Many consider John Locke to be the father of liberalism because he was a strong advocate of individual rights, equality between citizens and the separation of powers. According to him, the state and the laws that regulate it should be the result of an agreement between its citizens, not because its sovereign had so decided.
Considered one of the greatest representatives of English empiricism, his philosophy, his will to change the world and his struggle for the recognition of individual freedoms made Locke one of the greatest British thinkers.
We discover the interesting figure of this philosopher through a biography of John Locke, In which we will discover his life and his revolutionary way of thinking about an England upset by proclamations of bankrupt monarchies and republics.
Brief biography of John Locke
John locke was born August 29, 1632 in Wrington, England. As a child he studied at Christ Church in Oxford and after completing his studies he stayed here to teach Greek and rhetoric. The political context in England in his day was very turbulent, with tyrannical kings in power and a power struggle between intellectuals and established power that shaped Locke’s thinking.
Given the political situation in his country it is not surprising that from his teenage years he was interested in public affairs. He was a versatile man who studied at the University of Oxford, where he obtained his doctorate in 1658. Although his specialty was medicine and he had connections with great scientists at the time, like Isaac Newton himself, John Locke, he was also a diplomat, theologian and economist.
From conservatism to liberalism
in 1662 he joined the Royal Society, an entity dedicated to the promotion of knowledge about nature. Thanks to this, Locke gained some fame in the academic context of his time, becoming one of the most important scientists of the time, especially when it came to nature experimentally. He made empiricism in the scientific field his trademark.
In this way, Locke was gaining fame as one of the most important scientists of his time, especially in the experimental sciences. It was during this period that Locke began to change his political perspective, shifting from conservatism to more liberal and innovative policies.
His approach to liberal ideas is due to his work as secretary to the Earl of Shaftesbury., Leader of the Whig Party. This party was an opponent of the monarchical absolutism in England of Charles II and James II. Although his thinking was initially conservative, Locke would come to believe strongly in the need for reform and in a supporter of parliamentary power.
Exile and last years
His new and revolutionary views, although supported by many intellectuals and a people increasingly annoyed by genuine abuses, have been severely persecuted. That is why would eventually take refuge in Holland between 1683 and 1689.
Locke was one of the most fervent supporters of the Glorious Revolution, with which William of Orange succeeded in reaching the throne of England by overthrowing James II. Thus, with this triumphant revolution, England became a parliamentary monarchy and established itself as a liberal regime, the first in Europe.
Back home, John Locke was recognized as one of the most important intellectual figures of the new British political system. It is from this period that he begins to devote himself fully to his philosophical activity, Publication of works such as Letter on Tolerance (1689), Two Treatises on Government (1690) and Essay on Human Intellect (1690).
He died shortly after publishing his great works, on October 28, 1704 at the age of 72 at Oates Castle, near Essex, where he spent the last years of his life.
His political thought
The figure of John Locke has left a deep imprint on Western political and economic thought, especially in the Anglo-Saxon world. In his works, this philosopher he becomes an ardent defender of individual freedoms and religious tolerance. It is in his book Deux tests sur le Gouvernement civil of 1690 in which he feels the basic principles of liberal constitutionalism, postulating that every man is born endowed with natural rights that the state has the mission to protect. These rights are life, liberty and property.
Based on the thought of Thomas Hobbes, Locke he relied on the idea that the state was born from an original social contract, Rejecting the traditional doctrine that power comes from divine will and that the king holds it as messenger of God. However, he differs from Hobbes in arguing that this pact did not lead to absolute monarchy, but was revocable and could only lead to limited government.
The authority of the States should result from the will of the citizens, those who will be freed from having to obey their sovereigns if the latter did not respect fundamental rights or were extra-limited in their powers. It is the people, negotiating with the sovereigns, who have the right to change the legislative power according to your criteria. This idea is the one behind modern periodic elections in liberal states.
If the sovereign behaves in a tyrannical manner, the people have every right to overthrow or change the system, an idea which was taken up by Thomas Jefferson and the American revolutionaries in 1776, becoming independent from Great Britain. Also this would be the argument that would mark the French in 1789, staging the French Revolution and putting an end to the absolutism of Luis XVI.
Locke advocated the separation of powers as a way of balancing oneself and thus preventing everything from degenerating into despotism. As legitimate as it is, no power should exceed certain limits., An idea that would materialize in writing through a constitution.
John Locke has been called a defender of the principle of tolerance and religious freedom, which is really rare in his day. he he went so far as to assert that the state should not intervene in matters of faithAs these are individual and intimate aspects, not a public matter.
He defended respect for all sects of Protestantism, understood as different beliefs, and even went so far as to defend the right to profess non-Christian religions. Ironically, he was not very supportive of respecting Catholicism or atheism.
The empiricism of John Locke
As for his Locke philosophy he was inspired by Francis Bacon and René Descartes. John Locke plunged into empiricism and rejected the Cartesian theory of innate ideas, a refutation to which he devoted the first part of his “Essay on human understanding” (1690). According to Locke, the human mind is a tabula rasa a from the beginning, that is, the moment we are born, our mind has no ideas or impressions: it is a canvas. Virgin. This went against the thought of Descartes who claimed to contain innate ideas, such as the very idea of God.
For Locke all ideas were to be the result of our experience and through it all our knowledge would arise. When Locke refers to ‘the experience’ he is not only talking from the outside, which may be seeing a tree or playing a melody, but also comes from within us, as would the emotions. Thus, Locke distinguished two areas of experience: the inner world and the outer world. The exterior is captured by sensation and the interior or that of consciousness is captured by reflection.
When Locke and other empiricists speak of ideas, they are not referring to ideas as synonyms for concepts, but to the content of consciousness, that is, to the imprint that a feeling or a reflection has. left on it. There are simple ideas which are acquired by sensation, such as seeing the color red, or by reflection, such as doubt or desire. These simple ideas are organized into complexes by the subject’s own mental activity. There are a variety of complex ideas, but they can be reduced to substance, manner, and relation.
It is not possible to know the substance of things by sensation alone because, according to Locke, everything that comes to our understanding passes through the senses and, whether we like it or not, we cannot grasp absolutely everything. which must be the substance itself. By sensation, we only perceive the qualities of things, which can be primary or secondary. Prime qualities are those which refer to extension and movement with their respective properties and are captured by the senses.. The secondaries would be those perceived by a single sense, such as color, sound or taste.
Primary qualities have real objective value, as they exist as we perceive them. In contrast, secondary qualities, even if caused by external things, are subjective, depending on how we have perceived them. More than qualities, secondaries are reactions of the subject to the stimuli he receives. Thus, Locke considers that the substance is not knowable, although it is possible to admit its existence as that which supports the primary qualities and as a cause of the secondary qualities.
- Locke, John (1991). Introduction. In Horton, John; Mendus, Susan, ed. A letter on tolerance. New York: Routledge. p. 5. ISBN 978-0-415-02205-7. OCLC 613448161.
- Ruiza, M., Fernández, T. and Tamaro, I. (2004). Biography of John Locke. In Biographies and Lives. The online biographical encyclopedia. Barcelona, Spain). Retrieved from https://www.biografiasyvidas.com/biografia/l/locke.htm on September 30, 2020.