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JOHN LOCKE

1632-1704
English

"Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking that makes what we read ours."

John Locke is best known for his philosophical works and has been described as ‘a man on a mission to discover the truth’.  His objective was to ascertain the truth which he believed played a more significant role than the longing for wealth or status. “That which makes my writings tolerable is only this, that I never write for anything but the truth and never publish anything to others which I am not fully persuaded of myself. I have anything to boast of it is that I sincerely love and seek truth with indifference whom it pleases or displeases”.

John Locke (born; 29th August 1632 at Wrington Somerset England; died 28th October 1704), is widely known as the father of Classical Liberalism. He was a philosopher, a physician and a man of letters, and is regarded as one of the most influential of the Enlightenment thinkers.

His childhood was spent in a small manor named Beluton. His father, also named John Locke, was a country lawyer and clerk to the Justices of the Peace in Chew Magna and went on to fight for the Parliamentary cause in the English Civil War (1642-1646). For the first fourteen years of Locke’s life he educated him with great thoroughness and authority and as Locke matured they developed a far better relationship with one another. Little is known about John Locke’s mother Agnes Keen as she died when he was a young man but he did speak of her lovingly as an ‘affectionate woman’. Locke seems to have been the eldest of three siblings, the first, Peter, died in infancy and the second, Thomas, was born in 1637.

Locke never married although acquaintances made it known that he did have romantic relations with different women throughout his lifetime. His closest relationship was the one he had with Damaris Cudworth, the daughter of Cambridge Platonist Ralph Cudworth, a woman of beauty and intelligence but half his age.

In 1646 Locke began his formal education which he was admitted to the Westminster School in London under the sponsorship of Alexander Popham, a Member of Parliament and his father's former commander. At Westminster, Locke was elected as a King’s Scholar, allowing him to obtain an election to a studentship at Christ Church, Oxford where he was accepted in 1652. There he studied rhetoric, Greek, logic, metaphysics and classical languages. Later in the year 1656 he received his B.A followed by his M.A two years later.

A more than gifted student, Locke became increasingly aggravated with the teaching methods. He found that the works of more modern philosophers, such as Descartes, intrigued him far more than those from the classical or traditional material he was being taught at Oxford.

Although Locke’s father initially wanted him to work for the church, he decided to settle on the profession of medicine, where some of his greatest works and achievements took place.

Locke’s most famous and important work is arguably An Essay Concerning Human Understanding which was published in 1690.  This work communicated his philosophical and scientific views of the mind. He believed the mind was formed by experiences, not innate ideas as some believed. Furthermore, the book contained the concepts central to his viewpoint, such as the tabula rasa view of the mind. He discussed how knowledge in the mind is formed, and also the types of knowledge humans can have about things in the world. His other works included Two Treatises of Government, published in 1689, which reflected Locke’s political beliefs. Locke’s life was spent in a chaotic political climate. In this book he shapes a view that asserts the need for governmental checks and a humanitarian focus.

In the years before Lock retired to his country manor in Essex he also published some other works which included Thoughts concerning Education (July 1693), The Reasonableness of Christianity, As delivered in the scriptures (this appeared anonymously in 1695), Some Thoughts concerning the Several Causes and Occasions of Atheism, Especially in the Present Age (1695) as well as, A Second Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity &c (1696).

The last four years of his life were spent at Oates in Essex where he continued to write, rest and ride horses before illness confined him to his bed. On 8th October 1704 as Lady Masham was reading to him, he died. She stated that Locke’s death was much like his life “truly pious, yet natural, easy and unaffected”. 

TITLES BY JOHN LOCKE

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