“The Charitable John Locke”

Steven Forde, "The Charitable John Locke," Review of Politics, 71 (2009), 428-458.

Locke’s political philosophy, like any that centers on individual rights such as property rights, raises the question whether human beings have any duty to charity, or economic assistance, to the needy. Locke’s works contain some strong statements in favor of such a duty, but in his definitive treatment of property, chapter 5 of the Second Treatise of Government, he is conspicuously silent on charity. Based on a reading of that chapter and other texts, I conclude that the basis of Lockean morality is not individual right per se, but concern for the common good. I compare Locke’s theory of property to those of Aquinas, Grotius, and Pufendorf in order to shed light on Locke’s view of property and charity. Finally, I argue that Locke has a tiered moral theory that separates justice from charity. His economic and political theories focus on justice, masking Locke’s actual devotion to charity.