John Locke - Biography, Beliefs and Philosophy

John Locke - Biography, Beliefs and Philosophy

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The English philosopher and political theorist John Locke (1632-1704) laid much of the groundwork for the Enlightenment and made central contributions to the development of liberalism. Trained in medicine, he was a key advocate of the empirical approaches of the Scientific Revolution. In his “Essay Concerning Human Understanding,” he advanced a theory of the self as a blank page, with knowledge and identity arising only from accumulated experience. His political theory of government by the consent of the governed as a means to protect the three natural rights of “life, liberty and estate” deeply influenced the United States’ founding documents. His essays on religious tolerance provided an early model for the separation of church and state.

John Locke’s Early Life and Education

John Locke was born in 1632 in Wrighton, Somerset. His father was a lawyer and small landowner who had fought on the Parliamentarian side during the English Civil Wars of the 1640s. Using his wartime connections, he placed his son in the elite Westminster School.

Between 1652 and 1667, John Locke was a student and then lecturer at Christ Church, Oxford, where he focused on the standard curriculum of logic, metaphysics and classics. He also studied medicine extensively and was an associate of Robert Hooke, Robert Boyle and other leading Oxford scientists.

John Locke and the Earl of Shaftesbury

In 1666 Locke met the parliamentarian Anthony Ashley Cooper, later the first Earl of Shaftesbury. The two struck up a friendship that blossomed into full patronage, and a year later Locke was appointed physician to Shaftesbury’s household. That year he supervised a dangerous liver operation on Shaftesbury that likely saved his patron’s life.

For the next two decades, Locke’s fortunes were tied to Shaftesbury, who was first a leading minister to Charles II and then a founder of the opposing Whig Party. Shaftesbury led the 1679 “exclusion” campaign to bar the Catholic duke of York (the future James II) from the royal succession. When that failed, Shaftesbury began to plot armed resistance and was forced to flee to Holland in 1682. Locke would follow his patron into exile a year later, returning only after the Glorious Revolution had placed the Protestant William III on the throne.

John Locke’s Publications

During his decades of service to Shaftesbury, John Locke had been writing. In the six years following his return to England he published all of his most significant works.

Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” (1689) outlined a theory of human knowledge, identity and selfhood that would be hugely influential to Enlightenment thinkers. To Locke, knowledge was not the discovery of anything either innate or outside of the individual, but simply the accumulation of “facts” derived from sensory experience. To discover truths beyond the realm of basic experience, Locke suggested an approach modeled on the rigorous methods of experimental science, and this approach greatly impacted the Scientific Revolution.

John Locke’s Views on Government

The “Two Treatises of Government” (1690) offered political theories developed and refined by Locke during his years at Shaftesbury’s side. Rejecting the divine right of kings, Locke said that societies form governments by mutual (and, in later generations, tacit) agreement. Thus, when a king loses the consent of the governed, a society may remove him—an approach quoted almost verbatim in Thomas Jefferson's 1776 Declaration of Independence. Locke also developed a definition of property as the product of a person’s labor that would be foundational for both Adam Smith’s capitalism and Karl Marx’s socialism. Locke famously wrote that man has three natural rights: life, liberty and property.

In his “Thoughts Concerning Education” (1693), Locke argued for a broadened syllabus and better treatment of students—ideas that were an enormous influence on Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s novel “Emile” (1762).

In three “Letters Concerning Toleration” (1689-92), Locke suggested that governments should respect freedom of religion except when the dissenting belief was a threat to public order. Atheists (whose oaths could not be trusted) and Catholics (who owed allegiance to an external ruler) were thus excluded from his scheme. Even within its limitations, Locke’s toleration did not argue that all (Protestant) beliefs were equally good or true, but simply that governments were not in a position to decide which one was correct.

John Locke’s Death

Locke spent his final 14 years in Essex at the home of Sir Francis Masham and his wife, the philosopher Lady Damaris Cudworth Masham. He died there on October 24, 1704, as Lady Damaris read to him from the Psalms.


John Locke was an English philosopher born in 1632. His father was a lawyer and a Puritan who fought against the Royalists during the English Civil War. The commander of his father’s regiment, Alexander Popham, a wealthy MP, arranged for Locke’s education at Westminster and Oxford. At Oxford, Locke studied medicine, assisting in the laboratory of the chemist Robert Boyle, and produced several of his early works, including the texts which would be posthumously published as the Two Tracts on Government and the Essays on the Law of Nature. Locke stayed on at the university until 1666, when he met Anthony Ashley Cooper, the first Earl of Shaftesbury, a powerful political figure who would serve as Lord of the Exchequer and Lord Chancellor, and later as one of the founders of the Whig party.

Shaftesbury’s and Locke’s meeting came about after Shaftesbury had suffered an abscess on his liver, and Locke was sent to attend him. Shortly thereafter, Locke devised a means by which to treat the abscess by surgically installing a pipe with a faucet-like fixture to drain it, which—against all odds—worked. In gratitude, Shaftesbury placed Locke in various administrative offices over which he held sway Locke served as the secretary to the proprietors of the Carolina colony and to the Board of Trade, composing the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina in the service of his patron, as well as reports to the Board of Trade that laid out some of his early economic ideas. He also served as a tutor to Shaftesbury’s son, the third earl of Shaftesbury, who would go on to become a philosopher in his own right.

Locke left England for France in 1675, but returned in 1679 to assist Shaftesbury during the Exclusion Crisis. Shaftesbury was involved in the Whig effort to prevent Charles II’s Catholic younger brother, James, from inheriting the throne, at first by means of parliamentary legislation to exclude Catholic heirs from the royal succession. Under an increasing cloud of suspicion for his involvement in extra-legal Exclusion efforts, Locke fled to Holland in 1683 and did not return to England until 1688. It was long thought that Locke wrote the Two Treatises of Government in 1688 in order to provide a philosophical justification for the Glorious Revolution, but more recent scholarship has suggested that he in fact composed most of the work during the period of the Exclusion Crisis in the context of pressure to find a way to exclude Catholics from the royal succession. The final version bears the traces of both events, and the Glorious Revolution was certainly conducive to Locke’s own politics. He returned to England and began publishing his work for the first time. In 1689, the Two Treatises and the Letter Concerning Toleration were published anonymously, and he had the Essay Concerning Human Understanding printed under his name.

The Essay in particular brought him broad fame, while his authorship of the other works remained under dispute but suspected for some time. The 1690s continued to be a fruitful decade for Locke, and he published Some Thoughts Concerning Education,”The Reasonableness of Christianity,” and papers on money and interest, as well as several lengthy responses to objections to his works on toleration and Christianity. Locke remained active in both political and intellectual life in England until his death in 1704.

For more biographical information, see also:

Peter Laslett, “Introduction,” Two Treatises of Government, Cambridge: 1988.

Locke argued against the 'paternal' supervision of government

Locke was born into a prosperous family that held parliamentary sympathies during the English Civil War. Trained in medicine at Oxford, he worked as a family physician and adviser for Anthony Ashley Cooper (later to be the Earl of Shaftesbury), who emerged as the most prominent leader of the Whig opposition after the &ldquoRestoration&rdquo of the Stuart monarchy in 1660. During political exile in Holland, Locke refined his most famous works of philosophy and political theory: the Essay concerning Human Understanding and the Two Treatises of Government, respectively. Both works are based on the premise that since human beings are capable of exercising reason, they can be trusted to manage their own affairs without the &ldquopaternal&rdquo supervision of government, as he argues in his Second Treatise (1952 edition: 30).

