Locke John


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Locke John

(1632-1704) English philosopher and political theorist, whose major political writing, the Two Treatises of Government (1690), was occasioned by his belief that the Stuart monarchs were seeking to restore ABSOLUTISM. In the First Treatise, he was concerned to demolish arguments about the patriarchal origins of political authority. Man's duty to God, under natural law, is to use his peculiarly human qualities – reason and free will. Political authority, properly so called, is limited to securing the conditions under which men can pursue these purposes (see NATURAL RIGHTS AND NATURAL LAW). This means that their property must be protected, and by ‘property’ Locke meant the ‘lives, liberties, and estates’ of men. Political authority is thus instituted by men in the state of nature, through contract, for their greater security; it is exercised according to trust, is sustained by an implicit contract, and consent can be withdrawn if that authority either proves incompetent or, as Locke thought likely, it oversteps the boundaries of the trust. Since civil government is entrusted to men who ultimately cannot be trusted, a right of popular resistance to political authority remains always in reserve as a deterrent to incipient absolutist and despotic pretensions. In putting forward a SOCIAL CONTRACT THEORY and limited constitutional government, Locke was to have a far greater influence on the American colonies and their post-independence constitutions, than he has ever had on the British political system. He was also an early proponent of the LABOUR THEORY OF VALUE, in that he argued that men legitimately appropriated land from the common stock by mixing their labour with it.

In EPISTEMOLOGY, Locke also laid the foundations of modern EMPIRICISM. He denied that men had innate knowledge, and rejected the rationalism of DESCARTES. In the Essay on Human Understanding (1690), he argued that all knowledge is derived from experience, either directly through the senses, or through reflection. Man could have intuitive knowledge of his own existence, and of mathematical truths, but his knowledge of the external world was conjectural and probabilistic. Locke's doctrine of the mind as a tabula rasa – a blank slate -indicates the extent of his empiricism. His interest in children's learning and the acquisition of ideas meant that aspects of his thinking also contributed to philosophical psychology. The SELF, for example, for Locke arises as a set of ideas and actions for which the individual takes responsibility. Like HOBBES, Locke's central doctrines are individualistic; more so than Hobbes’, his proposals for CIVIL SOCIETY are for intellectual freedom and checks and balances.

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