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Locke, Eden and Two States of Nature: The Fortunate Fall Revisited PHILIP VOGT TWO STATES OF NATURE, not one, figure in the political writings of John Locke. The more frequently discussed of the two, the "State of Nature" proper, is defined in the second of the Two Treatises of Government as the condition of perfect freedom abandoned by mankind upon the advent of political society.' Whether Locke viewed this "state" as a purely theoretical construct or as an actual moment in human history is open to debate. 2There is no basis, however, for doubting his belief in the literal reality of that other state of nature, the Garden of Eden. In Eden, mankind in the person of Adam-turned-rebel obtained its perfect, prepolitical freedom in exchange for the bliss of perfect obedience to a divinely ordained "Law of Nature." Without reference to man's tenancy of nature in both its prepolitical and prelapsarian states, Locke's discussion of the equilibrium struck in political society between obedience and freedom is incomprehensible. Likewise, reference to both states is required for Valuable comments on the preliminary drafts of this article were given by Nancy Struever, Peter Vinten-Johansen, J. G. A. Pocock, Kirstie McClure, John Marshall, Carol Pech, Edward Schneider and two anonymous referees for the Journal of theHistoryofPhilosophy. 'John Locke, Two Treatisesof Government, ed. Peter Laslett (Cambridge University Press, 1992), II/ii/4. 9While Locke insists that the State of Nature endures in his own day among princes and between commonwealths, the broader significanceof the concept emerges in the Second Treatise with a citation drawn from Richard Hooker, to the effect that the State of Nature describes the condition abandoned by men whenever they have formed themselves into civilsocieties. The State of Nature would therefore seem to function most importantly in the Second Treatise as an historical abstraction. At the same time, the applicationof the concept to any real world phenomena contradictsJohn Dunn's assertion that the State of Nature for Locke "has literallyno transitive empirical content whatsoever." Two Treatises,II/ii/14-15; II/xii/145;John Dunn, The Political Thought ofJohn Locke:An HistoricalAccount of the Argument of the "Two Treatisesof Government" (Cambridge University Press, 1969), lo3. [523] 524 JOURNAL OF THE HISTORY OF PHILOSOPHY 35:4 OCTOBER 1997 determining what remnant of happiness might be attained by Adam's politicized heirs. Writing within an enduring topos that shapes such diverse literary personages as Job, Prometheus, Oedipus and Faust, Locke argues that if pleasure can no longer be found in the union with authority that accompanies perfect obedience even while marking the extinction of individual consciousness , then a consoling and virtuous substitute is available in the free and restless exercise of the sinful faculty itself, the human intellect.s Lockean man is by choice (and, after the Fall, by recalibrated nature) a noble, if anxious, rebel. His anxiety stems from the paradoxical quality of his fall. In the Second Treatise, Locke explains that the "perfect Freedom" relinquished upon entry into civil society allowed men "to order their Actions, and dispose of their Possessions, and Persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the Law of Nature, without asking leave, or depending upon the Will of any other Man."4 In other words, the formation of civil society involved a straightforward exchange of individual autonomy for collective security. Later in the text, though, Locke explains that the autonomy that was given up in civil society had first been obtained in a rather more complicated transaction upon the expulsion from Eden. On that pivotal occasion, control over the disposition of one's own person and property was gained at the cost of the superior freedom attendant upon perfect obedience to the Law of Nature. Perfect knowledge of the law being the prerequisite to perfect obedience, the first freedom sacrificed by Adam was freedom from uncertainty and from risk. While Adam's apprehension of the Law of Nature as promulgated through the Law of Reason had, in Eden, been effortless and complete, his descendants would 3"Topos" is used here in the early, sophistic sense discussedby George Kennedy, denoting a psychological/cultural"place"where sharedexperiences or perceptions makecommunication possible . From this...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4586
Print ISSN
0022-5053
Pages
pp. 523-544
Launched on MUSE
2008-01-01
Open Access
No
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