John Locke


John Locke (pronounced in English :

His writings on tolerance cannot be separated from a period in which a profound readjustment of the political and religious fields was taking place. In the perspective that opens up in part thanks to him, politics deals with the present world and religion deals with the world beyond, the two should not interfere. His political theory was opposed to the absolutism that was then being established in France and that failed to impose itself in England, partly because of him. He is also one of the founders of the notion of the rule of law.

His Essay on Human Understanding is a major work in which he builds a theory of ideas and a philosophy of mind. While opposing Hobbes” materialism, he considers that experience is the origin of knowledge and rejects the notion of innate ideas supported by Descartes. His theory of knowledge is qualified as empiricist.

Besides his philosophical activities, he is one of the main investors of the Royal African Company, a pillar of the development of the slave trade.

The years of training

John Locke was born near Bristol on Sunday August 29, 1632. His father, a solicitor, owned houses and land in Pensford, a town near Bristol. During the Civil War, he served as a captain in the cavalry in the service of a parliamentary army. His regiment was commanded by an influential man in Somerset, Alexander Popham. Although this army was defeated and dispersed in July 1643, Locke Sr. remained close to his regimental commander, Alexander Popham, who in 1645 became the Member of Parliament for Bath. It is thanks to Popham that John Locke can enter in 1647 the very famous Westminster School. There, Locke learns Latin, Greek and Hebrew. Westminster having old relations with Christ Church (Oxford), he joined this college in 1652. At the time, the teaching at Oxford was still scholastic in nature, which irritated Locke, as it had fifty years earlier with Hobbes. During his studies, he was content to do what was necessary to obtain his diplomas in 1656 and 1658, and spent a great deal of time reading plays, novels and epistolary correspondence, often translated from French. He then became interested in medicine, which led him to natural philosophy and to the man who is considered the father of modern natural philosophy, Robert Boyle, whom he met in 1660. He also met William Petty at this university. It was also at this time that he began to read Descartes as well as Gassendi in a superficial way.

At the death of Olivier Cromwell and during the unstable period that followed, he initially welcomed the monarchical restoration of Charles II (King of England). At that time, he published two essays in which, against one of his colleagues at Christ Church, Edward Bagshawe, he defended the idea that the civil power could decide on the form of religion of the people, these writings express a thought close to that of Thomas Hobbes. In 1660, he began to teach Greek, and in 1662 to teach rhetoric, then in 1664, he became censor in moral philosophy. In 1665, he accompanied, as secretary, Sir Walter Vane on a diplomatic mission to the Elector of Brandenburg. On his return from his mission, he met Shaftesbury in the summer of 1666, who had come to Oxford to treat his poor health with the waters of a local spring.

In the service of Shaftesbury

Locke”s meeting with the Earl of Shaftesbury, then Chancellor of the Exchequer to Charles II, was a turning point in his life. The two men hit it off so well that in the spring of 1667, Locke left Oxford and followed his new mentor to London where he became a member of his household. He continued to study medicine and met Thomas Sydenham with whom he worked closely. It was during this period that he wrote, or Sydenham wrote (authorship is not clear), De Arte Medica, a document that was discovered in the 19th century. This writing expresses a deep skepticism about assumptions in medicine (deductive science) and advocates a purely empirical (inductive) approach to medicine. In 1668, Locke saved Shaftesbury by proposing a fully successful operation to drain a liver abscess.

In 1668, he was elected a member of the Royal Society, an organization in which he seems to have had little involvement. That same year he wrote a short Essay on Toleration in which he took positions opposite to those in his writings of 1660-1662. He also began that year an economic treatise never published in his time: Some of the Consequences that are like to follow upon Lessing of Interest to 4 Per Cent. From 1669 to 1675, he held administrative positions with the owners of the new colony of Carolina. If he did not write the basic text of the constitution of this territory, he certainly participated in its correction and improvement. Around 1670, he began to write the Essay Concerning Human Understanding and wrote, around 1671, what is known as drafts A and B. In November 1672, with Shaftesbury becoming Lord Chancellor, Locke was appointed secretary for presentations in charge of religious matters. A month before Shaftesbury was dismissed in November 1673, he became secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations, a position he held until 1675. In this capacity, he was interested in the colonization of America, especially since he was a shareholder in the Royal African Company, which practiced the slave trade.

In November 1675, he left England for a three and a half year stay in France. From January 1676 to February 1677, he lived in Montpellier where he met two eminent Protestant physicians, Charles Barbeyrac and Pierre Magnol, as well as the Cartesian Sylvain Leroy. During his stay in a village near Montpellier, Celleneuve, from June to September 1676, he resumed his research in the philosophical field. In February 1677, he left Montpellier, visited Toulouse and Bordeaux before arriving in Paris in June 1677. In this city, he continued to work on philosophy and read French versions of Descartes” works. He also made friends with two of Gassendi”s disciples: François Bernier (a philosopher) and Gilles de Launay. He also worked on his Essay on Human Understanding and wrote an Essay on Intellectu. In May 1679, he returned to England, after a new stay in Montpellier and a new passage in Paris.

In 1679, Locke finds England plunged into a serious political crisis concerning the succession of the king. Indeed, Shaftesbury and his supporters do not want James II (king of England) to accede to the throne. It is in this context that the affair of the papist plot was played out. The fear of a new absolutist monarch led Shaftesbury to vote in 1679 the Habeas Corpus (which makes it impossible to be imprisoned without trial) and to try to pass the Exclusion Bill. However, this last attempt failed because Charles II (King of England) dissolved Parliament, which led to a split in the Whig party between the moderates and the radicals gathered around Shaftesbury. Charles II then prosecuted Shaftesbury for treason. Shaftesbury was initially acquitted by a Grand Jury (right). However, the king had two Tory sheriffs appointed. In June 1682, feeling threatened, Shaftesbury preferred to go to Holland, where he died in January 1683. In 1683, a group of Whigs tried to assassinate Charles II and his potential successor James, the Rye-House Plot. It is not known to what extent Locke was involved in these events, but it is generally assumed that he knew enough to be worried. So he preferred to go to the west of England and arranged to smuggle money to Holland before going there himself. It is now generally accepted that it was during the crisis of 1679-1683 that Locke began his First Treatise, after buying a copy of Robert Filmer”s book, Patriarcha. It was then that he wrote the bulk of the Two Treatises of Civil Government.

