Locke's Political Theology and the 'Second Treatise'

  • Joanne Tetlow
Keywords: John Locke


It is a contested issue, particularly among modern and postmodern scholars, whether political theory requires a foundation—some set of background assumptions (about the nature of existence, the nature of agency, what is of value in human life and so forth) that is fundamental to and presupposed absolutely by it. Andrew Vincent, in his book The Nature of Political Theory (2004), analyzes different types of foundations based on the assumption that they are necessary and ubiquitous. He believes this is so because as a finite being, without absolute certainty and objective knowledge, man naturally seeks a foundation, which in a comprehensive and complete sense eludes him. In other words, political theory is permanently in search of ‘foundational arguments’ that ‘are intrinsically unresolvable’. According to Vincent, ‘[w]e may not be able to identify absolutes, but neither can we avoid foundationalism’. It is the nature of our being, he suggests, that we continually ask questions that cannot be absolutely resolved. Vincent takes it to follow that the foundations upon which political theory relies are and must be ‘ordinary and multiversal, rather than extraordinary and universal’. Lacking absolute certainty, we are confronted with ‘multiple foundational problems and answers, which are not finished’. This state of affairs, he suggests, ‘is deeply irritating for some, but is quite normal and ordinary for humanity, and should become normal and ordinary within political theory.’

How to Cite
Tetlow, Joanne. 2018. “Locke’s Political Theology and the ’Second Treatise’”. Locke Studies 17 (February), 197-232. https://doi.org/10.5206/ls.2017.885.

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