John Locke: A Brief Biography
John Locke was among the greatest philosophers who lived his life in one of most complicated eras in the English history. This is perhaps one of the reasons that developed Locke’s excellent intellect. The political, intellectual, and religious conflicts that Locke had witnessed opened much of his interests in different skills, from arts, philosophy, and medicine.
Locke had his early years of college studies at Westminster School in London. He was among the King’s Scholars, a group of students who were privileged to live in the school and receive stipend from the King. After Westminster, Locke continued his studies at the Christ Church in Oxford where he obtained his B.A. In Christ Church, he participated in different school activities and because of his intelligence he was elected as a leader and lecturer in a number of school groups. Locke soon decided to become a doctor. Most of his mentors and inspirations were great personalities in our history. Robert Boyle, who invented the air pump, barometer, and theorized Boyle’s law, was Locke’s scientific mentor. On the other, the writings of Descartes awakened Locke’s interest in philosophy.
Being a philosopher, and someone who was involved with different political figures, Locke’s skills in philosophy widened. He was even involved in different political controversies such as his role in the writing of the constitution and his involvement with Shaftesbury. During these political issues, Locke was able to write a number of literatures that depicts the controversies in the government and society of his time. Some of these are an Essay Concerning Human Understanding
The Two Treatises of Government
Letter Conerning Tolerance
After his exile, Locke had become among the most important members of the Board of Trade, especially during its revision. He served the board for 4 years and then retired. 4 years after his retirement, Locke died in 1704.
The Influences in Locke’s Works and How he Fits in his Time
The different political, intellectual, and religious conflicts in Locke’s time had influences to his works. An online source (science.uvl) indicates the following characteristics of his works.
Much of Locke’s work is characterized by opposition to authoritarianism. This opposition is both on the level of the individual person and on the level of institutions such as government and church. For the individual, Locke wants each of us to use reason to search after truth rather than simply accept the opinion of authorities or be subject to superstition. He wants us to proportion assent to propositions to the evidence for them. On the level of institutions it becomes important to distinguish the legitimate from the illegitimate functions of institutions and to make the corresponding distinction for the uses of force by these institutions.
One of Locke’s works, an Essay Concerning Human Understanding, was influenced by Descartes’ ideas wherein Locke was introduced during his college years. In this essay, Locke aimed to define the limits of an individual’s understanding. He suggests that at the birth, the mind of an individual is blank and contains no knowledge at all and that it is the material things that people see that give them knowledge and ideas. Locke’s science mentors such as Boyle can be said to have an influence in Locke’s work. In the an Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke related how scientific theories do affect the capabilities of the human mind.
Locke’s disagreement to the Aristotelian philosophy similarly gave him the ideas in his essays. For instance, the Aristotelian theory believes that there is a single classification for every individual while Locke rejects this belief and suggests that there can be a number classification for a group depending on the group’s purpose and use.
On the other hand, in the political side, the essay the Two Treatises of Government was influenced by the political conditions in Locke’s times. An online source (plato.stanford.edu) indicates that the Two Treatises of Government were written during the Exclusion crisis and were probably intended to justify the general armed rising which the Country Party leaders were planning. It was a truly revolutionary work…”
The first treaty of the two treaties were written in an objective to deliver his disagreement with the patriarchal version of the Divine Rights of Kings (bib) that suggests that the freedom of men is not natural. In the second treaty, Locke provides the positive theory that violence and force does not happen in all government. If Locke was influenced by the political events in his time, his works on the other hand were influences to American and French revolutions. According to (plato.stanford.edu)
There are many versions of natural rights theory and the social contract in seventeenth and eighteenth century European political philosophy, some conservative and some radical. Locke’s version belongs on the radical side of the spectrum. These radical natural right theories influenced the ideologies of the American and French revolutions.
Another factor that influenced Locke’s ideas was the religious conflicts and wars in the seventeenth century. While the religious wars contributed in the emergence of the Civil War, these events created exceptional ideas to Locke.
