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Early years
Contents:


  1. The Influence of John Locke’s Works
  2. Who is John Locke?
  3. John Locke Biography | List of Works, Study Guides & Essays | GradeSaver

Both parents were Puritans , and the family moved soon after Locke's birth to the small market town of Pensford , near Bristol. After completing his studies there, he was admitted to Christ Church, Oxford. Locke was awarded a bachelor's degree in , and a master's degree in He was elected lecturer in Greek in and then in Rhetoric in , but he declined the offer of a permanent academic position in order to avoid committing himself to a religious order. During his time at Oxford , he also studied medicine extensively, and worked with such noted scientists and thinkers as Robert Boyle , Thomas Willis , Robert Hooke and his friend from Westminster School, Richard Lower.

He later obtained a bachelor of medicine qualification in It was through his medical knowledge that he obtained the patronage of the controversial political figure, Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper the 1st Earl of Shaftesbury , and in he moved to Shaftesbury's London home to serve as his personal physician. He was credited with saving Shaftesbury's life after a liver infection became life-threatening.

In London, Locke continued his medical studies under the tutelage of Thomas Sydenham , who also had a major influence on Locke's natural philosophical thinking. During the s, Locke served as Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords and Proprietors of the Carolinas , helping to shape his ideas on international trade and economics. Locke became more involved in politics and further developed his political ideas when Shaftesbury, a founder of the Whig movement in British politics, became Lord Chancellor in It was also during this time in London that he worked on early drafts of his "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" , eventually published in and considered one of the principal sources of Empiricism in modern philosophy.

After some time traveling across France following Shaftesbury's fall from favor in , he returned to England in when Shaftesbury's political fortunes took a brief positive turn , and began the composition of his famous work of Political Philosophy , the "Two Treatises of Government" , which was published anonymously in order to avoid controversy in , and whose ideas about natural rights and government were quite revolutionary for that period in English history.

In , Locke fled to Holland , under strong but probably unfounded suspicion of involvement in the Rye House Plot. His "Essay" in particular brought great fame , and Locke spent much of the rest of his life responding to admirers and critics by making revisions in later editions of the book. In , he moved to his close friend Lady Masham 's country house at Oates , Essex.

During this period, he became something of an intellectual hero of the Whigs, and he discussed matters with such figures as John Dryden and Sir Isaac Newton. He continued to work at the Board of Trade from until his retirement in However, his health deteriorated , marked by regular asthma attacks , and he died on 28 October , and was buried in the churchyard of High Laver.

He never married , and had no children.

The Influence of John Locke’s Works

Locke wrote on philosophical , scientific and political matters throughout his life, in a voluminous correspondence and ample journals, but the public works for which he is best known were published in a single, sudden burst in - The fundamental principles of Locke's Epistemology are presented in his monumental "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" of , the culmination of twenty years of reflection on the origins of human knowledge. In it he argued the empiricist approach that would be adopted by the British Empiricism movement: that all of our ideas, whether simple or complex, are ultimately derived from experience and sensory input.

The knowledge of which we are capable is therefore severely limited in its scope and certainty, in that we can never know the inner nature of the things around us, only their behavior and the way in which they affect us and other things a kind of modified Skepticism. One of the ways in which they affect us is through our senses, giving us experiences or representations or images of their properties or qualities.

Locke saw the properties of things as being of two distinct kinds. Their real inner natures derive from the primary qualities , which we can never experience and so never know. Our knowledge of material substances, therefore, depends heavily on their secondary qualities by reference to which we also name them , which are mind-dependent and of a sensory or qualitative nature.

He therefore believed in a type of Representationalism , that these primary qualities are "explanatorily basic" in that they can be referred to as the explanation for other qualities or phenomena without requiring explanation themselves, and that these qualities are distinct in that our sensory experience of them resembles them in reality. He claimed that "the mind is furnished with ideas by experience alone" an idea being something within the mind that represents things outside the mind.

Who is John Locke?

However, he also argued that a proper application of our cognitive capacities is enough to guide our action in the practical conduct of life , and that it is in the process of reasoning that the mind confronts the raw ideas it has received an approach not dissimilar to the Dualism of Descartes. His definition of knowledge might be stated, then, as the perception of the relationship between ideas. Where Locke differed markedly from Descartes and other predecessors, though, was in the status he granted to the senses. Descartes held that the senses incline us to have certain beliefs , but that this alone does not amount to actual knowledge which requires interpretation and explanation by reason and the intellect.

