PDC Homepage

Home » Products » Purchase

Social Theory and Practice

Volume 43, Issue 4, October 2017

Michael Davis
Pages 667-690

Locke, Simmons, and Consent
A Lawyerly Approach

This paper is primarily a response to John Simmons’s critique of Locke’s consent theory of political obligation (Two Treatises). It seeks to apply ordinary legal reasoning to what Locke actually says about “express consent” and “tacit consent.” The result is a theory both different from the theory commonly attributed to Locke and more plausible. Among the differences is that express consent (“entering political society”) is understood to arise chiefly from seeking to vote (rather than by oath or voting) and tacit consent is understood as a reasonable (but rebuttable) presumption of actual consent. In the course of presenting Simmons’s critique, the paper identifies four commonly accepted criteria of adequacy for theories of moral obligation to obey law or government, noting that Locke’s theory, under its lawyerly interpretation, fails to satisfy any of the four criteria but seems reasonably plausible (for example, in its ability to deal with Simmons’s critique). This is taken to be reason to weaken all four criteria.

Usage and Metrics