John Locke – a 5-minute summary of his philosophy
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John Locke – a 5-minute summary of his philosophy

August 26, 2019

John Locke was a hugely influential English
philosopher of the 17th Century whose ideas, particularly in the realm of political philosophy,
are still hugely relevant today. Born in 1632, Locke is an important figure
of the early European Enlightenment, and certainly many of his ideas and a considerable influence
on later major Enlightenment thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, David Hume and Jean-Jacques
Rousseau. Since he was a polymath, who wrote and thought on an extremely broad range of
interests, this talk will focus on his contributions in three main areas – epistemology, political
philosophy and religious toleration. Firstly, epistemology. Locke, following in
the tradition of the likes of Francis Bacon, was an empiricist. Indeed, probably his best
known work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689) is one of the first great defenses of empiricism
and concerns itself with determining the limits of human understanding in respect to a wide
spectrum of topics. As he argues, “No man’s knowledge here can go beyond his experience.”
It thus tells us in some detail what one can legitimately claim to know and what one cannot.
Linked to this is Locke’s so-called theory of mind, which is often cited as the origin
of modern conceptions of identify and the self. Lock was the first to define the self
through a continuity of consciousness, arguing that the mind was a tabula rasa (blank slate),
which became filled with knowledge deriving from experience, observation and experimentation.
This was in contrast to the pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, which stated that we are born
with innate ideas. Secdonly, political philosophy. Locke’s
writings on political philosophy should be considered against the volatile and often
violent background in Britain in the second half of the 17th Century. The Civil War, the
establishment of the commonwealth, the restoration of the monarchy, the Glorious Revolution and
the advent of the Bill of Rights, where the supremacy (or ‘sovereignty’) of parliament
as opposed to the monarchy was finally established. Locke’s most important political work was
Two Treatises Concerning Government was published in the same year as the Bill of Rights, although
Locke had written it much earlier. In it he shows himself to be strongly against absolutism
(in contrast to Hobbes) and in favour of the separation of Church and State. Locke’ political
philosophy was deeply influenced by social contract theory, and can be very briefly summarised
as follows: Firstly, an individual is born into a state
of nature, where each person had God-given natural rights that are not subject to any
kind of government. Like his predecessor Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that human nature was
inherently selfish, but unlike Hobbes Locke believed human nature to be characterised
by reason and tolerance. Secondly, this state of nature is unstable,
and individuals are at risk from physical harm. This means that they are unable to purse
any goals requiring stability or cooperation with others. Thirdly, in such conditions, government arises
since individual see the benefits which can be gained by relinquishing a number of their
rights to a central authority. This takes place in the form a contract.
The impact of Locke’s political thought, and his fundamental belief in the right to
life, liberty and property, can be seen very clearly in the United States Declaration of
Independence and the US Constitution around a century later. Locke also advocated governmental
separation of powers and believed that revolution is not only a right but an obligation in some
circumstances. He is often known as the “father of classical liberalism”, with quotations
such as the following supporting this notion: “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain,
but to preserve and enlarge freedom.” Thirfdy, religious toleration. The 17th century
was not only a time of political upheaval, but also of religious turmoil, in particular
the European wars of religion. In terms of his own beliefs, Locke was broadly protestant,
and he thought that the entire content of the Bible was in agreement with human reason.
He considered the idea of enforcing a single ‘true religion’ on people could never
have the desired effect because belief cannot be compelled by violence, and indeed coercing
religious uniformity would lead to more social disorder than allowing diversity. Ironically,
although Locke was an advocate of tolerance, he urged the authorities not to tolerate atheism,
because he thought the denial of God’s existence would undermine the social order and lead
to chaos. In summary, although many argue that Locke’s
influence during his own lifetime was negligible, his influence on later Enlightenment writers,
and the modern-day political institutions of many Western countries, was very significant.

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  1. When I was nineteen, many decades ago, I had a series of dreams. One was the word "Philosophy" written over a pretty girls face and roses in her hair. Another dream was the words "nothing is possible without existential reference". I'm still working out the meaning because there is more than one way to read the words.

  2. Locke was brilliant for sure. But I can only forgive the blank slate idea because he didn't know any better. Back then people didn't even know the link between thought, behavior, personality and the brain.