Religious toleration was one of the strategies thought of to reduce religious conflicts. In religious toleration, the laws in doctrines have to be reduced in order to minimize the comments and reactions by the other religious sectors. However, Locke had an argument regarding this strategy. In his view, which Locke connects to his experiences in the government, he suggests that the civil government has the right to use force when necessary to be able to protect the civil interests of the people. Locke enumerates this civil interest to include life, property, health, and liberty. The choice to belief and religion, according to Locke, is not a civil interest but an individual interest and therefore must not be used with force. In general, Locke holds to the philosophy that when it comes to church, there is no one who can rule but only God. An online source indicates this in the following statement about Locke’s religious philosophy.
For, every church believes itself to be the true church, and there is no judge but God who can determine which of these claims is correct. Thus, skepticism about the possibility of religious knowledge is central to Locke’ argument for religious toleration.
Locke very well fit in his time because he had shown how aware he was in the political situations and events that the society in his time were experiencing. Perhaps brought by his excellent intellect and concern for his people, he was able to write a number of revealing and inspirational essays that were used by the people next to his generation. Such essays and literatures contain arguments whose objectives are to awaken the government and the society. Influenced by his mentors and other great individuals in history, Locke fit in his time because he was not just an ordinary citizen. He contributed and served in the different government groups. Similarly, he supported different movements that he believes were standing for the right cause. This is evident in his writings the Two Treatises of the Government.
John Locke in the Contemporary Times
John Locke’s works has been inspiration to many movements and problems that the society in different nations experience. Mark Goldie (2004), in his article about John Locke, Goldie named Locke as an icon of liberty. This is because of the influences that Locke provided to the people in his time and nation, as well as to the people in the contemporary times. Mark Goldie suggests that Yet Locke has not escaped canonisation, and it was for his writings that he became an icon. Today he is lauded in the United States far more than in his own country. There, because of his Two Treatises of Government (1689) in which he argued that, to be legitimate, a government required the consent of its people, he is hailed as ‘the philosopher of freedom’, the ‘founder of liberalism’.
Goldie further suggests that Locke had been an inspiration to a number of American Presidents. Analysing from the influences of Locke, it can be considered that his Two Treatises of the Government is the most influential because it conveys the truth about the most powerful element in a nation – the government. Moreover, it conveys a concern to the nation’s people. These are among the reasons why John Locke is continuously considered an icon in the contemporary times.
John Locke’s works had been useful elements in the nation’s fight against illegitimate practice. But this was not only in his time. Even after his death, his works were also used as campaigners in his nation’s fight for their rights. Goldie (2004) indicated this in his John Locke article, mentioning that by the close of the eighteenth century, at a time of rural poverty, economic dislocation, crisis in Poor Law provision, and steadily diminishing scope for commoners’ rights of access to natural resources, manifestos multiplied on behalf of the rural poor against oppressive landlords. Locke’s basing of property-right in labour and his stipulation of a natural right to the means of subsistence served such campaigners well.
With this example, it is not surprising that John Locke is considered an instrument for the right political cause. Aside from the essays that he had written, Locke also has philosophies in the different subjects of life. This includes the role of families in the liberal society, theories on properties and money, ethics and beliefs, and many others.
Locke’s contribution to his generation and the modern society focused on the role of the government and the people to each other. Despite of the changing course of politics in the seventeenth century, Locke was able to also shift his intellect effectively. The various political situations that happened in his time had been useful to the future generation because from his works, the contemporary times has gained basis and reference for the ideologies they fight for which are related to Locke’s philosophies and writings. As Tim Harris indicated, in his article John Locke: Resistance, Religion, and Responsibility,
His earlier absolutist writings, for example, were a reaction to the troubled times of the 1650s. Yet whereas Locke’s search for order led him at this stage to champion monarchical authority and oppose the puritan vision of liberty, we nevertheless see an intense anticlericalism and a belief that people’s freedom would be protected by the law that was to inform much of his later writing.
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Retrieved on June 25, 2005, from the Internet. http://www.science.uva.nl/~seop/archives/sum2002/entries/locke
Retrieved on June 25, 2005, from the Internet. http://plato.stanford.