The interpretation of Locke's Two Treatises in Britain, 1778-1956

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This paper describes how Locke's Two Treatises of Government was read in Britain from Josiah Tucker to Peter Laslett. It focuses in particular upon how Locke's readers responded to his detailed and lengthy engagement with the patriarchalist political thought of Sir Robert Filmer. In the second half of the eighteenth century, the debate between Locke and Filmer continued to provide the framework within which political obligation was discussed. A hundred years later that had changed, to the point where Locke's readers found it unintelligible that he argued against Filmer and not Hobbes. I explain this in terms of the development in nineteenth century Britain of a new conception of the history of political philosophy, the product of interest in the Hegelian theory of the state. The story told here is offered as one example of how understandings of the history of philosophy are shaped by understandings of philosophy itself.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)483-500
JournalBritish Journal for the History of Philosophy
Issue number3
Early online date7 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • Locke, John
  • Filmer, Sir Robert
  • Hobbes, Thomas
  • Burke, Edmund
  • Political obligation
  • Laslett, Peter


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