John Locke (1632 – 1704) was an English philosopher and physician. He
was born in Wrington, England in a Puritan family. Locke is well – known as
“the Father of Liberalism”, and is regarded as one of the most influential
Enlightenment thinkers. His writing contributed to the development of social
political inspired generations of philosophers to follow. Locke had not only
laid the foundations for Liberalism and development of the Enlightenment, but
was also an advocate of the empirical approaches of the Scientific Revolution.
Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of consciousness.
Locke believed that “individuals are born without mental built – in and that
therefore all knowledge comes from experience or perception”. This concept of
“tabula rasa” raised the debate over nature vs. nurture of one’s personality,
knowledge, social and emotional behavior, concepts still debated today. This
idea raised curiosity about inner space, and promoted the development of
psychology in aspects of human behavior and psychology.
As a political philosopher, Locke wrote Two Treatise on Government after
the 1688 Glorious Revolution. He refuted the dominant concept of the 17th
century – the Divine Right of Kings which stated that political authority was
derived from religious authority. He supported the claim that all men are
created equal, against claims that God has made all people subjected to a
monarch. He also provided his own
definition of a civil government. Locke believed government derived from the
consent of the people to protect their natural rights, including the right to
lives, liberty, health and property. The citizen naturally transfers some of
their rights to the government to be better ensured of a safe, enjoyable life.
If the government failed to secure the natural rights or satisfy the best
interests of society, citizens could withdraw their obligation to obey or
change the leadership through elections and other means. This concept of the
social contract gives people the right to revolt against their ruler if their
rights are threatened.
Alongside with the social contract theory, Locke came up with many other
theories that laid the foundation for classical Liberalism. He believed that
everyone has an equal right to use natural resources provided by nature, and
thus no one has private dominance over the resources above others. However, one
can hold permanent ownership of natural resources through work. Work creates
private property and value, Locke believed. When one works, he creates an
object, and therefore the object becomes the property of that person. “The
labor of his body and the work of his hands, we may say, are strictly his”.
Therefore, God didn’t give natural resources to all humans, but humans can
acquire them through work. Locke also believed that one may only appreciate
property, if “there is enough and as good, left in common for others.”
Among all the influential thinkers of the Enlightenment, John Locke is
one of the greatest. His theories on
life such as “tabula rasa”, his political ideas including the separation of
power, the consent of the people, the social contract have an enormous impact
on all lives to this day. All his ideas set the foundation for not only the
French and the American revolutions, but also the United State Constitution, as
well as the promotion of the rise of religious freedom and modern human rights.