A Lockean Experiment

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.  For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

  • Romans 1:18-20

“JOHN LOCKE (1632-1704) was the first of the classical British empiricists.  (Empiricists believed that all knowledge derives from experience.  These philosophers were hostile to rationalistic metaphysics, particularly to its unbridled use of speculation, its grandiose claims, and its epistemology grounded in innate ideas.)  In his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke began his attack on Descartes’s ‘innate ideas’ by threatening them with Occam’s Razor.  (‘Occam’s Razor’ is a principle of simplification derived from William of Ockham, or Occam, it cautions, ‘Do not multiply entities beyond necessity.’  Given two theories, each of which adequately accounts for all the observable data, the simpler theory is the correct theory.)  If Locke could account for all human knowledge without making reference to innate ideas, then his theory would be simpler, hence better, than that of Descartes.  He wrote, ‘Let us then suppose the mind to be, as we say, white paper, void of all characters, without any ideas:  How comes it to be furnished?  To this I answer, in one word, from EXPERIENCE.’ …
“John Locke concerned himself not only with epistemology but with politics as well.  In his theory, developed in
Two Treatises on Government, Locke, like Hobbes, drew a distinction between ‘the state of nature’ and the political state.’  …  Locke’s ‘state of nature’ is a moral state – the state into which we are all born as humans, where we are all bestowed with certain God-given natural rights, the right to ‘life, health, liberty and possessions.’  Recall that for Hobbes, there was only one natural right, the right to try to preserve one’s life.  Hobbes seems to have believed that a kind of instinct for survival authorized that right.  Locke’s theory contains several natural rights, all of which are moral rather than instinctual, and they derive their authority from God.  Hobbes purposely left God out of his theory because he was trying to escape medievalism, where all philosophy presupposed God’s existence.  Hobbes was particularly insistent that there was no such thing as a ‘natural right to property’ …  Locke, to the contrary, claimed we have a natural right to whatever part of nature we have ‘mixed our labor with.’  So if I till the soil, or cut down a tree and make a house from it, then this garden and that house are mine (and will be my children’s when they inherit them from me.) …
“… It is clear that the ‘Founding Fathers’ used Locke’s theory to justify the American revolution, and they incorporated his ideas into our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  Perhaps what is best in the American system derives from what is best in Locke’s theory, and some social critics claim that what is worst in the American system is derived from what is worst in Locke’s theory.  America can be seen as a great Lockean experiment.”

  • Donald Palmer, Looking at Philosophy, The Unbearable Heaviness of Philosophy Made Lighter

First, a few definitions:  Empiricism is well defined as being a philosophy based on experience.  Empirical comes from the same root, observing a relationship purely upon observable information.  Epistemology is the theory of a search for observable knowledge, used to justify belief over opinion.  Remember the philosophy of Thomas Aquinas (Resolving Philosophy with Theology ).  Natural theology was that theology that overlaps philosophy.  In Locke’s philosophy, natural theology is simply called “knowledge.”  As the Scripture above states, the creation of God is all around us and can be observed.  Thus, Locke used epistemology to justify his Christian belief by experiencing the observable evidence (empiricism) of God’s creation.

Occam’s Razor is well explained in the quote above, but there is a problem with what Locke considered elemental.  Locke felt that simply saying that any method of explaining the origin of man outside of the Biblical account would be more complex, thus wrong.  But those who are in such vehement opposition to any thought that God exists, they would prefer something like the millions of years old earth and evolution – something that cannot happen, not simply implausible – just to avoid the obvious, easier solution.  I think even William of Occam would think the present age is “bat crap crazy,” but unconfessed sin can do strange things to people.

In watching some David Barton videos over the 4th of July weekend, he mentioned Locke’s influence on the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.  In his Two Treatises on Government, much of these foundational documents of the USA are largely copied from Locke’s work.  And Locke’s work quotes Scripture about twice on each page, according to David Barton.  Our nation, under serious attack by the far left, has been a success, only in that the Founding Fathers realized that humans are naturally “totally depraved” to borrow the words of John Calvin.  The checks and balances have kept us from losing our freedom, but the far left has made it clear that their goal is to abolish the Constitution in favor of a “living document,” meaning no checks and balances so that they can quickly change our form of government without ratification by the population.  Our freedom will disappear without a whimper, without most of us noticing.

But I promised a week ago that I would contrast the Hobbes philosophy with that of Locke.  Hobbes had one natural right, self-preservation.  Locke believed that God (what is missing in Hobbes’ philosophy) has granted us the moral natural rights of life, liberty, health, and possessions.  “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” is how this theory is expressed in the Declaration of Independence.  In a way, Locke had that underlying optimism, that Hope that equates health and possessions as a means to a pursuit of happiness.  Hobbes had no hope; at best, the best that you could hope for was to survive beyond your peers.  Yet, Locke felt that if you built the home, it was yours.  Thus, the ‘pursuit of happiness’ was the work necessary to have the comfort, ease, and security that you worked to obtain – a means to have happiness.

But what most in the USA misunderstand, Locke’s natural inalienable rights are God-given, outside the purview of the government.  We want our government to “make us happy.”  The Declaration of Independence does not guarantee happiness, just the right to pursue it.  For one, it is impossible for the government to make us “happy.”  For another, the government can either grant us greater freedom or take freedom away in preference to more control.

Yet, the total depravity rears its head each day.  Traffic laws are broken so often, it is a miracle that there are not major accidents at every street corner.  As a safety director for many years, I am aware that workers know the rules, know why the rules are in place, and then violate the rules because they think themselves immortal or at least smarter than the other guy.  And people are not wearing masks during this COVID-19 problem because they see no need for it, due to them not having symptoms – but people keep getting the virus and dying, exposed by someone who did not think they were sick, or should I say simply (using Occam’s Razor), did not think.

If we are to have freedom, we need to live a reasonably controlled life, holding firmly to the reigns that control our expression of freedom.  We need to love one another and act accordingly.  And we need to repent and return to God.  Without God, our freedom, and Locke’s great experiment, is over.

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.


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  1. You know what they say— freedom isn’t free

    Liked by 1 person

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