New York University Public Law and Legal Theory Working Papers

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John Locke's argument about the rights of mothers in the First Treatise (1689) is a powerful piece of political argument, prefiguring a comprehensive egalitarianism in his social thought, both between men and women and among humans generally. In the first of his Two Treatises of Government, John Locke argues that the rights of mothers should be taken as seriously as the rights of fathers. He does this partly as an argument against patriarchal monarchy. But it is like a Trojan Horse in his social theory, because it establishes the basis of a more comprehensive egalitarianism. The lecture will explore various aspects of Locke's argument about motherhood: his views on gestation, the ensoulment of the fetus, the punishment of Eve, the nature of queenship, the importance of the Fifth Commandment, the possibility of divorce, the nurture of children, and the ownership of property. It will argue that there is little basis in Locke's writings for the interpretation put forward by Carol Pateman in her book, The Sexual Contract. Though there are residues of sexism in Locke, his contemporaries would have been much more struck by his vigorous assertion of the equal rights of women (and men) and mothers (and fathers).

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