For Locke, however, the senses themselves are a basic and fundamental faculty which deliver knowledge in their own right. The spoilage restriction ceases to be a meaningful restriction with the invention of money because value can be stored in a medium that does not decay 2. The sufficiency restriction is transcended because the creation of private property so increases productivity that even those who no longer have the opportunity to acquire land will have more opportunity to acquire what is necessary for life 2.

The third restriction, Macpherson argues, was not one Locke actually held at all. Locke, according to Macpherson, thus clearly recognized that labor can be alienated. He argues that its coherence depends upon the assumption of differential rationality between capitalists and wage-laborers and on the division of society into distinct classes. Because Locke was bound by these constraints, we are to understand him as including only property owners as voting members of society. Alan Ryan argued that since property for Locke includes life and liberty as well as estate Two Treatises 2.

The dispute between the two would then turn on whether Locke was using property in the more expansive sense in some of the crucial passages. While this duty is consistent with requiring the poor to work for low wages, it does undermine the claim that those who have wealth have no social duties to others. Previous accounts had focused on the claim that since persons own their own labor, when they mix their labor with that which is unowned it becomes their property. Robert Nozick criticized this argument with his famous example of mixing tomato juice one rightfully owns with the sea.

When we mix what we own with what we do not, why should we think we gain property instead of losing it? Human beings are created in the image of God and share with God, though to a much lesser extent, the ability to shape and mold the physical environment in accordance with a rational pattern or plan. Only creating generates an absolute property right, and only God can create, but making is analogous to creating and creates an analogous, though weaker, right. Since Locke begins with the assumption that the world is owned by all, individual property is only justified if it can be shown that no one is made worse off by the appropriation.


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Where this condition is not met, those who are denied access to the good do have a legitimate objection to appropriation. Once land became scarce, property could only be legitimated by the creation of political society. Waldron claims that, contrary to Macpherson, Tully, and others, Locke did not recognize a sufficiency condition at all. Waldron takes Locke to be making a descriptive statement, not a normative one, about the condition that happens to have initially existed. Waldron thinks that the condition would lead Locke to the absurd conclusion that in circumstances of scarcity everyone must starve to death since no one would be able to obtain universal consent and any appropriation would make others worse off.

In particular, it is the only way Locke can be thought to have provided some solution to the fact that the consent of all is needed to justify appropriation in the state of nature. If others are not harmed, they have no grounds to object and can be thought to consent, whereas if they are harmed, it is implausible to think of them as consenting. Sreenivasan does depart from Tully in some important respects. The disadvantage of this interpretation, as Sreenivasan admits, is that it saddles Locke with a flawed argument.

Those who merely have the opportunity to labor for others at subsistence wages no longer have the liberty that individuals had before scarcity to benefit from the full surplus of value they create. Moreover poor laborers no longer enjoy equality of access to the materials from which products can be made. Simmons presents a still different synthesis.

He sides with Waldron and against Tully and Sreenivasan in rejecting the workmanship model. Locke thinks we have property in our own persons even though we do not make or create ourselves. Simmons claims that while Locke did believe that God had rights as creator, human beings have a different limited right as trustees , not as makers.

According to the former argument, at least some property rights can be justified by showing that a scheme allowing appropriation of property without consent has beneficial consequences for the preservation of mankind. This argument is overdetermined, according to Simmons, in that it can be interpreted either theologically or as a simple rule-consequentialist argument. Like Sreenivasan, Simmons sees this as flowing from a prior right of people to secure their subsistence, but Simmons also adds a prior right to self-government.

Labor can generate claims to private property because private property makes individuals more independent and able to direct their own actions. Some authors have suggested that Locke may have had an additional concern in mind in writing the chapter on property. Armitage even argues that there is evidence that Locke was actively involved in revising the Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina at the same time he was drafting the chapter on property for the Second Treatise.

A final question concerns the status of those property rights acquired in the state of nature after civil society has come into being. It seems clear that at the very least Locke allows taxation to take place by the consent of the majority rather than requiring unanimous consent 2. Nozick takes Locke to be a libertarian, with the government having no right to take property to use for the common good without the consent of the property owner. On his interpretation, the majority may only tax at the rate needed to allow the government to successfully protect property rights.

