John Locke - Life and Work

Seminararbeit, 2000

11 Seiten, Note: 1,7



1. Biography

2. Locke's philosophy

3. Summary of Locke's main works
3.1 Letters concerning Toleration (1689, 1690, 1692, posthumously)
3.2 Two Treatises of Government (1690)
3.3 Essay concerning Human Understanding (1690)
3.4 Thoughts concerning Education (1693)
3.5 The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)


1. Biography

John Locke was born 1632 at Wrington, near Bristol in Somerset, as a son of a puritan attorney. When Locke was ten years old, the civil war broke out, and his father fought on the side of the Parliament. "Locke was born into a world of violent political and ecclesiastical strife, and of rapid change in almost every department of human thought."[1] While Locke was studying at Oxford, Oliver Cromwell died in 1658 and the uproar began which eventually lead to the Restoration of the King Charles II. in 1660.

Locke was educated firstly at Westminster School in London from 1646, where he was taught the classics. From 1652 he was at Christ Church College in Oxford and studied scholastic philosophy, later on medicine.

Locke is reported to have despised the tradition of the public disputation, which "... was still regarded as the supreme test of intellectual quality... To such an occupation, indeed, we are told he preferred the reading of romances, and valued the company of 'pleasant and witty men' above that of those who had a reputation for learning."[2]

When he had finished his studies Locke became lecturer on Greek from 1660, and from 1662 lecturer on Rhetoric and Moral Philosophy in Oxford.

The impulses for his interest in the field of sciences Locke received from the physician T. Sydenham and the chemist R. Boyle in Oxford, where the sciences "...had found a home, ... , even while its philosophy still remained so largely medieval. A group, of which Boyle was the moving spirit, anticipated the formal establishment of the Royal Society, and of both of these bodies Locke was a member."[3]

In 1664 Locke gave up his teaching position at Oxford and went as an embassador to the Elector of Brandenburg.

With the age of 34 in 1666, Locke finally chose the medical profession in preference to that of a clergyman. "For his knowledge and skill as a medical man we can appeal to the evidence of the celebrated Sydenham..."[4]

1667, when he had thought much about questions of morals and government, Locke began to write his Essay on Toleration.

In the same year Locke became physician and afterwards secretary to Lord Ashley, the future Earl of Shaftesbury and minister to the crown. "He worked for Ashley, lived in his household and wrote essays...".[5] For example, " 1669 Locke wrote the section of 'The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina' concerning religious tolerance.", because "Shaftesbury was one of the Lords Proprietors of North Carolina...".[6] Moreover, Locke educated Ashley's son and much later his grandson, too. In Ashley's house John Locke met many of the leading men of the time.

When Ashley became Lord Chancellor in 1672 he made Locke Secretary of Presentations; afterwards Locke got a post at the Board of Trade.

Locke left for France in 1675 for reasons of 'health', but obviously because Shaftesbury, as the leader of the opposition, had split with King Charles II. Shaftesbury or probably rather Locke, had written "...a pamphlet critical of the King's policies which was condemned to be burned by the hangman."[7] Four years later Locke returned to Shaftesbury's house.

In 1681 the Earl of Shaftesbury was charged with high treason and imprisoned in the Tower of London. In this time Locke was writing 'An Essay Concerning the True Original Extent and End of Civil Government', the Second Treatise of Government.

When Shaftesbury was released by the grand jury of London with its Whig members who ignored the bill, he fled to Holland and took refuge there. Locke followed him, wrote essays and enjoyed "...Holland's political and religious toleration."[8]

After Shaftesbury had died in 1683, Locke joined William of Orange in 1687 at Rotterdam. He returned with him 1689, when James II., who had become King after his brother had died, was overthrown. Consequently, Locke became commissioner of appeals and member of the Board of Trade "...and was its most influential member until his retirement in 1700."[9]

In 1690 Locke published the two Treatises of Government, and additionally, his principal philosophical work, the Essay concerning Human Understanding. 1693 followed the Thoughts concerning Education, 1695 The Reasonableness of Christianity .

In 1698 Locke was made adviser of the Government on the question of coinage and member of the newly instituted Council of Trade.

During his last years Locke lived in Essex, while his health was poor. He died in 1704.

2. Locke's philosophy

When Locke studied in Oxford, he turned from Aristotle and the scholastic philosophy, which was "...the basis of the whole curriculum..."[10], finally to Descartes. Furthermore, in the course of his carreer, Locke developed his own philosophical and political ideas which were rooted in the tradition of the English Empiricism (and Pragmatism) with the predecessors William of Ockham (1285-1349) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626).

In applying his philosophy to politics or education, Locke was always guided by practical utility. In his reasoning he was never undermining the logical basis for the conduct of practical life.

Locke's political philosophy, especially that which he enfolds in the Second Treatise of Government, highly influenced the formulation of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the USA.

Locke's philosophy dominated the 18th century and became the back of the 19th-century rationalist movements, such as Utilitarianism.


[1] Gibson, 2.

[2] Gibson, 4.

[3] Gibson, 4.

[4] ibid.

[5] Stephens, 1.

[6] ibid.

[7] Stephens, 1.

[8] ibid.

[9] Stephens, 2.

[10] Stephens, 2.

Ende der Leseprobe aus 11 Seiten


John Locke - Life and Work
Universität Leipzig  (Institut für Anglistik)
The English Constitution
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Elisabeth Humboldt (Autor), 2000, John Locke - Life and Work, München, GRIN Verlag,


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