A retrospective: John Locke

John Locke was a philosopher and physician who was born in Somerset, England in the 17th century, and is credited as the Father of Political Liberalism, and is without a doubt one of the most influential figures in the Age of Enlightenment. He was a strong advocate for the scientific revolution, where the scientific method evolved, and he was a medical researcher, who was concerned with the evidence being gathered empirically. As well as being a researcher in the sciences, he was also a political critique and believed that humans have three basic rights; life, liberty and estate, and he was a keen advocate for the separation of the church and the state; secularism, and heavily influenced the United States of America’s founding documents, especially the first amendment, and the Declaration of Independence.

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

In 1689 he published his book, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which became an instant hit amongst enlightenment thinkers, where he studied that understanding the human consciousness, and knowledge, including moral knowledge, comes from sensory experiences. One of his greatest admirers was Voltaire, who was heavily influenced by his political and ethical philosophy, as well as Sir Francis Bacon and Isaac Newton, and just like Thomas Jefferson claimed, Voltaire believed them to be the three most important thinkers in history.

“All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.” – John Locke

Locke’s political theory cantered around reason and tolerance, and he claimed that no leader, or monarch had a divine right to rule, and should be removed from power if they failed in their duties, and advocated revolution if the need arose, and scholars claim his ideas had a profound influence on America’s decision of independence. The term liberalism’s origins come from the Latin word Liber, which means free, but it became a very popular philosophy in the 17th century when the focus of equality became a serious subject. Laws were reformed where fair trials were eventually witnessed by juries, speech became freer, as did religious freedom, and freedom from religion.

“The improvement of understanding is for two ends: first, our own increase of knowledge; secondly, to enable us to deliver that knowledge to others.” – John Locke

Despite these things, the subject of ethical rights and freedom were discussed thousands of years before in classical Greece by a wide range of philosophers, including the Stoics, Sophists and the Cynics, who believed virtue was the only path to a great life, as did the Peripatetics, who Aristotle was part of. He clearly had a positive influence and contributed towards liberalism, but as for being the father, I disagree completely, but his scientific works, and his views on how to gain knowledge are still influential to this day.