Julianna Moock Liberty vs Natural Law

Chapter II “Of the State of Nature”

“The state of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges everyone, and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions; for men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker; all the servants of one sovereign Master, sent into the world by His order and about His business; they are His property, whose workmanship they are made to last during His, not one another’s pleasure. And, being furnished with like faculties, sharing all in one community of Nature, there cannot be supposed any such subordination among us that may authorise us to destroy one another, as if we were made for one another’s uses, as the inferior ranks of creatures are for ours. Every one as he is bound to preserve himself, and not to quit his station willfully, so by the like reason, when his own preservation comes not in competition, ought he as much as he can to preserve the rest of mankind” (6).

I chose this excerpt from John Locke’s commentary on the State of Nature to better understand the interaction between liberty and Natural law. Initially, I found his point to be contradictory, that men can be both independent and “servants to one soverign Master.” Since his purpose was to distance himself from the tradition of Divine Right, I could not comprehend why he not only embedded a “Master” into his worldview, but a Natural Law to which we must oblige. However, I believe that Locke may be making the claim that humans can act with autonomy as individuals, but a moral guide is necessary to foster community. After considering Toni Morrison’s “Moral Inhabitants,” I received a clearer understanding. She claimed that there is cruelty in the world, but we may look to the “mystery of beauty, of light” to find solace in our experience. Locke similarly claims that to combat the urge to destroy, we can strive for the preservation of community. This passage could address the question: How do we find common ground amongst our differences? Locke would likely say that we should feel pride in expressing our individual identity and choices, but we must live under a common moral code to provide safety.

Leave a Reply