Locke never did produce such a work, and we might well wonder if he himself ever considered the project a “failure”.There is no doubt that morality was of central importance to Locke, a fact we can discern from the in the first place.
This was, he explains, his first entrance into the problems that inspired the itself.
But, what is most interesting for our purposes is just what the remote subject was that first got Locke and his friends thinking about fundamental questions of epistemology.
The view is not only seen by many commentators as incomplete, but it carries a degree of rationalism that cannot be made consistent with our picture of Locke as the arch-empiricist of his period.
While it is true that Locke's discussion of morality in the Essay is not as well-developed as many of his other views, there is reason to think that morality was the driving concern of this great work.
On the other hand, Locke also espouses a hedonistic moral theory, in evidence in his early work, but developed most fully in the .
This latter view holds that all goods and evils reduce to specific kinds of pleasures and pains.
Locke makes references, throughout his works, to morality and moral obligation.
However, two quite distinct positions on morality seem to emerge from Locke's works and it is this dichotomous aspect of Locke's view that has generated the greatest degree of controversy. In this work, we find Locke espousing a fairly traditional rationalistic natural law position, which consists broadly in the following three propositions: first, that moral rules are founded on divine, universal and absolute laws; second, that these divine moral laws are discernible by human reason; and third, that by dint of their divine authorship these rules are obligatory and rationally discernible as such.
In recounting his original inclination to embark on the project, he recalls a discussion with “five or six friends”, at which they discoursed “on a Subject very remote from this” (Locke 1700, 7).
According to Locke, the discussion eventually hit a standstill, at which point it was agreed that in order to settle the issue at hand it would first be necessary to, as Locke puts it, “examine our own Abilities, and see, what Objects our Understandings were, or were not fitted to deal with” (Locke 1700, 7).