a Day-Laborer be unavoidably lost, because he had
the ill Luck to be born in England?” (E: .°.).
Of course there is risk on both sides.± But “ and this is my second
point “ the risk that Locke is urging the laborer to take is underwritten
once again by his conception of the fundamental adequacy of even the
meanest intellect.
God has furnished Men with Faculties suf¬cient to direct them in the Way
they should take, if they will but seriously employ them that Way, when their
ordinary Vocations allow them the Leisure. No Man is so wholly taken up with
the Attendance on the Means of Living, as to have no spare Time at all to think
of his Soul, and inform himself in Matters of Religion. Were men as intent upon
±± Ibid., pp. µ“.
± For a ¬ne account, see Woltersdorff, John Locke and the Ethics of Belief, pp. ±±“.
 God, Locke, and Equality
this as they are on things of lower concernment, there are none so enslaved to the
necessities of life who might not ¬nd many vacancies that might be husbanded
to this advantage of their knowledge. (E: .°.)
That “ and not any Macpherson thesis about differential rationality “ is
Locke™s position on the intellectual predicament of the laboring class.
And it is, I think, striking that this re-endorsement of his position about
the fundamental basis of equality “ the capacity that almost everyone has
to engage in abstract thought suf¬cient “to think of his Soul, and inform
himself in Matters of Religion” “ comes immediately upon the heels of
the passage we have just been discussing, the passage most frequently
cited to support the proposition that Locke did not believe day-laborers
were our equals.

In fact, if one reads the Essay as a whole with an eye to the possibility of
class differentials of rationality “ but keeps that eye open in all directions,
rather than alert only to his supposed denigration of the lower classes “
one is likely to come up with a picture that is much more favorable to
the ordinary laborer than Macpherson supposes and much less favorable
to those whom we are accustomed to regard as the intellectual elite.±
The point is intimated in the imagery Locke uses, most notably the
constant references to intellectual activity as labor “ “all that Industry and
Labor of Thought” (E: ..). Now it is true that Macpherson associates
Locke™s celebration of the “Industrious and the Rational” (nd T: ) with
his privileging entrepreneurial acquisitiveness.± And so comparing the
business of serious thought to industry need not mean comparing it to the
industriousness of the day-laborer. But that Macpherson™s understanding
is a distortion in the present context is indicated, remarkably, by Locke™s
own famous self-description at the beginning of the Essay. He is not
one of the entrepreneurial “Master-Builders, whose mighty Designs, in
advancing the Sciences, will leave lasting Monuments to the Admiration
of Posterity.”±µ In the industry of thought, it is “ambition enough to
± This resonates with Charles Taylor™s hypothesis of the development of an ethic of everyday life,
replacing the more ¬‚amboyant ethic of aristocratic display at this time. See Taylor, Sources of the
Self, p. °, where it is oberved that Locke™s ethical outlook “was plainly an endorsement of the
serious, productive, and paci¬c improver of any class, and against the aristocratic, caste-conscious
pursuit of honour and glory through self-display and the warrior virtues. Locke continued and
further developed the inversion of the old hierarchy of values which the ethic of ordinary life
± Macpherson, Political Theory of Possessive Individualism, p. .
±µ Locke, Essay, p.  (“Epistle to the Reader”).
“The Democratic Intellect”
be employed as an Under-Laborer in clearing the Ground a little, and
removing some of the Rubbish, that lies in the way to Knowledge.”±
The trained Lockean understanding is not classy or ¬‚amboyant in its
operation: it proceeds by repetitive steps, and its method is “not without
pains and attention” (E: ..). I know we mustn™t read too much into
this. The rhetoric of humility is a conventional device, particularly in
introducing a work, and it might not be much more signi¬cant than
Locke™s comparison of himself in the “Epistle Dedicatory” with a poor
man offering a basket of ¬‚owers or fruit to his rich neighbor. If it stood
alone, this rhetoric would signify very little.±·
In fact it stands with a wealth of explicit, non-¬gurative re¬‚ection
on the correlation of pragmatic effectiveness with class-based intellec-
tual pretensions. When Locke took the opportunity to stigmatize mem-
bers of some classes for their intellectual laziness, his target was not the
idle poor but rather those “[w]ho though they have Riches and Leisure
enough, and want neither parts nor other helps, are yet never the better
for them” (E: .°.) in their intellectual life. He does mention drudgery
as an obstacle to the improvement of the understanding, but it is not the
drudgery of labor or quasi-enslavement (nd T: ), but rather “constant
drudgery in business” (E: .°.). In these comments, Locke™s only ref-
erence to the laboring classes is a suggestion that the rich and leisured
are often put to shame “by Men of lower Condition who surpass them
in knowledge” (ibid.). Again, when he wrote, at the beginning of the
Essay, about “the lazy and inconsiderate part of Men, making the far
greater number, [who] took up their Notions by chance, from common
Tradition and vulgar Conceptions, without much beating their Heads
about them” (E: ±..±µ), it is clear from the context that this was sup-
posed to apply much more to those who squandered the opportunities
of reason than to those who had no choice but to take things on faith.
