The Father of Liberalism, John Locke was one of the most significant Enlightenment thinkers as well as a physician and philosopher. He was amongst the first British empiricists and a major figure of the social contract theory. Casting a profound influence on the development of epistemology and political philosophy, John Locke’s influence is evident in the works of numerous Enlightenment thinkers including Voltaire and Rousseau. The American Declaration of Independence also displays contributions of Locke’s works to classical republicanism and liberal theory. John Locke is widely known to pioneer the concepts of identity, self and consciousness. He believed the human mind to be a clean slate, born without pre-existing ideas and that knowledge came with experience.
John Locke was born to Puritan parents on August 29, 1632 in Wrington, Somerset. He grew up in Pensford, Belluton where the family moved soon after Locke’s birth. In 1647, Locke was sent to London to study in the prestigious Westminister School. After the completion of his schooling, Locke entered Christ Church, Oxford. During the course of studies, Locke was always more interested in modern philosophies and works rather than the classics taught at university. Locke developed a keen interest in medicine and after obtaining his bachelors and masters degrees in 1656 and 1658 respectively, Locke obtained another bachelors of medicine degree in 1674. He worked extensively with renowned names such as Robert Boyle, Richard Lower and Thomas Willis. In 1666, Locke met Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who was visiting Oxford to seek treatment for his failing liver. Impressed by Locke’s intelligence, Shaftesbury requested Locke to join his team of attendants.
In 1667, Locke moved to the Shaftesbury house where he served as a personal physician to Ashley Cooper while pursuing his medical studies. Cooper credited Locke with saving his life after Locke had suggested a surgery for Cooper’s liver cyst. Under Shaftesbury’s influence, Locke became involved in politics. He became Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and also served as Secretary to the Lords and Proprietors of the Carolinas. After Shaftesbury’s fall in 1675, Locke travelled to France for some time. He came back to England in 1679. During this time, Locke composed the Two Treatises of Government. In 1683 Locke was suspected of involvement in the Rye House Plot due to which he fled to the Netherlands. He used the free time in Netherlands to resume writing. He spent an ample amount of time writing new works and rewriting and revising older works. Most of his work was published upon his return from exile after the Glorious Revolution.
Some of John Locke’s significant works include A Letter Concerning Toleration (1689), A Second Letter Concerning Toleration (1690), A Third Letter for Toleration (1692), Two Treatises of Government (1689), An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), The Reasonableness of Christianity, as Delivered in the Scriptures (1695) and A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity (1695). Some other major works left unpublished or published posthumously include First Tract of Government (1660), Second Tract of Government (1662), Questions Concerning the Law of Nature (1664), Essay Concerning Toleration (1667), Of the Conduct of the Understanding (1706), and A paraphrase and notes on the Epistles of St. Paul to the Galatians, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Romans, Ephesians (1707).
John Locke passed away on October 28, 1704. He is buried in the churchyard of the village of High Laver, east of Harlow in Essex. Locke never got married and did not have any children.