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He had written a long essay on idleness at the university, but it wasn’t written very well, he thinks; the couple of people who read it mistook it for a labor theory of value in the Marxian sense.

Recall that for Locke rewards and punishments are specific pleasuresand pains. Acting for conscious’ sake will necessarily involveconsiderations of pleasure and pain, but of a kind quite distinct fromsanctions. For Locke, there is a kind of pleasure that attendsfulfilling one's moral duty that is quite distinct from considerationsof reward and punishment. In an essay, written in 1692, entitledEthica A (the first of two essays, the other entitledEthica B), Locke appeals to a kind of pleasure that attendsthe fulfilment of one's moral duty:

Our ideas of moral good and evil do not, therefore, differqualitatively from natural good or evil. If this is the case,however, one might ask what makes smelling a rose different fromhelping those in need. For Locke, the answer lies in the differentcontext for pleasures and pains that distinguishes the moral from thenatural. While a natural good involves the physical pleasure thatarises from the scent of a rose, moral good is a pleasurearising from one's conformity to moral dictates, and moralevil is pain arising from the failure to conform. The pleasure andpain are not qualitatively distinct, in these cases, but they take ona special significance as a result of the considerations that bringthem about. Locke explains this in the Essay, making sure toemphasize the purely contextual distinction between moral and naturalfeelings:

In Praise of Idleness: And Other Essays ..

Pleasure and pain are the engines that make decisions, thoughts, andactions happen. This is not merely coincidence, or chance, for Locke,but yet another example of God's divine design. God has attachedfeelings of pleasure and pain to our ideas, so the natural facultieswith which humans are endowed “might not remain wholly idle, andunemploy'd by us” (Essay, 2.7.3).

In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays is a ..

This might seem to be a tall order when considering the controversygenerated by beliefs about moral rules, yet Locke clearly believesthat moral rules can, with the right mental effort, yield indisputableuniversal laws. Locke offers an example of how this might work, byanalyzing the moral proposition Where there is no property, thereis no injustice. In order to see the demonstrable certainty ofthis claim, we have to examine the composite ideas and how those agreeor disagree with one another. The idea of property, first of all, is aright to something. The idea of injustice, considered next, is aviolation of that right. Given these definitions, which Locke thinksare arrived at by careful attention to definition, it is a rationaldeduction that injustice cannot exist if there is no property to beviolated. Injustice and property must, by definition agree. This is aclearly demonstrable rule, according to Locke, deduced from clear andadequately conceived ideas. The only other example Locke offers is theproposition No Government allows absolute Liberty.Government, according to Locke, is the establishment of society uponcertain laws, requiring conformity. Absolute liberty is allowinganyone to do as they please. These are modal ideas, according toLocke, and thus known with complete adequacy. As such, it is possiblefor the rational individual to see clearly that the ideas of absoluteliberty and government cannot agree. Of course, most people will arguethat these rational deductions rely upon definitions that aredebatable. This would not seem to be helped by the fact that, forLocke, modal ideas, like all complex ideas, are put together by themind; while complex ideas of substance are constructed on the patternof perceivable objects, modal ideas are, Locke explains, “puttogether at the pleasure of our Thoughts, without any real patternthey were taken from” (Essay, 4.4.12). This might seemto pose a problem for Locke's moral theory, according to which morallaws are just as necessary as mathematical principles. However, Lockeis not worried about any relativistic implications. For Locke, anydisagreement about definitions of concepts like property, justice ormurder, result from insufficient reasoning about the simple ideas thatcomprise our moral ideas, as well as bias, prejudice and otherirrational influences. For Locke, it is precisely because these ideasrefer to nothing outside the mind that they can beuniversally-conceived and adequately understood. Just as the notion oftriangularity is known perfectly because it does not depend upon theexistence of triangles outside the mind, so justice is understoodperfectly because it is not using some extramental archetype as itsinspiration. He writes,

Original text of the essay "In Praise of Idleness" ..

