Monday, September 10, 2007

John Locke (1632-1704)

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I attribute the little I know to my not having been ashamed to ask for information, and to my rule of conversing with all descriptions of men on those topics that form their own peculiar professions and pursuits.


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English philosopher, was born at Wrington, 10 m. W. of Belluton, in Somersetshire, on the 29th of August 1632, six years after the death of Bacon, and three months before the birth of Spinoza. His father was a small landowner and attorney at Pensford, near the northern boundary of the county, to which neighbourhood the family had migrated from Dorsetshire early in that century. The elder Locke, a strict but genial Puritan, by whom the son was carefully educated at home, was engaged in the military service of the parliamentary party. "From the time that I knew anything," Locke wrote in 1660, "I found myself in a storm, which has continued to this time." For fourteen years his education, more or less interrupted, went on in the rural home at Belluton, on his father's little estate, half a mile from Pensford, and 6 m. from Bristol. In 1646 he entered Westminster School and remained there for six years. Westminster was uncongenial to him. Its memories perhaps encouraged the bias against public schools which afterwards disturbed his philosophic calm in his Thoughts on Education. In 1652 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, then under John Owen, the Puritan dean and vice-chancellor of the university. Christ Church was Locke's occasional home for thirty years. For some years after he entered, Oxford was ruled by the Independents, who, largely through Owen, unlike the Presbyterians, were among the first in England to advocate genuine religious toleration. But Locke's hereditary sympathy with the Puritans was gradually lessened by the intolerance of the Presbyterians and the fanaticism of the Independents. He had found in his youth, he says, that "what was called general freedom was general bondage, and that the popular assertors of liberty were the greatest engrossers of it too, and not unfitly called its keepers." And the influence of the liberal divines of the Church of England afterwards showed itself in his spiritual development.

Under Owen scholastic studies were maintained with a formality and dogmatism unsuited to Locke's free inquisitive temper. The aversion to them which he expressed showed thus - early an innate disposition to rebel against empty verbal reasoning. He was not, according to his own account of himself to Lady Masham, a hard student at first. He sought the company of pleasant and witty men, and thus gaiiied knowledge of life. He took the ordinary bachelor's degree in 1656, and the master's in 1658. In December 1660 he was serving as tutor of Christ Church, lecturing in Greek, rhetoric and philosophy.

At Oxford Locke was nevertheless within reach of liberal intellectual influence tending to promote self-education and strong individuality. The metaphysical works of Descartes had appeared a few years before he went to Oxford, and the Human Nature and Leviathan of Hobbes during his undergraduate years. It does not seem that Locke read extensively, but he was attracted by Descartes. The first books, he told Lady Mashatn, which gave him a relish for philosophy, were those of this philosopher, although he very often differed from him. At the Restoration potent influences were drawing Oxford and England into experimental inquiries. Experiment in physics became the fashion. The Royal Society was then founded, and we find Locke experimenting in chemistry in 1663, also in meteorology, in which he was particularly interested all his life.

The restraints of a professional career were not suited to Locke. There is a surmise that early in his Oxford career he contemplated taking orders in the Church of England. His religious disposition attracted him to theology. Revulsion from the dogmatic temper of the Presbyterians, and the unreasoning enthusiasm of the Independents favoured sympathy afterwards with Cambridge Platonists and other liberal Anglican. churchmen. Whithcote was his favourite preacher, and close intimacy with the Cudworth family cheered his later years. But, though he has a place among lay theologians, dread of ecclesiastical impediment to free inquiry, added to strong inclination for scientific investigation, made him look to medicine as his profession, and before 1666 we find him practising as a physician in Oxford. Nevertheless, although known among his friends as "Doctor Locke," he never graduated in medicine. His health was uncertain, for he suffered through life from chronic consumption and asthma. A fortunate event soon withdrew him from the medical profession.

