John Locke (1632-1704) was an Enlightenment philosopher. Some authors define him as “the philosopher of freedom” and “the father of English empiricism and liberalism”. His ideas and concepts about social structure, social consent and human natural rights determined development of political philosophy and republican democracy. John Locke was an Oxford scholar. His teachers were famous British scientists including chemist Robert Boyle who probably taught him about atomism. John Locke was medical researcher and physician, philosopher and pedagogue, economist and ideologue for a revolutionary movement.
His career was associated with name of the First Earl of Shaftesbury who was a Lord-Chancellor of England. When Locke emigrated to the continental Europe he studied Cartesian philosophy in France and become acquainted with William of Orange who later became English King. Locke came back to England only in 1689 and took up many official posts but devote much more time to his scientific studies. Contemporaries knew Locke as an economic writer and opposition political activist. Locke was an ideologue of constitutional monarchy and division of powers.
He was an opponent of theories of divine origin of the royal power. He was a friend of Isaac Newton and Robert Boyle and an early member of the Royal Society. The principles of Locke’s philosophy were the ideological basement for Great French and American Revolution. John Locke together with Francis Bacons was a founder of empiricism theory. He assumed that human mind at the birth is like “blanc paper” and only experiences through trials and errors form ideas and knowledge. This theory was described in Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” and had impact on the development of behaviorism.
Lock started to write his main work “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” in 1671, but published it only in 1690. Why he wrote it? Essay present the fundamental principles of his philosophy, it’s the culmination of his reflection on the origins of human knowledge. Essay contains of four books: “Of innate notions”, “Of ideas”, “Of words” and “Of knowledge and probability”. This philosophic treatise is written in archaic style but it still easy to read because of the use of dialogue form and clear argumentation. Locke devoted much of the Essay to an extended argument that human ideas and understanding are ultimately derived from experience.
Before scientists suggested that some ideas could be innate. Actually, Locke proposed new theory of knowledge. Essay is an answer to the question: “Where do we get ideas which are the content of our knowledge? ” The first chapter of the first book is named as “No innate speculative Principles”. It consists of twenty eights paragraphs. The name of chapter reflects its content. The chapter is opened with discussion “how men, barely by the use of their natural facilities, may attain to all the knowledge they have without the help of any innate impressions”.
Locke wrote about the importance of speculative and practical principles and gave examples of them to show that “universal content proves nothing innate”. He used humor to show that nothing on the mind is naturally imprinted when speak about children understanding. To show impossibility of innate concepts and sensations he used dialectic that helped reader to understand that only experience could generate ideas. Just some examples of his logic. In the paragraphs 6-12 he explained that if all people have innate ideas but later they will come to know things upon the use of own reason then innateness is loosing its sense.
He wrote about peculiarities of child’s mind: “after they come to the use of reason, those general abstract ideas are not framed in the mind, about which those general maxims are, which are mistaken for innate principles, but are indeed discoveries made, and verities introduced, and brought into the mind by the same way, and discovered by the same steps, as several other propositions, which nobody has ever so extravagant as to suppose innate… ” In 15th section of the chapter author outlines his theory of knowledge origin.
He showed the sketch of new theory and how it could be applied to the particular and general ideas, to the memory, names, abstraction and language. He noted that universal concepts came from self-evidence, not innateness (Ch. 1, 18) and that less general ideas (he called them “propositions”) are known “before. universal maxims. He insists that theory of innate ideas is fruitless because innateness cannot be applied to mathematics and other complicated fields of human knowledge. In 24-27th sections he wrote that ideas cannot be innate because they are not “universally assented to”.
In the last paragraph of the chapter Locke wrote: “Upon the whole matter, I cannot see any ground to think … speculative Maxims innate: since they are not universally assented to; and the assent they so generally find is no other than what several propositions, not allowed to be innate, equally partake in with them: and since the assent that is given them is produced another way, and comes not from natural inscription, as I doubt not but to make appear in the following Discourse. And if these “first principles” of knowledge and science are found not to be innate, no other speculative maxims can (I suppose), with better right pretend to be so.
” Locke is a propagator of ideas that abstract speculative principle cannot be innate. He attacked the theory that human mind is born knowing certain things. It was revolutionary for the late XVII century and John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding have had great impact on the history of philosophy and society. His studies of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity and his polemics with adherents of stagnant views on the nature of knowledge stimulated development not only of epistemology but all fields of science.
Locke’s ideas played at least some part in the formation of revolutionary thought in France and American colonies. Of course, not only “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” influenced on social history of those and many other countries but this trait liberated mind of other researchers.
1. Essay Concerning Human Understanding <http://oregonstate. edu/instruct/phl302/texts/locke/locke1/Book1a. html#Chapter%20I> 2. Johne Lock Wikipedia on-line <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/John_Locke> 3. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy <http://plato. stanford. edu/entries/locke>