Legitimating tacit consent in John Locke's political theory

Harold Kildow, Fordham University


This dissertation addresses the problem of consent and tacit consent that every thoughtful reader of Locke's Second Treatise confronts. Tacit consent as an adequate expression of consent is a sticking point for readers of Locke, not least because his introduction of it in the main sections of the Second Treatise, §§117-122, seems to contradict his simultaneous demand for express consent in the same sections. But tacit consent underpins a number of important social institutions which Locke treats in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, including social mores, language, instituted relations, and the "Law of Fashion", the strongest of the types of law Locke treats in the Essay. These social institutions are all the products of the "workmanship of the understanding", and when brought together with the tacitly consented-to structures treated in the Second Treatise---property, money, and the formation of nascent political society---also the workmanship of the understanding---the outlines of a "sociological consent" begins to emerge. Locke's psychology of the human person as it lays scattered throughout the Essay further buttresses the argument that forms of consent other than express consent, normative throughout the rest of common social life, inform and modulate Locke's use of tacit consent in his political theory.

Subject Area

Political science

Recommended Citation

Kildow, Harold, "Legitimating tacit consent in John Locke's political theory" (2007). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3255046.