Jack Lyons, Locke’s Rebuke of ‘Savagery’, “to the use of the industrious and rational” (paragraph 33 of Locke)

This passage from Locke is very much the cornerstone for his philosophical justification for a world that leaves behind the Medieval view that the world was gifted to Adam and his descendants, via monarchs, as a kind of ‘Divine Right’. Instead, Locke starts from the point of view that it is Reason, not a specific inheritance from Adam, which we inherit from God, that gives human beings a justification to make use of the world in an industrious and rational manner. However, there seems to be some problematic consequences of Locke’s position, in particular when he posits that “it cannot be supposed He meant it should always remain common and uncultivated. He gave it to the use of the industrious and rational”. This becomes troublesome when it conflates leaving the world in a more uncultivated, simple, and natural state with being irrational, primitive, and barbaric. It is no surprise, therefore, that the concern which Professor Quillen presented during the past three lectures, that with the conclusions of the enlightenment certain unsavory ideas may come to be such as Eugenics, Colonialism, and Scientific Racism. These are the ideas that became justified in the minds of later philosophers and seeped its way into the power structures of the West.

I chose this passage because it seems to be one of the first attempts at othering more ‘primitive’ peoples around the world. Whether or not Locke fully understood what he was doing I’m not sure but I now understand where later philosophers found justification for their biases.

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