Locke on consent and tacit consent
Note for Philosophy 166
Locke holds that one becomes obligated to obey political authorities only by one’s free and voluntary consent. Or does he? Locke: “The difficulty is, what ought to be looked upon as tacit consent, and how far it binds, i.e. how far any one shall be looked on to have consented, and thereby submitted to any government, where he has made no expressions of it at all.” Locke, later: “And to this I say that every man, that hath any possession, or enjoyment, of any part of the dominions of any government, doth thereby give his tacit consent, and is as far forth obliged to obedience to the laws of that government” (section 119).
Hanna Pitkin on Locke on consent: Consent is ultimately irrelevant to Locke’s theory of justified political authority. Consider 1. By residing within their territories, we give our consent even to bad governments. 2. We are not obligated to bad governments.
3. Consent is the ground of political obligation.
Pitkin: Locke suggests all three claims, but we get the best interpretation of his theory if we drop 3. Whether or not you are obligated to obey the governing authorities that claim to rule you legitimately depends solely on whether the government adequately respects and protects your basic moral rights.
John Simmons: Consent for Locke is necessary but not sufficient to ground political obligation. Simmons on tacit (silent) consent. It can bid exactly as express consent does, provided these conditions hold: 1. The situation must be such that it is perfectly clear that consent is appropriate and that the individual is aware of this. 2. There must be a definite period of reasonable duration when objections or expressions of dissent are invited or clearly appropriate, and the acceptable means of expressing this dissent must be understood or made known to the potential consentor. 3. The point at which expressions of dissent are no longer acceptable must be obvious...
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