Final Examination / Fall Semester 2003
Humanities 240: Converging Hemispheres
Question 1. “Discuss the two selections from John Locke in the Converging Hemispheres Reader. Include in your discussion who he was, the intellectual movement he inspired, the specific historical conditions he was responding to and the main arguments he makes.”
Who He Was
Born in 1632 in Wrington, England, John Locke was the philosopher often called the Father of the Enlightenment. A teacher of Greek and Latin at Oxford University for some time, Locke later met Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury, and served as his physician. Locke left for France and stayed there for four years (1675-9) to study philosophy. He came back to England afterwards, only to be suspected of radicalism by the government “because of his close association with Shaftesbury” (Reader 35). Because of this, he left for Holland in 1683, not to return to England until six years later. Not long after his arrival he published what are generally considered his two most significant works, “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” and “Two Treatises of Government.” Locke came to be thought of as the foremost philosopher on freedom; he wrote more works until his death in 1704 in Oates (35). Locke remains world-renowned for his avant-garde vision of a democratic government, founder of British empiricism, social (and fundamental) equality and his all-encompassing writings that epitomized the ideals of the Enlightenment.
The Intellectual Movement He Inspired
John Locke was one of many philosophers of the Age of Enlightenment; perhaps one factor that brought about his great fame, however, was his logical, straightforward style—he wrote about extraordinary concepts in ordinary language. He was also one of the first to state some of the fundamental truths about human nature, and he related such truths to all men, rather than just those of a particular class or race. These are the principles of the Enlightenment doctrine, which Locke promoted: shift in focal point from the group to the individual; free labor; rationality as the distinguishing feature of humanity; a general rejection of traditional social, religious and political ideas; a government based on consent of the governed; equality of all people; opposition to royal absolutism; “tabula rasa”; religious freedom; and the emphasis of empirical knowledge rather than theoretical.
Certainly the coming of the Enlightenment was influenced by other factors, as well. From a historical standpoint, the Enlightenment stems from (or as a result of) monarchy and the European encounter. The textbook Traditions & Encounters states that the 18th-century philosophical movement “began in France” and “spread concepts from the Scientific Revolution” (G-2). John Locke, however, was one of the chief proponents of this progressive movement and its ideology. He also set down three core components for the modern world: free labor, rights of property and the abolishment of monarchy.
Historical Conditions to Which He Was Responding
Locke was opposed to some of the ideas of English philosopher Thomas Hobbes; in particular, he disagreed with the notion of absolute monarchy. This supposedly self-justified concept said that absolute monarchy, or royal absolutism, came from divine right. Although Hobbes did not buy into the idea of divinely chosen sovereigns (his power really came from the people, he said), he did believe that “the sovereign’s power is absolute and not subject to the law” (“Hobbes, Thomas,” Columbia). This absolutism also was characterized by kings’ belief that they could make decisions completely without counsel.
Another one of the topics Locke argued against was the supposed “divine right” of kings (above-mentioned in part), a doctrine supported by English royalist political author Sir Robert Filmer. The dictionary defines it as “the right of a sovereign to rule as set forth by the theory of government that holds that a monarch receives the right to rule from God and not from the people” (“divine right,” Webster’s). Locke, comparatively, used his belief in equality to argue against this. Based on his writings, his feeling was that—under divine right—everyone is born into subjection, and so no one is equal in that system. Locke was against any form of subjection, and countered the “divine right” in the first part of “Two Treatises on Government.”
John Locke disputed Thomas Hobbes’ thoughts again when it came to the matter of human nature. In “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” Locke describes the state of man when he first is born: He says every person is born a “tabula rasa,” or blank slate, and experience imprints knowledge onto it. He says that sensory perception, rather than innate knowledge, is how we come to learn and understand. He specifically contrasts with Hobbes in “Second Treatise,” however; both men believe that there is a “state of nature,” but Hobbes thinks of it as being characterized by constant war, violence and that “man is by nature a selfishly individualistic animal at constant war with all other men” (“Hobbes”). He says that men are equal—in their self-seeking, anyway. In Chapter II (“Of the State of Nature”), Locke contradicts this with his own standpoint that characterizes the state of nature as one of reason, tolerance, equality and freedom (Reader 35-6). He says that “all the power and jurisdiction is reciprocal, no one having more than another … [people] should be equal among one another without subordination or subjection … men being all the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise maker” (36).