Locke early showed an inclination to politics, as well as to theology and medicine. As early as 1665 he diverged for a short time from medical pursuits at Oxford, and was engaged as secretary to Sir Walter Vane on his mission to the Elector of Brandenburg. Soon after his return in 1666 the incident occurred which determined his career. Lord Ashley, afterwards first earl of Shaftesbury, had come to Oxford for his health. Locke was introduced to him by his physician, Dr Thomas. This was the beginning of a lasting friendship, sustained by common sympathy with liberty - civil, religious and philosophical. In 1667 Locke moved from Christ Church to Exeter House, Lord Ashley's London residence, to become his confidential secretary. Although he retained his studentship at Christ Church, .and occasionally visited Oxford, as well as his patrimony at Belluton, he found a home and shared fortune with Shafteshury for fifteen years.

Locke's commonplace books throw welcome light on the history of his mind in early life. A paper on the "Roman Commonwealth" which belongs to this period, expresses convictions about religious liberty and the relations of religion to the state that were modified and deepened afterwards; objections to the sacerdotal conception of Christianity appear in. another article; short work is made of ecclesiastical claims to infallibility in the interpretation of Scripture in a third; a scheme of utilitarian ethics, wider than that of Hobbes, is suggested in a fourth. The most significant of those early revelations is the Essay concerning Toleration (1666), which anticipates conclusions more fully argued nearly thirty years later.

The Shaftesbury connexion must have helped to save Locke from those idols of the "Den" to which professional life and narrow experience is exposed. It brought him into contact with public men, the springs of political action and the duties of high office. The place he held as Shaftesbury's adviser is indeed the outstanding circumstance in his middle life. Exeter House afforded every opportunity for society. He became intimate among others with the illustrious Sydenham; he joined the Royal Society and served on its council. The foundation of the monumental work of his life was laid when he was at Exeter House. He was led to it in this way. It was his habit to encourage informal reunions of his intimates, to discuss debatable questions in science and theology. One of these, in the winter of 1670, 15 historically memorable. "Five or six friends," he says, met in his rooms and were discussing principles of morality and religion. They found themselves quickly at a stand by the difficulties that arose on every side. "Locke proposed some criticism of the necessary" limits of human understanding as likely to open a way out of their difficulties. He undertook to attempt this, and fancied that what he had to say might find sufficient space on "one sheet of paper." What was thus begun by chance, was continued by entreaty, written by incoherent parcels, and after long intervals of neglect resumed again as humour and occasions permitted. At the end of nearly twenty years the issue was given to the world as Locke's now famous Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

The fall of Shaftesbury in 1675 enabled Locke to escape from English politics He found a retreat in France, where he could unite calm reflection upon the legitimate operations of "human understanding" with attention to his health. He spent three years partly at Montpellier and partly in Paris. His journals and commonplace books in these years show the Essay in preparation. At Paris he met men of science and letters - Peter Guenellon, the well-known Amsterdam physician; Ole Romer, the Danish astronomer; Thoynard, the critic; Melchisedech Thevenot, the traveller; Henri Justel, the jurist; and Francois Bernier, the expositor of Gassendi. But there is no mention of Malebranche, whose Recherche de la verite had appeared three years before, nor of Arnauld, the illustrious rival of Malebranche.

Locke returned to London in 1679. Reaction against the court party had restored Shaftesbury to power. Locke resumed his old confidential relations, now at Thanet House in Aldersgate. A period of often interrupted leisure for study followed. It was a time of plots and counterplots, when England seemed on the brink of another civil war. In the end Shaftesbury was committed to the Tower, tried and acquitted. More insurrectionary plots followed in the summer of 1682, after which, suspected at home, the versatile statesman. escaped to Holland, and died at Amsterdam in January 1683. In these two years Locke was much at Oxford and in Somerset, for the later movements of Shaftesbury lid not commend themselves to him. Yet the government had their eyes upon him. "John Locke lives a very cunning unintelligible life here," Prideaux reported from Oxford in 1682. "I may confidently affirm," wrote John Fell, the dean of Christ Church, to Lord Sunderland, "there is not any one in the college who has heard him speak a word against, or so much as censuring, the government; and, although very frequently, both in public and private, discourses have been purposely introduced to the disparagement of his master, the earl of Shaftesbury, he could never be provoked to take any notice, or discover in word or look the least concern; so that I believe there is not in the world such a master of taciturnity and passion. Unpublished correspondence with his Somerset friend, Edward Clarke of Chipley, describes Locke's life in those troubled years. It also reveals the opening of his intimate intercourse with the Cudworth family, who were friends of the Clarkes, and connected by birth with Somerset. The letters allude to toleration in the state and comprehension in the church, while they show an indifference to theological dogma hardly consistent with an exclusive connexion with any sect.

