One of the most renown and pioneers of modern philosophical thinking was John Locke (1632-1704). His writings had major influence on subsequence philosophers David Hume, David Jeremy, John Stuart Mill among others. Locke argued that human rights are life, liberty, and property which are natural and inalienable. In his writing; “Second Treatise of Government” published in 1690 Locke argued against the believe of “divine right” which held that leaders had a justifiable and legitimate claim of their leadership office based on their claim that they are God’s emissaries on earth. He believed that rulers derived their powers from an agreement between people to forgo life in nature in favor of a civil or political society. In regards to that, Locke developed a social contract theory whose foundation was on his believe that political/civil society were set in order to guarantee men’s natural right of life, liberty, and property.
Property is the main linchpin of John Locke’s arguments for social contract/civil rights. Locke believed that private property is created when an individual mixes labor with raw materials in nature. He gave an example of a farmer who transforms a piece of land in nature into an agricultural fertile land used to produce land, then he has a legitimate right to own the land and the food produced therein. In this Locke claimed that Native Americans cannot claim to own America, since on Locke view they had failed to utilize the basic material they had from nature; they had no legitimate claim since they did not farm on it. Due to implication or limitations of the law of nature, individuals have limits on how much property or estate one can own: law of nature implicates that a person is not allowed to own more from nature than oneself needs or can use, thus leaving others without enough natural property for themselves. God gave nature to all mankind and one is not in any case allowed to own more than the person’s fair share.
The social contract is an agreement between members of a country to live within a shared system of laws. Specific forms of government are the result of the decisions made by these persons acting in their collective capacity. Government is instituted to make laws that protect these three natural rights. If a government does not properly protect these rights, it can be overthrown.
The social contract theory was basically an agreement between people in a society or a country to live with a common share system of laws and rules. The main reason why government are formed is to protect the three natural rights, punish those who violates those rights, and pursue ownership and protection of public property regardless of whether they are in conflict with the rights of individuals. Locke explained the main functions of a legitimate government; protects the rights and provides something to the society which nature does not provide, an impartial judge who determines how severe a violation of right or crime is and sets a reasonable punishment proportional to the crime. Basically, this stipulated why the civil society argument was an improvement of the social contract theory. Locke argued on the rights of majority forming the ground on the distinction between government duties and duties of the society. Incas a designated government ceases or dissolves, people remain obliged to the society acting according to the majority rule. However its possible for the majority rule to confer the rule of the society to a King, Queen and his heirs, a democratic assembly or a group of oligarch. Thus Locke’s social contract theory and civil rights is not inextricably connected with democracy, but still any government must undertake or the legitimate functions of a government. Locke's writings were a major call to arms, an allegation of the right and duty to under duress and violently remove illegitimate states or governments.
The ideas of John Locke on social contract theory and civil government greatly influenced Mill’s philosophical works. Basically, the main purpose of Mill’s works was to fix British empirical tradition which was an extension of Locke’s philosophical work. By distinguishing connotations or real meaning of certain terms, Mill overcame much of Locke’s earlier confusion.
Mill standardized Locke’s believes by asserting that the best type of people’s government at any time is the one that achieves these two main goals. Firstly, it should improve the virtues and intelligence of all the people within its jurisdiction. Secondly, the legitimate purpose of government is to organize the good qualities of the people to promote long-run good of the country or society. On Liberty (1859, Mill’s most popular and important philosophical text highlighted his belief on the significance of a person when faced with dictatorship of the majority (rule of the majority). This was a feature of earlier democracy or system of government; even according to Locke, the majority always rules and the minority in the society has no choice but to follow the will of the majority. He believed that the majority in any society had a possibility of demanding certain action and the minority had to follow regardless of whether the action is unwise or stupid.
Both philosophers outlined the conceptual framework on the two opposing views of the very basic nature of man and individual’s freedom. Lock argues that man exists in a form of nature and due to this his existence is in the form of uncontrollable liberty which has only the rule and implication of nature to restrict. He emphasized on the need of ownership and profiting from property as being the necessary requirements to be free; to claim ownership of freedom. However, In on Liberty Mill defines liberty in connection with three spheres; each of these sphere gradually defines and encompasses more and more elements related to political society. First sphere encompasses an individual’s inner consciousness, liberty of consciousness thus demand a comprehensive sense of liberty of thought and feelings; freedom to express opinions and sentiments in all subjects, speculative or practical, moral, scientific , or theological. Second sphere on mill’s liberty definition encompasses freedoms which enable an individual to freely and fully peruse a life that best suits ones character; of doing as we wish (Mill 13). Mill argues that these freedoms ought not to be interfered with by other fellow beings as long as the freedoms do not harm them in how we act. On the final sphere, mill defines liberty by combining the first two spheres. Mill states that liberty is the freedom to unite for any other reason non involving causing harm to others; the individual combining must be of full age and not deceived of forced to.
Mill was also influenced by Locke’s argument on men’s freedom in a political society. Locke argues that men’s loose freedom of liberty, equality and executive power they have in nature and in the hands of the society when they enter into a political society. In his ideas, loss of these three freedoms does not remove any freedom from an individual; it only removes the person’s responsibility of protecting those freedoms and delegates the responsibility to the state. Mill however argued that man ought to be strictly limited in a political society (Miller, 2010). He differs from Locke’s argument on the basis that an individual who enjoys the benefits of a political society owes a return to the protection and other benefits the individual derives from the society. For a political society to function properly, people should not harm interests of others. In case, any person conducts affects prejudicial the interest of other people, then political society can exercise jurisdiction it. From here, the state or governing authority can intervene and alter or cause any changes as it feels fit. However, if the government function exercises jurisdiction over the earlier discussed first sphere of freedoms, then more discussion on liberty is redundant and ineffective. Mill sought to limit people’s freedom and thus guarantee some residual powers to be exercised by the state or government at will.