Locke’s fundamental argument is that government is a responsibility of the people. He uses the above “state of nature,” which he says is regulated by the law of nature. Natural law, he explains, dictates that nobody has the right to harm himself or anyone else (nor take their property), “unless it be to do justice on an offender” (Reader 36).
Along the same lines, Locke expounds the discussion of property in Chapter V (“Of Property”), saying that property rights can only be claimed by someone who has put their own labor into their property (Reader 39). The reason that one has to toil to claim property is twofold: first, because “God … has given the world to men in common” (Reader 36). The other reason is that a man’s labor is part of his property, and so he has ownership over the work he puts forth. In an excerpt from the Reader, Locke says: “…yet every man has a property in his own person: this nobody has any right to but himself. The labour of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are properly his” (39).
Locke says that people remain in the state of nature until “by their own consents they make themselves members of some politic society” (38). In Chapter VII (“Of Political or Civil Society”), he begins to talk about what he had (in previous works) called “social contract.” This dates back to Thomas Hobbes, who coined the term; both talk about why people might give up some of their freedoms. Hobbes felt that they would do so because, given the state of nature, they feared being violently killed by another (“Hobbes”). Hobbes used the idea of a social contract to support absolute monarchy—saying that men would give up their freedom for the sake of their own safety within a state—while Locke used the “social contract” notion to advocate the belief that the government has to reflect the will of the people. The concept as advocated by Locke is known as “popular sovereignty” and is defined as “a doctrine in political theory that government is created by and subject to the will of the people” (“popular sovereignty,” Webster’s). Locke says that the main reason people form a political society is to have an authority that makes laws, primarily to regulate and preserve property. He does not say that the political society should actually supersede the law of nature, but interpret and augment it (Reader 35).
In Chapter VIII (“On the Beginning of Political Societies”) and Chapter IX (“Of the Ends of Political Society and Government”), Locke asserts that man’s freedom, equality and independence is his natural right (41), and that man only gives up such liberties by voluntary consent. In Chapter IX, Locke addresses again the main reasons that people would give up certain liberties. He says that there are three things that the state of nature lacks: established, or positive, law that sets the standards of distinguishing right and wrong; an unbiased judge to decide cases based on said laws; and the power to implement punishments, also according to the laws (Reader 42-3). On Page 42—having explained that by agreeing to a common superior, men are bound to the decisions of majority rule—Locke draws the distinction between tacit and express consent. He reiterates that man enters into civil society, and subsequently its government, on his own free will. On consent, however, he says that express consent is an oath of allegiance, while tacit consent is in owning property (41-2).
As previously stated, Locke explained three reasons for having an actual government; Thomas Hobbes also believed in the idea of a common superior, but remember the vast disparity between both men’s idea of the state of nature. Given what Hobbes believes about the state of nature, he feels that an absolutist government is the lesser of the two evils, and so people turn over their rights to the common superior. Locke, by comparison, clearly is implying that people commit their rights to the government, but can restrict its authority.
In Chapter XIX (“Of the Dissolution of the Government”), Locke begins by saying, “He that will with any clearness speak of the dissolution of government ought in the first place to distinguish between the dissolution of the society and the dissolution of the government” (44). Throughout the piece, Locke has given the reader various aspects of a government that resembles the one drafted in the Constitution: the three main branches (executive, judicial and legislative, though he didn’t use all of those exact terms) and the system of checks and balances. Here in this chapter, he talks about how the government may cease to exist. From the above quotation, he makes it clear that the politic society is “the agreement which everyone has with the rest to incorporate and act as one body, and so be one distinct commonwealth” (44). He says that one thing that could happen is an overpowering attack from outside forces; the government will cease to exist upon the dissolution of the society. He also says that governments are dissolved internally, through a number of ways, such as “when the legislative or the prince (either of them) act contrary to their trust” (45). Locke feels rebellion is a right, and that the government can be overthrown or replaced by the people if it does not comply with its obligations. After all, he says, the purpose of entering civil society and having a government is “to be directed to no other end but the peace, safety, and public good of the people” (44).