Locke published these works only after the Glorious Revolution of 1688, when Parliament had deposed the absolutist James II in favor of a constitutional monarchy, and even then he kept the authorship of the Treatises anonymous. Whereas the First Treatise dismantles the philosophy of the &ldquodivine right of kings,&rdquo the more influential Second Treatise lays out Locke&rsquos positive theory of government. It proved essential to the American founders, although later historians have engaged in wide-ranging debates as to whether Locke was chiefly a radical libertarian, an apologist for capitalism, a social democrat, a moral individualist, an atheistic hedonist, or a deeply religious reformer.

John Locke Biography

John Locke (1632-1704) was an English philosopher – instrumental in founding modern philosophical empiricism and political liberalism. Locke developed the concept of individual rights and the social contract – the idea government was based on rights and responsibilities Locke was an influential figure in the Enlightenment and the American revolution.

John Locke was born 29 August 1632 in Wrington, Somerset, England. He was brought up in Pensford, near Bristol. In 1642, when Locke was ten years old, the English civil war broke out. His father served as a captain for the Parliamentarians under Oliver Cromwell.

After the Civil War ended in 1646, Locke aged 14, was sent to Westminster School in London. He was an able student and was elected a King’s Scholar for his academic merit – a form of scholarship. However, he did not particularly enjoy his time at school he later wrote a pamphlet “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” (1693) criticising the emphasis of public schools on corporal punishment and a dry, narrow, academic outlook. Locke felt education should promote more than book learning, but good morals and the development of reason.

“Virtue is harder to be got than knowledge of the world and, if lost in a young man, is seldom recovered.”

J.Locke, Some Thoughts Concerning Education” (1693)

Aged 20, Locke went to Christ Church, Oxford University. Again he found the medieval syllabus, with emphasis on classic texts, insipid and uninspiring. Locke was not impressed with the scholastic tradition which saw classical figures, such as Aristotle held up unquestioningly as the source of all knowledge. However, in his spare time, Locke did pursue his own reading – preferring the new natural sciences of chemistry, medicine and physics. He also read the works of modern philosophers, such as Rene Descartes.

Away from the dry scholastic tradition, the Seventeenth Century saw a blossoming of scientific enquiry. Locke was able to become acquainted with some of the leading figures of the day. People such as Christopher Wren (architecture), Robert Hooke (physics), Robert Boyle (chemistry, natural philosophy, theology)

Locke took classes in medicine and collaborated as the junior partner with Robert Boyle on his groundbreaking research on human blood. Locke obtained a bachelor’s degree in 1656, and would later gain a bachelor of medicine in 1675.

After the death of Cromwell and restoration of the English monarchy in 1660, Locke saw rapid social change. The puritanical strictness of the Cromwell years quickly turned on its head. Many of his scientific friends moved back to London to form the Royal Society.

Locke stayed in Oxford, where he was appointed a fellow at Christ Church. In 1666 Locke met Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, Earl of Shaftesbury. The two become close friends sharing a similar political outlook. Ashley was an influential Whig – the political opposition party supportive of Parliamentary democracy, civil liberty and religious tolerance. Also Ashley, like Locke, supported a Protestant succession and was suspicious of Catholic influence.

Locke was employed as Ashley’s physician and, as evidence of his real medical skill helped performed and arrange an innovative operation to place a silver tube into Ashley’s liver.

Royal Society

In 1688, Locke was invited to join the Royal Society. He undertook research with Thomas Sydenham, one of the countries leading physicians. Locke also pursued his philosophical interests, speaking with friends and writing articles.

“To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues.”

– John Locke, Letter to Anthony Collins (29 October 1703)

There was an important overlap between his medical research and philosophical views. Locke developed philosophical systems which emphasised reason, understanding and empirical evidence. This stood in contrast to former ideas of ‘innate knowledge’ – which could be traced back to philosophers, such as Plato. To Locke, the philosopher should take nothing for granted, but use his God-given reason to understand the world.

“whatever I write, as soon as I discover it not to be true, my hand shall be the forwardest to throw it into the fire.”

This became known as philosophical empiricism and was very influential for the European Enlightenment – which saw many old ideas and assumptions swept aside as people re-examined the world they lived in.

An ‘Essay Concerning Human Understanding‘ (1689) is an important explanation of his empirical understanding, which describes the mind as a blank slate to be filled with knowledge and experience. In this ground-breaking philosophical work, he expounds many important themes.

  • He rejects innate ideas
  • He discusses the interaction between primary qualities of bodies and secondary qualities. e.g. how the mind can give significance to water molecules by viewing it with the power to cleanse mind and body.
  • How personal identity comes from consciousness.

Locke’s close friend and political ally Ashley was appointed Lord Chancellor in 1672, but Ashley soon fell out with King Charles II and was imprisoned for a year in the Tower of London. Under threat of arrest himself, Locke went abroad to France. Living in Paris and Montpellier, Locke became aware of the stark inequality in French society – he noted in his journals the stark contrast between the poverty of the peasants and extravagant luxury of Louis XIV.

Locke returned to England in 1679, but it was a turbulent time with a political schism over the succession to Charles II. Locke and Shaftesbury supported the exclusion of the Roman Catholic James. This opposition to the king meant Locke, tired of being watched by government spies, fled again to Holland in 1683. In Holland, he became friendly with like-minded dissenters. He met the great rationalist philosopher, Baruch Spinoza.

Political philosophy – Two Treatises of Government (1689)

“The state of nature has a law of nature to govern it, which obliges every one: and reason, which is that law, teaches all mankind, who will but consult it, that being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty, or possessions.”

Second Treatise of Government, Ch. II, sec. 6

It was against this backdrop that Locke wrote his major political philosophy – ‘Two Treatises of Government’ (1689)

Locke’s political philosophy firmly rejected the old concept of the Divine Right of Kings. Locke saw no convincing reason to justify the absolute rule of a king, who could easily become a tyrant. It is worth noting that Charles I’s insistence on his divine right to be absolute monarch was a major factor in the English Civil War. Locke helped to permanently end this notion. Locke also rejected papal infallibility, which made him opposed to an English Catholic king.

His second treatise was concerned with how political power should be manifested. Locke sought to emphasise that power must be exercised with moral consideration for the public good.

“right of making Laws with Penalties of Death, and consequently all less Penalties, for the Regulating and Preserving of Property, and of employing the force of the Community, in the Execution of such Laws and in defence of the Common-wealth from Foreign Injury, and all this only for the Publick Good.”

Locke’s social contract promoted the idea that all human beings had a natural set of rights and duties.

To Locke, an individual had a right to his own body and person. Each person also has a right to the fruits of his labour (though Locke also supported an egalitarian distribution of surplus wealth)

From this starting point, the civil government required consent from those who it ruled to enforce the law. Government and the legislative body had the right to implement just laws, but not abuse the natural laws of individual rights. Finally, Locke supported the right of society to remove bad governments – by force if absolutely necessary.

Although these ideas seem commonplace in the Twenty-First Century, it was radical for the Seventeenth Century. It helped formulate early ideas of democracy and the fallibility of rulers. It emphasised the rights of an individual against the tyranny of monarchs and can be seen as an early proponent of classical liberalism.

The ideas of Locke can clearly be seen in the English Glorious Revolution, and even more so in the American Constitution and US Declaration of Independence (1776)

Along with Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, Thomas Jefferson identified John Locke as “the three greatest men that have ever lived, without any exception,” ( letter 1789 )

Locke’s ideas can also be seen in the French Revolution and the ‘Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen’ (1789)

Locke was a member of the Church of England and a Protestant Christian. He generally supported religious tolerance, writing ‘Letters Concerning Toleration’ (1689–92) in the aftermath of European conflict over religion.

“Nobody, therefore, in fine, neither single persons nor churches, nay, nor even commonwealths, have any just title to invade the civil rights and worldly goods of each other upon pretence of religion.”