  3. ‘’…the first explicit formulation of Empiricism was by the British philosopher John Locke in the late 17th Century. Locke argued in his "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" of 1690 that the mind is a tabula rasa on which experiences leave their marks, and therefore denied that humans have innate ideas or that anything is knowable without reference to experience. However, he also held that some knowledge (e.g. knowledge of God's existence) could be arrived at through intuition and reasoning alone.’’ (

    That Locke ‘believed’ that knowledge of a god was innate, totally voids anything else he had to say regarding ‘tabla rasa’. The only thing which is not tabla rasa is the genius, and more, capabilities of the intelligence an individual receives at the moment of their creation.

    That genius, and more, capability of intelligence would lead an individual to discern the difference between data which only masquerades as truthful knowledge, from data which is truthful knowledge, therefore it would lead the rigorously reasoning individual to a conclusion that a god has never been extant in reality, but only between the ears of ‘believers’, who have yet to promote a verifiable, repeatable proof of a god’s existence.

    That Locke purported ‘believed’ in the existence of a god disqualifies him for membership in the ‘religio-philosophical realm’. period.

  4. I have read that the name used to be pronounced like "Luck" and not Locke, some say in Buenos Aires Loque, they are tricky Masters. Jhon Locke is the Father of British Empiricism, according to no one is born knowing nothing, it is like a Hard Disk Information Vacuum, and then with the experience it is filled with Data that come from the Outer World

  5. The mind significa la Mente is a "Tablua rasa" es una Tabla Raza (blank slate)= a un PIzarrón en Blanco, lo que quiere decir es que a medida que pasan los años, la experiencia comienza a incorporar datos de la Realidad, del mundo Sensible. Pero igualmente puedo ver que esta Idea incluso no es de Locke, es de Aristoteles, porque el fue el primero en separar el Mundo Real del Mundo de la Ideas, y que Locke solamente fue haciendo mas sofisticada la Definicón o el Concepto de Realidad de Aristoteles. Aristoteles estaba adelantado mas de 1000 años en el Tiempo antes que Locke

  6. The mind means the Mind is a "Tablua rasa" is a Tabla Raza (blank slate) = a PIzarrón en Blanco, which means that as the years pass, the experience begins to incorporate data from the Reality, the Sensible world. But I can still see that this Idea is not even Locke's, it is Aristoteles because he was the first to separate the Real World from the Ideas, and that Locke was only making the Definition or Aristoteles' Concept of Reality more sophisticated. . Aristoteles was ahead more than 1000 years in Time before Locke

  7. At 2:20 you are incorrect sir. In the Britain we have a constitutional monarchy under constitutional restraint, not parliamentary restraint. The bill of rights 1688/89 was not a victory for parliament and parliament is not sovereign (meaning beneath no other). James II abdicated the throne in the glorious revolution as William & Mary of Orange came over on the promise from the men from the north to defeat James II. James fled and the people created the Declaration of rights 1688/89. This was offered to William and Mary as a condition of them taking the throne which they agreed to. Once they had formed a parliament they decided they should put the Declaration of rights onto the statute books which they did with the Bill of rights. If u read it, there’s some text at the beginning and then it is pretty much a word for word copy of the Declaration of rights. The coronation oath act was also passed at that time putting further restraint on the monarch who is there under contract to the people, to govern us according to the common law. Parliament swears allegiance and is beneath the monarch, who is in turn beneath the people as evidenced by the British constitution (yes we have one but the law society don’t want u to know that).

  8. Locke invested in the Slave Trade as a shareholder of the Royal African Company. He and his partners including King Charles II were responsible for the deaths of millions of enslaved Africans.
    Its pretty clear what his tabula rasa was occupied with…

  9. ''…all the day-labourers and tradesmen,

    …and dairy-maids
    …as to have them perfect in ethics this way. Hearing
    plain commands, is the sure and only course to bring

    them to obedience and practice. The greatest part can

    not know, and therefore they must believe.'' – John Locke in The reasonableness of Christianity (1695)

  10. philosophy is in its infancy. The observations of these philosophers appear so simple but they are great leaps. The more recent philosophers are very difficult and the listener or pupil may be sitting in a classroom trying to understand quantum physics and not know it. Dividing it between empiricism and epistemology or metaphysics is important as the celestial kingdoms are part of religions and effect worlds. The USA us protestant as was Locke and the rest. This has a profound effect upon the political philosophy.

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