Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government

by: John Locke

Preface, Chapters 1-2: Of the State of Nature

Summary Preface, Chapters 1-2: Of the State of Nature

Since this is our first encounter with the text, let's take this as an entry-point to talking a bit about Locke's writing itself, his syntax, word choice, and so on. Oddly enough, John Locke, the great Treatise writer and political philosopher, had a fairly cautious relationship with language. Book III of his very famous Essay Concerning Human Understanding is all about language, and expresses the idea that language should only be used to convey ideas and meanings as simply, clearly, and economically as possible. Locke's Second Treatise is actually quite simple to read, because he moves directly from point to point, and is not given to hyperbole or repetition. Locke is not a rhetorician; rather than play with words or language to compel the reader, he states his ideas as strongly and clearly as possible. He notes in the Preface that "railing" responses to his work will not refute his ideas--only rational arguments will. This simplicity of Locke's writing gives his ideas a sense of compelling empirical clarity, which can often cause one to overlook flaws in his philosophy (which we will address later).

Locke's Second Treatise on Civil Government: Popular pages