John Locke ia known as one of the most influential philsophers of the 17th and 18th centuries. His ideas and influences are still evident today. He has been called the father of democracy and was one of the key men who shaped the American Constiution.(1) In my paper I will discuss the life and the major contributions of John Locke.
Locke was born in Wrington, in somersetshire, in 1632. His parents were stern Puritans but as he matured he began to question the Puritan faith. He came from an affluent family. His father was a well respected lawyer and a clerk to the local Justices of the Peace. When he was ten years old war broke out in England and set the stage for some of his political writings. In 1646 he began to study at Westminister College and moved on to Christ Church, Oxford, as a junior student, in 1652.(2) In 1656 he earned a B.A. and a M.A. in 1658. Then in 1666 he became Lord Ashley’s physician and counselor.
While living with Lord Ashley he put the knowledge he obtained at Oxford to good use by performing an operation to remove a cyst from his liver that saved his friends life.(3) Lord Shaftsbury, formley known as Lord Ashley, is appointed Lord President of the Kings Council, ===== During his time in Holland he allowed most of his time to consentrate on his studies and complete many of his wrirings. In 1689 both An Essay Concerning Human Undersanding and Two Treaties of Civil Government were written. He then began living moved to Oates, the residence of Sir Francis and Lady Masham, and made it his permanent place of residence until his death in 1704.
Locke’s main purpose in philsophy was “to inquire into the orginal, certanity, and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of beilef, opinion, and assent.”(5) His definition of an idea was any perception or concept of thought that exist in the mind. Michael Ayers explains in his book how Locke’s defintion of ideas could take on two meanings. He states “In one sense ‘ideas’ are concepts, or ways of conceiving things, but they are also objects of thought, ‘concepts’ in the old- fashioned sense of things as conceived of, or aspects of things as picked out in thought.” (6) An example of the former would be a person’s concept of a God. Even though a man has not actually seen God he still believes that a higher being exists to help him comprehend different aspects of the world; such as death, famine, and suffering.
Every person has a concept in his or her mind of a God and uses this to help them cope with situations our of their scope of comprehension. The latter is referring to a concept of everyday ideas; such as hearing a horn honking, a telephone ringing, or remembering aincident that occurred ten years ago. These are commonplace in asking them what each would mean to them. Locke believed that as a person matured he would acquire more and more knowledge and in turn more ideas. So according to him if someone asked a persons favorite food trhey should be able to explain the taste, smell, and look of the dish even though they are not eating it at the moment because they have a preconceived notion of how it should be.
Locke went even further in his classification of ideas by separating them into the two different categories of simple and complex. He states that simple ideas are creations of the minds own operations and that complex ideas are formed from simple ideas by the process of reflection and sensation. According to Locke complex ideas would never exist if not for simple ideas because simple ideas are the fuel that burns to form complex ideas. So in turn it is necessary for Locke to give some explanation of how simple ideas come to be. He offers the notion that simple ideas are formed from experience and then materialize into complex ideas when acted upon by sensation and reflection. (6)
Sensation is the way a man knows what sweet and bitter or black and white are. This theory can be proved by a man who is without a sense since birth. If a person never had a sense of taste he would never have any ideas formed about the many different tastes avaliable to him. The next step in forming a complex idea is reflection. This produces ideas that have more emotion and complexity associated with them; such as doutfullness, joy, and willingness. Locke even proposed that a sixth sense could be possible “if our all-wise creator had though it fit for us.” (7)