John Locke - Some thoughts concerning education

Term Paper, 2002

13 Pages, Grade: 1- (A-)




1. John Locke – his life
1.1 John Locke – his philosophy

2. The personal and social background of Some Thoughts Concerning Education
2.1 The work “itself”
2.2 The essence and the text in the view of the present

3. Locke´s statements in comparison to nowadays

4. Locke´s conclusion of his essay

5. Conclusion

Patricia Möller


“If they come not to their books with some kind of liking and relish, it is no wonder their thoughts should be perpetually shifting from what disgusts them, and seek better entertainment in more pleasing objects after which they will unavoidable be gadding.“[1]

John Locke´s “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” occupies an important place in the history of educational theory[2], though only a scanty reference can be made to it here.

The aim of that work is to point out Locke´s basic ideals concerning the human race and in how far education needs careful consideration. Furthermore it should become clear which methods John Locke prefers and in how far they are useful for reality, nowadays and also in the past.

In order to find out the important aspects there will be first of all given a brief biography of John Locke so that it will become possible to reconstruct the activities in his life and how they influenced his writings, especially the work that should be discussed here in the first place.

1. John Locke – his life

John Locke, born in 1632 in Wrington near Bristol, studied science, medicine and philosophy at Oxford University. In 1667 he became the personal physician of the prominent Lord Anthony Ashley and he soon acted as governor for the Lord´s son. In 1675 Locke emigrated to France and came back in 1679. When in 1683 his employer, now the Earl of Shaftesbury, was exiled for political reasons, Locke accompanied him and lived in the Netherlands until the Dutch Prince William became King of England in 1689. Locke then took a position in the Treasury which he held until a few years before his death in

Patricia Möller

1704. In the year 1700 he gave up all his official positions because of his health and he finally died in 1704 in Oates, Essex.[3]

1.1 John Locke – his philosophy

All his main works were published about 1690, although he had developed much of his ideas in the preceding decades. Apart from financial and political treatises, in which he presented an early view on constitutional government, Locke´s most important philosophical work was the ”Essay Concerning Human Understanding”.

In that book he tried to refute the concept of “innate ideas” and it underlines the fact that Locke does not share Descartes´ opinion, who says that several ideas and principles are innate in everyone. According to Locke, human knowledge and morals originated from experience, being acquired through the senses. This made John Locke one of the first representants of empiricist philosophy. One of the decisive aspects of this philosophical view was the concept of people being born as “tabula rasa”, a blank sheet, which has to be gradually filled in by experience.[4] It will be talked about that aspect later on.

2. The personal and social background of “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”

Locke´s book “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” originated from a series of letters which he wrote about 1684 from the Netherlands to advice a friend on his son´s education. After his return to England, Locke expanded this material into the book which first appeared in 1693. Within a few years, the book was translated into several languages. For

the main part of the next century, it remained a highly popular education manual among the better classes.

As an education manual, this book was not intended for all; in line with the views of his time, it was highly class-specific. About educating children at the other end of the social spectrum, children of the poor, Locke wrote something quite different, namely his work “On Working Schools”[5]. For those children of the masses, he wanted an education that in

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the very first place would teach them how to work, to become “useful” people who would not be dependent from charity.

The education described in “Some Thoughts Concerning Education” was what Locke had in mind only for children of a small elite; and he was mainly thinking of the boys here.

John Locke wanted this education to create the archetype of a gentleman, a rationally thinking, socially capable person given to both, adequate reflection and adequate action. To achieve this, the necessary basis had to be a natural and healthy development of the body. In the second place, it required the development of (exactly in this order) “[…] Virtue, Wisdom, Breeding, and Learning[…]”[6] Locke considered good morals and good manners more important than knowledge; and as far as knowledge was concerned, he stressed it should be selected not just because of some educational traditions, but rather for reasons of usability and practicality, as it became apparent, for instance, in his expositions about learning a foreign language - we will have a look at that point later on.

One of his basic ideals concerning learning was that natural teaching methods are the most effective approaches; that means, teaching that was more concrete than abstract, and that to some extent took into account the individual pupils` temperament, interests and capabilities. He pointed out explicitly that two children could not be the same, because everyone has its own personality no matter if several circumstances are the same.

Especially in moral respects such as honesty or modesty Locke also drew a firm line: a child should in no way be spoiled. Every pupil should learn his own place in life, his own place in society, if possible without hard treatments.


[1] Locke, John, Some Thoughts Concerning Education

[2] dtv-Atlas zur Weltgeschichte, München 1964, S. 256

[3] vgl.

[4] ebenda

[5] ebenda

[6] Locke, John, Some Thoughts Concerning Education in The Educational Writings of John Locke

Excerpt out of 13 pages


John Locke - Some thoughts concerning education
University of Frankfurt (Main)  (IEAS)
Englisch Seminar - John Locke, Didaktik
1- (A-)
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Patricia Möller (Author), 2002, John Locke - Some thoughts concerning education, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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