The Notion of Human Rights in the Philosophy of John Locke


The greatest tragedy in life that is worse than death is to deny one his human rights. From the antiquity of human existence, Nature has endowed man with certain privileges and rights, a fact that cannot be gain-said. Man being created in the image of God [imago dei] was given a right that is fundamental over all that is. From the history of thought, many sages have written works about the rights of man based on the fact that man has become wolf to his fellow man. Going through the pages of history, one will note that the rights of man have been neglected even down to the 21st century. Human beings have been bastardized and their God-given rights trample in the mud. Thus, denying human rights is in no little means denying man his humanity and dignity, and by so doing doubting his existence.

Thus, the issue of human rights is one of the major problems bothering the human person in the 21st century. The continuous neglect of the rights of man by his fellow man and most often countries to its citizenry has dehumanized man’s humanity from being a ‘person’ to an ‘it’. The continuous infringement into one’s right is in the increase in our world today thereby denying man his very essence and dignity. Thus, Nature demands that the human person ought to have certain things as their rights and these rights should be respected. This is because the human person is being dehumanized, oppressed and bastardized against the fundamental values of justice, liberty, equality and fraternity; which dignify the nature of the human person. In keeping with this, Fagothey, summits:

Human nature requires that the human beings have certain things such as life, work and freedom from coercion as their due. We have a right to them as persons; we have a duty to respect other’s rights by reason of their intrinsic value and dignity as persons [P, 227].

These rights are fundamental because they are endowed in man and because he is a member of the human race. Thus, they are natural, inviolable and inalienable to him. They are bound to be nurtured, respected and protected by the individual as well as the state. However, these rights have often been violated by the individual, state or government. Thus, worried by this irresistible and turbulent situation of the modern era, John Locke emerged with a political history that created space for what he called “a state of nature” where the respect for the individual’s right is seen as a motivation for the common good and social progress.

For Locke, the fundamental precepts of any system of human rights are life, healthy liberty and property. It is to secure this rights that governments are formed among men. Government always remains only an agent of society. It is not society itself; it never becomes the people themselves. It is always an instrument of the people for the protection and promotion of their rights.

Bearing this in mind, Locke opted for a civil society, which is realized through the instrumentality of a social contract, where everyone freely surrenders his/her natural rights and power of self-government to one man or assembly of men. The government has her obligation and rights to this civil society. 

Experience tells us that, in a society where injustice is not being upheld, where man’s dignity is being dragged to the mud, where the laws are not just being made for the up-keep or up-building of the society but for the victimization of the individual person, where man is used not only as an object of satisfaction but subjected to rigorous inhumane condition of existence such as slavery, where the liberty of man is not just only comprehensively curtailed, but trampled upon; the idea of human rights becomes not only a mirage but also an illusion. This may have necessitated Rousseau’s assertion that: “man was born free and everywhere in chains”, negating the fact that human rights are inalienable, since the free will expressible of these rights are so-to-say in ‘chains’. The question now is; how can we identify the rights of man? Do men really have a right? Are his rights fundamental to his existence? Is there a just claim of negligence of his right? Do we still have such thing as human rights at all, even in the face of law? If we do, to what extent can make use of these rights and how can he also express this rights in the society without any infringement? These and many more set the ball rolling in our discussion of the rights of man. If we play down on these questions on human rights, there may continually be an eminent danger of man recourse to a state of nature which is generally noted for the survival of the fittest. Thus, there is need for the recognition of the rights of every citizen in the society and this need should be a universal call for the respect of one’s God-given right, since in our world today, the issue of human rights have indeed come under sustained attack and as such, if Lockean political thought could be adopted by our Nigerian democratic system, then the fundamental human rights of our citizens would be secured.

Table of Content

  • Chapter One


1.1 Background of Study

1.2 Statement of the Problem

1.3 Aims of study

1.4 Research Methodology

1.5 Significance of study

1.6 Scope of Study

1.7 Limitation of study

1.8 Definition of terms

  • Chapter Two

Literature Review

2.1 Aristotle

2.2 Thomas Aquinas

2.3 Thomas Hobbes

2.4 Charles de Montesquieu

2.5 Jean Jacques Rousseau

2.6 John Rawls

2.7 Julius Nyerere

2.8 The UN Declaration

  • Chapter Three

Locke's Philosophy Rights

3.1 Fundamental Human Rights

3.2 Locke's State of Nature

3.3 Locke's Social contract

3.4 TypesGovernment

3.5 Separation of powers

3.6 The Ends of Government

  • Chapter Four

Evaluation and Conclusion

4.1 Lockean Human Rights vis-à-vis a panacea for the Nigeria situation

4.2 Evaluation

4.3 Conclusion

Works Cited

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Simon, C. (2018). The Notion of Human Rights in the Philosophy of John Locke. Afribary. Retrieved from

MLA 8th

Simon, Christopher "The Notion of Human Rights in the Philosophy of John Locke" Afribary. Afribary, 01 May. 2018, Accessed 29 May. 2024.


Simon, Christopher . "The Notion of Human Rights in the Philosophy of John Locke". Afribary, Afribary, 01 May. 2018. Web. 29 May. 2024. < >.


Simon, Christopher . "The Notion of Human Rights in the Philosophy of John Locke" Afribary (2018). Accessed May 29, 2024.

Document Details
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