Even today (especially today!) we are all familiar with people who claim
to live the life of the intellect but who nevertheless and in the very activity
they call reasoning, “[take] up their Notions . . . from common Tradition
and vulgar Conceptions, without much beating their heads about them”
(E: ±..±µ).±
± Ibid., p. ±°.
±· But for comment on another of Locke™s rhetorical devices “ the “conversational tone” of the
Essay, which may be read as “a deliberate bid to engage lots of readers, to make it clear that
science and philosophy . . . are open to any and all interested in them” “ see Herzog, Happy Slaves,
pp. µ“.
± There is an accurate and provocative account of this tendency among modern scholars in Posner,
Problematics, pp. “°.
° God, Locke, and Equality
Locke was certainly not beyond associating intellectual disability
with social marginality. His comments about the difference between
“Westminister-hall, or the Exchange on the one hand; [and] Alms-Houses
and Bedlam on the other” (E: .°.µ) are a suf¬cient indication of that.
But the overall tenor of his account is that of an equal-opportunity con-
demnation of intellectual failings. “All Men are liable to Errour, and most
Men are in many Points, by Passion or Interest, under Temptation to it”
(E: .°.±·).± In the Essay, his criticisms are directed at the “intelligent
Romanist” who is prepared against all the odds to accept the doctrine
of transubstantiation (E: .°.±°), the “learned Professor” who is not
willing to entertain the possibility that his scholarly energies may have
been wrongly invested (E: .°.±±), and “a Man, passionately in Love”
who rejects all evidence of his lover™s in¬delity (E: .°.±). On the one
hand, the “Mud-Walls” of intellectual obtuseness (E: .°.±) can be
found anywhere, in any class; and yet on the other, Locke is prepared
to conclude his discussion by saying “[t]here are not so many Men in
Errours, and wrong Opinions, as it is commonly supposed” (E: .°.±).
This is not explicitly presented as a vindication of the working-class intel-
lect; but it is evidently a vindication of the ordinary intellect, the intellect
possessed by a majority of persons, and it is maintained explicitly by
Locke “notwithstanding the great Noise [that] is made in the World
about Errours and Opinions” (E: .°.±).
I could continue in this vein for some time. When Locke talks darkly in
the Introduction to the Essay of “Men, extending their Enquiries beyond
their Capacities, and letting their Thoughts wander into those depths
where they can ¬nd no sure Footing” (E: ±.±.), it is not the impudence of
the laboring classes that he has in mind. On the contrary, it is his peers
in philosophy, who “raise questions and multiply disputes, which, never
coming to any clear resolution, are proper only to continue and increase
their doubts, and to con¬rm them at last in perfect scepticism” (ibid.). In
the First Treatise, when he considers the tendency of “the busie mind of
Man [to] carry him to a Brutality below the level of Beasts,” it is not the
poor or under-privileged he has in mind. It is the effect of imagination
reinforced by fashion and custom and the desire for reputation° among
those who are socially well-established and “in the know.” And it is his
disdain for that class of men that leads Locke to speculate that perhaps
± See also Ashcraft, Locke™s Two Treatises of Government, pp. ·“, for a similar account of where the
normative edge of Locke™s epistemology is directed.
° For the in¬‚uence on ethics of the desire for reputation and esteem, see Locke, E: ..±.
“The Democratic Intellect”
“the Woods and Forest . . . are ¬tter to give us Rules, than Cities and
Palaces, where those that call themselves Civil and Rational, go out
of their way, by the Authority of Examples” (±st T: µ). Notice that
this almost Rousseauian vision of the noble savage is not a reversion to
innatism; it is rather Locke™s indication that sometimes even the most
necessitous will do better using their own meager reason to ¬gure things
out than to follow the example or authority of those who are established
as their betters.
In a similar vein, Locke shows a healthy awareness of the foibles of
scholars, particularly their vanity and love of power. Scholars, he said,
are besotted with “Glory and Esteem” (E: .±°.), and many of their
professional virtues aim rather at ¬‚attery and admiration than at hard,
sometimes unpalatable truth. He contrasts the straightforward intellect of
the plain man with the “learned gibberish” of scholars, philosophers, and
lawyers with their “multiplied curious Distinctions, and acute Niceties”
(E: .±°.±).
