The meaning of charity in Locke's political thought
University of Exeter
European Journal of Political Theory
The recent ‘religious turn’ within Locke scholarship has stressed the need to understand his theological commitments when approaching his political thought. One area of interpretation that has been completely transformed by this heightened sensitivity to the religious roots of Locke’s thought is his account of property ownership which, it is claimed, contains a ‘right to charity’—a subsistence entitlement that trumps established ownership rights. However, this increasingly accepted interpretive claim has been made without significant attention to the way in which charity is deployed throughout Locke’s writing. The aim of this article is to try and get to grips with Locke’s various usages of the term and determine whether the concept he deploys is a consistent one. After discussion of the uncertain role charity plays in his account of property, we examine how it is defined in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and then turn to the crucial position it occupies in his theological corpus. Though Locke’s understanding of charity seems fraught with ambiguities, the reason for these ambiguities relate to his configuration of charity as a disposition rather than a mere act, a configuration linked inextricably to his account of toleration.
Copyright © 2009 by SAGE Publications. This is the authors final version, after peer-review. 12 month embargo by the publisher. Article will be released April 2010.