In his fifty-second year, in the gloomy autumn of 1683, Locke retired to Holland, then the asylum of eminent persons who were elsewhere denied liberty of thought. Descartes and Spinoza had speculated there; it had been the home of Erasmus and Grotius; it was now the refuge of Bayle. Locke spent more than five years there; but his (unpublished) letters show that exile sat heavily upon him. Amsterdam was his first Dutch home, where he lived in the house of Dr Keen, under the assumed name of Dr Van der Linden. For a time he was in danger of arrest at the instance of the English government. After months of concealment he escaped; but he was deprived of his studentship at Christ Church by order of the king, and Oxford was thus closed against him. Holland introduced him to new friends. The chief of these was Limborch, the successor of Episcopius as Remonstrant professor of theology, lucid, learned and tolerant, the friend of Cudworth, Whichcote. and More. By Limborch he was introduced to Le Clerc, the youthful representative of letters and philosophy in Limborch's college, who had escaped from Geneva and Calvinism to the milder atmosphere of Holland and the Remonstrants. The Bibliotheque universelle of Le Clerc was then the chief organ in Europe of men of letters. Locke contributed several articles. It was his first appearance as an author, although he was now fifty-four years of age. This tardiness in authorship is a significant fact in his life, in harmony with his tempered wisdom.

In the next fourteen years the world received through his books the thoughts which had been gradually forming, and were taking final shape while he was in Holland. The Essay was finished there, and a French epitome appeared in 1688 in Le Clerc's journal, the forecast of the larger work. Locke was then at Rotterdam, where he lived for a year in the house of a Quaker friend, Benjamin Furley, or Furly, a wealthy merchant and lover of books. At Rotterdam he was a confidant of political exiles, including Burnet and the famous earl of Peterborough, and he became known to William, prince of Orange. William landed in England in November 1688; Locke followed in February 1689, in the ship which carried the priri'cess Mary.

After his return to England in 1689 Locke emerged through authorship into European fame. Within a month after he reached London he had declined an offer of the embassy to Brandenburg, and accepted the modest office of commissioner of appeals. The two following years, during which he lived at Dorset Court in London, were memorable for the publication of his two chief works on social polity, and of the epoch-making book on modern philosophy which reveals the main principles of his life. The earliest of these to appear was his defence of religious liberty, in the Epistola de Tolerantia, addressed to Limborch, published at Gouda in the spring of 1689, and translated into English in autumn by William Popple, a Unitarian merchant in London. Two Treatises on Government, in defence of the right of ultimate sovereignty in the people, followed a few months later. The famous Essay concerning Human Understanding saw the light in the spring of 1690. He received funds for the copyright, nearly the same as Kant got in 1781 for his Kritik der reinen Vernunft. In the Essay Locke was the critic of the empirical data of human experience: Kant, as the critic of the intellectual and moral presuppositions of experience, supplied the complement to the incomplete and ambiguous answer to its own leading question that was given in Locke's Essay. The Essay was the first book in which its author's name appeared, for the Epistola de Tolerantia and the Treatises on Government were anonymous.

