The Interpretation of Locke’s Two Treatises in Britain, 1778-1956 – British Journal for the History of Philosophy – article

The Interpretation of Locke’s Two Treatises in Britain, 1778-1956

James A. Harris | British Journal for the History of Philosophy

2019-11-19

This paper describes how Locke’s Two Treatises of Government was read in Britain from Josiah Tucker to Peter Laslett. It focuses in particular upon how Locke’s readers responded to his detailed and lengthy engagement with the patriarchalist political thought of Sir Robert Filmer. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the debate between Locke and Filmer continued to provide the framework within which political obligation was discussed. A hundred years later that had changed, to the point where Locke’s readers found it unintelligible that he argued against Filmer and not Hobbes. I explain this in terms of the development in nineteenth-century Britain of a new conception of the history of political philosophy, the product of interest in the Hegelian theory of the state. The story told here is offered as one example of how understandings of the history of philosophy are shaped by understandings of philosophy itself.

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