The last years

In Holland, Locke made contact with other political exiles, such as Thomas Dare, one of the financiers of the Monmouth Rebellion. In 1684, he was dismissed from Christ Church; in May 1685, even before the rebellion, he was placed on a list of exiles to be arrested by the Dutch government. So Locke had to go into hiding until May 1685. During the winter of 1685-1686, he wrote the Espitola de Tolerantia, which was published in 1689 in Gouda. The trigger seems to have been the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Glorious Revolution allowed him to return to England in 1689. There he met Newton, elected member of parliament by the University of Cambridge. He will correspond with him on many subjects. In December 1689, he published the Two Treatises of Government (dated 1690 on the title page) and in May 1689 he contacted a publisher for his Essay on Human Understanding. An English translation of his Epistola de Tolerantia, originally written in Latin to ensure its European distribution, was also published. In April 1690, this writing provoked a vigorous reply from an Oxford clergyman, which led him to reply with a Second Letter (1691) and then a Third Letter (1692).

From 1691, he lived with Sir Francis Masham whose wife, Ralph Cudworth”s daughter, had been a friend and correspondent of Locke for many years. In July 1693 he published Some Thoughts concerning Education and the same year Some Considerations of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Monney. John Norris (philosopher), an admirer of Malebranche, having published critical remarks on the Essay on Human Understanding, he replied in 1692 with a rather harsh text, JL Answer to Norris”s Reflection, followed by two other more substantial writings, Remarks upon Some of Mr Norris”s Book as well as An Examination of P;Malebranche”s Opinion of Seeing All Things in God. In 1696, he was appointed member of the Council for Trade and Plantations, a position he held until 1700. In 1696, Edward Stillingfleet, bishop of Worcester, publishes the Discourse in Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity with a preface in which he attacks John Toland and criticizes Locke. The latter replied in 1697 with A letter to the Right Reverend, Lord Bishop of Worcester, which led to a reply from the bishop in May entitled An Answer to Mr Locke”s Letter. In response, Locke wrote Mr Locke”s Reply to the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Worcester”s Answer to his letter which in turn answered him two months later with An Answer to Mr Locke”s Second letter. The polemic will stop with the writing of Locke published at the end of 1698 Locke”s Reply to the Right Reverend the Lord Bishop of Worcester”s Answer to his second letter because Stillingfleet dies in March 1699.

Locke spent the last four years of his life peacefully, devoting himself, when his health permitted, to his last work Paraphrase and Notes on the Epistles of St Paul. In 1702 he also wrote The Discourse of Miracles and in the last months of his life began a Fourth Letter on Toleration. He died on October 28, 1704 and was buried three days later in the parish cemetery at High Laver.

These foundations are found in the Essay on Human Understanding, one of the first great books of empiricism. In this work, Locke”s aim is “to examine the different faculties of knowledge which are found in man” so as to be able to mark “the limits of the certainty of our knowledge, and the foundations of the opinions which we see prevailing among men”.

Summary presentation of the Essay on Human Understanding

The Essay on Human Understanding consists of four books preceded by a foreword. Book I, On innate notions, is centered on a rejection of innateism and nativism. Locke argues, mainly against Descartes, the Cartesians and the rationalists, that there are no innate principles. Book II, On Ideas, develops the thesis that ideas, the material of knowledge, come from experience only. Book III, On words, deals with language; its nature, its links with ideas and its role in the process of knowledge. Finally book IV, On knowledge, is devoted to the nature and limits of knowledge.

The theory of ideas

In the foreword of the Essay on Human Understanding, Locke specifies that he uses the word idea to designate “all that is the object of our understanding when we think”, he specifies “I have therefore used it to express what may be understood by “phantasm”, “notion”, “species” or all that the mind may employ in thinking”. He adds that “each man being convinced in himself that he thinks, and what is in his mind when he thinks, ideas that occupy him at present”.

The word “idea” is to be taken in its Cartesian and modern sense, as the totality of cognitive states or activities. It follows that the idea in Locke can be perceived according to two theories, either as an object of the psychological act. This distinction allows Locke to be placed among the representatives of direct or indirect realism. The thesis of ideas as mental acts is not very controversial (thinking “with ideas”) whereas the thesis of ideas as internal objects is much more controversial (thinking “to ideas”). The ambiguity is present in this passage of book II.viii.7-8.

“But in order to better discover the nature of our ideas, and to discuss them in a more But in order to better discover the nature of our ideas, and to discuss them in a more intelligible way, it is necessary to distinguish between them in so far as they are perceptions and ideas in our mind, and in so far as they are in the bodies of the modifications of matter which produce these perceptions in the mind. (…) That if I sometimes speak of these ideas as if they were in the things themselves, it must be supposed that I mean by them the qualities which are found in the objects which produce these ideas in us (…) I call an idea everything which the mind perceives in itself: and I call the quality of the subject, the power or faculty which there is to produce a certain idea in the mind.

This distinction is one of the important debates of the XVIIth century between in particular Malebranche and Arnaud following Descartes, for whom the notion of idea has a double meaning, “idea” as an act of thinking and “idea” as the object of such an act.

Locke devotes book I to the rejection of innateism, in particular the theory according to which our soul would passively contain ideas independently of experience. This criticism is addressed, for Hamou Cartesians”, Locke also aims at non-Cartesian innateists, in particular Herbert de Cherbury, whose work De veritate he quotes, and the Cambridge Platonists. He would also aim at “a whole group of small authors, pamphleteers in favor of a dogmatic conception of religion and of a politics based on the innate recognition of hierarchy and authority”.

Locke”s arguments against innate ideas are empirical and theoretical. Seven arguments can be distinguished in Book I against innate ideas: lack of universal consent, lack of constituents in children, ignorance of said innate ideas, need to teach some of said innate ideas, need for a minimum age to understand them, plethora of allegedly innate ideas, and lack of a list.

Leibniz criticizes this thesis in his “New Essays on Human Understanding”. Locke places himself in the modern empiricist trend. In this, he announces Berkeley and Hume. If God did not give men innate ideas, he gave them faculties of perception and reflection which allow them to live with dignity.

It is now appropriate for Locke to explain where all ideas come from if none of them are innate, this is the aim of Book II. His thesis is that all our ideas come from experience. Initially, the human being is a tabula rasa as explained at the beginning of book II.i.2.

“Let us suppose, then, that at the beginning the soul is what is called a blank slate, empty of all characters without any idea whatsoever. How does it come to receive ideas? By what means does it acquire this prodigious quantity that the imagination of man, always active and boundless, presents to it with an almost infinite variety? From where does it draw all these materials which are in sum the basis of all its reasonings and of all its knowledge? To this I answer in a word, from experience: it is the foundation of all our knowledge, and it is from there that they draw their first origin.

According to Locke, there are two types of experience: sensation, what our senses receive from the external world; and reflection, an introspection on the ideas of sensation. The activity of the senses is thus primary, in that Locke is indeed an empiricist, moreover, he justifies his theory on the origin of ideas with the help of empirical examples, the problem of Molyneux among others.

