Politics and Religion


“Men Being Partial to Themselves”: Human Selfishness in Locke's Two Treatises

Greg Forstera1 c1 and Kim Ian Parkera2 c1

a1 Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice

a2 Memorial University


Conventional wisdom describes Locke as an “optimist” about human nature; some scholars go further and say that he denied the Christian view that human beings are naturally sinful. But Locke's works, including the Two Treatises, clearly and firmly hold that human nature has a consistent tendency to desire selfishness and evil. Locke's view of the origin of human sinfulness is unorthodox – he dissents from the traditional doctrine of “original sin” – but on the question of whether human nature is in fact sinful his views are perfectly orthodox, and are in harmony with the Calvinism of the Church of England in his time. Understanding this is crucial to grasping the fundamental problem of the Two Treaties, which is the need to cope with humanity's selfishness. Locke argues that the persistent moral corruption of human nature is the primary reason government exists.


c1 Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Greg Forster, Friedman Foundation for Educational Choice, Indianapolis, IN 46282. E-mail: greg_forster@hotmail.com; Kim Ian Parker, Department of Religious Studies, Memorial University, St. John's, NL, A1C 5S7, Canada. E-mail: kparker@mun.ca


An earlier version of this article was presented at the Annual General Meeting of the American Political Science Association in Philadelphia, PA, August 2007. We wish to thank the editors and two anonymous reviewers for their suggestions to improve this article.