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Second Treatise of Government (Hackett Classics)

147 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0915144860
ISBN-10: 0915144867
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Editorial Reviews



Macpherson provides for his readers a tightly written, meaty, and often invigorating critical assessment of Locke's argument. In it one finds some of the best of Macpherson's now famous criticism of liberal-democratic government. --Gregory E. Pyrcz in Canadian Philosophical Review


About the Author

Philosopher, son of a landsteward, was born at Wrington, near Bristol, and educated at Westminster School and Oxford. In 1660 Locke became lecturer on Greek, in 1662 on Rhetoric, and in 1664 he went as secretary to an Embassy to Brandenburg. While a student he turned from the subtleties of Aristotle and the schoolmen, had studied Descartes and Bacon. Then, becoming attracted to experimental science, studied medicine, and practiced a little in Oxford. His mind had been much exercised by questions of morals and government, and in 1667 he wrote his Essay on Toleration. If not a very profound or original philosopher Locke was a calm, sensible, and reasonable writer, and his books were very influential on the English thought of his day, as well as on the French philosophy of the next century. His style is plain and clear, but lacking in brightness and variety.

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Product Details

  • Series: Hackett Classics
  • Paperback: 124 pages
  • Publisher: Hackett Publishing Company, Inc. (June 1, 1980)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0915144867
  • ISBN-13: 978-0915144860
  • Product Dimensions: 0.2 x 6 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (147 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #31,652 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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57 of 58 people found the following review helpful By eunomius on February 27, 1999
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most important works ever written. In the Second Treatise, Locke lays down the theory of natural law and how it relates to the individual as well as to government. Although he was not the first or the only writer tp elaborate such a theory, his interpretation is clear and eloquent, as can be seen in its use in the Declaration of Independence. The First Treatise was basically a refutation of the now obscure authoritarian work "Patriarcha" by Sir Robert Filmer. Although it is an interesting piece, it has long been rightfully overshadowed by its partner. If for some reason you are actually seeking a refutation of Filmer, I would refer you to Algernon Sidney's more lengthy "Discourses Concerning Government." By far the finest edition of this work is Peter Laslett's, and I consider the purchase of any other edition a sorry waste of money. In his lengthy introductory essays, he traces the historical,political, and philosophical background of John Locke's life and ideas as well as the actual writing of the work itself. His greatest contribution however, is proving that the work was written well before the Glorious Revolution of 1688.
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83 of 88 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Luttrell on October 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
In his book, Second Treatise of Government, John Locke (1632 - 1704) writes that all humans are born equal with the same ability to reason for themselves, and because of this, government should have limitations to ensure that people are free from the arbitrary will of another person, according to the laws of nature. Government, in Locke's view, is a social contract between the people in control, and the people who submit to it.
The editor of this edition, C. B. Macpherson, gives a little background and overview in his introduction to this book. He writes that the book "was directed against the principles of Sir Robert Filmer, whose books, asserting the divine authority of kings and denying any right of resistance, were thought by Locke and his fellow Whigs to be too influential among the gentry to be left unchallenged by those who held that resistance to an arbitrary monarch might be justified." (p. viii)
Locke's book served as a philosophical justification for revolting against tyrannical monarchies in the Glorious Revolution and the American Revolution. His book was practically quoted in the Declaration of Independence.
Locke lays out his basis for government on the foundation that people are able to reason. Because of this, people have inherent freedoms or natural rights. Though he believed in reason, Locke was an empiricist, meaning he believed that all knowledge of the world comes from what our senses tell us. The mind starts as a "tabula rasa", latin for an empty slate. As soon as we are born, we immediately begin learning ideas. Thus, all the material for our knowledge of the world comes to us through sensations. Nevertheless, Locke had an unshakable faith in human reason. He believed that people do learn what is right and wrong, regardless of what they choose to do.
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76 of 82 people found the following review helpful By C on November 26, 2006
Format: Paperback
I'm no genius. A pedant, perhaps, and an arrogant jerk, but not a guy with the kind of education it seems other reviewers have. I can't tell you who Locke's friends were or what his political connections were, either. I have some vague notion that Locke's and Mill's ideas influenced the philisophical basis of the American founding documents, but I'm just a soldier who sometimes likes to bite off more than he can chew--I wan't to know the stuff them smart people do, and don't see any reason I shouldn't!

So if you're like me, let me encourage you to get this book. Your friends will almost certainly call you a nerd (after all, who reads 17th century political philosophy for FUN?), and it'll take a few pages to cut your teeth on the language, but after you get going, this book is a breeze. I can't tell you the philisophical doctrines nor their framework in several distinct points, but I can tell you this: the language, to one of average education, was a little hard to wrap my brain around, but what worked for me was just to set a pace and trudge through it without getting hung up on the one sentence that twisted my mind into a pretzel. After a few pages (maybe 10 or 15) I found that my brain was correcting for the nature of the wording, and for the rest of the book, I swear, I understood what was going on through the second treatise and the Letter, too.

After I got going, I was all highlighters and folded corners, but it had too many profound and simple statements to save them all in my head. If you're even vaguely political, this book will make points as absolutely applicable to today's world politics as it did to those of the bygone time.
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36 of 40 people found the following review helpful By D. W. Casey on December 18, 2001
Format: Paperback
It is difficult to write a review of the Second Treatise of Government in that it is a book whose central ideas so permeate both British and American thought that no review can do it justice.
Any student of American history, particularly of the revolution and the formation of the Constitution, out of necessity should read this book. It is a book that the revolutionaries themselves were well acquainted with, and formed the rational basis for justifying both the Revolution and the establishment of the Constitution.
Locke is, also, suprisingly easy to read, even today. Cogent, well-formed arguments inform every page of this masterwork. This is a fascinating book that shaped history itself.
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