Chapter IV: “Of Slavery”
Briefly, Chapter IV—though separated in the Reader from the rest of the extract—is similar to the rest of Locke’s writing. Although it is somewhat of a rehash of what has previously discussed, this chapter is somewhat more specific. Because Locke believes that all men are made equal by the Creator, he takes a firm anti-slavery stance. Recall that he has argued against the subjection of people (born into subjection or otherwise); further, one major point of his is that a man’s property includes his own labor. He says that the only acceptable “condition” or form of slavery should be “between a lawful conqueror and a captive” during a state of war. The sentence that summarizes his thoughts best reads: “A liberty to follow my own will in all things where the rule prescribes not, not to be subject to the inconstant, uncertain, unknown, arbitrary will of another man, as freedom of nature is to be under no other restraint but the law of Nature” (47).
Question 2. “Discuss the selections from Paine and Jefferson that we covered in class. Include in your discussion who they were, their relationship to the independence of the thirteen colonies, the foundation of the United States and the modern world.”
Who Were Paine and Jefferson?
Born in 1737 in Norfolk, England, Thomas Paine was an author and a political-minded theorist. His father was a Quaker. In the early 1770s he lost his job as an excise officer after causing a bit of a stir for higher pay. Not long after, he met Benjamin Franklin, who was visiting England; impressed with him, Franklin gave him letters of recommendation and suggested to Paine that he move to America. Paine worked as a publicist in Philadelphia for a while, and gradually came to take an interest in the conflict between ever-at-odds America and England. Believing that the colonists had every right to separate from England—and fed up with the colonists’ reluctance to take action—he anonymously published “Common Sense” in January or February of 1776.
Born in 1743 in Virginia, Thomas Jefferson is best known as the third President of the United States; he is also credited, however, as being the sole author of the Declaration of Independence. Borrowing from John Locke and Thomas Paine, it was written to explicitly describe the grievances against the English government and officially announce the separation of the colonies from Great Britain.
Relationship to the Independence of the 13 Colonies and the Foundation of the United States & Modern World
Paine and Jefferson shared a similar fervor when writing about the why the colonies ought to divorce from the Crown. Paine knew that his audience had to have simplicity, since not everyone was highly educated. Paine says that England has “[declared] war against the natural rights of all mankind” and that “the cause of America is, in a great measure, the cause of all mankind” (69). He doesn’t explain “natural rights,” knowing that even the average person can understand what Locke proposes: their basic rights. This is explained further throughout “Common Sense”; like Locke, Paine believes that all men are equals (73); he also supports man’s rights to liberty, life, property and rebellion against rulers who do not respect those rights (81). In Chapter 1, Paine’s discontent with the government is quickly made known; he says that “government even in its best state is but a necessary evil [and] in its worst state an intolerable one” (69). In the rest of the chapter, he says that one of the problems with the English government is its constitution. Two branches of the government, based on “ancient tyrannies,” do nothing for the state’s freedom and are so lopsidedly powerful that the third branch (the commons) can be overruled by either of them (70-1). Paine goes on to explain that America has to have a government, but England is so far from being a paragon of one that, as long as America is under their control, it can’t discern a superior one.
In Chapter 2 of “Common Sense,” Paine continues attacking monarchy, and saying that it goes against freedom because it divides people into kings and subjects. To further his point, he brings Scripture into play, in particular the Jews’ coming to Samuel, wanting a king. Samuel warns them against it, saying God should be the only sovereign; however, the Jews ignore him, get a king, and subsequently are punished by God (73). Paine’s selective citations take the Bible out of context—in fact, Paine was a Deist and opposed to organized religion—but he knew the colonists wouldn’t argue in the face of a good, Scripture-backed line of reasoning. In the remainder of the chapter he argues against hereditary succession and compares it to original sin (74-5).