Locke's asthma was aggravated by the air of London; and the course of public affairs disappointed him, for the settlement at the Revolution fell short of his ideal. In spring, 1691, he took up his residence in the manor house of Otes in Essex, the country seat of Sir Francis Masham, between Ongar and Harlow. Lady Isfasham was the accomplished daughter of Ralph Cudworth, and was his friend before he went to Holland. She told Le Clerc that after Locke's return from exile, " by some considerably long visits, he had made trial of the air of Otes, which is some 20 m. from London, and he thought that none would be so suitable for him. His company," she adds, "could not but be very desirable for us, and he had all the assurances we could give him of being always welcome; but, to make him easy in living with us, it was necessary he should do so on his own terms, which Sir Francis at last assenting to, he then believed himself at home with us, and resolved, if it pleased God, here to end his days as he did. "At Otes he enjoyed for fourteen years as much domestic peace and literary leisure as was consistent with broken health, and sometimes anxious visits to London on public affairs, in which he was still an active adviser. Otes was in every way his home. In his letters and otherwise we have pleasant pictures of its inmates and domestic life and the occasional visits of his friends, among others Lord Peterborough, Lord Shaftesbury of the Characteristics, Sir Isaac Newton, William Molyneux and Anthony Collins.

At Otes he was busy with his pen. The Letter on Toleration involved him in controversy. An Answer by Jonas Proast of Queen's College, Oxford, had drawn forth in 1690 a Second Letter. A rejoinder in 1691 was followed by Locke's elaborate Third Letter on Toleration in the summer of the following year. In 1691 currency and finance were much in his thoughts, and in the following year he addressed an important letter to Sir JohIl Somers on the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest and Raising the Value of Money. When he was in Holland he hac written letters to his friend Clarke of Chipley about the education of his children. These letters formed the substance of the little volume entitled Thoughts on Education (1693), which still hold its place among classics in that department. Nor were the "principles of revealed religion "forgotten. The subtle theological controversies of the 17th century made him anxious to show how simple after all fundamental Christianity is. In the Reasonableness of Christianity as delivered in the Scriptures (anonymous, 1695), Locke sought to separate the divine essence of Christ's religion from later accretions of dogma, and from reasonings due to oversight of the necessary limits of human thought. This intended Eirenicon involved him in controversies that lasted for years. Angry polemics assailed the book. A certain John Edwards was conspicuous. Locke's Vindication, followed by a Second Vindication in 1697, added fuel to this fire. Above all, the great Essay was assailed and often misinterpreted by philosophers and divines. Notes of opposition had been heard almost as soon as it appeared. John Norris, the metaphysical rector of Bemerton and English disciple of Malebranche, criticized it in 1690. Locke took no notice at the time, but his second winter at Otes was partly employed in An Examination of Malebranche's Opinion of Seeing all Things in God, and in Remarks upon some of Mr Norris's Books, tracts which throw light upon his own ambiguous theory of perception through the senses. These were published after his death. A second edition of the Essay, with a chapter added on "Personal Identity," and numerous alterations in the chapter on "Power," appeared in 1694. The third, which was only a reprint, was published in 1695. Wynne's well-known abridgment helped to make the book known in Oxford, and his friend William Molyneux introduced it in Dublin. In 1695 a revival of controversy about the currency diverted Locke's attention. Events in that year occasioned his Observations on Silver Money and Further Considerations on Raising the Value of Money.

