Acta Cogitata: An Undergraduate Journal in Philosophy


In John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, he presents his notion of social contract theory: individuals come together, leave the state of perfect freedom, and consent to give up certain rights to the State so the State can protect its members. He grounds duties and obligations to the government on the basis of consent. Because one consents to the State, either tacitly or expressly, one has consented to taking on political obligations owed to the State. Locke also notes that individuals can withdraw consent and leave the State. This paper challenges the view that political obligation can exist under Locke’s social contract theory. This paper first provides background for the argument by explaining Locke’s position. Then, it examines what consent actually is, ultimately coming to the conclusion that tacit and hypothetical consent are not true forms of consent and cannot justify political obligation, leaving only express consent. Finally, using Isaiah Berlin’s notions of coercion and positive and negative freedoms, this paper looks at whether the current political system allows one to exit the State, leading to the conclusion that if individuals are coerced into consenting to the State, that consent cannot justify political obligation.

Included in

Philosophy Commons