In Chapter 3, Paine says, “I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense” (76). Here he confronts those reluctant to fight against England: “I have heard it asserted by some, that as America hath flourished under her former connection with Great Britain, that the same connection is necessary towards her future happiness … America would have flourished as much, and probably much more, had no European power anything to do with her” (76). He agrees that England sometimes does help or defend the colonies, but adds that it is only when it’s in their (England’s) best interest (77). Refuting the concept of a “parent country,” he replies that even wild animals don’t treat their children so cruelly. He also argues that being under Britain’s rule would cause America to get involved in European wars, hurting the trade and commerce. Paine talks about the “new world [as] an asylum” for those persecuted (77); on the next page he says the fact that the discovery of America preceded the Reformation was evidence of a divine plan to “open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years” (78). He attributes the will of God: “…strong and natural proof that the authority of the one, over the other, was never the design of Heaven” (78).
Paine says that complete independence is the only route for the colonies, that they had outgrown any need for English domination and ought to have independence. He talks more about it as he describes how England and the Crown have mistreated people; becoming more ardent and intense, Paine says, “…then tell me, whether you can hereafter love, honor, and faithfully serve the power that hath carried fire and sword into your land” (78)? He challenges the hesitant, exclaiming that anyone who has lost a loved one or had property destroyed because of British cruelty—yet who would still shake an English hand and offer truce—is a “coward” and “sycophant” (78). England can’t conquer America, he declares; only by “delay and timidity” will the colonies be overpowered. He states that it is ridiculous for an island to rule a continent; it is simply impractical for Britain to rule a country so far away; and the satellite is bigger than the planet (79). He makes calls to arms and says, “for God’s sake, let us come to a final separation.” He had previously made a call to arms (earlier in the chapter); he continues to justify it, and diagrams a possible new structure of government to ease people’s fears about the uncertain future without English rule. Congress and delegates; a president; charters; Assembly (81). He says that the only king in America will be God—and the highest law will be His law. “The law is king,” he says decisively. In the last section, Paine says: “O ye that love mankind! Ye that dare oppose, not only the tyranny, but the tyrant, stand forth! … Freedom hath been hunted round the globe. … Europe regards her like a stranger, and England hath given her warning to depart” (82).
In Chapter 4, Paine’s biggest point is using figures to prove that a navy can be constructed easily; he says they can build a large fleet and sell the ships later. He says trade is suffering and men are out of work, which justifies creating an army. The continent isn’t crowded, he argues, and there aren’t many spots to have to defend. Besides, he says, the British navy is overrated; they have a long list of ships, but a lot are either in disrepair or not readily available (83-5). Throughout the last few pages he encourages people, saying that we have enough cannons, gunpowder, iron, et cetera to fight, and more importantly, resolve and courage (85). In his last few paragraphs he advocates religious diversity and equal representation. Concluding, he states that other countries have to see America as an independent nation—not a rebel—so we ought to send a manifesto to the foreign courts telling them the necessity of what we’re doing, he says. It has to happen, he urges.
Paine’s “Common Sense” reached as many as 500,000 people, and was highly esteemed for the message it brought. It successfully promoted the mindset that complete independence was the only way. It proved to be instrumental in bringing about the Declaration of Independence and later, the American Revolution. Moving to the Declaration, this short document echoes much of John Locke’s philosophy. It talks about the “laws of Nature” and says that “all men are created equal” (95). People have the fundamental rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” It combines a common moral code, conceptual theory of government and account of all the ill-treatment wrought by England’s rule. Talking about how the monarchy has acted as an “absolute despotism,” it says that government by consent (of the governed) is more just. Backed by “divine providence,” it says, we dissolve all connections and sever all ties with Britain. Both it and Paine—with Enlightenment guiding them—have set the stage for the United States’ foundation. The ideals of individual rights, equality, religious liberty and dissolution of monarchy are epitomized through two writers who had words for the common man.
Question 3. “Select and discuss an article from the Converging Hemispheres Reader that we read after the first examination. Explain in your discussion the main ideas of the author, compare and contrast her/his ideas to those of the other authors we read after the first examination, how her/his ideas relate to the modern world, the moral/ethical questions her/his work raises and why you see that work as the most meaningful.”
