Political theory
See also: Two Treatises of Government
Locke's political theory was founded on social contract theory. Unlike Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature is characterized by reason and tolerance. Like Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature allowed men to be selfish. This is apparent with the introduction of currency. In a natural state all people were equal and independent, and everyone had a natural right to defend his “Life, health, Liberty, or Possessions", basis for the phrase in the American Declaration of Independence; "Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness".[20]
Like Hobbes, Locke assumed that the sole right to defend in the state of nature was not enough, so people established a
civil society to resolve conflicts in a civil way with help from government in a state of society. However, Locke never refers to Hobbes by name[21] and may instead have been responding to other writers of the day.[22] Locke also advocated governmental separation of powers and believed that revolution is not only a right but an obligation in some circumstances. These ideas would come to have profound influence on the Constitution of the United States and its Declaration of Independence.
Limits to accumulation
Labour creates property, but it also does contain limits to its accumulation: man’s capacity to produce and man’s capacity to consume. According to Locke, unused property is waste and an offense against nature. However, with the introduction of “durable” goods, men could exchange their excessive perishable goods for goods that would last longer and thus not offend the natural law. The introduction of money marks the culmination of this process. Money makes possible the unlimited accumulation of property without causing waste through spoilage. He also includes gold or silver as money because they may be “hoarded up without injury to anyone,” since they do not spoil or decay in the hands of the possessor. The introduction of money eliminates the limits of accumulation. Locke stresses that inequality has come about by tacit agreement on the use of money, not by the social contract establishing civil society or the law of land regulating property. Locke is aware of a problem posed by unlimited accumulation but does not consider it his task. He just implies that government would function to moderate the conflict between the unlimited accumulation of property and a more nearly equal distribution of wealth and does not say which principles that government should apply to solve this problem. However, not all elements of his thought form a consistent whole. For example, labour theory of value of the Two Treatises of Government stands side by side with the demand-and-supply theory developed in a letter he wrote titled Some Considerations on the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and the Raising of the Value of Money. Moreover, Locke anchors property in labour but in the end upholds the unlimited accumulation of wealth.


In Leviathan, Hobbes set out his doctrine of the foundation of states and legitimate governments – originating social contract theory. Leviathan was written during the English Civil War; much of the book is occupied with demonstrating the necessity of a strong central authority to avoid the evil of discord and civil war.
Beginning from a
mechanistic understanding of human beings and the passions, Hobbes postulates what life would be like without government, a condition which he calls the state of nature. In that state, each person would have a right, or license, to everything in the world. This, Hobbes argues, would lead to a "war of all against all" (bellum omnium contra omnes), and thus lives that are "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short" (xiii).
To escape this state of war, men in the state of nature accede to a
social contract and establish a civil society. According to Hobbes, society is a population beneath a sovereign authority, to whom all individuals in that society cede some rights for the sake of protection. Any abuses of power by this authority are to be accepted as the price of peace. In particular, the doctrine of separation of powers is rejected:[13] the sovereign must control civil, military, judicial and ecclesiastical powers.
Leviathan was also well-known for its radical religious views, which were often Hobbes's attempt to reinterpret scripture from his materialist assumptions; his denial of incorporeal entities led him to write, for example, that Heaven and Hell were places on Earth, and to take other positions out of sync with church teachings of his time. Much has been made of his religious views by scholars such as Richard Tuck and J. G. A. Pocock, but there is still widespread disagreement about the significance of Leviathan's contents concerning religion. Many have taken the work to mean that Hobbes was an atheist, while others find the evidence for this position insufficient.