For Locke, the simple idea “is free from all composition, and consequently produces in the soul only an entirely uniform conception which cannot be distinguished into different ideas”. They “are the materials of all our knowledge, and are suggested to the soul only by the two ways of which we have spoken above, I mean by sensation, and by reflection”. Locke gives examples of simple ideas: those of the sensible qualities of objects, those of reflection. The simple ideas of the sensible qualities of objects (colors, sensation of hot, cold, hard, bitter, sweet) are transmitted to the mind by the senses. There are also simple ideas that come neither purely from the senses, nor purely from reflection, but from a mixture of the two like the ideas of pleasure, unity, power, existence. It is important to note that for Locke every simple idea present to our mind finds its source in experience.

Complex ideas are composed of several simple ideas. They can be imposed on our mind by the senses. For example, the idea we have of an apple is complex because it is composed of the ideas of color, size, etc. Other complex ideas can be created by the mind, which is then active and can produce ideas that do not have a pre-existing reality: for example the idea of fabulous monsters. For Locke, the mind can create complex ideas according to two processes, that of composition which leads to complex ideas of substances or modes and that of putting simple ideas into relation.

Besides the actions of composition and relation that the mind performs, it also proceeds by abstraction, which leads to a generalization. Locke holds the following reasoning: if words are the external sign of ideas and if these ideas correspond only to particular things then the number of words would be infinite. But, “to prevent this inconvenience, the mind makes general the particular ideas which it has received through particular objects, which it does by considering these ideas as appearances separated from all other things….this is what is called abstraction, by which ideas drawn from some particular being becoming general, represent all beings of that kind, so that the general names given to them, may be applied to all that in the beings actually existing is suitable to these abstracted ideas”.

In his book, Locke does not give much detail about the process of abstraction itself, but is more prolific about the abstract ideas produced. This is because, according to Chappell, for Locke generalizations are purely a mental process. In nature there is only the particular. For Locke, general ideas play the role that universals and forms or essences play for his predecessors. Locke distinguishes two ways of proceeding to abstraction which lead to two kinds of abstract ideas. In the first case, stated in Book II, the abstract idea is the simple idea of a sensible quality, whereas in the second case, stated in Book III, an abstract idea is a complex idea obtained by eliminating many simple ideas. For example, when we speak of a man, it is a complex idea obtained by removing all the simple ideas that allow us to distinguish one man from another.

For Locke (E, XXX, 1), real ideas “have foundation in nature … conform to a real being, to the existence of things or to their archetypes”. On the contrary, fantastic or chimerical ideas are “those which have no foundation in nature, nor any conformity with the reality of the things to which they tacitly relate as to their archetypes”.

Locke also distinguishes between adequate or complete ideas which “perfectly represent the originals, from which the mind supposes them to be derived” and incomplete ideas “which represent only a part of the originals to which they relate”. For Locke, truth is the opposite of falsity, truth is not strictly speaking a property of ideas, it is only a judgment. However, when an idea is judged or supposed to conform to something external to it, it alone can be called true.

The philosophy of bodies

Locke develops in the Essay on Human Understanding a corpuscular conception of bodies that is rooted in the atomism of Democritus, Epicurus and Lucretius revised in the 17th century by Pierre Gassendi. In England, these ideas were taken up by Robert Boyle, Thomas Hobbes and Walter Charleton. The main principles of this conception of bodies are the following:

According to Eduard Jan Dijksterhuis, in the middle of the 17th century, there were four opposing theories about the structure of matter.

Locke neglects alchemy and focuses his attacks on Cartesian and Scholastic-Aristotelian doctrine. Locke”s philosophy of bodies is called mechanical philosophy because it assumes that all phenomena can be explained by either the impact of one body on another or by motion. The proponents of mechanistic philosophy reject the notion of occult qualities or remote causes from the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions.

The distinction between primary and secondary qualities goes back to the Greek atomists. It was taken up before Locke by Galileo, Descartes and Robert Boyle. The primary qualities of an object or body are those that it possesses independently of everything: space occupied, being in motion or at rest, being solid, texture. The secondary qualities are the powers that bodies possess to provoke in us the creation of ideas: color, smell, etc.. This distinction between primary and secondary qualities is opposed to the scholastico-Aristotelian tradition where the qualities of objects are real.

Locke, like Descartes, accepts a dualism of quality, but, unlike the French philosopher, this dualism does not imply a dualism of substance, for a thing can have both primary and secondary qualities. There is not a substance related to primary qualities and a substance related to secondary qualities.

The philosophy of mind

If Locke accepts Cartesian dualism, between body and mind, he differs from it by not defining the mental domain and by not being concerned with causal interactions between the material and mental domains.

For Locke the two great actions of our mind (he uses the word soul instead) are “perception or the power of thinking, and will, or the power of willing”. The understanding being understood as being “the power of thinking”.

The action of thinking is based on ideas. The mind must verify our beliefs, our preconceptions in order to arrive at a true knowledge.

“The way in which the mind receives these kinds of propositions is what is called belief, assent or opinion; which consists in receiving a proposition as true on evidence that persuades us to receive it as true at the present time, without our having any certain knowledge that it is actually true. And the difference between probability and certainty, between faith and knowledge, consists in the fact that in all parts of knowledge there is intuition, so that each immediate idea, each part of the deduction has a visible and certain connection, instead of that which is called belief, which makes me believe, is something foreign to what I believe, something which is not obviously joined to it at both ends, and which therefore does not obviously show the suitability or unsuitability of the ideas in question (Locke E, IV, 15, 3)”.

For Locke, what determines the will and leads us to action is the anxiety caused by desire, desire being moreover “a state of anxiety”. Initially Locke believed that our actions were determined by the fact that we were seeking “the greatest positive good”. He would later consider this to be a mistake:

“However, after a more exact research, I feel forced to conclude that the good and the greatest good, although judged and recognized as such, do not determine the will, unless coming to desire it in a way proportionate to its excellence, this desire does not make us anxious that we are deprived of it (Locke, E, II, 21, 35) “

In Book II of the Essay, Locke defends the notion of an immaterial thinking substance, opposing Hobbes” radical materialism. In Locke”s view, there is a double connection between mind and matter: the mind (the soul) can act on the body and vice versa.

” …. The need to decide for or against the immateriality of the soul is not so great as some people who are too passionate about their own feelings have tried to persuade; some of whom, with their minds too deeply embedded, so to speak, in matter, would not be able to grant any existence to that which is not material; and others, not finding that thought is enclosed in the natural faculties of matter, after having examined it in every sense with all the application of which they are capable, are sure to conclude from this that God himself could not give life and perception to a solid substance. But whoever considers how difficult it is to combine sensation with an extended matter, and existence with a thing that has absolutely no extension, will confess that he is very far from knowing for sure what his soul is.