In ‘The Reasonableness of Christianity‘ (1695) he stated the essence of Christianity was to see Jesus as the Messiah and seek to follow his teachings. However, Locke also emphasised the importance of allowing Christians considerable freedom in following this goal according to their own conscience. In justifying his views, he saw the motivating force of Christianity to be faith and love – and not civil legislation

“If the Gospel and the apostles may be credited, no man can be a Christian without charity and without that faith which works, not by force, but by love.”

A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689)

Locke returned to England in February 1689, with the Princess of Orange, who would be crowned Queen Mary II of England (part of the Glorious Revolution for the peaceful transition back to a Protestant king and supremacy of parliamentary democracy.)

Locke helped to draft the English Bill of Rights (1689) which limited the Royal prerogative power, stressing elections should be free and fair and legislated for a limited religious tolerance (to all Protestant faiths).

It did not go as far as Locke wished regarding religious tolerance, but it was influential in the direction of the English political system.

In later years, Locke suffered from ill health and retired to High Laver in Essex, where he continued to write and entertain friends, such as Sir Isaac Newton.

Locke is considered a founding figure of the European Enlightenment – in terms of both political and scientific methods. He helped to lay the foundations for classical liberalism, and a new basis of government which moved from absolute rule to government by consent and social contract.

3. Special Topics in the Essay

As discussed above, the main project of the Essay is an examination of the human understanding and an analysis of knowledge. But the Essay is a rather expansive work and contains discussion of many other topics of philosophical interest. Some of these will be discussed below. A word of warning, however, is required before proceeding. It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether Locke takes himself to be offering a metaphysical theory or whether he merely is describing a component of human psychology. For example, we might question whether his account of personal identity is meant to give necessary and sufficient conditions for a metaphysical account of personhood or whether it is merely designed to tell us what sorts of identity attributions we do and should make and why. We may further question whether, when discussing primary and secondary qualities, Locke is offering a theory about how perception really works or whether this discussion is a mere digression used to illustrate a point about the nature of our ideas. So while many of these topics have received a great deal of attention, their precise relationship to the main project of the Essay can be difficult to locate.

A. Primary and Secondary Qualities

Book 2, Chapter 8 of the Essay contains an extended discussion of the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. Locke was hardly original in making this distinction. By the time the Essay was published, it had been made by many others and was even somewhat commonplace. That said, Locke’s formulation of the distinction and his analysis of the related issues has been tremendously influential and has provided the framework for much of the subsequent discussion on the topic.

Locke defines a quality as a power that a body has to produce ideas in us. So a simple object like a baked potato which can produce ideas of brownness, heat, ovular shape, solidity, and determinate size must have a series of corresponding qualities. There must be something in the potato which gives us the idea of brown, something in the potato which gives us the idea of ovular shape, and so on. The primary/secondary quality distinction claims that some of these qualities are very different from others.

Locke motivates the distinction between two types of qualities by discussing how a body could produce an idea in us. The theory of perception endorsed by Locke is highly mechanical. All perception occurs as a result of motion and collision. If I smell the baked potato, there must be small material particles which are flying off of the potato and bumping into nerves in my nose, the motion in the nose-nerves causes a chain reaction along my nervous system until eventually there is some motion in my brain and I experience the idea of a certain smell. If I see the baked potato, there must be small material particles flying off the potato and bumping into my retina. That bumping causes a similar chain reaction which ends in my experience of a certain roundish shape.

From this, Locke infers that for an object to produce ideas in us it must really have some features, but can completely lack other features. This mechanical theory of perception requires that objects producing ideas in us have shape, extension, mobility, and solidity. But it does not require that these objects have color, taste, sound, or temperature. So the primary qualities are qualities actually possessed by bodies. These are features that a body cannot be without. The secondary qualities, by contrast, are not really had by bodies. They are just ways of talking about the ideas that can be produced in us by bodies in virtue of their primary qualities. So when we claim that the baked potato is solid, this means that solidity is one of its fundamental features. But when I claim that it smells a certain earthy kind of way, this just means that its fundamental features are capable of producing the idea of the earthy smell in my mind.

These claims lead to Locke’s claims about resemblance: “From whence I think it is easie to draw this Observation, That the Ideas of primary Qualities of Bodies, are Resemblances of them, and their Patterns do really exist in the Bodies themselves but the Ideas, produced in us by these Secondary Qualities, have no resemblance of them at all.” (2.8.14, 137). Insofar as my idea of the potato is of something solid, extended, mobile, and possessing a certain shape my idea accurately captures something about the real nature of the potato. But insofar as my idea of the potato is of something with a particular smell, temperature, and taste my ideas do not accurately capture mind-independent facts about the potato.

B. Mechanism

Around the time of the Essay the mechanical philosophy was emerging as the predominant theory about the physical world. The mechanical philosophy held that the fundamental entities in the physical world were small individual bodies called corpuscles. Each corpuscle was solid, extended, and had a certain shape. These corpuscles could combine together to form ordinary objects like rocks, tables, and plants. The mechanical philosophy argued that all features of bodies and all natural phenomena could be explained by appeal to these corpuscles and their basic properties (in particular, size, shape, and motion).

Locke was exposed to the mechanical philosophy while at Oxford and became acquainted with the writings of its most prominent advocates. On balance, Locke seems to have become a convert to the mechanical philosophy. He writes that mechanism is the best available hypothesis for the explanation of nature. We have already seen some of the explanatory work done by mechanism in the Essay. The distinction between primary and secondary qualities was a hallmark of the mechanical philosophy and neatly dovetailed with mechanist accounts of perception. Locke reaffirms his commitment to this account of perception at a number of other points in the Essay. And when discussing material objects Locke is very often happy to allow that they are composed of material corpuscles. What is peculiar, however, is that while the Essay does seem to have a number of passages in which Locke supports mechanical explanations and speaks highly of mechanism, it also contains some highly critical remarks about mechanism and discussions of the limits of the mechanical philosophy.

Locke’s critiques of mechanism can be divided into two strands. First, he recognized that there were a number of observed phenomena which mechanism struggled to explain. Mechanism did offer neat explanations of some observed phenomena. For example, the fact that objects could be seen but not smelled through glass could be explained by positing that the corpuscles which interacted with our retinas were smaller than the ones which interacted with our nostrils. So the sight corpuscles could pass through the spaces between the glass corpuscles, but the smell corpuscles would be turned away. But other phenomena were harder to explain. Magnetism and various chemical and biological processes (like fermentation) were less susceptible to these sorts of explanations. And universal gravitation, which Locke took Newton to have proved the existence of in the Principia, was particularly hard to explain. Locke suggests that God may have “superadded” various non-mechanical powers to material bodies and that this could account for gravitation. (Indeed, at several points he even suggests that God may have superadded the power of thought to matter and that humans might be purely material beings.)

Locke’s second set of critiques pertain to theoretical problems in the mechanical philosophy. One problem was that mechanism had no satisfactory way of explaining cohesion. Why do corpuscles sometimes stick together? If things like tables and chairs are just collections of small corpuscles then they should be very easy to break apart, the same way I can easily separate one group of marbles from another. Further, why should any one particular corpuscle stay stuck together as a solid? What accounts for its cohesion? Again, mechanism seems hard-pressed to offer an answer. Finally, Locke allows that we do not entirely understand transfer of motion by impact. When one corpuscle collides with another we actually do not have a very satisfying explanation for why the second moves away under the force of the impact.

Locke presses these critiques with some skill and in a serious manner. Still, ultimately he is guardedly optimistic about mechanism. This somewhat mixed attitude on Locke’s part has led commentators to debate questions about his exact attitude toward the mechanical philosophy and his motivations for discussing it.

C. Volition and Agency

In Book 2, Chapter 21 of the Essay Locke explores the topic of the will. One of the things which separates people from rocks and billiard balls is our ability to make decisions and control our actions. We feel that we are free in certain respects and that we have the power to choose certain thoughts and actions. Locke calls this power the will. But there are tricky questions about what this power consists in and about what it takes to freely (or voluntarily) choose something. 2.21 contains a delicate and sustained discussion of these tricky questions.