At the other extreme, Tully thinks that, by the time government is formed, land is already scarce and so the initial holdings of the state of nature are no longer valid and thus are no constraint on governmental action. His analysis begins with individuals in a state of nature where they are not subject to a common legitimate authority with the power to legislate or adjudicate disputes. From this natural state of freedom and independence, Locke stresses individual consent as the mechanism by which political societies are created and individuals join those societies. While there are of course some general obligations and rights that all people have from the law of nature, special obligations come about only when we voluntarily undertake them.

Locke clearly states that one can only become a full member of society by an act of express consent Two Treatises 2. Simply by walking along the highways of a country a person gives tacit consent to the government and agrees to obey it while living in its territory. This, Locke thinks, explains why resident aliens have an obligation to obey the laws of the state where they reside, though only while they live there.

Inheriting property creates an even stronger bond, since the original owner of the property permanently put the property under the jurisdiction of the commonwealth. Children, when they accept the property of their parents, consent to the jurisdiction of the commonwealth over that property Two Treatises 2.

There is debate over whether the inheritance of property should be regarded as tacit or express consent. On one interpretation, by accepting the property, Locke thinks a person becomes a full member of society, which implies that he must regard this as an act of express consent.

On the other interpretation, Locke recognized that people inheriting property did not in the process of doing so make any explicit declaration about their political obligation. However this debate is resolved, there will be in any current or previously existing society many people who have never given express consent, and thus some version of tacit consent seems needed to explain how governments could still be legitimate. It is one thing, he argues, for a person to consent by actions rather than words; it is quite another to claim a person has consented without being aware that they have done so.

To require a person to leave behind all of their property and emigrate in order to avoid giving tacit consent is to create a situation where continued residence is not a free and voluntary choice. Hannah Pitkin takes a very different approach. Tacit consent is indeed a watering down of the concept of consent, but Locke can do this because the basic content of what governments are to be like is set by natural law and not by consent. Pitkin, however, thinks that for Locke the form and powers of government are determined by natural law.

What really matters, therefore, is not previous acts of consent but the quality of the present government, whether it corresponds to what natural law requires. Locke does not think, for example, that walking the streets or inheriting property in a tyrannical regime means we have consented to that regime. It is thus the quality of the government, not acts of actual consent, that determine whether a government is legitimate. Simmons objects to this interpretation, saying that it fails to account for the many places where Locke does indeed say a person acquires political obligations only by his own consent.

John Dunn takes a still different approach. Simmons objects that this ignores the instances where Locke does talk about consent as a deliberate choice and that, in any case, it would only make Locke consistent at the price of making him unconvincing. Recent scholarship has continued to probe these issues. Only those who have expressly consented are members of political society, while the government exercises legitimate authority over various types of people who have not so consented.

The government is supreme in some respects, but there is no sovereign. Van der Vossen makes a related argument, claiming that the initial consent of property owners is not the mechanism by which governments come to rule over a particular territory. Rather, Locke thinks that people probably fathers initially simply begin exercising political authority and people tacitly consent. This is sufficient to justify a state in ruling over those people and treaties between governments fix the territorial borders.

Hoff goes still further, arguing that we need not even think of specific acts of tacit consent such as deciding not to emigrate. Instead, consent is implied if the government itself functions in ways that show it is answerable to the people. A related question has to do with the extent of our obligation once consent has been given. The interpretive school influenced by Strauss emphasizes the primacy of preservation. Since the duties of natural law apply only when our preservation is not threatened 2. This has important implications if we consider a soldier who is being sent on a mission where death is extremely likely.

Grant points out that Locke believes a soldier who deserts from such a mission Two Treatises 2. Grant takes Locke to be claiming not only that desertion laws are legitimate in the sense that they can be blamelessly enforced something Hobbes would grant but that they also imply a moral obligation on the part of the soldier to give up his life for the common good something Hobbes would deny. According to Grant, Locke thinks that our acts of consent can in fact extend to cases where living up to our commitments will risk our lives. The decision to enter political society is a permanent one for precisely this reason: the society will have to be defended and if people can revoke their consent to help protect it when attacked, the act of consent made when entering political society would be pointless since the political community would fail at the very point where it is most needed.

