- Bertrand Russell, Problems of Philosophy

In the Epistle to the Reader at the beginning of the EssayLocke remarks:

We turn now to a consideration of Locke’s educational works.

Ultimately, however, the rebels were successful. James II alienatedmost of his supporters and William of Orange was invited to bring aDutch force to England. After William’s army landed, James IIrealizing that he could not mount an effective resistance, fled thecountry to exile in France. This became known as the GloriousRevolution of 1688. It is a watershed in English history. For it marksthe point at which the balance of power in the English governmentpassed from the King to the Parliament. Locke returned to England in1688 on board the royal yacht, accompanying Princess Mary on hervoyage to join her husband.

Finally, for an account of the influence of Locke’s works, seethe supplementary document:

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If one takes survival as the end, then we may ask what are the meansnecessary to that end. On Locke’s account, these turn out to be life,liberty, health and property. Since the end is set by God, on Locke’sview we have a right to the means to that end. So we have rights tolife, liberty, health and property. These are natural rights, that isthey are rights that we have in a state of nature before theintroduction of civil government, and all people have these rightsequally.

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John Locke (1632–1704) was one of the greatest philosophers inEurope at the end of the seventeenth century. Locke grew up and livedthrough one of the most extraordinary centuries of English politicaland intellectual history. It was a century in which conflicts betweenCrown and Parliament and the overlapping conflicts betweenProtestants, Anglicans and Catholics swirled into civil war in the1640s. With the defeat and death of Charles I, there began a greatexperiment in governmental institutions including the abolishment ofthe monarchy, the House of Lords and the Anglican church, and theestablishment of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate in the 1650s. Thecollapse of the Protectorate after the death of Cromwell was followedby the Restoration of Charles II—the return of the monarchy,the House of Lords and the Anglican Church. This period lasted from1660 to 1688. It was marked by continued conflicts between King andParliament and debates over religious toleration for Protestantdissenters and Catholics. This period ends with the GloriousRevolution of 1688 in which James II was driven from England andreplaced by William of Orange and his wife Mary. The final periodduring which Locke lived involved the consolidation of power byWilliam and Mary, and the beginning of William’s efforts to oppose thedomination of Europe by the France of Louis XIV, which laterculminated in the military victories of John Churchill—theDuke of Marlborough.

Library of Congress Catalog Data: ISSN 1095-5054


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Nor was Locke finished with public affairs. In 1696 the Board of Tradewas revived. Locke played an important part in its revival and servedas the most influential member on it until 1700. The new Board ofTrade had administrative powers and was, in fact, concerned with awide range of issues, from the Irish wool trade and the suppression ofpiracy, to the treatment of the poor in England and the governance ofthe colonies. It was, in Peter Laslett’s phrase “the body whichadministered the United States before the American Revolution”(Lazlett in Yolton 1990 p. 127). During these last eight years of hislife, Locke was asthmatic, and he suffered so much from it that hecould only bear the smoke of London during the four warmer months ofthe year. Locke plainly engaged in the activities of the Board out ofa strong sense of patriotic duty. After his retirement from the Boardof Trade in 1700, Locke remained in retirement at Oates until hisdeath on Sunday 28 October 1704.

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Locke has an atomic or perhaps more accurately a corpuscular theory of ideas.[] There is, that is to say, an analogy between the way atoms orcorpuscles combine into complexes to form physical objects and the wayideas combine. Ideas are either simple or complex. We cannot createsimple ideas, we can only get them from experience. In this respectthe mind is passive. Once the mind has a store of simple ideas, it cancombine them into complex ideas of a variety of kinds. In this respectthe mind is active. Thus, Locke subscribes to a version of theempiricist axiom that there is nothing in the intellect that was notpreviously in the senses—where the senses are broadened toinclude reflection. Book III deals with the nature of language, itsconnections with ideas and its role in knowledge. Book IV, theculmination of the previous reflections, explains the nature andlimits of knowledge, probability, and the relation of reason andfaith. Let us now consider the Essay in some detail.

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At the beginning of An Essay Concerning Human UnderstandingLocke says that since his purpose is “to enquire into theOriginal, Certainty and Extant of human knowledge, together with thegrounds and degrees of Belief, Opinion and Assent” he is goingto begin with ideas—the materials out of which knowledge isconstructed. His first task is to “enquire into the Original ofthese Ideas…and the ways whereby the Understanding comes to befurnished with them” (I. 1. 3. p. 44). The role of Book I of theEssay is to make the case that being innate is not a way inwhich the understanding is furnished with principles and ideas. Locketreats innateness as an empirical hypothesis and argues that there isno good evidence to support it.