John Locke


"John Locke"; (2/26/2001)


“Though the familiar use of the things about us, takes off our wonder; yet it cures not our ignorance” 

(An essay concerning Human Understanding III. V. 1.9)


            John Locke was an English philosopher whose writings have influenced political science and philosophy today.  Throughout his life he wrote on subjects including educational reform, freedom of the press, and religious tolerance.  In 1690 Locke published his major work an “Essay Concerning Human Understanding”  In this essay Locke explained the human mind, all of its operations, and how the mind functions in learning about the world.  Locke refuted the doctrine of innate ideas, which states that ideas are apart of the mind at birth and not learned or gained from later outside sources.  According to Locke the human mind enters the world without any preconceived ideas.  Locke claimed an empirical view in which ideas are placed in the mind by experience.  It is from our senses that humans eventually derive a sense of order and rationality.  Locke further believed that there were two kinds of experiences.  The first, outer experiences are achieved through the sense of sight, taste, hearing, smell and touch.  Our five senses provide information about the external world.  The second, inner experiences include thinking about the mental processes involved in moving data, which includes information about the mind.  This infers that moral and intellectual outcomes in human development will be allowed by environmental changes.

            Locke believed that the universe contained three kinds of things including minds, various types of bodies and God.  These bodies had mathematically measurable properties like weight and length, which existed in the bodies themselves, and they had qualitative properties including sound and color.  The qualitative properties were ideas, which had to be produced in the mind, and were not in the bodies themselves. 

In terms of religion and government Locke rejected the Divine Right, which stated that God had chosen a group of people or family  to rule a country.  Many kings and queens used this to justify their right to rule.  Instead, in Locke’s Two Treatises of Government he argued that government and authority was based on natural law.  The natural law was believed to dictate that all human beings were fundamentally equal.  Locke  argued that since every human came into this world with the same capacities inequality was therefore an unnatural result of the environment, which individuals are forced to live in.  Locke also believed that certain rights and duties such as life, liberty and ownership of property were given to people by nature.  Every state was expected to provide political equality, liberty, and protect people’s rights.  If the government failed to do this, its citizens had the right to find other rulers.  Locke’s beliefs helped lay the foundation for democracy today.

            John Locke was an important English philosopher in the seventeenth century.  He developed original philosophies concerning human nature, religion and government.  His philosophies have had lasting effects present in today’s society.




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