[T]he philosophers of old . . . and the Schoolmen since, aiming at Glory and
Esteem, . . . found this a good Expedient to cover their Ignorance, with a curi-
ous and inexplicable Web of perplexed Words, and procure to themselves the
admiration of others, by unintelligible Terms, the apter to produce wonder,
because they could not be understood: whilst it appears in all History, that
these profound Doctors were no wiser, nor more useful than their Neighbours;
and brought but small advantage to humane life, or the Societies wherein
they lived . . . For, notwithstanding these learned Disputants, these all-knowing
Doctors, it was to the unscholastick Statesman, that the Governments of the
World owed their Peace, Defence, and Liberties; and from the illiterate and
contemned Mechanick (a Name of Disgrace) that they received the improve-
ments of useful Arts. (E: .±°.“)

The parenthesis here for the illiterate mechanic “ “(a Name of
Disgrace)” “ indicates yet again that Locke regards himself as arguing
against the conventional estimation of these matters. He thinks of himself
as more sympathetic to the abilities and contributions of members of the
working class than most of his contemporaries, and he would probably
recoil in horror at the interpretive fashion that became popular in the
twentieth century, whereby for the sake of faux-historical sophistication
we read his contemporaries™ views back into his own rather more radical
I don™t know if the unpleasant portrait of a vain and supercil-
ious Locke painted by Ian Pears in his wonderful novel about ±°s
 God, Locke, and Equality
Oxford “ An Instance of the Fingerpost “ is accurate.± But Locke™s con-
temporaries expressed a somewhat different view immediately after his
Many who knew him only by his Writings, or by the reputation he had gained, of
being one of the greatest Philosophers of the age, having imagined to themselves
that he was one of those Scholars, that being always full of themselves and
their sublime speculations, are incapable of familiarizing themselves with the
common sort of mankind, . . . were perfectly amazed to ¬nd him . . . much more
desirous of informing himself in what they understood better than himself, than
to make a show of his own Science.
Locke, I think, did not succumb to the occupational hazard of philoso-
phers, which is to infer “ quite fallaciously “ from the assumption that
their own work is worth doing, that the qualities they use in doing it
should be rated high in the pantheon of civic and political virtue. On the
contrary, he often displayed a healthy disdain for the particular technical
skills of the scholar. “He who shall employ all the force of his Reason
only in brandishing of syllogisms, will discover very little of that Mass of
Knowledge, which lies yet concealed in the secret recesses of Nature;
and which I am apt to think, native rustic reason . . . is likelier to open a
way to.” (E: .±·.). One of the few places in his work where Locke dis-
agrees with “the judicious” Richard Hooker is in regard to the latter™s
suggestion (considered by Locke in the Essay) that there might be discov-
ered such “right helps of true Art and Learning” as to establish “almost
as much difference in Maturity of Judgment between men therewith
inured, and that which Men now are, as between Men that are now,
and Innocents.” Locke is quite wary of this suggestion, certainly of
any implication these right aids are con¬ned to the “Syllogism, and the
Logick now in Use” (E: .±·.·). He has little patience for the view that
possession of the technical apparatus of philosophical argument marks
an important distinction between types of reasoners, or that people have
to be taught rational thought by a specialist “ as though God had been
“so sparing to men to make them barely two-legged Creatures, and left
it to Aristotle to make them rational” (E: .±·.).µ In fact he thinks the
±  Coste, “The Character of Mr. Locke,” p. .
Pears, Instance of the Fingerpost, Ch. ±, p. .
 For the epithet “Judicious” as applied to Richard Hooker, see Locke, nd T: µ.
 Hooker, Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, cited in Locke, E: .±·.·.
µ In fairness to Aristotle he adds: “I say not this any way to lessen Aristotle, whom I look on as
one of the greatest men amongst the ancients; whose large views, acuteness, and penetration of
thought and strength of judgment, few have equalled; and who, in this very invention of forms
of argumentation, wherein the conclusion may be shown to be rightly inferred, did great service
against those who were not ashamed to deny anything” (E: .±·.).
“The Democratic Intellect”
technical logic of a philosopher is as often an obstruction as an aid to
sound and useful reasoning: “He that in the ordinary Affairs of Life,
would admit of nothing but direct plain Demonstration, would be sure
of nothing, in this World, but of perishing quickly” (E: .±±.±°).