PLEASURE OF IDLENESS The riddle of complete open door, from push and anxiety, lies in …

Pleasure and pain form the basis of Locke's general theory ofmotivation, but they are also the bedrock upon which our moral ideas,and the motivation to moral goodness arise. Good andevil reduce, for Locke, to “nothing but Pleasure orPain, or that which occasions or procures Pleasure and Pain tous” (Essay, 2.28.5). A flower is good, because itsbeauty raises feeling of affection or pleasure in us. Illness, on theother hand, is an evil since it raises feelings of aversion in thosewho have experienced illness in any of its many forms. A goodis whatever produces pleasure in us, or diminishes evil, and anevil is whatever produces pain or diminishes pleasure. Inthis way, for Locke, the ideas of good and evil arise from naturalemotive responses to our various ideas. Now, these are not moral goodsand evils, but for Locke moral ideas are founded in the general ideaswe have of natural pleasures and pains. Locke designates no specialfaculty by which we acquire the basic moral concepts of good and evil,since these are merely a modification of our ideas of natural good andevil; moral good and evil gain their special significance fromconsidering ideas of pleasure and pain in specific contexts.

Essays on Pleasures And Pains Of Being a Students

When he isn’t fishing he may go for a walk, and look more active, but he is actually free to do anything at that moment and so is idle in evolutionary terms; his stationary fishing is active, his walking is a form of idleness, which he engages in for pleasure.


This essay examines the role that the specter of idleness played in the ongoing transformation of labor in England during the late medieval and early modern periods.

There are two main stumbling blocks to the study of Locke's moralphilosophy. The first regards the singular lack of attention thesubject receives in Locke's most important and influential publishedworks; not only did Locke never publish a work devoted to moralphilosophy, but he dedicates little space to its discussion in theworks he did publish. The traditional moral concept of natural lawarises in Locke's Two Treatises of Government (1690) servingas a major plank in his argument regarding the basis for civil law andthe protection of individual liberty, but he does not go into anydetail regarding how we come to know natural law nor how we might beobligated, or even motivated, to obey it. In his Essay ConcerningHuman Understanding (first edition 1690; fourth edition 1700,hereafter referred to as the Essay) Locke spends little timediscussing morality, and what he does provide in the way of a moralepistemology seems underdeveloped, offering, at best, the suggestionof what a moral system might look like rather than a fully-realizedpositive moral position. This brings us to the second major stumblingblock: What Locke does provide us by way of moral theory in theseworks is diffuse, with the air of being what J.B. Schneewind hascharacterized as “brief, scattered and sometimes puzzling”(Schneewind 1994, 200). This is not to suggest that Locke says nothingspecific or concrete about morality. Locke makes references,throughout his works, to morality and moral obligation. However, twoquite distinct positions on morality seem to emerge from Locke's worksand it is this dichotomous aspect of Locke's view that has generatedthe greatest degree of controversy. The first is a naturallaw position, which Locke refers to in the Essay, butwhich finds its clearest articulation in an early work from the 1660s,entitled Essays on the Law of Nature. In this work, we findLocke espousing a fairly traditional rationalistic natural lawposition, which consists broadly in the following three propositions:first, that moral rules are founded on divine, universal and absolutelaws; second, that these divine moral laws are discernible by humanreason; and third, that by dint of their divine authorship these rulesare obligatory and rationally discernible as such. On the other hand,Locke also espouses a hedonistic moral theory, in evidence in hisearly work, but developed most fully in the Essay. Thislatter view holds that all goods and evils reduce to specific kinds ofpleasures and pains. The emphasis here is on sanctions, and howrewards and punishments serve to provide morality with its normativeforce. Both elements find their way into Locke's published works, and,as a result, Locke seems to be holding what seem to be incommensurableviews. The trick for Locke scholars has been to figure out how, oreven if, they can be made to cohere. The question is not easilysettled by looking to Locke's unpublished works, either, since Lockealso seems to hold a natural law view at some times and a hedonisticview at others.