Locke, John, 1632-1704, English philosopher, founder of British empiricism. Locke's two most important works, Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises on Civil Government (.txt-only version of Second Treatise), both published in 1690, quickly established him as the leading philosopher of freedom. In the Essay he opposed the rationalist belief in innate ideas, holding that the mind is born a blank upon which all knowledge is inscribed in the form of human experience. He distinguished the primary qualities of things (e.g., extension, solidity, number) from the secondary qualities (e.g., color, smell, sound), which he held to be produced by the direct impact of the world on the sense organs. The primary qualities affect the sense organs mechanically, providing ideas that faithfully reflect reality; thus science is possible. Later empiricists such as Hume and George Berkeley based their systems largely on Locke's theory of knowledge. In political theory he was equally influential. Contradicting Hobbes, Locke maintained that the original state of nature was happy and characterized by reason and tolerance; all human beings were equal and free to pursue "life, health, liberty, and possessions." The state formed by the social contract was guided by the natural law, which guaranteed those inalienable rights. He set down the policy of checks and balances later followed in the U.S. Constitution; formulated the doctrine that revolution in some circumstances is not only a right but an obligation; and argued for broad religious freedom. Much of the liberal social, economic, and ethical theory of the 18th cent. was rooted in Locke's social-contract theories. One of the major influences on modern philosophical and political thought, he epitomized the Enlightenment's faith in the middle class, in the new science, and in human goodness.
From The Concise Columbia Encyclopedia. Copyright © 1991 by Columbia University Press.
- John Locke: Of the Conduct of the Understanding
Teachers College Press Classics in Education Series No. 31
- Foreword by Lawrence A. Cremin
Edited, with an Introduction and Notes, by Francis W. Garforth
Copyright © 1966 Teachers College, Columbia University.
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- John Locke. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. 6th Edition [cite]
- John Locke. Second Treatise on Civil Government. (.txt only version.)
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John Locke. Second Treatise on Civil Government. (.txt only version.)