Tell a Country Gentlewoman, that the Wind is South-West, and the Weather
louring, and like to rain, and she will easily understand, ™tis not safe for her to
go abroad thin clad, in such a day, after a Fever: she clearly sees the probable
Connexion of all these, viz. South-West-Wind, and Clouds, Rain, wetting, taking
Cold, Relapse, and danger of Death, without tying them together in those
arti¬cial and cumbersome Fetters of several Syllogisms, that clog and hinder
the Mind . . . and the Probability which she easily perceives in Things thus in
their native State, would be quite lost, if this Argument were managed learnedly,
and proposed in Mode and Figure. (E: .±·.)
I don™t mean to exaggerate this. Locke is not an opponent of reason.
He thinks technical logic has a particular job to do. But its function is
not to browbeat or bamboozle the unschooled, but to discipline and
correct the errors “that are often concealed in ¬‚orid, witty, or involved
Discourses” (E: .±·.). Some people “ people of all classes “ need this
sort of correction. But that doesn™t show its general indispensability:
“Some Eyes want Spectacles to see things clearly and distinctly; but let
not those that use them therefore say, no body can see clearly without
them” (E: .±·.).
More generally, Locke accepts that those who have the skill to under-
take philosophical inquiry ought to use it to the best of their ability. It
becomes us, “as rational Creatures, to employ those Faculties we have
about what they are most adapted to” (E: .±.±±). If reason can prac-
ticably establish a truth, then that™s the best way. Locke™s pessimism
about scholarly reason, then, is not intellectual nihilism. He accepted
the premise of what I am calling the philosophers™ fallacy: philosophical
reason has important work to do. He just didn™t draw the conclusion “
that therefore the possession of philosophical reason is an important cre-
dential or the basis of any important entitlement in social and political
 “God might, by Revelation, discover the Truth of any Proposition in Euclid . . . [But] [i]n all
Things of this Kind there is little need or use of Revelation, God having furnished us with natural,
and surer means to arrive at the Knowledge of them. For whatsoever Truth we come to the clear
discovery of, from the Knowledge and Contemplation of our own Ideas, will always be certainer
to us, than those which are conveyed to us by Traditional Revelation. For the Knowledge, we have,
that this Revelation came at ¬rst from God, can never be so sure, as the Knowledge we have
from the clear and distinct Perception of the Agreement, or Disagreement of our own Ideas.”
(E: .±.).
 God, Locke, and Equality

I now want to focus the discussion more narrowly on the nature of moral
inquiry, and in particular on the contrast that Locke was eventually led
to concede between his own activity as a philosopher seeking to establish
rational foundations for morality and the means by which moral truth
could in fact be made available to most members of a political community.
It is tempting to say that of these two routes to moral understanding,
someone like John Locke would of course privilege the former, and that
to the extent that moral understanding is a large part of civic virtue, this
would correspond to a social and political denigration of those who had
no option but to take the second, non-philosophical route. However,
the trajectory of Locke™s own intellectual enterprise refutes any such
correlation. Certainly Locke himself was led by the prospect of a rational
grounding for morality to undertake and complete his most substantial
philosophical work. But he always had doubts about this as a normal
or normative route to moral understanding (as opposed to viewing it as
a philosophical exercise that might validate and underwrite the normal
or normative route). And he eventually became aware that this mode of
establishing moral truth might not even succeed on its own terms. Far
from offering a basis of moral understanding that could serve as a mark
of social and political superiority, it turns out that the path of reason
threatens to lead those who take it into a realm of greater perplexity and
vulnerability to moral danger.
Let™s begin, though, with the optimism and the rationalist aspiration.
We know that the Essay Concerning Human Understanding was undertaken
not as a pure exercise in epistemology, but with a view to the necessity
of establishing secure rational foundations for morality.· We have to be
quite careful, however, about what it was that Locke set out to do in this
regard. In the Essay, he commits himself to the claim that “moral Knowledge
is as capable of real Certainty as mathematics” (E: ..·). But “capable” is a
slippery word. “[C]apable of Demonstration” might be taken to mean that
we can reasonably expect a mathematical demonstration of morality in
the near future “ perhaps from John Locke himself. That is certainly how
some of Locke™s critics affected to take it. There is a very testy response by

· See Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke, pp. ±· ff.