Locke first begins with questions of freedom and then proceeds to a discussion of the will. On Locke’s analysis, we are free to do those things which we both will to do and are physically capable of doing. For example, if I wish to jump into a lake and have no physical maladies which prevent it, then I am free to jump into the lake. By contrast, if I do not wish to jump into the lake, but a friend pushes me in, I did not act freely when I entered the water. Or, if I wish to jump into the lake, but have a spinal injury and cannot move my body, then I do not act freely when I stay on the shore. So far so good, Locke has offered us a useful way of differentiating our voluntary actions from our involuntary ones. But there is still a pressing question about freedom and the will: that of whether the will is itself free. When I am deciding whether or not to jump into the water, is the will determined by outside factors to choose one or the other? Or can it, so to speak, make up its own mind and choose either option?

Locke’s initial position in the chapter is that the will is determined. But in later sections he offers a qualification of sorts. In normal circumstances, the will is determined by what Locke calls uneasiness: “What is it that determines the Will in regard to our Actions? … some (and for the most part the most pressing) uneasiness a Man is at present under. That is that which successively determines the Will, and sets us upon those Actions, we perform.” (2.21.31, 250-1). The uneasiness is caused by the absence of something that is perceived as good. The perception of the thing as good gives rise to a desire for that thing. Suppose I choose to eat a slice of pizza. Locke would say I must have made this choice because the absence of the pizza was troubling me somehow (I was feeling hunger pains, or longing for something savory) and this discomfort gave rise to a desire for food. That desire in turn determined my will to choose to eat pizza.

Locke’s qualification to this account of the will being determined by uneasiness has to do with what he calls suspension. Beginning with the second edition of the Essay, Locke began to argue that the most pressing desire for the most part determines the will, but not always: “For the mind having in most cases, as is evident in Experience, a power to suspend the execution and satisfaction of any of its desires, and so all, one after another, is at liberty to consider the objects of them examine them on all sides, and weigh them with others.” (2.21.47, 263). So even if, at this moment, my desire for pizza is the strongest desire, Locke thinks I can pause before I decide to eat the pizza and consider the decision. I can consider other items in my desire set: my desire to lose weight, or to leave the pizza for my friend, or to keep a vegan diet. Careful consideration of these other possibilities might have the effect of changing my desire set. If I really focus on how important it is to stay fit and healthy by eating nutritious foods then my desire to leave the pizza might become stronger than my desire to eat it and my will may be determined to choose to not eat the pizza. But of course we can always ask whether a person has a choice whether or not to suspend judgment or whether the suspension of judgment is itself determined by the mind’s strongest desire. On this point Locke is somewhat vague. While most interpreters think our desires determine when judgment is suspended, some others disagree and argue that suspension of judgment offers Lockean agents a robust form of free will.

D. Personhood and Personal Identity

Locke was one of the first philosophers to give serious attention to the question of personal identity. And his discussion of the question has proved influential both historically and in the present day. The discussion occurs in the midst of Locke’ larger discussion of the identity conditions for various entities in Book II, Chapter 27. At heart, the question is simple, what makes me the same person as the person who did certain things in the past and that will do certain things in the future? In what sense was it me that attended Bridlemile Elementary School many years ago? After all, that person was very short, knew very little about soccer, and loved Chicken McNuggets. I, on the other hand, am average height, know tons of soccer trivia, and get rather queasy at the thought of eating chicken, especially in nugget form. Nevertheless, it is true that I am identical to the boy who attended Bridlemile.

In Locke’s time, the topic of personal identity was important for religious reasons. Christian doctrine held that there was an afterlife in which virtuous people would be rewarded in heaven and sinful people would be punished in hell. This scheme provided motivation for individuals to behave morally. But, for this to work, it was important that the person who is rewarded or punished is the same person as the one who lived virtuously or lived sinfully. And this had to be true even though the person being rewarded or punished had died, had somehow continued to exist in an afterlife, and had somehow managed to be reunited with a body. So it was important to get the issue of personal identity right.

Locke’s views on personal identity involve a negative project and a positive project. The negative project involves arguing against the view that personal identity consists in or requires the continued existence of a particular substance. And the positive project involves defending the view that personal identity consists in continuity of consciousness. We can begin with this positive view. Locke defines a person as “a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places which it does only by that consciousness, which is inseparable from thinking, and as it seems to me essential to it.” (2.27.9, 335). Locke suggests here that part of what makes a person the same through time is their ability to recognize past experiences as belonging to them. For me, part of what differentiates one little boy who attended Bridlemile Elementary from all the other children who went there is my realization that I share in his consciousness. Put differently, my access to his lived experience at Bridlemile is very different from my access to the lived experiences of others there: it is first-personal and immediate. I recognize his experiences there as part of a string of experiences that make up my life and join up to my current self and current experiences in a unified way. That is what makes him the same person as me.

Locke believes that this account of personal identity as continuity of consciousness obviates the need for an account of personal identity given in terms of substances. A traditional view held that there was a metaphysical entity, the soul, which guaranteed personal identity through time wherever there was the same soul, the same person would be there as well. Locke offers a number of thought experiments to cast doubt on this belief and show that his account is superior. For example, if a soul was wiped clean of all its previous experiences and given new ones (as might be the case if reincarnation were true), the same soul would not justify the claim that all of those who had had it were the same person. Or, we could imagine two souls who had their conscious experiences completely swapped. In this case, we would want to say that the person went with the conscious experiences and did not remain with the soul.

Locke’s account of personal identity seems to be a deliberate attempt to move away from some of the metaphysical alternatives and to offer an account which would be acceptable to individuals from a number of different theological backgrounds. Of course, a number of serious challenges have been raised for Locke’s account.. Most of these focus on the crucial role seemingly played by memory. And the precise details of Locke’s positive proposal in 2.27 have been hard to pin down. Nevertheless, many contemporary philosophers believe that there is an important kernel of truth in Locke’s analysis.

E. Real and Nominal Essences

Locke’s distinction between the real essence of a substance and the nominal essence of a substance is one of the most fascinating components of the Essay. Scholastic philosophers had held that the main goal of metaphysics and science was to learn about the essences of things: the key metaphysical components of things which explained all of their interesting features. Locke thought this project was misguided. That sort of knowledge, knowledge of the real essences of beings, was unavailable to human beings. This led Locke to suggest an alternative way to understand and investigate nature he recommends focusing on the nominal essences of things.

When Locke introduces the term real essence he uses it to refer to the “real constitution of any Thing, which is the foundation of all those Properties, that are combined in, and are constantly found to co-exist with [an object]” (3.6.6, 442). For the Scholastics this real essence would be an object’s substantial form. For proponents of the mechanical philosophy it would be the number and arrangement of the material corpuscles which composed the body. Locke sometimes endorses this latter understanding of real essence. But he insists that these real essences are entirely unknown and undiscoverable by us. The nominal essences, by contrast, are known and are the best way we have to understand individual substances. Nominal essences are just collections of all the observed features an individual thing has. So the nominal essence of a piece of gold would include the ideas of yellowness, a certain weight, malleability, dissolvability in certain chemicals, and so on.

Locke offers us a helpful analogy to illustrate the difference between real and nominal essences. He suggests that our position with respect to ordinary objects is like the position of someone looking at a very complicated clock. The gears, wheels, weights, and pendulum that produce the motions of the hands on the clock face (the clock’s real essence) are unknown to the person. They are hidden behind the casing. He or she can only know about the observable features like the clock’s shape, the movement of the hands, and the chiming of the hours (the clock’s nominal essence). Similarly, when I look at an object like a dandelion, I am only able to observe its nominal essence (the yellow color, the bitter smell, and so forth). I have no clear idea what produces these features of the dandelion or how they are produced.

