John Locke was a 17th-century philosopher and physician who wrote Two Treatises of Government. In this work, he discusses the right to punish, or the right to inflict punishment or injury on a wrongdoer.
He claims that every person has a distinct right to punish those who transgress the natural law. The natural law is a universal standard of morality that applies to all people at all times.
How does one distinguish between the correct punishment and no punishment? How can we tell whether someone deserves punishment or not? According to Locke, there is a clear answer: The only people who can deserve punishment are those who violate the natural law.
To understand this further, let us look at some examples of people that may deserve punishment according to Locke and see if he is right.
Every person has the right to punish those who transgress the natural law
This is an important point, as it separates Locke’s theory of natural law from other theories. Other theories, such as those of Aristotle and Aquinas, hold that only a lawful authority can punish those who transgress the natural law.
For them, this means only a legitimate government can punish people for offenses against the natural law. For Locke, every person has this right.
He does not make any distinction between the right to punish offenders on the level of the natural law and on the level of civil law. Every person has this right equally.
It is important to note that while every individual has the right to punish offenders, they may not have the capacity to do so. This could be in terms of resources or skill needed to enforce punishment. Individuals may also lack the moral authority needed to do so.
This includes the right to execute them
John Locke, one of the most influential thinkers of the 17th and 18th centuries, believed that all people have a natural right to punish those who transgress the natural law.
Locke was a doctor, not a lawyer, but his philosophical theories heavily influenced the development of constitutional law in Britain and its former colonies, like the United States.
According to Locke, every person has an inalienable right to punish those who violate the natural law—but only in a manner that is consistent with that same natural law.
He explains this concept in his Second Treatise on Civil Government: “And thus whoever hath committed any thing against either Nature’s Law, or their Father’s Law, let them be Adam’s Sons or not, they shall be liable to no other than Adamic Nature’s Law; neither shall any man iniure them by any other; for every Man shall live and dye by Prudence and Vertue only.
John Locke was a strong believer in the doctrine of the natural law
For Locke, the natural law is a set of universal moral principles that all people are able to understand through their common sense and reason.
These principles are also understood to be the basis for just political laws. Political laws that violate the natural law are considered unjust.
According to Locke, every person has a distinct right to punish those who transgress the natural law. This right is innate to all humans, and it applies even to those who do not possess political authority.
For example, everyone has the right and duty to punish murderers by killing them. This is because murder is a transgression of the natural law and thus warrants punishment.
Locke believed that political authority was merely a matter of convenience. Because all humans have this innate right to punish offenders, political authorities cannot take this right away from people.
He also believed in the importance of establishing a government and enforcing laws
John Locke was a major influence on the founding fathers of the United States. Many of their writings refer to him and his ideas about government and law.
Locke believed that every person has a right to punish those who transgress the natural law. He defined the natural law as a set of universal principles that all people recognize through their sense of right and wrong.
According to Locke, all people have an internal sense of morality which tells them what is right and what is wrong. This morality is based on two things: mutual respect for each other’s rights, and the pursuit of their own self-interest.
For Locke, these two things were inseparable. If someone did something that hurt your property or threatened your well-being, then you had a right to defend yourself by punishing them.
For Locke, the state exists to protect our rights to life, liberty, and property
These rights are natural, in the sense that they preexist the existence of the state. The state does not invent these rights; it only recognizes them.
By defining certain actions as crimes, and assigning punishment to those crimes, the state only asserts the right of certain persons to exert force against those who transgress the natural law.
This is why Locke distinguishes between a right of private persons to punish and a right of the state to punish. The former is based on a person’s natural right to protect his or her life, liberty, and property; the latter is based on the state’s recognition of certain actions as crimes.
For Locke, every person has a distinct right to punish those who transgress the natural law.