 Locke writes (E: ..±): “The idea of a supreme Being, in¬nite in Power, Goodness, and Wisdom,
whose Workmanship we are, and on whom we depend; and the idea of our selves, as under-
standing, rational Beings . . . would, I suppose, if duly considered, and pursued, afford such foun-
dations of Our Duty and Rules of Action as might place Morality amongst the Sciences capable of
“The Democratic Intellect”
Locke to a criticism along these lines by one Thomas Burnet. Locke says
things like: “I have said indeed in my book that I thought morality capable
of demonstration as well as mathematics. But I do not remember where
I promised this gentleman to demonstrate it to him.” Now actually
this is more than a little disingenuous, for in the Second Treatise Locke
insists several times that the law of nature is “plain and intelligible to
all rational Creatures,”° while in the Essay, he actually spoke of his
“con¬dence” that “if Men would in the same method, and with the
same indifferency, search after moral, as they do mathematical Truths,
they would . . . come nearer perfect Demonstration, than is commonly
imagined” (E: ..°).
Even so, I think we are unfair to Locke when we say, with John Dunn
and others, that he never actually got round to providing any of the par-
ticulars of the law of nature or that he never got round to setting out the
rational arguments that he claimed were capable of being produced.±
An awful lot of the Second Treatise just is a presentation of natural law; it
adds up to a natural law argument, roughly demonstrative in form, on
issues such as property, punishment, and politics. Locke shows us what a
natural law argument would be, even if he doesn™t describe very explicitly
the process he is using. The argument about equality, which we recon-
structed in Chapter  for example, is in the form of a rational argument,
albeit a rational argument imbued with religious content. There Locke
is arguing that a being with the power of abstraction can recognize that it
has an obligation to act in accordance with God™s purposes; and when it
sees the same power of abstraction manifested by others, it can recognize
that they too have been sent into the world about God™s business, and so
they must be respected “ equally with oneself “ as beings commissioned
by the purposes of God. That is a natural law argument. Also, the Second
Treatise chapter on property “ which I will talk about in Chapter  “ is a
sustained piece of natural law reasoning, presented by Locke, in his own
voice as a long, demonstrative body of argument. It may not be a perfect
or completely persuasive argument. But it surely furnishes an impressive
sample of the sort of thing Locke thought could in fact be provided.
What I am saying, then, is that sometimes it is less important to see what
Locke says about argumentation in morals, and more important to see
what he does, what he produces in the way of such argumentation. That™s

 ° See nd T: ± and ±.
See Burnet, Remarks on John Locke, p. .
± Dunn, Political Thought of John Locke, p. ±·; Laslett, “Introduction,” p. ±.
 And just to avoid any misunderstanding: the idea of a rational demonstration of morality does
not mean a secular demonstration. It means that we reason from the rational “ and, in Locke™s
view, rationally demonstrable “ idea of God, rather than from any particular revelation.
 God, Locke, and Equality
what provides our clearest indication of what natural law argumentation
is supposed to be like.
In another regard, too, Locke™s irritation with Burnet™s complaint is
not entirely unreasonable. For “capable of Demonstration” might also
mean that there is in principle no obstacle to demonstration “ that we
have no reason to believe there is anything in morality which (so to
speak) inherently de¬es rationality, or obstructs demonstration “ without
it being the case that the demonstration is actually within our power (as
things stand). For us, the toughest part of the case to make in this regard
would be to establish the existence of a personal deity, who takes an
interest in human affairs, who “has a superiority and right to ordain,
and also a power to reward and punish according to the tenor of the law
established by him.” But Locke did not see this as a particular problem:
“This sovereign lawmaker . . . is God . . . whose existence we have already
proved.” If showing that had required an irrational leap of faith, then
morality would not in principle be capable of demonstration. Beyond
that, it is a matter of ¬guring out ¬rst, whether God, whose existence we
have demonstrated, requires anything of us. Thus in the ± manuscript
fragment, “Of Ethic in General” (where he is setting out his agenda in
moral philosophy), Locke says: “The next thing then to show is, that
there are certain rules . . . which it is his will all men should conform
their actions to, and that this will of his is suf¬ciently promulgated and
made known to all mankind.”µ Now I read that quite pedantically.
What the philosopher undertakes to show is “that there are certain rules,”
which is not at all the same as undertaking to establish their contents.
The point is that Locke thinks reason refutes the deist™s claim that God
might have no concern with human affairs. And near the beginning of
The Reasonableness of Christianity, there is a quite convincing argument that
reason must be normative for beings like us, even if we are bound to fall
short of its demands. The argument is more or less a priori, at least once
it is granted that we are created beings endowed with reason. Reason,
Locke says, must be normative for man,
unless God would have made him a rational creature, and not required him to
live by the law of reason; but would have countenanced in him irregularity and


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