Our Earth has been the home to a multitude of great thinkers. These thinkers were scattered throughout the generations from the Romans all the way to the 20th century; however, the time period with the most philosophers was the Enlightenment Age. During this time there were many thinkers such as Voltaire and Thomas Hobbes. One thinker in particular who contributed a great deal to history was John Locke. His work is still influencing the lives of people across the world 300 years later.
He rethought the moral role of government, created a new theory of knowledge, introduced the use of reason, and reminded people of their natural rights. The combination of these four things made him the single most influential philosopher during the Enlightenment Age, and even in history. During the 1600s-1700s, John Locke lived on this earth, observing how society functioned. He saw thinks very differently than the average person. Unlike many others, he used logic and reason in order to see the flaws of government. The government at the time was incredibly corrupt and unfair to the people.
Taxes made the lives of 98% of the population miserable and insufferable. Locke could even be considered a humanist for his actions. He felt the people deserved a fair government that served them as appose to the people serving the government. According to Locke, “political power is the natural power of each man collectively given up into the hands of a designated body”1. In a more general sense, he created the social contract. Most people recognize this theory as the social contract because it is an agreement between government and its people. All people are born with their natural rights.
The idea of the social contract is a community surrenders some degree of its natural rights in favor of government, which is better able to protect those rights than any man could alone. Protection is one of the greatest services any government can provide. People will enjoy living under a certain ruler if he or she can keep them safe. The quality of life is generally much higher when there is no constant fear of attack from a neighbor. The idea of the government providing protection had been around before, but Locke included the idea that government exists solely for the well being of the community.
He stressed to the people that any government that breaks the contract can and should be replaced. Gradually, people began to process this idea and realized that Locke was right. They were the ones that should have the power, not the government. The people were unhappy with the way they were being treated, but they did not know what to do about it so they continued suffering. Locke gave them an instruction manual by saying, “the community has a moral obligation to revolt against or otherwise replace any government that forgets that it exists only for the people’s benefit”2.
This struck true to many people because they were unhappy. It also gave reason for the government to be reasonable and not do anything outrageous. More power was given to the people and the days of absolute rule would no longer exist. One of Locke’s other contributions that was considered revolutionary was creating a new way theory of knowledge. Locke believed that knowledge was only gained through worldliness. He told people that experiences caused them to learn. One famous this he argued is that, “at birth the mind is a tabula rasa”3.
Tabula rasa translates to “clean slate”. Essentially, everyone is born without knowledge and over time they become wiser and smarter. This was revolutionary because previously no one had every stopped to think about how knowledge was gained other than schooling. Locke was the first to think that people were born without any knowledge. He emphasized the five senses as well. Humans fill their clean slate with ideas and experience in the world through their five senses. There are many varying definitions of knowledge, but John Locke is the most accurate.
Locke defines knowledge as “the connection and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy, of the ideas humans form”4. Since our knowledge is derived from our experiences, it means our knowledge is limited. Not everyone can know everything since not one single person can experience everything this earth has to offer in one lifetime. This also means that everyone’s knowledge varies and no two people have the same exact knowledge since everyone’s experiences are different. Locke also notes that there is a great deal of unknown on this world and there always will be.
This observation still is true today because there is a great deal of uncertainty in today’s society. He is also still influential because he taught us to question those uncertain areas. As a continuation, he agrees that there are certain things that we are certain of. One example that Locke uses is the certainty of our own existence and the existence of God even tough we may not fully comprehend who or what he was5. Another very complex theory that he had relating to the idea of knowledge was our ideas are related to reality.
He said that, “our ideas correspond to external realities because the mind cannot invent such things without experience”6. The idea of knowledge was vague but Locke defined it in a very detailed and simple way for the average person to comprehend. This idea that our ideas are relates to reality because our mind cannot invent things without experience caused people a greater understanding of how their mind worked and encouraged them to experience more in their lives. John Locke is known for many contributions to society but one of his most influential was his inception of reason.
He thought that every person had a purpose in life and that was to find truth. In believing this he encouraged people that God gave us our capacity for reason to aid us in the search for truth. Since Lock believed in a clean mind at birth, he also believed that people were born innocent. Innocence in his mind is eventually inevitably lost trough experience. That innocence disappears and creates knowledge. Locke wanted people to understand and think for themselves rather than follow their leaders blindly.
He also considered truthful that, “each person has a duty to preserve other people as well as himself … recognizing the responsibility to preserve the rights of all humankind naturally leads to tolerance”7. This idea directly leads to his idea of separation of church and state. To him, government had absolutely no right to impose itself people. The fact of the matter was that the government and state were one body. This gave them significant power to do anything they pleased. Locke was one of the very first to question governments over oppression.
All men control their bodies and their minds so no other individual should try and control it. Also how “men naturally exist in a state of nature and so he needs to answer only to the laws of nature”8. The majority of leaders at the time were extremely unhappy with how Locke was influencing the general public. Ironically, now many leaders such as the president of the United States follow many of his beliefs. Locke also influenced the American Constitution when his ideas reached over seas. Early Americans saw the power of his theories such as the social contract and more importantly using reason.
People wanted to be granted the same friends and eventually received them. Henry Ford once said, “thinking is the hardest work there is and that is why so few engage in it”. This quote is why John Locke is the greatest thinker and philosopher of all time. He devoted his life to changing not only the way people thought, but how they viewed life forever. No man has had a greater impact that him. Locke rethought the moral role of government, created a new way theory of knowledge, introduced the use of reason, and reminded people of their natural rights.
The combination of these four things is simply what made him such an indelible man. Sources 1. Uzgalis, William, Uzgalis,. “John Locke. ” Stanford University. Stanford University, 02 Sept. 2001. Web. 08 Jan. 2014. 2. Locke, John. The Second Treatise on Civil Government. Amherst, NY: Prometheus, 1986. Print. 3. Aaron, Richard I. John Locke. Oxford: Clarendon, 1971. Print. 4. Berlin, Isaiah. The Age of Enlightenment. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1979. Print. 5. Locke, John, and John Locke. The Second Treatise of Government; And, A Letter concerning Toleration. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2002. Print.