Locke vs. Leibniz


Exerpts frm Vattel | Locke vs. Leibniz | Vattel's Natural Law | Law of Nations | Declaration of Independence | U.S. Constitution | Alexander Hamilton

Locke vs. Leibniz: Two Conflicting Conceptions of Human Nature


The Eighteenth century was defined by the attempts of the financier oligarchy, or Venetian Party, then headquartered in England, to wipe out the modern nation-state. The Venetian Party launched the Enlightenment, to spread the ideology that man was no more than a hedonistic animal, controlled by his sensual urges. By destroying the ability of men to think and act like citizens, they aimed to destroy the basis for the existence of the nation-state as an opponent to their oligarchical control of human society.

The prevailing theories of the Enlightenment were based on the method introduced by the Venetian, Paolo Sarpi. Sarpi's writings became the basis for such English writers as Hobbes, Locke, Mandeville, and Bentham. All these writers started by assuming that the individual's hedonistic desires are self-evident facts, and built up society from that premise. Thomas Hobbes is generally known for his bestial portrayal of human nature. John Locke, who is usually portrayed as the source of the ideas of freedom and government which motivated the founding fathers, was no better.

Locke wrote that the souls of the newly born are blank tablets. He asserted that thinking is only sense perception, and that the mind lacks the power ``to invent or frame one new simple idea.'' He wrote,

"The knowledge of the existence of any other thing, we can have only by sensation: for there being no necessary connection of real existence with any idea a man hath in his memory; ... but only when, by actual operating upon him, it makes itself perceived by him.|...

"As to myself, I think God has given me assurance enough of the existence of things without me: since by their different application, I can produce in myself both pleasure and pain, which is one great concernment of my present state." ({An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Vol. II})

From this bestial view that the human mind consists of only sense certainty, pleasure and pain, Locke developed an equally bestial theory of the nation. Man originally existed in a State of Nature of complete liberty. If he was attacked by another, he was justified in seeking retribution. Men, however, being filled with self-love, extracted more retribution than they justly deserved. The community or state came to be an umpire, by setting rules for the proper amount of ``just retribution.'' And thus, the commonwealth came into existence to set just punishments and to defend itself against outsiders. It follows, that Locke's conception of freedom, was no more than the right of each man to follow his hedonistic instincts in all things, where not prohibited by the umpire's rules. Not surprisingly, when Locke wrote the ``Fundamental Constitution for the Government of Carolina,'' in 1669, he established a feudal system which included both Black and white slavery.

The myth that John Locke was the philosopher behind the American Republic, is easily refuted by examining how Locke's philosophy steered Thomas Jefferson, for example. Jefferson's actions make it clear that, had Locke's philosophy been the inspiration for the American Revolution, the U.S. would never have become the world's leading nation and industrial power. Jefferson, who claimed that the three greatest men in history were the British empiricists Francis Bacon, John Locke, and Isaac Newton, adopted their outlook that sense certainty is the basis for all knowledge, writing:

"I feel, therefore I exist. I feel bodies which are not myself: there are other existences then. I call them matter. I feel them changing place. This gives me motion. Where there is an absence of matter, I call it void, or nothing, or immaterial space. On the basis of sensation, of matter and motion, we may erect the fabric of all the certainties we can have or need." (Letter to John Adams, Aug. 15, 1820)

Having denied that human nature is creative reason, Jefferson saw society and economics as based on fundamentally {fixed} relationships. Consequently, he endorsed Thomas Malthus' ideology, that man's needs must exceed his ability to produce. He rejected national economic development through the increase of the productive powers of labor, and instead accepted Adam Smith's free trade doctrines. Jefferson saw slavery as appropriate for Blacks, whom he considered as inherently inferior.

Jefferson opposed Hamilton's measures for the development of the nation, and in a private letter stating his opposition to Hamilton's National Bank, for example, he raved that any person in the state of Virginia, who cooperated with the Bank, ``shall be adjudged guilty of high treason and suffer death accordingly.'' Jefferson was fanatically opposed to the development of American industry, and described the growth of cities in America as ``a canker which soon eats to the heart of its laws and constitution.'' He fought to keep the nation as a feudal plantation.

If man were nothing more than a bundle of hedonistic instincts, however, whose cognitive ability were limited to sense certainty, mankind would today be no more than a few million bestial individuals on the entire planet, scratching out an existence in the dirt. In his own period, it fell to Gottfried Leibniz, who represented the best of the tradition of the Renaissance that had established the modern nation-state beginning with the France of Louis XI, to demonstrate that Locke's premises were an inhuman fraud.

