- Locke, John
- (1632-1702)An English philosopher and political theorist. The seventeenth-century revolution in physical science found in Locke one of its principal philosophical advocates. With dubious consistency, Locke combined together the leading doctrines of the empiricist theory of knowledge (that there are no ‘innate ideas’ and that all of our substantive knowledge is derived from experience) with a commitment to the prevailing mechanical view of the nature of reality and our perception of it. Some properties (colours and tastes for example) were held to be ‘secondary’, and functions of the effects of external bodies upon our senses, whereas others, the ‘primary qualities’ (solidity, shape, state of motion, and so on) were held to be ‘really in’ things themselves. However, at the same time Locke also held that all we are directly acquainted with in perception are our own ideas, so it is difficult to see how this distinction could be sustained. Nevertheless, Locke remains important as one of the founding figures of the enduring alliance between modern science and the empiricist tradition in epistemology .Locke's poltical philosophy is also of continuing importance as an early rational justification for modern constitutional monarchy. As was characteristic for his time, Locke's argument takes the form of a hypothetical state of nature in which humans were supposed to live together without benefit of law or sovereign power. The disadvantages of such a state, though not approaching the catastrophic vision offered by Thomas Hobbes , would be sufficient to provide good reasons for individuals to enter into a voluntary contract to put themselves under the rule of law and government. However, the state of nature is not so dire that unlimited or absolute power on the part of the sovereign should be tolerated. The citizenry pool their powers in the person of the sovereign on trust that it will be used for their good, and so retain their right to rebellion. Of particular interest in Locke's political philosophy is his analysis of the sources and limits of private property rights, in a world initially held in common by humankind. Since all individuals are held to be owners of their own persons, the mixing of their labour with some part of the material world gives them property rights in what they produce.However, this is so only on condition that what they take does not go to waste, and that enough remains for others. The institution of money (whose establishment, like governmental power, Locke takes to have been a matter of voluntary agreement) allows for the transfer of property rights, and for the potentially limitless accumulation of wealth. See also liberalism.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.