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John Locke, natural law and colonialism

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In John Locke's Two Treatises of Government, the state of nature, and more particularly natural man, are created within the tradition of natural law. Several commentators, such as James Tully and Karl Olivecrona, have recognized this legacy in Locke's political thought.1 While providing an analysis of Locke's thought in relation to natural law, such studies, however, have not fully examined the global context within which both the Two Treatises and seventeenth-century natural law developed. Consequently the extent to which natural law theorists, such as Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf, were influenced by the colonial interests of their particular countries of origin has been largely overlooked. The development of natural law theory, which can be traced back to the time of Cicero and beyond, is transformed during the sixteen hundreds by the need to answer new questions posed, both on sea and land, by the expanding colonial empires of Europe. Thus, in considering the natural law theorists who influenced Locke, it will be necessary to examine how colonialism influenced both the questions which were posed and the answers that were given.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: London Guildhall University.

Publication date: April 1, 1992


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