Nonetheless, Locke was speaking to a specific society at a specific time. Perhaps he was not claiming that this relationship between virtue and esteem holds true universally; perhaps he was only saying that in that in upper class eighteenth century England it would hold true. Whether or not this more modest claim is true is another question, but it is at least not as obviously false as the first, universal, claim we attributed to Locke.

There is also another alternative reading available for Locke's claim, that would put Locke on even stronger ground. We have been reading him to mean that what leads to virtuous behavior is trying to earn the esteem of others. But there are several indications in the text that what Locke is ultimately aiming for is that the child come to care most about earning esteem and avoiding disgrace in his own eyes. In other words, by learning to care about what others think, a boy develops a strong conscience. We might be able to read the statement, therefore, as saying that one will always be inclined to do the right thing, so long as one follows one's own conscience. This would be a completely legitimate claim, on Locke's view at least, because Locke believes that our faculty of reason will never lead us astray on moral questions. If earning esteem in your own eyes is merely a matter of doing what reason tells you is the right thing to do, then following your own conscience cannot fail to lead you to virtue in every case.

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