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Hello & Welcome! Today we’ll be discussing the philosophy of John Locke. I’ve been excited to talk about John Locke for a while, since he’s one of my favorite recent philosophers. If you’re new to the blog, here’s how it’s gonna go… first we’ll talk history, then notable figures, then key characteristics, and then conclude with some misconceptions. Let’s get going then!


John Locke was born on August 29, 1632 in Wrington, Somerset, England. So, Locke’s early life was faced with a crisis being the English Civil War. He was around 10 when the war started; his father fighting against the king, obviously Young Locke didn’t participate himself. But his father’s side winning certainly set them up for success later. As the connection his father made helped him put John into the prestigious Westminster school, and later he moving on to Oxford, where he eventually became a well known lecturer in Christ Church in Oxford.

When King Charles was executed, John was attending Oxford where he was studying to be a doctor. While there John achieved his degree in medicine, but also was studied in logic, metaphysics, and what’s called “classics”, which is a mixture of literature and history.

Now this brings us to, debatably the greatest influence there would ever be on him, that man was Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st earl of Shaftesbury. Locke met him when Cooper came to Oxford looking for a doctor, and Locke fit the bill becoming Cooper’s live-in doctor for many years to come. It was here that Locke was exposed to many of the ideals that would form the basis of his political philosophy.

Unfortunately, though Cooper’s political and royalist dealings soon had him, and by extension Locke exiled with him, where Locke wrote and after his return to England published his most famous works. Locke became Cooper’s personal doctor, where he participated in many major discussions of the day and formed many of the ideas he would be known or in his life. Locke returned after what’s called the “Glorious Revolution” in 1688, where he published all of his most famous work. Upon Locke’s return he was invited by a former lover of his to stay in her home with her and her husband in Essex where he remained until he passed away on October 28, 1704. Records say he passed away while being read the psalms.

Notable Figures:

Francis Bacon:
Bacon is one of the holy trinity of those who developed the modern conception of the mind; Locke being another, and Hume being the last. Bacon developed the idea of what I call “proving things” meaning that experimentation and theory can confirm or deny what we believe. While this seems basic, it was revolutionary for the time, and Locke took this and ran with it!

So one of Locke’s major ideas was based on, and a development on, an idea that Aristotle began and spoke on in his work on the soul, that concept is “Tabula Rasa” and we’ll explain it later, but for now suffice to say, Locke took teachings of Aristotle on the soul and applied them to the mind.

In regards to who has been influenced by John Locke, it would be easier to say who hasn’t been influenced by John Locke, with a lot of sources saying that John Locke “is the most influential philosopher of modern times.” While this is EXTREMELY debatable, it is certainly impressive nonetheless. To look at just a few though…

Thomas Jefferson:
Jefferson was of a generation that marveled and was fascinated at the language and ideas that Locke proposed and used, incorporating many of these ideas and themes in virtually every work he wrote. The American Declaration of the Independence, the French Declaration of the rights of man, the citizen, and so on. John Locke, as we’ll see later, had some very radical and revolutionary ideas, and he as well as the enlightenment that followed him, formed much of the basis of culture as it exists now. Whether that’s for good or ill, i’ll let you decide.

So we’ve mostly discussed good influences here on the blog, but now we’re gonna look at maybe a not so good influence. Voltaire is a well known french philosopher from the 1800s, and really he took all of Locke’s ideas and followed them all to some very extreme conclusions. Believing that class divisions were evil, religion was a tool for oppression and so on. Voltaire did indeed have ideas of his own and i’m not trying to knock him here, but in the light of Locke, Voltaire appears as a bit of a shadow.

Key Characteristics:

Education: (1693 thoughts on education)
So Locke’s ideas can be summed up in the idea of Tabula Rasa, basically meaning that every person when born is a blank slate. Meaning that your ideals and mentalities are all formed by experiences in your life. So education to Locke was important because it decides who a person is later in life, for the most part. I think this idea is taken for granted so much today, but is critical to many ideas and other philosophies today.

Rule (or government): Two Treatises of Government (1690)
Who can rule? and Why? These are questions that Locke tackled. Firstly, the common ideal of kings being appointed by God was thoroughly destroyed by Locke, who instead went to the idea of the “true state of nature” believing it to be an ideal state. Locke believed that a person’s rights existed regardless of government, as my american audience may suspect he believed that people had inalienable rights that no ruler could take away, rather than leaders existing because God said so, Locke said that rulers only existed because man said so. This has formed many forms of government especially in the west.

Different Religions: (Letters concerning Toleration)
1667 Toleration, illuminates that John Locke was one of the proponents of religious toleration, the relations between different religions was pretty dicey and messy in Locke’s day but he instead of continuing the cycle decided to speak against it. John Locke supported religious toleration under three conditions: (1) Because earthly judges, the state in particular, and human being in general cannot dependably evaluate the truth claims of competing religious standpoints. (2) Even if they could, enforcing the single “true religion” would never work because you cannot be compelled into belief through violence. (3) Coercing religious uniformity leads to far more social disorder than allowing allowing diversity. The state in Locke’s mind was meant to care for people’s physical wellbeing, while a persons religion was the sole carer of the persons soul. However, it is important to note that Locke addressed this specifically to Protestant denominations, not to all of religion period.


That Locke didn’t like Kings:
So this idea stems from the idea that John’s father fought in the English Civil War, on the side of the parliament and basically helped to overthrow the english throne. This combined with the idea that Locke disagreed with the idea of the divine rights of kings made him no friends among the monarchy. However Locke in no instance has ever explicitly said that the rule of kings was evil, merely that rulers can only rule if his subjects allow it. And this was certainly used by many revolutions since to tear down kings, but Locke’s own feelings on kings certainly didn’t tend towards anarchy as many believe.

That Locke Didn’t like religion:
So this is much more the enlightenment’s sin rather than Locke’s but I feel the need to address it here. While Locke’s ideas can certainly be used to destroy any idea of Theism it’s important to note that Locke doesn’t say there isn’t an absolute truth he just says it isn’t the rule of the state to determine it. Really Locke isn’t condemning religion completely, he’s condemning the idea of a repressive state government. Now I will be the first to admit that there are definitely times when Religion has been sponsored by the state and it’s come out for evil. I’m sure several examples are rushing to your mind right now, and honestly Locke definitely has a point here, if one religion is sponsored by the state it eventually leads to oppression, but regardless Locke’s feelings on religion are pretty clear and non antagonistic unlike several other enlightenment philosophers. I’m looking at you Hume and Voltaire. Furthermore, Locke was NOT an Empiricist, for those who don’t remember an Empiricist is someone who believes in the power of reason, as we discussed Locke believed that experience forms human ideals and worldview not reason. Therefore he believed that God can only be encountered through experiences that help to form his identity as a person meets him, which is a phenomenally modern ideal.

And that is all I have for you… Go in peace!

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