For Locke, a person is “a thinking and intelligent being, capable of reason and reflection, and who can see himself as the same, as the same thing that thinks in different times and places”. According to him, it is the “consciousness that makes the unity of the person”. Locke, unlike Hume, insists on the unity of the person through time. While for Descartes thought constitutes the essence of the mind just as extension constitutes the entire essence of matter, for Locke things are somewhat different. According to him, what differentiates man is the fact that he is able to think, not the fact that he is constantly thinking. A thing is not only a portion of matter but also, like a watch, “an organization or construction of parts for a certain end, which it is capable of fulfilling, when it receives the impression of a sufficient force for it”. For Locke, what characterizes man is his capacity to think and the fact that he is a body with a particular extent and organization.

Locke”s philosophy of language

Locke insists on the importance of communication in human progress. In the Essays (III,ii,1) he writes:

“As one could not enjoy the advantages and conveniences of society without a communication of thoughts, it was necessary that man invented some external and sensitive signs for which these invisible ideas of which his thoughts are composed, could be manifested to others.”

Unlike Aristotle, Locke believes that there is no natural connection between certain sounds and certain ideas. The fact that words have no natural connection with the things they refer to but are arbitrarily chosen to represent ideas of things makes communication problematic. So we must always make sure we are understood. We must not assume that our words have a secret connection to the reality of things. Words come from the work of human beings, not from gods. So Locke argues that human beings must take “care to appropriate their words, as far as possible, to the ideas which ordinary usage has assigned to them.

The fact of breaking any natural link between the word and the idea is part of Locke”s attack against Platonism, which was then enjoying a revival in England. It is especially an attack against two important points of Aristotelian science. First of all, it opposes the underlying assumption of the Stagirite that the qualities of objects that are most important to our perception are also the most fundamental for science. Second, he attacks Aristotle”s assumption that classifications of natural objects into species reflect an underlying natural reality. For Locke, “species are the work of the understanding,…. they are founded on the resemblance of things”.

The philosophy of knowledge

Locke was attracted to certain aspects of the new science, notably Cartesian rationalism, and he saw little use in the scholastic discussions still in vogue at Oxford University.

For Locke, knowledge is derived from experience. This means that all the ideas and materials from which our knowledge is shaped by our reason are derived from experience. If God has not “engraved certain ideas in the souls of all men”, he has given them “faculties sufficient to make them discover all the things necessary to a being such as man, in relation to his true destination”.

Knowledge “is nothing other than the perception of the connection and the suitability, or of the opposition and the disconvenience which is found between two ideas”. This definition is very different from that of Descartes, for whom knowledge is a clear idea. Locke distinguishes four kinds of relations in human knowledge:

There are three degrees of knowledge in Locke: intuitive, demonstrative and sensitive.

Intuitive knowledge is the immediate perception of the suitability or unsuitability of ideas between them, without intermediate idea. Example the spirit “sees that the white is not the black”.

Demonstrative knowledge consists in comparing ideas and perceiving their suitability or unsuitability by means of other ideas that are proofs for the demonstration. Demonstrative knowledge depends on proofs, it is not easy to acquire. It is preceded by some doubt and is not as clear as intuitive knowledge. Moreover, each degree of deduction must be known intuitively. In the field of demonstration, mathematics is the highest degree of certainty, because it has all four degrees. We intuitively conceive the abstract ideas of mathematics, and these clear and distinct intuitions allow us to deduce properties. On the other hand, the domain of experience does not provide such ideas, there is nothing certain and universal, everything is contingent. In the realm of demonstration, Locke also places the proof of the existence of God; it is, according to him, the only existence that can be proved and that, with a certainty equal to that of mathematics. Indeed, if we consider our existence, we know that some real being exists; and if non-being cannot produce anything, then there is a being that exists from all eternity.

Sensory knowledge establishes the existence of particular beings that exist outside of us according to the ideas that we have of them. This knowledge goes beyond probability but below the degrees of certainty of intuitive and demonstrative knowledge.

For Locke, “man would be in a sad state, if he could only draw from the things which are founded on the certainty of true knowledge”, which is why God “has provided us also, with respect to the greater part of the things which concern our own interests, a dim light and a mere twilight of probability, if I may so express myself, in keeping with the state of mediocrity and trial in which he has been pleased to place us in this world, in order thereby to repress our presumption and the excessive confidence we have in ourselves. When knowledge is not certain, he invites us to resort to judgment, which “consists in presuming that things are in a certain way, without perceiving them with certainty”. It should be noted that Locke uses the term probability not in the mathematical sense that emerges at that time, but in the ancient sense of conformity to our observations and experience.

For Locke, “as soon as reason fails any man of any sect, he immediately cries out, this is an article of faith, and is above reason.” If revelation can be useful in those points where reason cannot lead to certainty, it must not contradict what we know by reason to be true.

Locke also deals with enthusiasm, which was then one of the main characteristics of some Protestant sects. In Book IV, Chapter XIX of the Essay on Human Understanding, he insists that in order to arrive at true knowledge one must love the truth. The infallible proof of this love is “not to receive a proposition with more assurance than the proofs on which it is based allow. Now, according to him, enthusiasm leads to the violation of this principle.

For McCann, Locke is unique among the proponents of seventeenth-century mechanistic philosophy in pointing out the limits of our ability to provide mechanistic explanations of natural phenomena. This issue is discussed primarily in Book IV, Chapter III of the Essay on Human Understanding:

“Therefore we do not put this knowledge at too low a price, if we do not modestly think within ourselves that we are so far from forming an idea of the whole nature of the Universe, and understanding all the things it contains, that we are not even capable of acquiring a philosophical knowledge of the bodies which are around us, and which are part of ourselves, since we cannot have a universal certainty of their second qualities, of their powers, and of their operations. Our senses perceive every day different effects, of which we have so far a sensitive knowledge: but for the causes, the manner, and the certainty of their production, we must resolve to ignore them for the two reasons we have just proposed.”

Locke”s political philosophy is considered a founding stage of liberal thought. This modernity is sometimes contested; the reasons for this will be explained below.

Initially, this political philosophy can be described in four parts: natural law; property; slavery; liberalism.

The natural law

Locke describes the state of nature as “a state in which men are as men and not as members of a society.” (Treatise on Civil Government, §14) Indeed, no man is by nature subject to anyone, for one cannot be subject to the arbitrary will of another man, nor can one be required to obey laws that another would institute for him.

In this state, men are free and equal. In the state of nature, no one has legislative authority. Equality is a consequence of this freedom, because if there is no natural relationship of personal subjection, it is by the absence of distinction between men: all have the same faculties.

