Locke’s Theory Of Punishment
John Locke was an English philosopher, who is undoubtedly the philosopher of modern times and the originator of concepts like self and identity, human nature and understanding, theory of mind and several other concepts regarding political philosophy and ethics. Born in 1632 and died in 1704, Locke is unanimously termed as the Father of Classical Liberalism since during the enlightenment era; he was amongst the most influential and widely followed scholars. Many of his works regarding liberalism and republicanism have been included into the U.S. Declaration of Independence and Constitution, due to their authenticity and practicality in real terms.
Locke also performed as a government official who was authorized to collect information regarding to trade with the entire colonies. This experience allowed him to be in close contact with the political activities and eventually led him to write upon the authorization and legislation customs for the government. His famous political works include “The Two Treatises of Government” which were published in 1689. In the first treatise, Locke pointed out and criticized several those principles and basis of the government set by Sir Robert Filmer, which were immensely against the nature of a good and legitimate government and in the favor of patriarchalism. The second treatise of this work includes the basics of moral and political philosophy for a true and legitimate government. “The Second Treatise of Government” which was titled by Locke as “An Essay Concerning the True Original, Extent and End of Civil Government” argued that people must be granted sovereignty and authority to choose their own modes of life and this would guaranty a successful and legitimate government, since it provides complete authority to the masses in terms of natural rights and social contracts. Locke described that a natural state is more stable than a dictator one, which is highly disliked by the public as no one can be allowed to rule over a group of people without their consent and should be overthrown. Hence on the whole, the individuals are the judges of their own actions and there is no obligation upon them to follow what is set by others for them. Because of this approach of him, Locke’s work has been illustrated as an opposition to authoritarianism and patriarchalism (Locke 1924).
Amongst other points to ponder in the Locke’s treatises of government, there is theory of punishment, according to which one must be capable of acknowledging the condemnable act as one’s own in order to be the proper subject of punishment. This accounts with the social legal system that the punishments must be equal for all members of the society and should be in accordance to the crime. There is no doubt in that to run a proper, legitimate government; the laws of penalties must hold in order to keep peace and preservation of the properties. But in a state of nature, since everyone follows the laws of nature appropriately, there is no need of prosecutors, law enforcement agencies and legal system. If someone performs a crime, then the other person must take it as if he has done the same and think of the corresponding punishment for him. In this way, as the members of the entire society take and treat each other equally, they become the judges on their own accounts and suggest quite appropriate and proportionate punishments for the criminals. Since in a state of nature, there is no government to apply the rules and principles of a moral society, hence it is the members who are the decision makers (Locke 1924).
However, there is a big concern in a state of nature regarding human’s own nature. On the whole, humans are biased according to different aspects of life, whether these are blood relations, race or ethnicity, localities, neighborhood etc. Since it is the nature of humans that they are biased and dis-proportionate, thus the biggest problem with the state of nature can be the frequent misjudgments and under or over-punishments by the members of the society to the criminal. When becoming a judge on our own behalf, it can be possible that we might help the criminal on the basis of some relation or acquaintance, or take much interest in those cases in which someone who is not a good friend of us is involved, thus we make false and exaggerated blames and the person suffers with more than what he has done. This becomes highly immoral and the society thus laid upon misjudgments and corrupt basis. In such cases, the state of nature gets immensely failed and a proper, legitimate civil government is necessary and required to take care of the rules set by the constitution and make appropriate penalties and punishments if someone abide by these rules and regulations. Hence over all, the idea of criminal justice system in a state of nature gets failed while that set by a legitimate government works and is considered quite moral and ethical as far as the corresponding crimes are concerned (Locke 1924).
The theory of punishment by Locke actually describes the role and function of a legitimate government as a necessary and sufficient thing to keep the society in limits and to preserve the natural rights of its citizens. All those members of the society must be punished who violates the rights of others, hence setting examples for every other ones not to indulge in immoral and unethical activities. There is another important point in this regard, to prefer individual rights over the public good and accordingly, to prefer a legitimate government over the state of nature. A common example to give is of death penalty, which can be considered wrongful and inhumane regarding the human rights, but when it comes to social and public interest, the culprit must be punished in order to safeguard and preserve the majority. Since there can be a doubt of unfair judgment by the citizens themselves in a state of nature, a civil, legitimate government is required which is an improved version of the state of nature and must be appreciated. Such a government safeguards the rights of its citizens by assigning proper punishments to the culprits; thus making the society a better and secure place to live. On the other hand, an illegitimate government cannot provide safety to its citizens since it is the biggest looter of the public rights itself. Such a government cannot provide justice and develop harmony amongst the society and usually make biased judgments by violating the rights of its subjects. An illegitimate government implies all kind of authorities and powers to its masses to suppress them and to keep control over them irrespective of their discontent. Thus according to Locke, patriarchalism is in opposition to a proper civil government who only executes its political powers to take good care of the rights of birth, freedom and liberty, health etc. To the citizens of its state (Locke 1924).
Although Locke argued about the entire discussion in a well-understood ascending order, there remained some confusion in Locke’s own views about the Political and Despotic power of the state. He described that a legitimate government implies its political powers to keep peace while an illegitimate government makes use of the despotic powers to snatch the rights of its subjects and to rule over them as long as either the rulers want, or they got over thrown by any revolution. Hence there is a great contrast between the Political and Despotic powers, but Locke got confused about the true and proper implications of these powers and at a point, regarded them as the same, as he describes “Though I have had occasion to speak of these before, yet the great mistakes of late about government, having as I suppose arisen from confounding these distinct powers one with another, it may…