Locke’s views on real and nominal essences have important consequences for his views about the division of objects into groups and sorts. Why do we consider some things to be zebras and other things to be rabbits? Locke’s view is that we group according to nominal essence, not according to (unknown) real essence. But this has the consequence that our groupings might fail to adequately reflect whatever real distinctions there might be in nature. So Locke is not a realist about species or types. Instead, he is a conventionalist. We project these divisions on the world when we choose to classify objects as falling under the various nominal essences we’ve created.

F. Religious Epistemology

The epistemology of religion (claims about our understanding of God and our duties with respect to him) were tremendously contentious during Locke’s lifetime. The English Civil War, fought during Locke’s youth, was in large part a disagreement over the right way to understand the Christian religion and the requirements of religious faith. Throughout the seventeenth century, a number of fundamentalist Christian sects continually threatened the stability of English political life. And the status of Catholic and Jewish people in England was a vexed one.

So the stakes were very high when, in 4.18, Locke discussed the nature of faith and reason and their respective domains. He defines reason as an attempt to discover certainty or probability through the use of our natural faculties in the investigation of the world. Faith, by contrast, is certainty or probability attained through a communication believed to have come, originally, from God. So when Smith eats a potato chip and comes to believe it is salty, she believes this according to reason. But when Smith believes that Joshua made the sun stand still in the sky because she read it in the Bible (which she takes to be divine revelation), she believes according to faith.

Although it initially sounds as though Locke has carved out quite separate roles for faith and reason, it must be noted that these definitions make faith subordinate to reason in a subtle way. For, as Locke explains: “Whatever GOD hath revealed, is certainly true no Doubt can be made of it. This is the proper Object of Faith: But whether it be a divine Revelation, or no, Reason must judge which can never permit the Mind to reject a greater Evidence to embrace what is less evident, nor allow it to entertain Probability in opposition to Knowledge and Certainty.” (4.18.10, 695). First, Locke thinks that if any proposition, even one which purports to be divinely revealed, clashes with the clear evidence of reason then it should not be believed. So, even if it seems like God is telling us that 1+1=3, Locke claims we should go on believing that 1+1=2 and we should deny that the 1+1=3 revelation was genuine. Second, Locke thinks that to determine whether or not something is divinely revealed we have to exercise our reason. How can we tell whether the Bible contains God’s direct revelation conveyed through the inspired Biblical authors or whether it is instead the work of mere humans? Only reason can help us settle that question. Locke thinks that those who ignore the importance of reason in determining what is and is not a matter of faith are guilty of “enthusiasm.” And in a chapter added to later editions of the Essay Locke sternly warns his readers against the serious dangers posed by this intellectual vice.

In all of this Locke emerges as a strong moderate. He himself was deeply religious and took religious faith to be important. But he also felt that there were serious limits to what could be justified through appeals to faith. The issues discussed in this section will be very important below where Locke’s views on the importance of religious toleration are discussed.

4. Shaftesbury Era

On leaving the cloistered walls of Oxford to employment in Lord Ashley’s household, we detect a shift in Locke’s political thinking, away from the acceptance of the magistrate’s philosopher-king status towards Locke supposing him a man capable of erring like any other man. Indeed, Locke’s thought increasingly moves over the next few years from upholding passive obedience – and thus one’s station in life – to justifying rebellion when the magistrate oversteps certain boundaries, and in his Essay on Toleration we mark that change.

A. The Essay on Toleration (1667)

Locke is now concerned about the extremes of absolute obedience and absolute liberty in matters of conscience, a change in Locke’s priorities towards outlining the conditions under which a man ought to possess religious freedom and the limits – moral and prudential – of the magistrate’s powers. The Essay gives a better indication of the direction that Locke’s arguments take in the Two Treatises.

What is the purpose of government? It is to be used for the good, preservation, and the peace of men. If men could live peacefully, there would be no need for a magistrate, but patently the Seventeenth Century was strewn with war and its effects, and the thought of permitting a generally peaceful, anarchic state of nature was still too absurd for Locke to contemplate, so he dismisses it out of hand. He then deals strongly with those who would argue for a monarchy based on a divine right to rule, presaging the critique of the Two Treatises. Supporters of the divine right “have forgotten what country they are born in”, he writes.

In marked contrast to his Oxford phase, Locke now argues that in forming a government, “it cannot be supposed the people should give any one or more of their fellow men an authority over them for any other purpose than their own preservation, or extend the limits of their jurisdiction beyond the limits of this life.” This is indeed a shift from his Platonic vision of the goodly rational captain steering the ship! The magistrate ought to meddle with nothing but securing the peace. (In Scotland at this time, recall that the Covenanters were being put down for their rejection of Uniformity.) Yet we are still far from a libertarian thesis on a restricted government, for in outlining his principles of toleration, strict rules apply as to whom may be admitted into the tolerant club – Catholics and atheists need not apply. Within a broadly, pluralist Protestant nation though, toleration on ‘matters indifferent’ ought now to be practised by the magistrate on a scale relating to their epistemological status.

In matters speculative and divine worship a man ought to possess absolute liberty, for these are based on his subjective understanding of the nature of the universe and of God. In such areas of thought, no man may force his opinion on others – excepting atheists, for the are like ‘wild beasts’. In so arguing, Locke again adheres to a very Protestant (Puritan) theory of conscience and the individual’s relationship to God. Whereas the Catholic Church emphasises the role of priests and the theological hierarchy in reaching up to God, the Protestant reformers of the Church proclaimed the individual’s right to seek God by his own path, and Locke, following the Cambridge Platonists, emphasised the role of reason in understanding the relationship between man qua individual and God.

Toleration of others’ religious and speculative thinking is also politically prudential – so much misery had been generated by the state or various sects seeking to impose their will on others, and such antagonists are rarely motivated by religion than “depraved, ambitious human nature.” Thus, with regards to “matters indifferent”, Locke still insists that the government must look at their application to the nation’s peace and security, and may prohibit publications that tend to “the disturbance of government.” Toleration does not imply freedom of expression. Yet even here, since no man may be forced to alter his opinion, the citizens should obey the magistrate’s prescriptions and accept the state’s legislation as their consciences see fit “as far without violence they can.” In other words, if the state imposes forms of behaviour that a sect finds particularly offensive, it ought, for the peace and security of the nation as a whole, accept the laws (and not disrupt the peace in an “obstinate pursuit or flight”) leaving people’s consciences free to speculate as they see fit – in other words, they must give God and Caesar both their due. Some opinions must not be tolerated, if their natural tendency is absolutely destructive to society – so “faith may be broken with heretics.”

The third area that the magistrate may be concerned in involves the general moral virtues and vices of society. Interestingly, although these barely relate to acts of conscience, the state should not interfere here, for the magistrate has “nothing to do with the good of men’s souls.” This is a powerful departure from his previous stance as Censor and perhaps may be read as reflecting the licentiousness of Charles’s Court (which he surely must have known about from Ashley) and Locke’s acceptance of a distinction between tolerating private vices but not public ones. Nonetheless, the state may intervene in men’s affairs when their opinions are likely to be destructive of the society that harbours them – hence, for Locke, Catholicism is not to be tolerated. In other words, those who argue for theocracy ought to be restricted in their speech. The reason for this – and a mature political one – is that most men use power for their own advancement and those who are intolerant of others should in turn not be tolerated – such groups are not to be trusted with any path that may lead them to power and the overthrow of the liberties of others. Catholics in particular, when in power tend to “think themselves bound to deny it to others.” They ought to be handled “severely” Locke proposes.