Nevertheless, the freedom of this state is not licentious; everyone is bound to make the best use of it required by his conservation (§4). The state of nature thus already contains certain rules. If there is no humanly instituted law, all men must nevertheless obey the law of nature, a law which is discovered by reason (or by revelation) and which is of divine origin. This law forbids men to do whatever they wish; they have a duty :

Freedom is in the respect of these obligations prescribed by the laws of nature, because it is by obeying them that man is led to do what is in conformity with his nature and his interests. Freedom is therefore not an absence of external obstacles to the realization of one”s desire, but in obedience to the divine prescriptions discovered by reason.

The property

The passage from natural law to property (in a broad sense) is made by law. Indeed, it is insofar as man has natural duties that he is also the bearer of rights that must guarantee him the possibility of fulfilling his duties. His rights are thus natural, linked to his person, because they are founded on his human nature, on what is required to realize what he is naturally destined to and that the divine law has revealed to him.

Locke states three fundamental rights: the right to life and to found a family; the right to liberty; the right to enjoy one”s possessions and, above all, to exchange them.

These rights define a domain of inviolability of the human person; their natural character excludes the legitimacy of exchanging them, or of not recognizing them by convention.

Among these rights that precede all human institutions, Locke places the enjoyment of property. Indeed, private property is necessary for the preservation of life and the exercise of human dignity. There is therefore a right to possess all that is necessary for subsistence.

Nevertheless, since the world was given in common to men by God, the legitimacy of individual appropriation must be explained:

It is this labor-based ownership that allows Locke to justify the settlers” taking of American Indian lands. Since the Indians do not work their land and do not respect this commandment of God (Second Treatise on Civil Government, V, 32), the one who exploits them automatically acquires ownership. And if an Indian opposes this spoliation by violence through work, he is “quite comparable, like any criminal, to the ”wild beasts near which the human being knows neither society nor security”; ”he can therefore be destroyed like a lion, like a tiger””.

Man is thus the sole owner of his person and his body, and he enjoys an exclusive right of ownership. He is also the owner of his work: a worked thing ceases to be a common property:

There is, however, a limit to the legitimacy of this private appropriation, which is that it must :

But, once the idea of property through work has been explained, it is still necessary to explain how man is the owner of his person? Locke defines the person as follows:

Personal identity is based on the continuity of consciousness over time, and this consciousness constitutes the identity that, by means of memory, is maintained over time and allows us to recognize ourselves as the same.

Now, this capacity of the consciousness :

To summarize Locke”s thinking on property, we can say that the ownership of things is not only required for subsistence but is an extension of the ownership of the person. In this sense, the property of goods has the same inviolable character as the human person. This person is conceived as a relationship of self to self as property. Each man is therefore the sole owner of his person, his life, his freedom and his goods.


Locke”s thought can be considered as a founding thought of liberalism, both on the political and economic levels.

On the political level, the question for Locke is whether political power can be thought of without its institution leading to the loss of the freedom of the individuals who are subject to it.

As men in the state of nature are, for Locke, owners, they are engaged in economic relations; this point already tends to make us conceive of a State that would be content to guarantee what is acquired, without intervening in society. Political power is therefore not supposed to institute the social order by laws, but it is at the service of society to correct the elements that would tend to harm it.

It follows that the political power :


In Treatise on Civil Government, Chapter VII, On Political or Civil Society, he writes


Political power is thus amputated from its ethical and religious dimensions; it cannot prohibit cults, it does not deal with the salvation of men nor with their moral perfection. These matters are strictly personal. The State is thus an instrument and its role is reduced to the civil and temporal interests of men whose life, liberty and property it must protect.

Its scope being thus limited, Locke proposes a hierarchy of powers, an institutional organization allowing to control their exercise, and consequently affirms that the people have the right (and even the obligation) to resist when power exceeds the limits assigned to it by its function.

The social contract creates a community that is the sole holder of all powers. But, not being able to exercise its powers itself, these are delegated to magistrates. In any political organization, there is a part that defines what each power must do, and a part that designates the holders of these powers who are obeyed.

While the use of force concerns the executive and federal powers, the legislative power belongs to society itself. For Locke, the legislative power is the supreme power: this power cannot therefore be absolute and arbitrary:

For Locke, the hierarchy of powers consists in submitting the executive power to the legislative power, since the latter is the supreme power and the expression of the will of a community. The rule and the law thus have primacy and no one is above the law. The executive branch is therefore naturally inferior, because it only executes the decisions of the legislative branch. The federal power, as a third power, remains inferior and independent of the legislative and executive powers. It concerns external affairs and relations with other countries: military, currency, economy and trade. Locke believes that this power is natural because it is exercised within the positive laws of the Commonwealth, which are exclusively internal.

To avoid the concentration of power, it is necessary to delegate it to distinct bodies and even to delegate the same power to several bodies; for example, the legislature can belong to an assembly and to the king. But it is preferable to entrust this power totally or in part to an elected and renewable assembly, so that no individual in society is privileged.

However, this organization carries with it the risk of abuse, abuse of both executive and legislative power. According to Locke, whatever happens, and even if the power has been delegated, the community is always the only real holder of these powers. Consequently, it has the right to control the exercise of these powers, and is the sole judge in this matter. If the legislative power is abused, the community declares the decisions of the judicial body null and void, and the judicial body is thereby dissolved.

Since there can be abuse, even oppression, and since the community cannot be deprived of its rights under any circumstances, the community must also have a right to resist oppression.

Locke distinguishes three cases where the right of resistance applies:

It is then up to the community to judge, and when someone wants to exercise a power for which he has not been designated (thus when someone wants to exercise a power that does not exist), disobedience is legitimate.

The question of slavery

According to David B. Davis, in keeping with his views of property and the natural law revealed by the Christian God, Locke “is the last great philosopher who sought to justify absolute and perpetual slavery. Thus:

On the theoretical level, according to Domenico Losurdo, it was with Locke that slavery was established on a racial basis. The conversion of the slave remains subordinated to the right of ownership and does not imply his emancipation:

It should be noted that while Locke supports the institution of slavery in his legal and legislative texts, his works of political philosophy (notably the Second Treatise on Civil Government) seek to demonstrate that no man has an absolute right over another, with the consequence that life, property, liberty and health belong to us alone and constitute a limit to the action of others. By virtue of the natural law theorized by Locke, slavery is thus illegitimate:

Jean Fabre argues that slavery is unnatural for Locke.

John Locke was a shareholder in the Royal African Company, one of the pillars of the development of the slave trade.

Women”s place

Although individual liberty is at the heart of Locke”s political thought, he does not extend it to women, whom he asserts are subject to men. To support this assertion, Locke relies on biblical texts and in particular the First Epistle to the Corinthians, which he analyzes in the Paraphrase and Notes on the first Epistle of St Paul to the Corinthians in 1706. Faced with this discourse, the theologian Mary Astell reacted by referring the biblical text to Christian morality and not to philosophy. According to her, the Bible must be a guide for the individual but cannot be invoked to resolve philosophical debates.