I have decided to talk about (the excerpts from) “An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations” by Adam Smith. Born in 1723 in Scotland, Adam Smith was a popular, revolutionary economist and philosopher. After completing his education, he was a professor of moral philosophy at the University of Glasgow for several years. He published “Wealth of Nations” in 1776.
Main Ideas of Author
In Chapter I of Book One, Smith makes one of his biggest points right off the bat: why the division of labor is so important. Economically, division of labor (and separation of duties) is concerned with the functions and roles involved in production; Smith sees it as the basic principle of free trade, which he advocates. His argument for the division of labor is illustrated in his example of 10 men, each of whom operate two or three functions of 18 necessary to make a pin. By working together, they produce over 48,000 pins daily; if they had each worked alone and the labor not distributed, they would have about 200 (Reader 99-100). He thinks that many people are inclined to think that the advances in productivity due to machinery and new technology; however, he says, this is not the case. It is the specialization of labor that’s responsible for the progress; the division of labor—which is more basic than technology—is what enables that technology to come into being (102). For that reason, he argues, specialization is the key to material welfare. Necessity is the master of invention, he insinuates, stressing the importance of inventors (102). In Chapter II, Smith explains that man’s propensity and “disposition to truck, barter and trade” (104) is what gives rise to the division of labor.
In Book One, Chapter VII, Smith explains natural versus market price to people. The natural price of something is essentially what it costs to make or produce it: cost of materials, labor of people making the cost and time to make it (105). Market price, on the other hand, is different; it is based on the amount of similar items available to purchase and how badly people in the marketplace need/want them. He says, “The market price of every particular commodity is regulated by the proportion between the quantity that is actually brought to market, and the demand of those who are willing to pay the natural price” (105). If the supply and demand are the same, the seller gets about the natural price (and the market price would be equal to it). If demand exceeds supply, the people most able to afford the products will be the ones who get them. It will drive up the market price beyond the natural price (105-6). However, if supply exceeds demand (or if two people offer the same items for the same price), Smith adds, the merchant will lower his price to make his product more attractive to the customer. He reduced the price because and sold them for less than it cost to make them because supply exceeded demand; the market price is below the natural price (106).
A recurring theme that Smith talks about, especially in Book Four, is the true wealth of nations. This is part of the case he makes against mercantilism—the primary topic he’s arguing against. Mercantilism was an economic system that was characteristic of the major trading countries from the 1500s to the 1700s. It was the predominant form in the European market at the time; part of its philosophy was that the wealth of a nation was based on how much gold and silver it had in its treasury. Mercantilism, rooted in monopolization, disallowed free trade and forced colonies to trade only with the mother country. How much gold and silver you have is not the real measure of wealth, he says. “It is not by the importation of gold and silver that the discovery of America has enriched Europe” (107); rather, it is labor (the production of and having the best possible workforce) that is the true wealth of a nation. Regarding the discovery of America, he says, “By opening a new and inexhaustible market to all the commodities of Europe, it gave occasion to new divisions of labor … the productive powers of labor were improved, and its produce increased in all the different countries in Europe, and together with it the real revenue and wealth of the inhabitants” (108).
The reason Smith was opposed to mercantilism was because of its monopolistic nature; it stifles the economy and restrains free trade. Smith advocates a sort of “laissez-faire capitalism” instead, saying that the impulse of self-interest would bring about the public wellbeing. He says, “Every individual is continually exerting himself to find out the most advantageous employment for whatever capital he can command. It is his own advantage, indeed, and not that of the society, which he has in view. But the study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily, leads him to prefer that employment that is most advantageous to the society” (109). Smith is saying here that individual profit benefits society; those who can choose what they want to do in free labor help themselves—and in turn, society as well. This is what he calls the guidance of an “invisible hand” (110); those who work in their own best interest are serving the interests of the economy as well.