Similarly, factions ought not to be tolerated if their numbers grow to threaten the state. Nevertheless, Locke is adamant that any attempt to use force to get others to change their opinions should be fully rejected as “the worst, the last to be used, and with the greatest caution.” Indeed, caution and prudence should be the watchwords of Locke’s theoretical government at this point in his thinking. Toleration of the various Protestant sects is the “readiest way to secure the safety and peace, and promote [public] welfare” and Protestant fanatics ought to be tolerated to be made useful and of assistance to the government rather than driving them into secrecy and unity through persecution. Again, Locke emphasises that “there is scarce an instance to be found of any opinion driven out of the world by persecution” which can be taken as a word of warning to the present government persecuting Covenanters and others. The option is to accept and tolerate such diverse Protestant fanatics – or kill them all but the latter is not very Christian, Locke reminds his readers.

B. Other Political Writings

In 1669-70 Locke commented on Samuel Parker’s Discourse of Ecclesiastical Party (1669), which attacked Nonconformists or Dissenters. Shaftesbury sought a policy of toleration against the Anglican policy to unify the Kingdom under its brand of Protestantism. (The Anglican Church or Church of England was created by Henry VIII’s split from Rome – he became both head of state and head of the church, and the ruling monarch remains head of both state and church in England today. The Church of England, as its name suggests is a particular nationalist brand of Protestantism in which Bishops sit with Lords in the Upper Chamber of Parliament). Locke’s comments are worth noting for evidence of a further swing away from political conservativism adhering to establishment structures to a radicalism that seeks their containment in favour of inalienable individual rights. He now insists that government’s purpose is to secure the peace and not to get involved with the outward appearances of different interpretations of religion – he questions whether the policy of uniformity is conducive of peace (OSP) and here Locke presents a theory that he was to embellish on over the next decade in his denial that government can be said to stem from Adam’s descendants. This the theory Locke criticises of Sir Robert Filmer in the Two Treatises: if Adam was the first king, it is not the case that his descendants automatically gain the same right – “all government, monarchical or other, is only from the consent of the people.” (OSP)

Locke repeats the purpose of government of securing the peace and tranquillity of the commonwealth and stresses the separation of the Church and State in what can be seen as the glimmerings of his minimal state theory. “The end of civil society is civil peace and prosperity … but beyond the concernments of this life [i.e., religion], this society hath nothing to do at all.” (CEP) Since religion deals with the hereafter and the state the present, and the two jurisdictions should not mix.

Thus prior to the change of wind in the Two Treatises, Locke’s conservative, moral authoritarian philosophy is highly apparent in various comments throughout the 1670s and 80s. In Obligation of Penal Laws, for example, Locke scepticism of the government’s misuse of power is growing, but he still insists that the subject’s duty is to preserve a peaceful society and not to disturb or endanger his government and that, so long as a man’s conscience is free from political interference, he ought to obey the rules of his country. This, incidentally, is symptomatic of a mind-body dualism (as it affects the political realm), in which a philosopher asserts the primacy and hence freedom of the mind while accepting the subjugation of the body, a dichotomy that Locke only gradually moves away from.

By 1676, for instance, we again see evidence of a change in his thinking towards Protestant dissenters (Catholics standing outwith the Lockean picture). In his second essay on Toleration (Tb) in the year he expands on his critique of uniformity. He demands what a policy ought to be if all dissenters are in error – should they be all hanged? But if there is a fear of them is it because of the manner in which they are treated by the authorities, or if there is a fear that they may influence other people, then why not let others choose by their own consent to follow or not, or if it is feared that supporters of dissenting doctrines shall multiply, then either dissenters are attracting others because of the truth or orthodox teachers have become slack in propagating the truth. Since Christians are likely to fight over their sectarian differences, “to settle the peace of places where there are different opinions in religion, two things are to be perfectly distinguished: religion and government … and their provinces [ought] to be kept well distinct.” That is, the Church and the State should be kept thoroughly separate.

Yet Locke’s political rationalism – his disposition to impose a particular, ideal moral order on his nation – remains strong. In notes for his Atlantis (1676-79), he proposes stringent laws to deal with vagrants, demands that everyone work at their handicraft at least six hours a week, that limits be put on migration across parishes, and that tithingmen be put in control of assuring the moral purity of their jurisdiction (one tithingman to twenty homes). Each month the tithingman even ought to visit the houses of his tithing “to see what lives they lead.” (At). Public almshouses ought to be erected for those incapable of working, otherwise “all beggars shall ipso facto be taken and sent to the public workhouse and there remain for the rest of their lives.” (At).

Between 1677 and 1678 Locke scribbled thoughts on the springs of human action. “Happiness and misery are the two great springs,” he notes, but happiness in misery are both resoluble into pleasure and pain. Accordingly, Locke argues for a hedonistic, utilitarian basis for morality – a different direction from his earlier Oxford essays, but tempers the thrust of hedonism noting the importance that reputation plays in a man’s life, also calling reputation “the principle spring from which the actions of men take their rise …” (R) and were there no human laws – no positive legislation – “there’d still be such species of actions as justice, temperance and fortitude…” (R) for the laws of morality come from God and from nature.

Thus prior to the penning of the Two Treatises, we find a John Locke who is becoming increasingly concerned with the direction of Restoration policy with regards to religious toleration, and although he remains very conservative in his moral outlook, the formulation of a new approach is evidently developing. The government, he declares with a stronger and more influential voice, ought to remove itself from the religious matters of the nation. The separation of the state and religion is now paramount in his philosophy, all it needed was a structure within which such a minimal, non-interfering government could be justified. That was prompted by the publication of the late Sir Robert Filmer’s Patriarcha – a defence of divinely appointed and justified monarchy and absolutism.

C. Economic Writings

In the 1670s under Shaftesbury’s patronage, Locke expounded a mercantilist philosophy of trade and a hard-money policy.

The mercantilist Locke argues that the end of trade is “riches and power” – and trade increases a nation’s wealth and its people, producing a virtuous circle of economic improvement yet, like most mercantilists, he condemns activity that are not conducive to economic growth – a theory that has seeped into present day tax codes and economic policy, although the characters targeted tend to change. For Locke anyone involved in the service industry hinders trade: retailers to some degree, lawyers, “but above all soldiers in pay.” The economic theory is suspicious, as is Locke’s assertion that one man’s gain is another man’s loss – an Aristotelian view of trade that has yet to be shaken from present day conceptions and which mercantilists support.

However, Locke also favoured a hard money policy to secure the value of a nation’s currency. It would be wrong to debase the coinage to match the number of notes that the Bank of England printed.

Some detect in Locke a ‘labour theory of value’ – the proposition that all economic values can be resolved into the amount and quality of labour imbued in them. Marxists, for example, assume Locke to have proposed a labour theory of value, whereas the libertarian economist, Murray Rothbard, argues that what Locke propounded was a labour theory of property, not of value. The sections to read are in Chapter V, and a close reading of the text suggests that Locke’s emphasis on the ability of labour to create value qua production, rather than value qua price. For elsewhere, Locke observes that the fair price (a term that has wended down through the ages from Aristotle) is that which is generated in a market on a particular occasion, tempered by notions of Christian charity to avoid gaining excess profits (leaving enough for others, as Locke advises for the enclosure of land). Labour – active productive labour, based on rationality and productivity – increases the wealth of the nation, it does not generate a system of fair prices.

5. Locke and Punishment

John Locke defined political power as &ldquoa right of making laws with penalties of death, and consequently all less Penalties&rdquo (Two Treatises 2.3). Locke&rsquos theory of punishment is thus central to his view of politics and part of what he considered innovative about his political philosophy. But he also referred to his account of punishment as a &ldquovery strange doctrine&rdquo (2.9), presumably because it ran against the assumption that only political sovereigns could punish. Locke believed that punishment requires that there be a law, and since the state of nature has the law of nature to govern it, it is permissible to describe one individual as &ldquopunishing&rdquo another in that state. Locke&rsquos rationale is that since the fundamental law of nature is that mankind be preserved and since that law would &ldquobe in vain&rdquo with no human power to enforce it (Two Treatises 2.7), it must, therefore, be legitimate for individuals to punish each other even before government exists. In arguing this, Locke was disagreeing with Samuel Pufendorf (1934). Samuel Pufendorf had argued strongly that the concept of punishment made no sense apart from an established positive legal structure.