Locke”s writings in context

Locke wrote four major works on toleration: the Tracts of 1660, the Essay on Tolerance written in 1667, a text entitled On the Difference between Ecclesiastical and Civil Power from 1674, and the Letter on Tolerance from 1686. Locke”s continued interest in this issue is explained by the challenges of the time. He lived at a time when the Wars of Religion were not yet completely over. France revoked the Edict of Nantes in 1685, while in England the religious aspect was very present in the two revolutions that shook the country in the 17th century. Indeed, in this country, the reform undertaken by Henry VIII Tudor with the creation of the Anglican Church led to the confinement of the Church to providing its help only to the eternal salvation of its faithful, and to deprive it of judicial and legislative powers. In this respect, politics was ahead of the theoretical writings of Althusius, Grotius and Hobbes. However, the reformation of Henry VII meant that the civil government could sanction religious offences such as false beliefs. In fact, Henry VIII Tudor”s Anglican reformation was problematic for Catholics because they were excluded from politics and for Protestants because the king could impose “the content of belief and the form of worship” and the church remained highly hierarchical. However, many Protestant theologians, such as Thomas Cartwright and Robert Browne, argued that the church was a voluntary association, that conscience and conviction were the only things that mattered, and that in these circumstances the state had no business interfering. John Penry, the probable author of the Marprelate Tracts, wrote in this regard: “Neither prison, nor judgments, nor death itself can be suitable weapons for convincing the conscience of men which is based only on the word of God. According to Jean-Fabien Spitz: “very early (…) the principal themes of the argument in favor of tolerance are fixed”. Among them is the idea that the State is only concerned with the temporal, not with the salvation of souls, that the Church is only an association of conviction, that it can exclude members, not pursue them on the temporal level. Among the writings that advocate these ideas before Locke is William Walwyn”s The Compassionate Samaritan: Liberty of Conscience Asserted and the Separatist Vindicated (1644) in John Goodwin”s pamphlet Hagiomatix (1646).

The writings on tolerance

Locke”s first writing on toleration dates from 1660, and is a response to Edward Bagshaw”s book The great question concerning things indifferent in religious worship. To understand the nature of the problem, it is necessary to place this writing in its context. Some Protestants wanted to place political organization under the aegis of God”s law and distinguished between those points on which the gospels were explicit and those on which they were silent, such as the form of worship. If they considered that the latter points were solely a matter of freedom of conscience and the freedom of the Christian, on the other hand, for them the civil government had to intervene where the Gospels were precise. For Jean-Fabien Spitz, “faced with such a conception, Locke expresses in the two Tracts of 1660 a concern which will never leave him and of which the Epistola will still bear the mark”, namely the impossibility in these conditions of establishing a political civil authority. For Locke, as for the latitudinarians, since indifferent things do not influence the salvation of men, they can be regulated in the best interests of men”s temporal lives and, if necessary, entrusted to civil government. Locke even goes so far as to consider that the government can impose uniformity of worship if it considers it necessary for peace. In fact, if he goes to this extreme, it is because for him “religion is reduced to a few fundamental articles, to interior repentance and to a charity that governs a virtuous life. However, Locke is aware that his argument will never convince a believer who considers the exterior of the cult to be of crucial importance for his salvation. Thus, for Jean-Fabien Spitz, “the investigations into the limits of human understanding and the negative conclusions to which they lead” lead him to propose in his later writings of 1667 and 1686 a policy of religious toleration.

The 1667 Essay was probably written at the request of Shaftesbury. It was written in a context where the different currents of Protestantism had to live together, so that the notion of “toleration” is seen as an agreement to live together among Protestant sects, and a common commitment to fight against atheists and Catholics. Locke, as well as those who were writing on toleration at the time, was not concerned with the attitude to be taken towards non-Christians, a problem that hardly arose in the England of his time. He presents the political advantages for the English monarchy. Coexistence between Protestants of different persuasions is seen as possible as long as one does not confront theologies, and as long as one refuses their consequences “harmful to society or to others”. This implicitly defines a natural ethics based on indifference, which is also Locke”s definition of the “social contract”. This essay was not published, the political context of the Restoration making its publication risky for its author.

For Locke, “the state is a society of men instituted for the sole purpose of establishing, preserving and advancing their civil interests. According to him, the civil magistrate, the ruler, is only concerned with the temporal. The spiritual, the religious does not belong to its field of action. In support of this thesis, he puts forward three arguments. On the one hand, God has not given any man the mission of looking after the salvation of others. Secondly, the power of government is based solely on force, whereas true religion is in the realm of the spirit. Third argument, even if rulers can provide salvation, rulers are diverse and so are the religions prescribed by rulers, so that not all rulers can provide salvation since they propose different ways. It follows that the magistrate does not have to deal with religion and souls. For Jean-Fabien Spitz, “the liberal argument unfolds here in an explicit manner: political authority does not have to regulate the conduct of individuals in actions that are incapable of affecting the personal interests of others. In contrast, Jonas Proast (1640-1710), one of Locke”s critics, argues that in fact only two arguments are valid. Indeed, he argues that force can lead to citizens considering beliefs they would otherwise ignore. Moreover, a human being always wants to promote what he thinks is true even if he cannot prove that it is really the truth.

In any case, Locke makes a strong distinction between civil society or the state, whose purpose “is civil peace and prosperity, or the preservation of society and each of its members,” and religious society or the church, whose purpose is to enable individuals “to attain happiness after this life and in the next world. If both have in common that they are voluntary associations, another essential difference separates them: in the political body, human beings are obliged to follow the laws on pain of temporal sanctions (prisons, fines, etc.), on the contrary in the spiritual society that is the Church, one can only use persuasion, not force or violence. Under these conditions, the civil magistrate has to punish vices only if they threaten civil peace. Locke writes

“Stinginess, harshness towards the poor, idleness and many other faults are admittedly sins, but who has ever ventured to say that the magistrate has the right to punish. Since these faults do not harm the property of others, nor do they disturb the public peace, civil laws do not punish them in the very places where they are recognized as sins. Nor do these laws pronounce punishments against lying or perjury, unless it is in certain cases, where one has no regard to the turpitude of the crime, nor to the offended divinity, but to the injustice done to the public or to individuals.

The problem for Locke is that men invert the order of clarity, and care mostly about what is not essential for their salvation: matters of dogma, ceremonial forms, and little virtue, and that they will ask the civil magistrate to intervene in these matters and cause, if the magistrates give way, conflict between the churches and civil society. It is therefore important to be firm about the distinction. Nevertheless, there may be cases where civil prescriptions interfere with people”s conscience. In this case, for Locke, there can be disobedience and if he advises following one”s conscience, he emphasizes that one must also accept the price.