In 1696 Locke was induced to accept a commissionership on the Board of Trade. This required frequent visits to London. Meantime the Essay on Human Understanding and the Reasonableness of Christianity were becoming more involved in a wordy warfare between dogmatists and latitudinarians, trinitarians and unitarians. The controversy with Edwards was followed by a more memorable one with Stillingfleet, bishop of Worcester. John Toland, in his Christianity not Mysterious, had exaggerated doctrines in the Essay on Human Understanding, and then adopted them as his own. In the autumn of 1696, Stillingfleet, an argumentative ecclesiastic more than a religious philosopher, in his Vindication of the Doctrine of the Trinity, charged Locke with disallowing mystery in human knowledge, especially in his account of the metaphysical idea of "substance." Locke replied in January 1697. Stillingfleet's rejoinder appeared in May, followed by a Second Letter from Locke in August, to which the bishop replied in the following year. Locke's Third Letter, in which the ramifications of this controversy are pursued with a copious expenditure of acute reasoning and polished irony, was delayed till 1699, in which year Stillingfleet died. Other critics of the Essay on Human Understanding entered the lists. One of the ablest was John Sergeant, a priest of the Roman Church, in Solid Philosophy Asserted Against the Fancies of the Ideists (1697). He was followed by Thomas Burnet and Dean Sherlock. Henry Lee, rector of Tichmarch, criticized the Essay on Human Understanding, chapter by chapter in a folio volume entitled Anti-Scepticism (1702); John Broughton dealt another blow in his Psychologio (1703); and John Norris returned to the attack, in his Theory of the Ideal or Intelligible World (1701 - 1704). On the other hand Locke was defended with vigour by Samuel Bolde, a Dorsetshire clergyman. The Essay on Human Understanding itself was meanwhile spreading over Europe, impelled by the name of its author as the chief philosophical defender of civil and religious liberty. The fourth edition (the last while Locke was alive) appeared in 1700, with important additional chapters on "Association of Ideas" and "Enthusiasm." What was originally meant to form another chapter was withheld. It appeared among Locke's posthumous writings as The Conduct of the Understanding, one of the most characteristic of his works. The French translation of the Essay on Human Understanding by Pierre Coste, Locke's amanuensis at Otes, was issued almost simultaneously with the fourth edition. The Latin version by Richard Burridge of Dublin followed a year after, reprinted it due time at Amsterdam and at Leipzig. In 1700 Locke resigned his commission at the Board of Trade and devoted himself to Biblical studies and religious meditation. The Gospels had been carefully studied when he was preparing his Reasonableness of Christianity. He now turned to the Epistles of St Paul, and applied the spirit of the Essay and the ordinary rules of critical interpretation to a literature which he venerated as infallible, like the pious Puritans who surrounded his youth. The work was ready when he died, and was published two years after. A tract on Miracles, written in 1702, also appeared posthumously. Fresh adverse criticism of the Essay was reported to him in his last year, and the book was formally condemned by the authorities at Oxford. "I take what has been done rather as a recommendation of the book, "he wrote to his young friend Anthony Collins, "and when you and I next meet we shall be merry on the subject. "One attack only moved him. In 1704 his adversary, Jonas Proast, revived their old controversy. Locke in consequence began a Fourth Letter on Toleration. A few pages, ending in an unfinished paragraph, exhausted his remaining strength; but the theme which had employed him at Oxford more than forty years before, and had been a ruling idea throughout the long interval, was still dominant in the last clays of his life.

All the summer of 1704 he continued to decline, tenderly nursed by Lady Masham and her step-daughter Esther. On the 28th of October he died, according to his last recorded words,in perfect charity with all men, and in sincere communion with the whole church of Christ, by whatever names Christ's followers call themselves. "His grave is on the south side of the parish church of High Layer, in which he often worshipped, near the tombs of the Mashams, and of Damaris, the widow of Cudworth. At the distance of 1 m. are the garden and park where the manor house of Otes once stood.