Locke realized that the crucial objection to allowing people to act as judges with power to punish in the state of nature was that such people would end up being judges in their own cases. Locke readily admitted that this was a serious inconvenience and a primary reason for leaving the state of nature (Two Treatises 2.13). Locke insisted on this point because it helped explain the transition into civil society. Locke thought that in the state of nature men had a liberty to engage in &ldquoinnocent delights&rdquo (actions that are not a violation of any applicable laws), to seek their own preservation within the limits of natural law, and to punish violations of natural law. The power to seek one&rsquos preservation is limited in civil society by the law, and the power to punish is transferred to the government (Two Treatises 2.128&ndash130). The power to punish in the state of nature is thus the foundation for the right of governments to use coercive force.

The situation becomes more complex, however, if we look at the principles which are to guide punishment. Rationales for punishment are often divided into those that are forward-looking and backward-looking. Forward-looking rationales include deterring crime, protecting society from dangerous persons, and rehabilitation of criminals. Backward-looking rationales normally focus on retribution, inflicting on the criminal harm comparable to the crime. Locke may seem to conflate these two rationales in passages like the following:

Locke talks both of retribution and of punishing only for reparation and restraint. Simmons argues that this is evidence that Locke is combining both rationales for punishment in his theory. A survey of other seventeenth-century natural rights justifications for punishment, however, indicates that it was common to use words like &ldquoretribute&rdquo in theories that reject what we would today call retributive punishment (Tuckness 2010a). In the passage quoted above, Locke is saying that the proper amount of punishment is the amount that will provide restitution to injured parties, protect the public, and deter future crime. Locke&rsquos attitude toward punishment in his other writings on toleration, education, and religion consistently follows this path toward justifying punishment on grounds other than retribution. Tuckness claims that Locke&rsquos emphasis on restitution is interesting because restitution is backward looking in a sense (it seeks to restore an earlier state of affairs) but also forward looking in that it provides tangible benefits to those who receive the restitution. There is a link here between Locke&rsquos understanding of natural punishment and his understanding of legitimate state punishment. Even in the state of nature, a primary justification for punishment is that it helps further the positive goal of preserving human life and human property. The emphasis on deterrence, public safety, and restitution in punishments administered by the government mirrors this emphasis.

A second puzzle regarding punishment is the permissibility of punishing internationally. Locke describes international relations as a state of nature, and so in principle, states should have the same power to punish breaches of the natural law in the international community that individuals have in the state of nature. This would legitimize, for example, punishment of individuals for war crimes or crimes against humanity even in cases where neither the laws of the particular state nor international law authorize punishment. Thus in World War II, even if &ldquocrimes of aggression&rdquo was not at the time recognized as a crime for which individual punishment was justified, if the actions violated the natural law principle that one should not deprive another of life, liberty, or property, the guilty parties could still be liable to criminal punishment. The most common interpretation has thus been that the power to punish internationally is symmetrical with the power to punish in the state of nature.

Tuckness (2008a), however, has argued that there is an asymmetry between the two cases because Locke also talks about states being limited in the goals that they can pursue. Locke often says that the power of the government is to be used for the protection of the rights of its own citizens, not for the rights of all people everywhere (Two Treatises 1.92, 2.88, 2.95, 2.131, 2.147). Locke argues that in the state of nature a person is to use the power to punish to preserve his society, which is mankind as a whole. After states are formed, however, the power to punish is to be used for the benefit of his own particular society. In the state of nature, a person is not required to risk his life for another (Two Treatises 2.6), and this presumably would also mean a person is not required to punish in the state of nature when attempting to punish would risk the life of the punisher. Locke may therefore be objecting to the idea that soldiers can be compelled to risk their lives for altruistic reasons. In the state of nature, a person could refuse to attempt to punish others if doing so would risk his life and so Locke reasons that individuals may not have consented to allow the state to risk their lives for altruistic punishment of international crimes.


Primary Sources

Locke&rsquos Works

Oxford University Press is in the process of producing a new edition of all of Locke&rsquos works. This will supersede The Works of John Locke of which the 1823 edition is probably the most standard. The new Clarendon editions began with Peter Nidditch&rsquos edition of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1975. The Oxford Clarendon editions contain much of the material of the Lovelace collection, purchased and donated to Oxford by Paul Mellon. This treasure trove of Locke&rsquos works and letters, which includes early drafts of the Essay and much other material, comes down from Peter King, Locke&rsquos nephew, who inherited Locke&rsquos papers. Access to these papers has given scholars in the twentieth century a much better view of Locke&rsquos philosophical development and provided a window into the details of his activities which is truly remarkable. Hence the new edition of Locke&rsquos works will very likely be definitive.

  • [N] An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Peter H. Nidditch (ed.), 1975. doi:10.1093/actrade/
  • Some Thoughts Concerning Education, John W. Yolton and Jean S. Yolton (eds.), 1989. doi:10.1093/actrade/
  • Drafts for the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and Other Philosophical Writings: In Three Volumes, Vol. 1: Drafts A and B, Peter H. Nidditch and G. A. J. Rogers (eds.), 1990. doi:10.1093/actrade/
  • The Reasonableness of Christianity: As Delivered in the Scriptures, John C. Higgins-Biddle (ed.), 2000. doi:10.1093/actrade/
  • An Essay Concerning Toleration: And Other Writings on Law and Politics, 1667&ndash1683, J. R. Milton and Philip Milton (eds.), 2006. doi:10.1093/actrade/
  • Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity, Victor Nuovo (ed.), 2012. doi:10.1093/actrade/
  • A Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul to the Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians, 2 volumes, Arthur W. Wainwright (ed.)
    • volume 1, 1987. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • volume 2, 1987. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Volume 1, 1991. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Volume 2, 1991,. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 1: Introduction Letters Nos. 1&ndash461, 2010. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 2: Letters Nos. 462&ndash848, 1976. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 3: Letters Nos. 849&ndash1241, 1978. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 4: Letters Nos. 1242&ndash1701, 1978. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 5: Letters Nos. 1702&ndash2198, 1979. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 6: Letters Nos. 2199&ndash2664, 1980. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 7: Letters Nos. 2665&ndash3286, 1981. doi:10.1093/actrade/
    • Vol. 8: Letters Nos. 3287&ndash3648, 1989. doi:10.1093/actrade/

    In addition to the Oxford Press edition, there are a few editions of some of Locke&rsquos works which are worth noting.

    The Right to Revolution

    In the final chapter of the Second Treatise, Locke lays out an account of the causes of the dissolution of a government, and in a departure from prevailing opinion about the rights of subjects, affirms the right of citizens to resist a tyrannical government. Locke’s ideas differ both from earlier thinkers such as Hobbes, who denied subjects any right to resist their sovereign, and those such as John Calvin, who admitted that tyrants ought to be deposed but denied ordinary citizens the right to depose them, instead entrusting this task to magistrates. Approximately a decade before the publication of the Second Treatise, Algernon Sidney had advanced a position on rebellion similar to Locke’s in his Discourses Concerning Government, a book that resulted in his execution for treason. Both Sidney’s and Locke’s writings on this question were influential in the American Revolution. Several passages in the Declaration of Independence directly echo Locke’s formulations in the Second Treatise.

    Locke argues that if the legislature changes its form against the will of the majority, or if the executive suspends or abolishes it, then the legislative power is sufficiently altered as to be considered dissolved. The people are then released from their original contract and “at liberty to provide for themselves…by erecting a new legislative.”