Locke”s religious beliefs

Locke”s political convictions are often seen by scholars as linked to his religious beliefs. While Locke in his youth was a Calvinist who believed in the trinity, by the time he published his Reflections (1695), he not only adopted Socinian views on toleration, his Christology was also Socinian. However, Wainwright (1987) notes that in his posthumous Paraphrase (1707), the interpretation of verse 1:10 of Ephesians marks a notable difference from that of a Socinian such as Biddle, which may indicate that in his later days Locke returned to a belief close to Arianism accepting the pre-existence of Christ. For historian John Marshall, at the end of his life, Locke”s perception of Christ was “somewhere between Socinism and Arianism. If Locke at that time had no certainty on the question of original sin, which also contributed to his being considered a Socinian, an Arian, or even a deist, he did not deny the reality of evil: human beings are capable of starting unjust wars or committing crimes. Criminals must be punished even by means of the death penalty. Concerning the Bible, Locke is very conservative. He accepts the doctrine of the divine inspiration of the Scriptures and miracles are the proof of the divine nature of the biblical message. Locke is convinced that the entire content of the Bible is consistent with human reason (The reasonableness of Christianity, 1695). Although Locke was an advocate of toleration, he urged civil authorities not to tolerate atheism, because he believed that the denial of God”s existence undermined social order and led to chaos. This position rules out any attempt to deduce ethics and natural law from purely secular precisions. For Locke, the cosmological argument is true and proves the existence of God. For Waltron, Locke”s political thought is based on “a particular set of Protestant Christian assumptions.

Locke”s view of man has its source in creation. We were “sent into the World by order, and about his business, are his Property, whose Workmanship are, made to last during his, not our own Pleasure”. As with the two other important philosophers of the natural law tradition, Hugo Grotius and Samuel Pufendorf, for Locke natural law and divine revelation are two closely related concepts because both have their source in God and therefore cannot contradict each other. Locke as a philosopher is extremely marked by Christian doctrine. In his book Reasonableness (1695), he insists that men are unlikely to understand the precise requirements of the law of nature without the assistance of the teachings and example of Jesus. The fundamental concepts of Locke”s political theory are derived from biblical texts, especially Genesis 1 and 2, the Decalogue, the (Book of Exodus 20), the Golden Rule Matthew (7:12), the teachings of Jesus and his doctrine of charity, Matthew 19:19 and the Epistles of Paul. The Decalogue in particular places a person”s life, dignity and honor under the protection of God. Similarly, the idea of freedom is valued in the Book of Exodus (liberation of the Jews from Egypt). When Locke draws the fundamental aspects of his ethics (liberty, equality, consent of the governed) from biblical texts, he does so as a philosopher, not as a theologian. The American Declaration of Independence follows Locke”s thinking when it bases human rights partly on the biblical way of conceiving creation. It does the same when it bases government on the consent of the governed.

Hans Aarsleff considers Locke “the most important philosopher of modern times”. According to him, the expression “God commands what reason does”, found in Book IV of John Locke”s works, sums up both the content and the unity of this philosopher”s thought.

The father of English empiricism

His book Essay on Human Understanding is considered to mark the beginning of what is called English empiricism, which has long been the main mode of philosophizing for English speakers from Berkeley to Hume, from John Stuart Mill to Bertrand Russell and Alfred Jules Ayer. For Aarsleff, the philosophical thought of Locke and English empiricism :

Locke”s empiricism tends to make him look like a contradiction of René Descartes, even if his thought has some Cartesian aspects. Locke”s empiricism earned him the opposition of a part of the Anglican Church – notably Stillingfleet – who saw it as a threat to the mysteries of the faith – notably that of the Holy Trinity. In the field of natural science, Locke”s empiricism led to a refusal of absolute truths. Locke in fact points out both the limits of our knowledge, of human understanding and of other arts, and maintains that since we cannot know the real essence of substances, natural science can neither be of the same nature nor as certain as geometry.

Influence on the French Enlightenment

The first translators of Locke”s works into French were Jean Le Clerc, Pierre Coste and David Mazel. All three had studied theology at the Geneva Academy, were Protestants and formed a “circle of friends” according to the specialist Delphine Soulard. Pierre Coste was even Locke”s collaborator. The work of these three theologians allowed the diffusion of Locke”s philosophical and political thought in France, which had a great influence on the Enlightenment.

Locke in the Essay on Human Understanding maintains that nothing allows us to assert that matter cannot think. This assertion is to be linked with what must be for him the modesty of philosophy, a point on which Voltaire in his very influential passage on Locke in his work Lettres concernant la nation anglaise will insist. The problem is that the writing of the French philosopher of the Enlightenment tends to bring Locke”s philosophy closer to that of Spinoza and Hobbes as well as to deist thinkers such as John Toland and Anthony Collins. So that for Aarlsleff, “what for Locke was an innocent remark becomes the subject of sharp debates between believers and non-believers, between those for whom Locke is a skeptic and those for whom he is the voice of liberty and the autonomy of the secularist. The newspapers of the time will expand these debates so that for Aarsleff, as many articles will be devoted to Locke as to Nietzsche and Derrida at the end of the 20th century. Nevertheless, all this noise tends to make Locke look like a radical skeptic, which is why he was so opposed in the 19th century.

In addition, William Molyneux”s remark led to the famous Molyneux”s Problem, which provoked much debate after Voltaire wrote about it in his book Elements of Newton”s philosophy. Let us recall that the problem poses the question of the capacity of a blind man who would have suddenly recovered his sight to distinguish by simply looking at them two objects that he had previously identified by touch. From then on, the question was taken up by La Mettrie, Buffon and Condillac. In England, Molyneux”s problem allowed Berkeley, in his book Essay toward a New Theory of Vision (1709) and in his Treatise on the Principles of Human Kownledge, to inaugurate the post-Lockian tradition of British empiricism.

Locke had a profound impact on the philosophy of language that developed in the 18th century. For him, language is of human origin, not divine or Adamic. Words were not invented by philosophers or logicians, but by ignorant and illiterate people, who named things according to their needs and convenience. Following him, Condillac will consider that a good language can only be a perfection of an ordinary and local language, never a perfect, universal and philosophical language. An idea that will be taken up by Diderot in 1755 in his Encyclopedia article. In any case, this approach to language led Locke to make etymology a branch of the history of thought because “words ultimately derived from such as signify sensible ideas”, one of Locke”s most quoted phrases in the 18th century. In 1756, Turgot takes up this idea in the article Etymology of the Encyclopedia when he describes this field of knowledge as an interesting branch of experimental metaphysics. In this same article, Turgot talks about the torch of etymology that allows to avoid thousands of mistakes. This image of the torch will be extremely popular at the end of the 18th century. For Aarsleff, the metaphor of the torch of etymology is a bit like entering Plato”s cave with one”s own light.

