Natural Law

The School of Natural Law Philosophy was an intellectual group of
philosophers. They developed new ways of thinking about religion and
government. Natural law was based on moral principles, but the overall outlook
changed with the times.
John Locke was a great philosopher from the middle of the 17th century.
He was a primary contributor to the new ideas concerning natural law of that
time. He argued that humans in the state of nature are free and equal, yet
insecure in their freedom. When they enter society, they surrender only such
rights as are necessary for their security and for the common good. He also
believed that each individual retains fundamental prerogatives drawn from
natural law relating to the integrity of the person and property. This natural
rights theory was the basis of not only the American, but also the French
revolution. 1 During his lifetime, he wrote many essays and letters to his
colleagues on a variety of topics:2

• Letter on Toleration (1689)
• Second Letter on Toleration (1690)
• Two Treatises of Government (1690)
• Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690)
• Some Considerations of the Consequences of Lowering of Interest, and Raising
the Value of Money (1691)
• Third Letter on Toleration (1692)
• Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693)
• Further Considerations Concerning Raising the Value of Money (1693)
• The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)
• A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)
• A Second Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)
• A Letter to the Bishop of Worcester (1697)
• Discourse on Miracles
• Fourth Letter for Toleration
• An Examination of Father Malebranche\'s Opinion of Seeing All Things in God
• Remarks on Some of Mr Norris\'s Books
• Conduct of the Understanding

Locke\'s greatest philosophical contribution is his Essay Concerning Human
Understanding. In the winter of 1670, five or six friends were talking in his room,
probably in London. The topic was the "principles of morality and revealed
religion," but arguments arose and no real progress or serious discussion took
place. Then, he goes on to say, "it came into my thoughts that we took a wrong
course, and that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was
necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings
were, or were not, fitted to deal with." At the request of his friends, Locke
agreed to write down his thoughts on this question at their next meeting, and he
expected that a single sheet of paper would suffice for the purpose. Little did he
realize the importance of the issue which he raised, and that it would take up his
free time for nearly twenty years. The Essay is divided into four books; the first
is a debate against the doctrine of innate principles and ideas of that time. The
second deals with ideas, the third with words, and the fourth with knowledge.
Locke\'s ideas center on traditional philosophical topics: the nature of the
self, the world, God, and the grounds of our knowledge of them. He addresses
these questions at the end of his Essay. The first three sections are an
introduction, and Locke saw that they had an importance of their own. His
opening statements make this plain:

Since it is the understanding that sets man above the rest of sensible beings,
and gives him all the advantage and dominion which he has over them; it is
certainly a subject, even for its nobleness, worth our labour to inquire into. The
understanding, like the eye, while it makes us see and perceive all other things,
takes no notice of itself; and it requires art and pains to set it at a distance and
make it its own object. But whatever be the difficulties that lie in the way of this
inquiry; whatever it be that keeps us so much in the dark to ourselves; sure I am
that all the light we can let in upon our minds, all the acquaintance we can make
with our own understandings, will not only be very pleasant, but bring us great
advantage, in directing our thoughts in the search of other things.

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