Leibniz developed a science of the mind, which was coherent with human nature as creative reason, rather than animalistic instincts. For the human species to make fundamental changes in its methods of existence, men must be capable of creative reason, instead of merely taking in sensual impressions and acting on instincts. Leibniz described how the mind functions by recognizing the contradictions in sensual impressions and generating Platonic ideas, which are ``by far to be preferred to the blank tablets of Aristotle, Locke, and the other recent exoteric philosophers.''

In his writings, Leibniz demonstrated how the principles of science and law are also ``not derived from sense, but from a clear and distinct intuition, which Plato called an idea.'' Plato discussed, in the {Republic,} how some sense impressions do not provoke thought, because the judgment of them by sensation seems adequate, while others always invite the intellect to reflection, because the senses give the mind contrary perceptions. These sense impressions force the mind to conceptualize an explanation, which is intelligible rather than visible. The best example of a Platonic idea, is the demonstration which Lyndon LaRouche has developed of Erastosthenes' measurement of the size of the earth, which Eratosthenes accomplished several millennia before anyone had actually ``seen'' the shape of the earth's curvature.

Leibniz and Locke's conception of how the mind works, was reflected in their different understanding of the nature of God. Leibniz's God is the Creator, who is able to transform the universe to higher levels of perfection, in a fashion which is reflected in man's transformation of human society. To illustrate how God transforms the universe, Leibniz used the example of an eternal book on the Elements of Geometry. Each new copy is made from the previous one, with new advances being added, in a lawful process of change. The nature of this lawful process of change from one copy to the next, is illustrated by the scientific discoveries made by Leibniz and his collaborators. The new copy of the Elements of Geometry, is not reached by principles of formal logic, but through a scientific discovery which takes the form of a Platonic idea. ``What is true of books, is also true of the different states of the world; every subsequent state is somehow copied from the preceding one (although according to certain laws of change).'' Leibniz quoted Plato's {Phaedo,} to describe how the Creator orders the universe according to reason, and is continually acting to further the perfection of his creation.

For Enlightenment neo-Aristotelians like Sarpi, Locke, and Grotius, the idea that the universe could be both lawful and evolving in a constant process of perfection, was incomprehensible. They saw God as trapped in the same set of fixed rules, in which their minds were trapped. Grotius stated this explicitly, arguing that, ``The law of nature, again, is unchangeable--even in the sense that it cannot be changed by God.'' Since not even God can change these fixed laws, far less powerful mankind must live in a universe defined by these fixed relationships. Aristotle, Locke, {et al.,} developed a system of law, and a model of society, in which people are trapped in fixed categories, such as aristocrat, or servant.

Leibniz understood that the idea of man living in accordance with natural law, does not mean searching for some set of fixed laws, floating off in the heavens. Rather, man lives in coherence with natural law, by ordering society according to the powers of creative reason, which makes man in the image of God. For Leibniz, the highest right, and the source of true happiness, is {piety,} when man lives so that he seeks to perfect himself, in conformity with the perfection of the Creator.

Leibniz located the two traditional notions of right, which had been codified by Aristotle, as less universal than piety. The higher of these two, Leibniz called equity. This included distributive justice, or the precept of the law that commands us to give each one what he merits or deserves. The lower degree, was that of mere right, or strict right of commutative justice, that no one is to be injured. ``The strict right avoids misery whereas the next higher right, equity, tends toward happiness, but only such as fall within this mortality.'' It is the responsibility of the state, to make laws which transform the moral claims of equity, such as the obligation to take care of the sick, into legal claims, and thereby assure the happiness of the people.

Universal justice, however, is found only on the highest level, that of piety. The transformation from the middle to the highest level, is the difference between desiring good of others for our own benefit, and desiring good of others because it is our own good. On this level, man determines the justice of his acts, by weighing their consequences against the entirety of the past, present, and future. Leibniz expressed this again more simply, in the statement, ``Parents exist primarily for the sake of children; the present, which does not last long, for the sake of the future.'' However, the clear comprehension of the mind, needed to understand justice on its highest level, is achieved by few, and the hope for improvement for humanity rests on those great men.

Leibniz dedicated his life to efforts to educate people to understand that true happiness is found by locating their identity in benefitting mankind and their posterity. He was involved in far-reaching efforts to improve the productive powers of labor, through fostering education, and developing technology and science, so the population could be lifted out of backwardness. His efforts to develop heat-powered machinery, so that one man could do the work of a hundred, mark the founding of economic science on a basis coherent with the natural law concept of man's increasing perfection. He created whole new branches of knowledge, such as the calculus, and worked to develop links with far-away countries like China.

Leibniz's understanding of natural law is best expressed, today, from the standpoint of Lyndon LaRouche, who describes himself as ``in that Leibniz tradition upon which our 1776 Declaration of Independence and 1789 Federal Constitution were premised.''

