“Natural Law, Theology, and Morality in Locke”

Steven Forde, "Natural Law, Theology, and Morality in Locke," American Journal of Political Science, 45 (2001), 396-409.

Liberal theorists have always been confronted with the criticism that liberalism lacks a moral foundation adequate to the needs of society. I undertake a reading of Locke that agrees with those scholars who have found greater moral resources in his philosophy than has sometimes been allowed. Drawing primarily on the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Two Treatises of Government, Some Thoughts Concerning Education, and The Reasonableness of Christianity, I find a Lockean basis for morality that transcends narrow or mundane self-interest. This morality however depends on a controversial and unfinished natural theology. This, I argue, led Locke to elaborate a practical teaching that was as independent as possible of theology. The result is a bifurcated legacy: Locke bequeathes us a philosophy with moral depth, but a political teaching vulnerable to the criticism of moral deficiency.