Locke's writings have made his intellectual and moral features familiar. The reasonableness of taking probability as our guide in life was in the essence of his philosophy. The desire to see for himself what is true in the light of reasonable evidence, and that others should do the same, was his ruling passion, if the term can be applied to one so calm and judicial. "I can no more know anything by another man's understanding," he would say, than I can see by another man's eyes. "This repugnance to believe blindly what rested on arbitrary authority, as distinguished from what was seen to be sustained by self-evident reason, or by demonstration, or by good probable evidence, runs through his life. He is typically English in his reverence for facts, whether facts of sense or of living consciousness, in his aversion from abstract speculation and verbal reasoning, in his suspicion of mysticism, in his calm reasonableness, and in his ready submission to truth, even when truth was incapable of being fully reduced to system by man. The delight he took in exercising reason in regard to everything he did was what his friend Pierre Coste remarked in Locke's daily life at Otes. "He went about the most trifling things always with borne good reason. Above all things he loved order; and he had got the way of observing it in everything with wonderful exactness. As he always kept the useful in his eye in all his disquisitions, he esteemed the employments of men only in proportion to the good they were capable of producing; for which cause he had no great value for the critics who waste their lives in composing words and phrases in coming to the choice of a various reading, in a passage that has after all nothing important in it. He cared yet less for those professed disputants, who, being taken up with the desire of coming off with victory, justify themselves behind the ambiguity of a word, to give their adversaries the more trouble. And whenever he had to deal with this sort of folks, if he did not beforehand take a strong resolution of keeping his temper, he quickly fell into a passion; for he was naturally choleric, but his anger never lasted long. If he retained any resentment it was against himself, for having given way to so ridiculous a passion; which, as he used to say, "may do a great deal of harm, but never yet did anyone the least good." Large, round-about common sense, intellectual strength directed by a virtuous purpose, not subtle or daring speculation sustained by an idealizing faculty, in which he was deficient, is what we find in Locke. Defect in speculative imagination appears when he encounters the vast and complex final problem of the universe in its organic unity.

Locke is apt to be forgotten now, because in his own generation he so well discharged the intellectual mission of initiating criticism of human knowledge, and of diffusing the spirit of free inquiry and universal toleration which has since profoundly affected the civilized world. He has not bequeathed an imposing system, hardly even a striking discovery in metaphysics, but he is a signal example in the Anglo-Saxon world of the love of attainable truth for the sake of truth and goodness. "If Locke made few discoveries, Socrates made none." But both are memorable in the record of human progress. In the inscription on his tomb, prepared by himself, Locke refers to his books as a true representation of what he was. They are concerned with Social Economy, Christianity, Education and Philosophy, besides Miscellaneous writings.

Locke on Education

Locke has his place among classic writers on the theory and art of Education. His contribution may be taken as either an introduction to or an application of the Essay on Human Understanding. In the Thoughts on Education imaginative sentiment is never allowed to weigh against utility; information is subordinate to the formation of useful character; the part which habit plays in individuals is always kept in view; the dependence of intelligence and character, which it is the purpose of education to improve, upon health of body is steadily inculcated; to make children happy in undergoing education is a favourite precept; accumulating facts without exercising thought, and without accustoming the youthful mind to look for evidence, is always referred to as a cardinal vice. Wisdom more than much learning is what he requires in the teacher. In instruction he gives the first place to "that which may direct us to heaven," and the second to "the study of prudence, or discreet conduct, and management of ourselves in the several occurrences of our lives, which most assists our quiet prosperous passage through this present life. "The infinity of real existence, in contrast with the necessary finitude of human understanding and experience, is always in his thoughts. This "disproportionateness " between the human mind and the universe of reality imposes deliberation in the selection of studies, and disregard for those which lie out of the way of a wise man. Knowledge of what other men have thought is perhaps of too little account with Locke. "It is an idle and useless thing to make it one's business to study what have been other men's sentiments in matters where only reason is to be judge. "In his Conduct of the Understanding the pupil is invited to occupy the point at which "a full view of all that relates to a question" is to be had, and at which alone a rational discernment of truth is possible. The uneducated mass of mankind, he complains, either "seldom reason at all," or "put passion in the place of reason," or "for want of large, sound round-about sense" they direct their minds only to one part of the evidence, "converse with one sort of men, read but one sort of books and will not come in the hearing of but one sort of notions, and n carve out to themselves a little Goshen in the intellectual world where light shines, and, as they conclude, day blesses them; but the rest of the vast expansion they give up to night and darkness and avoid coming near it." Hasty judgment, bias, absence of an a priori "indifference " to what the evidence may in the end require us to conclude, undue regard for authority, excessive love for custom of mind marked by him as most apt to interfere with the formation of beliefs in harmony with the Universal Reason that is active in the universe. [Adapted from Encyclopedia Britannica (1911)]

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