Etienne Bonnot de Condillac admires Locke and considers him the greatest of modern philosophers. However, he thinks that Locke”s ideal of wordless speech is a chimera. In his 1746 book, Essai sur l”origine des connaissances humaines, he emphasized that language is necessary to begin to understand the world. For Condillac, languages are first and foremost poetic because the imagination plays an important role in their elaboration. The world of prose, on the contrary, is one of analysis which limits the imagination. The importance given to imagination leads Diderot to emphasize in his Encyclopedia article on genius and announces from this point of view Romanticism. Moreover, Condillac, by insisting on the fact that language can only be born in society, makes logic, according to Willard Van Orman Quine, take an important turn that he compares to the Copernican revolution in astronomy. Indeed, after him, the natural semantic unit will no longer be the word but the sentence.

Influence of political treaties

According to Simone Goyard-Fabre, what marks Locke”s political writings is their anti-absolutism, which makes him a “formidable anti-Bossuet”. In the 18th century, his political writings will have a strong audience and his Two Treatises will be, according to the expression of L. Stephen “the political bible of the new century”. In 1704, the year of his death, Pierre Coste published an Éloge de M. Locke. He is seen in the eighteenth century in France as the founder of the theory of the social pact and as the one who “undermined” the theory of the divine right of kings. Partly thanks to Montesquieu, Locke”s liberalism was assimilated to constitutionalism. In fact, both Locke and Montesquieu would have their consecration in the Declaration of Independence of the United States. For Goyard-Fabre, if the drafters of the Bill of Rights voted in 1776 invoke Aristotle and Cicero, it is “to Sidney”s Discourses, to Locke”s Second Treatise, to Montesquieu”s Spirit of Laws” that they borrow “their liberal inspiration and their constitutional breath”.

In the 19th century, Locke was less cited, even though for Goyard-Fabre, “Locke”s liberalism was, under Queen Victoria, becoming not the doctrine of a party, but the philosophy of a nation, and, beyond that, the sign of an era in the history of the West. At the beginning of the 19th century, Locke”s liberalism clashed with those who wanted to limit individualism in the name of a superior authority such as the Church in Joseph de Maistre, the State in Hegel, and positive science in Auguste Comte. From the Springtime of the People, his thought must face socialism. At the end of the 20th century, Locke”s liberalism, which according to Goyard-Fabre advocates a “moderate” state and which believes “that the people, through their political participation, can themselves elaborate the conditions of liberty”, clashes with those who have an absolute vision of liberty, who want everything to be permitted.

An eclipse in the 19th century and a comeback in the 20th century

In the early 19th century, Locke”s thought was widely understood to be that of the encyclopedists and the philosophers of the Enlightenment. As such, it was held responsible for the French Revolution. Coleridge argues that the Essays led both to the destruction of metaphysics and to the belief of uneducated people that common sense exempted them from study. For Thomas Carlyle, Locke would have led to the banishment of religion from the world. For Joseph de Maistre, Locke is the evil genius of 18th century theophobia, a sin for which the French Revolution was the divine punishment. In the 19th century, Locke was seen as a sensualist, an atheist, a materialist and a utilitarian, and in the years 1830-1840, his thought was singularly frowned upon at Cambridge University. In France, at the same time, Victor Cousin published a Philosophie de Locke which was widely read and considered serious. However, scholars did not hold the book in high esteem, some such as Thomas Webb, author in 1857 of the book The Intellectualism of Locke, who called it “not only an insult to the memory of Locke but also to Philosophy and Common Sense”. In reality, Cousin contests the notion of ideas fruit of Locke”s work, he prefers the notion of innate ideas of Descartes that he considers more compatible with religion and traditional values.

Locke only came back into favor at the end of the 19th century with the American pragmatists. In 1890, Charles Sanders Peirce wrote: “Locke”s great work says in substance that men must think for themselves, and sound thinking is an act of perception. We cannot fail to recognize a superior element of truth in Locke”s practical thought, which on the whole places him almost above the level of Descartes. The same positive appreciation is found in William James. In spite of everything, a first critical edition of the Essay on Human Understanding, published in 1894, did not sell well. It was not until the 1950s that Locke”s work was seriously studied. At that time, Peter Laslett”s work showed that the two treatises were not written after 1688, while John Dunn argued that Locke”s work was less influential in England and America than initially thought. A thesis that has had the merit of pushing researchers to better analyze the influence of Locke on the eighteenth century. John Yolton in his 1956 book John Locke and the Way of Ideas studied the reception of the work and its intellectual context. This research effort led to a new edition of Locke”s works by the Clarendonvaux publishing house. In 1991, philosopher Michael Ayer published a two-volume book entitled Locke

Works published during his lifetime

Popular culture

The name of the character John Locke from the television series Lost: The Departed is a direct reference to the philosopher.

External links


  1. John Locke
  2. John Locke
  3. Prononciation en anglais britannique retranscrite selon la norme API.
  4. a et b Milton 1997, p. 5.
  5. Milton 1997, p. 6.
  6. Milton 1997, p. 6-7.
  7. a et b Milton 1997, p. 7.
  8. Godwin, Kenneth; et al. (2002). School choice tradeoffs: liberty, equity, and diversity (en inglés). Austin: University of Texas Press. p. 12. ISBN 978-0-292-72842-4. OCLC 47825973.
  9. ^ (EN) John Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration Routledge, New York, 1991. p. 5 (Introduction)
  10. ^ (EN) Tim Delaney, The march of unreason: science, democracy, and the new fundamentalism, Oxford University Press, New York, 2005. p. 18
  11. ^ (EN) Kenneth Godwin et al., School choice tradeoffs: liberty, equity, and diversity, University of Texas Press, Austin, 2002. p. 12
  12. Locke está perfeitamente ciente de que a definição de homem não está realmente resolvida, e que há uma grande variedade de definições concorrentes.
  13. Nem todas as religiões que pressupõem a reencarnação afirmam que a alma de um homem possa reencarnar num animal. Para a Doutrina Espírita, por exemplo, espíritos de pessoas só podem reencarnar em corpos humanos, e vice-versa, pois são espíritos de naturezas diferentes.
  14. “(…) é impossível esta reunião [corpo e alma], se o corpo tiver sido, como acontece frequentemente, devorado por animais selvagens ou peixes, (…) mais impossível ainda vai ser a reintegração, se colocarmos o caso que o homem devorado por canibais, pois então, a mesma carne que pertence sucessivamente a duas ou mais pessoas diferentes, (…)”