Andrew Denny Locke’s Definition of Free Will

Passage: “A liberty to follow my own will in all things where that rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature. This freedom from absolute, arbitrary power is so necessary to, and closely joined with, a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life together. For a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot by compact or his own consent enslave himself to anyone.” (John Locke, Second Treatise of Government, Chapter IV, Paragraph 21-22)

Response : I chose this passage by John Locke because it had an interesting contrast between his definition of free will and the freedoms associated with being human. I struggled with this passage because at first glance I thought Locke contradicted himself when he transitioned from saying that humans have free will but are limited by mutually compacted laws to the idea that humans have innate freedom given to them that they should never relinquish. This confused me because I had a preconceived notion that by agreeing to, and obeying set laws one is relinquishing free will. However, after reading Prof. Quillen’s notes and a conversation with humester, Bryan I had a better sense of Locke’s definition of free will. Locke basically believes that people have free will as long as everyone else’s freedom of choice is also protected. This is where his transition makes more sense because by him saying that laws are necessary to protect the free will of others, it justifies having a rational government and separates it from the idea of slavery where total control is relinquished to an irrational authority. This argument helps Locke to rebuttal Filmer. The latter believed that humans where born with the right to do whatever they please and not be tied down by laws. What Locke outlines in this passage shows how they theory is incorrect and show how consistent, rational laws are needed to protect free will and how it is different from slavery. Finally, I think this related to our conversation on Thursday about power structures and identity. Locke felt that a power structure or government was necessary, but I think an interesting discussion could be had over whether these power structures how over-extended into our personal freedoms and identity in the modern day.

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