“Mixed Modes in John Locke’s Moral and Political Philosophy”

Steven Forde, "'Mixed Modes' in John Locke's Moral and Political Philosophy," Review of Politics 4 (2011), 581-608.

The moral theory of “mixed modes” John Locke presents in his Essay concerning Human Understanding is beset with paradoxes. On the one hand, he tells us that all mixed modes, including moral concepts, are “arbitrary” mental constructs. On the other hand, he speaks of an “eternal law” of right and wrong, and is well known as a champion of objective, universally valid natural law. This paradox stems from problems created by the new natural science. That science is predicated on the demolition of Aristotelian Scholasticism. Locke participates in that demolition on behalf of science, but it leaves him with limited options in building his own moral theory. Samuel Pufendorf responded to this situation by devising a theory of “moral modes,” and Locke follows Pufendorf’s model. The essay concludes by noting some similarities and differences with the moral metaphysics of Immanuel Kant.