People make a calculated decision when they enter society, and the risk of dying in combat is part of that calculation. Grant also thinks Locke recognizes a duty based on reciprocity since others risk their lives as well. A different approach asks what role consent plays in determining, here and now, the legitimate ends that governments can pursue. One part of this debate is captured by the debate between Seliger and Kendall, the former viewing Locke as a constitutionalist and the latter viewing him as giving almost untrammeled power to majorities.

On the former interpretation, a constitution is created by the consent of the people as part of the creation of the commonwealth. On the latter interpretation, the people create a legislature which rules by majority vote. A third view, advanced by Tuckness, holds that Locke was flexible at this point and gave people considerable flexibility in constitutional drafting. A second part of the debate focuses on ends rather than institutions. Locke states in the Two Treatises that the power of the Government is limited to the public good.

Libertarians like Nozick read this as stating that governments exist only to protect people from infringements on their rights. On this second reading, government is limited to fulfilling the purposes of natural law, but these include positive goals as well as negative rights. On this view, the power to promote the common good extends to actions designed to increase population, improve the military, strengthen the economy and infrastructure, and so on, provided these steps are indirectly useful to the goal of preserving the society.

In arguing this, Locke was disagreeing with Samuel Pufendorf. 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. Locke insisted on this point because it helped explain the transition into civil society.

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. 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.

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. 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, 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. Locke argues that in the state of nature a person is to use the power to punish to preserve his society, 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. 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. Locke claims that legitimate government is based on the idea of separation of powers. First and foremost of these is the legislative power. Locke describes the legislative power as supreme Two Treatises 2. The legislature is still bound by the law of nature and much of what it does is set down laws that further the goals of natural law and specify appropriate punishments for them 2.

The executive power is then charged with enforcing the law as it is applied in specific cases. Since countries are still in the state of nature with respect to each other, they must follow the dictates of natural law and can punish one another for violations of that law in order to protect the rights of their citizens. The fact that Locke does not mention the judicial power as a separate power becomes clearer if we distinguish powers from institutions. Powers relate to functions.

To have a power means that there is a function such as making the laws or enforcing the laws that one may legitimately perform. When Locke says that the legislative is supreme over the executive, he is not saying that parliament is supreme over the king. Moreover, Locke thinks that it is possible for multiple institutions to share the same power; for example, the legislative power in his day was shared by the House of Commons, the House of Lords, and the King. Since all three needed to agree for something to become law, all three are part of the legislative power 1.

He also thinks that the federative power and the executive power are normally placed in the hands of the executive, so it is possible for the same person to exercise more than one power or function. There is, therefore, no one to one correspondence between powers and institutions. Locke is not opposed to having distinct institutions called courts, but he does not see interpretation as a distinct function or power. For Locke, legislation is primarily about announcing a general rule stipulating what types of actions should receive what types of punishments.

The executive power is the power to make the judgments necessary to apply those rules to specific cases and administer force as directed by the rule Two Treatises 2. Both of these actions involve interpretation. In other words, the executive must interpret the laws in light of its understanding of natural law. Similarly, legislation involves making the laws of nature more specific and determining how to apply them to particular circumstances 2.

John Locke Biography | List of Works, Study Guides & Essays | GradeSaver

Locke did not think of interpreting law as a distinct function because he thought it was a part of both the legislative and executive functions Tuckness a. It is more the terminology than the concepts that have changed. Locke considered arresting a person, trying a person, and punishing a person as all part of the function of executing the law rather than as a distinct function.

Locke believed that it was important that the legislative power contain an assembly of elected representatives, but as we have seen the legislative power could contain monarchical and aristocratic elements as well. Locke was more concerned that the people have representatives with sufficient power to block attacks on their liberty and attempts to tax them without justification.

This is important because Locke also affirms that the community remains the real supreme power throughout. This can happen for a variety of reasons. The entire society can be dissolved by a successful foreign invasion 2. If the rule of law is ignored, if the representatives of the people are prevented from assembling, if the mechanisms of election are altered without popular consent, or if the people are handed over to a foreign power, then they can take back their original authority and overthrow the government 2.

They can also rebel if the government attempts to take away their rights 2. Locke thinks this is justifiable since oppressed people will likely rebel anyway and those who are not oppressed will be unlikely to rebel. Moreover, the threat of possible rebellion makes tyranny less likely to start with 2.