For his most recent discussion of the issue of natural law, see Lyndon H. LaRouche, Jr., ``U.S. Law: Neither Truth Nor Justice,'' Executive Intelligence Review, August 23, 1996 (Vol. 23, No. 34). The following summary is drawn from this discussion.

LaRouche has developed a rigorous proof, from a study of the demography of human society over the past two million years, that man is fundamentally different from all other species. This demographic evidence demonstrates three crucial principles. LaRouche writes,

"First, the increase of mankind's potential population-density, and also our species' improved life-expectancy and productivity, demonstrates, that the human individual is set absolutely apart from, and superior to all other living species, as {Genesis} 1:26-30 argues.

"Second, a retrospective view of the improvement in human demography, referenced to the post-1461 establishment of the modern, western European form of nation-state, shows that this improvement in demography, is the consequence of combination of general education, with the fostering, through means of the individual mind's creative, cognitive processes, of scientific, technological, and related discoveries of principle. It is nothing other than this creative potential, typified by valid discoveries and employment of principles of nature for scientific and technological progress, which sets mankind apart from, and above all other species.

"Third, that the struggle which defines human history, to date, is between the efforts to establish a form of state based upon universal education for ongoing scientific and related progress, and against the evil heritage of so-called ``traditionalist'' and oligarchical (e.g., feudal-aristocratic, financier-aristocratic) forms of society, such as those conforming with the evil Code of the Emperor Diocletian."

The rigorous proof of these three principles is derived from physical economy. Natural law, rather than being a list of do's and don'ts, or of even the most admirable moral principles, must be rigorously grounded in the requirements for successful human survival. ``Natural Law is the hypothesis which corresponds to the necessary and sufficient reason for mankind's successfully continued existence.''

In order for a society to survive, it must generate a sufficient level of physical production both to meet its current needs, and to produce a surplus for upgrading its productive powers. The level of potential physical productivity of a society depends on both the development of the intellect of its members, and a minimal standard of both demographic characteristics and of consumption. No society could ever survive by remaining in a steady state, however, since any society which remains in a fixed mode of production, runs out of the resources that are available for that mode of production. A successful economy must therefore also generate ``Free Energy,'' which is invested to transform it to a higher level of technology.

The successful existence of the human species depends, therefore, on such a ``non-entropic'' result, achieved through scientific progress, and the successful survival of any society requires that it develop within its citizens, the capability to make the scientific discoveries necessary to achieve this progress. The quality of mind required for mankind to make necessary, successive scientific discoveries, however, is completely different from the view presented by Locke {et al.,} that knowledge is nothing more than a collection of sense impressions. This quality of mind is best expressed with reference to Plato's concept of hypothesis, and of ``hypothesizing the higher hypothesis,'' which is the cognition required to compare different higher hypotheses used to generate discoveries and discern the most valid method of generating new discoveries.

LaRouche locates an individual's ability to make such creative discoveries as dependent on 'agape,' or the emotion associated with creativity. Through such valid discoveries, the individual contributes to the perfection of all mankind. Plato understood this, in associating 'agape' with the love of truth and the love of justice, and St. Paul used it to the same effect, extending it to the love of mankind and God. This emotion of love is in contrast to {eros,} or a fixation on sensual pleasure.

The natural law functions as a type of hypothesis, as LaRouche identifies ``higher hypothesis.'' It consists of a set of principles (e.g., axioms) which govern the forming of many valid hypotheses, each hypothesis subsuming a theorem-lattice of lawful propositions. To be coherent with natural law, the constitutional law of any state must commit that state to serve the principles of progress, developing within its citizens those creative abilities which are dependent on the emotional state of 'agape.' This is the significance of Leibniz's conception that, ``The most perfect society is that whose purpose is the universal and supreme happiness,'' and is the meaning of ``the pursuit of happiness'' in the opening of the Declaration of Independence, as well as its expression as the ``General Welfare'' clause in the Preamble to the U.S. Constitution.

Now, where did the founders of the United States learn the Leibnizian natural law which was the basis of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution? Certainly not from Locke or any other of the spokesmen of the Enlightenment. Not from Grotius or other writers, who based their law on the fixed conceptions of man contained in Aristotle, Roman law, or Sarpi. At the time of the American Revolution, England's North American colonies had a literacy rate and productivity twice that of England, as the result of the efforts of republican circles. Philip Valenti and others have written about the substantial direct influence of Leibniz in the American Colonies. We will now look at the role of Emmerich de Vattel in the transmission of Leibnizian natural law to America's founders.

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Vattel's Natural Law

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Part 2 of:
"Life, Liberty, and The Pursuit of Happiness, How the Natural Law Concept of G. W. Leibniz Inspired America's Founding Fathers."
For the Introduction and Table of Contents, go to:
Leibnizian Natural Law


G W Leibniz


John Locke

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