In Chapter IX of Book Four, Smith advises people: Don’t restrain any aspect of what people produce; let them produce as efficiently as they can. Smith says that some countries restrict manufacturing, thinking that they are doing themselves a favor by promoting agriculture—but what they are actually doing is the exact opposite of what they want to, because in doing so, they’re actually reducing the market for their products.
Smith is referring to a group of French thinkers known as “physiocrats,” who chiefly believed in a hands-off, unautocratic governmental policy so that it didn’t hamper the operation of natural laws of economy. They felt that land was “the source of all wealth” (“Physiocrat,” Webster’s). Smith agrees on the point that the government shouldn’t interfere but not with the premise that only agriculture produces real wealth (112-3).
Comparison/Contrast to Some Other Authors
Adam Smith, also an Enlightenment thinker, is similar to John Locke in a couple of ways. Although Smith was much more involved economic, trade-and-industry matters, some of their main points are comparable. Both men are heavily against the idea of a government taking too much involvement or control—while Locke is more concerned with maintaining equilibrium within the branches of government, Smith is addressing why the government ought to keep its nose out of affairs relating to free trade and some areas of economics. While Smith doesn’t think much of aristocrats and the monopolistic mercantile system, both he and Locke oppose monarchy. They agree on the mistreatment and exploitation of the Americas. Both are also very heavy on individualism; Smith puts an economic spin on it by describing how a person helping himself helps society. Neither author has any qualms about free labor—a person has to have that right, and only they have the claim to their own labor. You can’t sell human labor; everyone controls their own. The biggest disparity arises between the two on human nature; Locke believes in “tabula rasa,” saying that a person comes into the world with no knowledge and only gains it from sense perceptions, while Smith clearly believes that the distinguishing feature of humans (compared to other animals) is an inherent instinct to trade and barter; he thinks it sort of a survival mechanism.
Alexis de Tocqueville and Adam Smith both concur and clash at different points. To illustrate a couple, de Tocqueville “questions” (or at least has reservations about) liberty and capitalism and is against it. Smith’s frame of mind is the exact opposite; he is in favor of both (although not the monopolistic capitalism of today, which he’d hardly recognize). However, the two men both see eye-to-eye on the topic of church and state (both are for the separation of church and state) and the abolishment of slavery (both favor the abolition).
Relation to Modern World; Moral/Ethical Questions Raised; Significance of Work
This work relates to the modern world in a few ways. Obviously this is the foundation of the capitalist system, although some say Smith would never recognize it in its current state. Written before (or at least near the onset of) the Industrial Revolution, Smith’s “Wealth of Nations” brought the doctrine of laissez-faire into the picture. Smith’s slant on gauging a nation’s wealth was a relatively new one, especially in a time when mercantilism was widespread. (In effect it was a kind of slavery; subordinate “slave” countries could only make what their “slave master” superior countries told them to.) Although some of his theories were rejected with the coming of the Industrial Revolution, a number of them are still seen in today’s world—such as supply and demand.
Although they’re much more infrequent than back then, there are still monarchies in today’s world, and some countries’ kings still exert the same sovereign power as those of yesteryear did. Some governments wield such extreme power even if they are not monarchial in structure. Similarly, there have been some presidents and congresses in the U.S. who believed that they could improve the economy by controlling prices; Some people think that a government that regulates prices is more moral because it tries to make things affordable for everyone. But it hardly produces the desired effect; look what happened when, years ago, the Soviet Union tried to regulate prices on basic commodities—it brought about scarcity and long lines instead. For example, if someone builds a car whose natural price is $10,000, and the government says “Sell it for $1,500,” the person is likely to refuse to do so. They won’t make cars at all, or eventually go broke. On the other hand, if you let prices move according to market demand, the supply meets the demand and things come out much more even. So what’s more moral: an artificially cheapened car for the sake of affordability (equal accessibility), or selling something for what it’s worth to promote the overall economy? The former seems like false morality. This is part of Smith’s argument, and it is even more meaningful because all of this fundamentally affects everyone: the job they can have, how much something costs and how much of it there is. At the crux of the war for independence was an all-encompassing whirlwind of individualism and the convergence of man and machine. The war removed the sword of Damocles that was British despotism.
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