In Nicomachean Ethics I.2 Aristotle characterizes politics as the most authoritative science. It prescribes which sciences are to be studied in the city-state, and the other capacities -- such as military science, household management, and rhetoric -- fall under its authority. Since it governs the other practical sciences, their ends serve as means to its end, which is nothing less than the human good. "Even if the end is the same for an individual and for a city-state, that of the city-state seems at any rate greater and more complete to attain and preserve. For although it is worthy to attain it for only an individual, it is nobler and more divine to do so for a nation or city-state." (EN I.2.1094b7-10) Aristotle's political science encompasses the two fields which modern philosophers distinguish as ethics and political philosophy. (See the entry on Aristotle's ethics.) Political philosophy in the narrow sense is roughly speaking the subject of his treatise called the Politics. For a further discussion of this topic, see the following supplementary document:
Supplement: Characteristics and Problems of Aristotle's Politics
2. Aristotle's View of Politics
Political science studies the tasks of the politician or statesman (politikos), in much the way that medical science concerns the work of the physician (see Politics IV.1). It is, in fact, the body of knowledge that such practitioners, if truly expert, will also wield in pursuing their tasks. The most important task for the politician is, in the role of lawgiver (nomothetês), to frame the appropriate constitution for the city-state. This involves enduring laws, customs, and institutions (including a system of moral education) for the citizens. Once the constitution is in place, the politician needs to take the appropriate measures to maintain it, to introduce reforms when he finds them necessary, and to prevent developments which might subvert the political system. This is the province of legislative science, which Aristotle regards as more important than politics as exercised in everyday political activity such as the passing of decrees (see EN VI.8).
Aristotle frequently compares the politician to a craftsman. The analogy is imprecise because politics, in the strict sense of legislative science, is a form of practical knowledge, while a craft like architecture or medicine is a form of productive knowledge. However, the comparison is valid to the extent that the politician produces, operates, maintains a legal system according to universal principles (EN VI.8 and X.9). In order to appreciate this analogy it is helpful to observe that Aristotle explains production of an artifact in terms of four causes: the material, formal, efficient, and final causes (
Phys. II.3 and Met. A.2). For example, clay (material cause) is molded into a vase shape (formal cause) by a potter (efficient or moving cause) so that it can contain liquid (final cause). (For discussion of the four causes see the entry on Aristotle's physics.)
One can also explain the existence of the city-state in terms of the four causes. It is a kind of community (
koinônia), that is, a collection of parts having some functions and interests in common (Pol. II.1.1261a18, III.1.1275b20). Hence, it is made up of parts, which Aristotle describes in various ways in different contexts: as households, or economic classes (e.g., the rich and the poor), or demes (i.e., local political units). But, ultimately, the city-state is composed of individual citizens (see III.1.1274a38-41), who, along with natural resources, are the "material" or "equipment" out of which the city-state is fashioned (see VII.14.1325b38-41).
The formal cause of the city-state is its constitution (
politeia). Aristotle defines the constitution as "a certain ordering of the inhabitants of the city-state" (III.1.1274b32-41). He also speaks of the constitution of a community as "the form of the compound" and argues that whether the community is the same over time depends on whether it has the same constitution (III.3.1276b1-11). The constitution is not a written document, but an immanent organizing principle, analogous to the soul of an organism. Hence, the constitution is also "the way of life" of the citizens (IV.11.1295a40-b1, VII.8.1328b1-2). Here the citizens are that minority of the resident population who are adults with full political rights.
The existence of the city-state also requires an efficient cause, namely, its ruler. On Aristotle's view, a community of any sort can possess order only if it has a ruling element or authority. This ruling principle is defined by the constitution, which sets criteria for political offices, particularly the sovereign office (III.6.1278b8-10; cf. IV.1.1289a15-18). However, on a deeper level, there must be an efficient cause to explain why a city-state acquires its constitution in the first place. Aristotle states that "the person who first established [the city-state] is the cause of very great benefits" (I.2.1253a30-1). This person was evidently the lawgiver (
nomothetês), someone like Solon of Athens or Lycurgus of Sparta, who founded the constitution. Aristotle compares the lawgiver, or the politician more generally, to a craftsman (dêmiourgos) like a weaver or shipbuilder, who fashions material into a finished product (II.12.1273b32-3, VII.4.1325b40-1365a5).
The notion of final cause dominates Aristotle's
Politics from the opening lines:
Since we see that every city-state is a sort of community and that every community is established for the sake of some good (for everyone does everything for the sake of what they believe to be good), it is clear that every community aims at some good, and the community which has the most authority of all and includes all the others aims highest, that is, at the good with the most authority. This is what is called the city-state or political community. [I.1.1252a1-7]

Adam Smith's most famous work is the Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations (1776). We will look at it in the second cassette. But earlier he had published another work which won fame throughout Europe, The Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759). The Wealth of Nations is sometimes misrepresented as an argument that all will be well if people are allowed to follow self-interest, but as we will see from The Theory of Moral Sentiments Adam Smith attached great importance to Justice and other moral virtues that limit pursuit of self-interest.
The Theory of Moral Sentiments is a contribution to both psychology and ethics. Its purpose is to find a basis for ethical judgement in human psychology. The psychology is in terms of "propensities" (i.e. tendencies, dispositions, capacities) found in human nature: a human being placed in a certain situation has a propensity to act or react in certain ways. These propensities include:

  • sympathy--a disposition to experience certain feelings when we see another person in a certain situation;
  • a tendency to want others to feel towards us in a way that harmonises with our feelings about ourselves;
  • a disposition to want to be worthy of the approval of others.
From these (and perhaps other propensities) Adam Smith constructs an account of the origin of justice and other virtues and of moral rules.
In Smith's theory the immediate standard of right and wrong consists in the feelings of human beings. He seems to have been a Christian (of "latitudinarian" persuasion), but Christianity and theology are at one remove from his ethical system: no doubt a benevolent creator gave human beings these propensities, but in making moral judgements we need make no reference to God but can follow our feelings. (In English and European thought, music and literature the late 18th century was an era of feeling--cf. Laurence Sterne, Henry MacKenzie, Goethe, C.P.E. Bach.)
A question you might bear in mind in reading this book: Does Adam Smith account for the purported objectivity of moral judgements (e.g. judgements of justice)? Isn't being guided by one's feelings just subjectivity?