Morality In John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

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In John Locke’s arguably greatest essay, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke implies that morality is one of the most vital aspects of study concerning humans and human motivation as well as implying that we can have an understanding of morality. Locke provides a rather brief and obscure explanation of morality. However, he does provide us with three different characterizations of morality. They include: natural law, the will of God, and pleasure and pain. According to Locke we can have certain and demonstrative knowledge of morality. However, I will argue that Locke’s theory or morality is not consistent with his claim that we can have demonstrative knowledge of morality. The first characterization of morality is natural law. Locke asserted that the natural law theory occurs without regularity, without exception, and holds universally true. It includes the physical laws of nature along with moral rules or moral law that all rational beings should conform their actions to. According to Locke moral law is an “obligation”, meaning that rational beings have the obligation to obey these moral laws, however, they have the ability to not obey them. This is shown when he says “Moral good or evil is only conformity or disagreement of our voluntary actions to some law.” (Essay, 2.28.5)…show more content…
This requires that an individual perceives the “truth or falsity of any claim to which she grants or withholds assent” (Sheridan). We must be moral agents. According to Locke an individual agent must perform the intellectual analysis and demonstration himself in order to truly know his moral duty (Sheridan). For Locke though, the opportunity of finding one’s moral duty and gaining such moral knowledge is very narrow. Even worse-- there are people who have such means and the leisure, but “satisfy themselves with a lazy ignorance” (Essay,

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