    Anticipating objections to this doctrine, and particularly the accusation that it would encourage the people to revolt frequently and without due cause, Locke insists that this right of resisting arbitrary power will be used only as a last resort: “Great mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of humane frailty will be born by the people, without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel, what they lie under, and see, whither they are going ‘tis not to be wonder’d, that they should then rouze themselves, and endeavor to put the rule into such hands, which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erected.”

    Locke further denies that the people act inappropriately as judges of their own case—a power they were required to surrender on their entrance into political society—when they revolt against their rulers. The right to determine the validity of citizens’ grievances against the government rests with the people, and if the government denies the people’s judgment, “the appeal lies nowhere but to Heaven…and in that state the injured party must judge for himself, when he will think fit, to make use of that appeal.”

    Biography of John Locke and His Works

    John Locke was born on August 29, 1632 in Wrington, Somerset, England. His father, John Locke was a lawyer and small landowner who had served for the Parliamentary forces during the English Civil War and also served as a clerk to the Justices of the Peace in Chew Magna His mother was Agnes Keene a tanner’s daughter who’s said to have been beautiful. Both his parents were Puritans and middle class, Agnes being 10 years John’s senior, after a year of their marriage they had John then their second, Peter, died in infancy and their third, Thomas, was born in August 1637. Soon after John’s birth, the family moved to Pensford, about seven miles south of Bristol, and lived in a rural Tudor house in Belluton. It is believed that Agnes died soon after her third child’s birth.

    For his education he attended Westminster school at 14 years old. At Westminster, Locke studies Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Arabic, Mathematics, and Geography and in 1960 he was elected as King’s Scholar which was an academic honor and financial benefit as it allowed him to buy himself other books to further his education. Although Locke’s education was a privileged one, the enforcement and disciplinary methods were one he did not approve of as birching was practiced very often at his school. Later on in his life Locke outed the school system in his book Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1963) due to his friend Edward Clarke’s interest in a proper education for his son, where he argued about how inhumane corporal punishments towards students was, described the physical cruelsome abuse many students received and favored private tutoring as a better form of education and the importance of physical education. After Westminster Locke attended Christ Church, Oxford, where he found himself being “unstimulated” as the curriculum mainly focused on Aristotle and his philosophy and left out new philosophers and their ideas unteachable. However, that did not stop Locke from reading and learning about Francis Bacon, Rene Descartes, and many other philosophers who were not in his curriculum he proceeded to obtain his bachelor’s degree and stayed for his masters. Locke then stayed at Christ Church and for 3-4 years taught Greek, rhetoric, and moral philosophy but that wasn’t fulfilling or pleasant for him but after some readings on Descartes, his “relish of philosophical things”, and the Royal Society at Oxford he began experimenting and studying about chemistry, medicine and meteorology. In 1674 he then received a degree in medicine and although not qualified to practice as a doctor, he often did informally.

    As Locke was growing up he made many prominent and important at-the-time friends, one of them being Lord Shaftesbury who had liver issues and Locke once operated on him at a medical emergency. Shaftesbury then thought of Locke as his life savior and invited him to his household where Locke joined as an advisor, medic, and helped in government jobs. However Shaftesbury then fell in trouble and had to flee the country and Locke did too as he thought that his former friendship with Shaftesbury and his anti-royalist beliefs were too compromising for his own life. Therefore Locked fled to France for nearly four years (1675–79), spending much time in Paris and Montpellier and later returned to England but the The Earl was killed and Shaftesbury and Locke fled again but to Holland in 1683. The reason why they both were fleeing was because Shaftsbury was the founder of the Whig Party, “which pushed for constitutional monarchism and stood in opposition to the dominant Tories,” which Locke supported and believed in. Locke then return to England in 1688 during the reign of William and Mary, with the Whigs in power and the balance of power being moved from the throne to Parliament which made him be welcomed as a hero. As a prominent member of the Whig Party, Locke worked in governmental affairs, helped steer the resurrection of the Board of Trade with North America and served as a key member of the party until October 28, 1704 when he died in Essex never having been married or had any children of his own with the company of his friend Lady Damaris reading him from Psalms.

    Going back, while Locke studied medicine he associated himself with Robert Hooke with who he worked on Before Memex: Robert Hooke, John Locke, and Vannevar Bush on External Memory where they studied the limits of individual memory. He later formed the “Experimental Philosophy Club,” along with John Wilkins, Christopher Wren, and Robert Boyle. Additionally, some of John Locke’s works include: Essays on the Law of Nature (1676), Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina (1669), A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), Two Treatises of Government (1689), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693) and The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695.)

    For Locke on Essays on the Law of Nature (1676), in the state of nature all men are free ‘to order their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature… the state of nature has a law of nature to govern it”, and said law is what’s considered reason. I believe this to be true because it doesn’t set a limit to man’s action but enforces consequences. Fundamental Constitution of Carolina (1669) was a plan for organizing the colony of Carolina, drafted in 1669 by Anthony Ashley Cooper and John Locke. Its provisions included a scheme for creating a hierarchy of nobles who would own vast amounts of land and wield political power below them would be a class of freedmen and slaves. The provisions were never implemented by the Carolina colonists. I like the formation of his idea but cannot agree with it as it still implemented the ownership of slaves. A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) was concerning Locke’s establishment of the separation of church and magistrate. If the two disagree, the question can be raised as to which has the final word. The magistrate should tolerate the Church fully, except for certain doctrines, treatises, etc. Further, the magistrate should tolerate any religion, except for one which tries to deny people their civil rights. In other words, the State may regulate religion if the religion is outwardly prejudice to another man or his property. This work was written during his stay in Holland due to his association with other exiles and the issues his native country was going through in regards to religion. I think this letter is very through and although I want to say I approve of it I don’t because Locke also said Atheists can’t be tolerated, in a way limiting beliefs and the lack of them. Two Treatises of Government (1689) are works in which The First Treatise attacks monarchy for having absolute power absolute power and on the Second Treatise Locke summarizes his idea on a differently ordered society, in which there’s freedom for all but also political order. This work was done before he fled to Holland and based on England’s political situation at the time and the Glorious Revolution. This one is the one work I can genuinely say I like because even though it criticizes the government it also offers ideas on how to fix it, and how the monarchy wasn’t exactly a good idea which I also don’t stand for. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690) consists of four volumes and its central idea is that all knowledge we obtain is derived from experience, I think that this is something I can agree with because of personal experiences of how I have learned from previous experiences life lessons. These works of him were also written in Holland in regards to Scholastics, the existence of God, moral truths, and Plato’s philosophy. The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) is where Locke shares his belief that we all have the ability to understand our purpose and we can obtain salvation from reading and learning about the Scriptures, for this one all I can say is that even though I’m not a religious person, I do believe we have the capability of understanding and finding our true purpose without having to pay someone else to tell us it.

    Essentially all of Locke’s works have impacted politics from the Western World, England and France. For example it inspired The Glorious Revolution, The American Revolution, the writings of Voltaire, The writings of Rousseau, The French Revolution, Alexander Hamilton and other founding fathers as to what a new nations should be, with no monarchy and separation of power from the government and church with the “freedom of life, liberty and property”. With the idea that people are not subject of a monarchy or the government but that the government works for the people and protects their rights, with people having the right to rebel (and moral obligation) against a government if it failed to protect and honor their rights. Of course at his time his philosophies got him in trouble when the monarchy was still very much in power and Locke challenge the idea of a King’s appointment and right to reign, or with people who supported a monarchy or those with different religious beliefs, it got to a point when he had to flee his native country twice but those philosophies are the ones that make the very nation where I live and seem to be common sense for the society I live in.

    Watch the video: Essential John Locke: Who was John Locke? (February 2023).

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