John Locke (1632-1704) England

John Locke was born in England and grew up during the English civil war between the supporters of the king and the supporters of parliament. Because his father fought for the parliaments' supporters, when they won the war, they sent Locke to Oxford to thank his father. At Oxford he became interested in medicine. He also met Lord Shaftesbury, who made Locke his personal secretary and doctor. Through Lord Shaftesbury's influence, Locke became the only philosopher to become a minister of government. Locke liked Rene Descartes' method of clearing the slate to find out how people learn, but he believed that all learning comes through the senses instead of reason. Reason is only a way of organizing the information that your senses give you. Locke believed that no one knows anything at birth, because "the mind is a blank piece of paper."

Earlier writers had argued that human understanding was limited, Locke tried to determine what those limits are. We can, he thinks, know with certainty that God exists. We can also know about morality with the same precision we know about mathematics, because we are the creators of moral and political ideas. Locke was very important to the writers of the American Declaration of Independence and Constitution. They borrow some of his ideas and expanded on them. For example, Locke said that all people had these basic rights: the right to life, to own property, and to revolt against unjust governments.

Classroom Discussion Questions

If Locke were alive today, how would he answer the question, "What is the meaning of life?"

In a historical context, what would Locke think was the greatest
challenge facing humankind during his lifetime

How would Locke have dealt with superstitions and irrational fears?

Where in the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution can you see Locke's influence, besides "the right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness"?

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