Locke, Aristotle and Aquinas
In the tomes of history, many philosophers have outlined their visions of a perfect society. Until recently however, few have ventured into the waters of religious tolerance. One such philosopher was John Locke. Writing in the late 17th century, Locke advocated a complete separation between church and state. He argued for an unprecedented tolerance of people of all faiths. Although Locke's views became widely popular throughout Europe and the Americas, they did not meet with unanimous approval. Many earlier philosophers disagreed with Locke. Two such philosophers were Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas. Aquinas disagreed in three key respects: Compulsion, toleration, and authority. Aristotle, on the other hand, disagreed on a more fundamental issue: the goal of politics itself. This essay aims to elucidate Locke's arguments, and then explicate Aristotle and Aquinas' would-be objections to Locke's A Letter Concerning Toleration.
In A Letter Concerning Toleration, Locke discusses the issue of civil tolerance. His main premise is that society is constituted merely for the procuring, preserving, and advancing of civil interests. He defines civil interest as:
Life, Liberty, Health, and Indolency of Boy; and the Possession of outward things, such as Money, Lands, Houses, Furniture, and the like.1
Having explained civil interests in terms of material possessions, Locke argues that the only concern of the Magistracy should be the violation of these civil interests. The Magistracy is to enforce these rights through punishment, or by threatening the deprivation of the aforesaid rights. But since no individual would voluntarily forfeit these freedoms, the Magistracy's threats must be accompanied by force. Locke offers three reasons why the Magistracy (representing the State) is necessarily limited to civil concerns. Firstly, he argues that the "Care of Souls" cannot be entrusted to a Magistrate more than any other man. People are individually responsible for their own salvation, and no man has been given a natural authority over another man's salvation. After all, according to the dominant religious traditions, all men are equal in the eyes of God. Even in the absence of natural authority, one cannot even confer an artificial authority to a Magistrate. Why? Because salvation is an individual responsibility. But what if the Magistrate were to enact a law contrary to religious belief? In such a case, civil obedience would mean hypocrisy - and this would be immoral. One must never be made to choose between religion and state. Secondly, the Magistracy wields only an outward force, whereas true salvation lies in one's inward resolve. He writes: "Such is the nature of the Understanding, that it cannot be compell'd [sic] to the belief of any thing by outward force."2 Moreover, enjoining righteousness is not the monopoly of the Magistracy; it is a right belonging to all...