John Locke was an influential English philosopher and social contract
theorist. He developed an alternative to the Hobbesian state of
nature and argued a government could only be legitimate if it
received the consent of the governed and protected the natural
rights of life, liberty, and estate. If such consent was not given,
argued Locke, citizens had a right of rebellion.
ideas had an enormous influence on the development of political
philosophy, and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential
Enlightenment thinkers and contributors to liberal theory. His
writings, along with those of the writings of many Scottish Enlightenment
thinkers, influenced the American revolutionaries as reflected
in the American Declaration of Independence.
epistemology, Locke has often been classified as a British Empiricist,
along with David Hume and George Berkeley.
Locke's father, also named John Locke, was a country lawyer who
had served as a captain of cavalry for the Parliamentarian forces
during the early part of the English Civil War. His mother, Agnes
Keene, was a tanner's daughter who was reputed to be very beautiful.
Both parents were Puritans.
was born on August 29, 1632, in a small thatched cottage by the
church in Wrington, Somerset, 11.42 miles (18.38 km) from Bristol.
He was baptised the same day. Soon after Locke's birth, the family
moved to the market town of Pensford, about seven miles south
of Bristol, where Locke grew up in a rural Tudor house in Belluton.
1647, Locke was sent to the prestigious Westminster School in
London under the sponsorship of Alexander Popham, a member of
Parliament and Locke's father's former commander. After completing
his studies there, he was admitted to Christ Church college at
Oxford University. The dean of the college at the time was John
Owen, vice-chancellor of the university. Although a capable student,
Locke was irritated by the undergraduate curriculum of the time.
found reading modern philosophers, such as René Descartes,
more interesting than the classical material taught at the university.
Through his friend Richard Lower whom he knew from the Westminster
School, Locke was introduced to medicine and the experimental
philosophy being pursued at other universities and in the English
Royal Society, of which he eventually became a member.
was awarded a bachelor's degree in 1656 and a master's degree
in 1658. He obtained a bachelor of medicine in 1674, having studied
medicine extensively during his time at Oxford and worked with
such noted virtuosi as Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, Robert Hooke
and Richard Lower. In 1666, he met Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st
Earl of Shaftesbury, who had come to Oxford seeking treatment
for a liver infection. Cooper was impressed with Locke and persuaded
him to become part of his retinue.
had been looking for a career and in 1667 moved into Shaftesbury's
home at Exeter House in London, to serve as Lord Ashley's personal
physician. In London, Locke resumed his medical studies under
the tutelage of Thomas Sydenham. Sydenham had a major impact on
Locke's natural philosophical thinking - an impact that would
become evident in the Essay Concerning Human Understanding.
medical knowledge was soon put to the test, since Shaftesbury's
liver infection became life-threatening. Locke coordinated the
advice of several physicians and was probably instrumental in
persuading Shaftesbury to undergo an operation (then life-threatening
itself) to remove the cyst. Shaftesbury survived and prospered,
crediting Locke with saving his life.
was in Shaftesbury's household, during 1671, that the meeting
took place, described in the Epistle to the reader of the Essay,
which was the genesis of what would later become Essay. Two extant
Drafts still survive from this period. It was also during this
time that Locke served as Secretary of the Board of Trade and
Plantations and Secretary to the Lords and Proprietors of the
Carolinas, helping to shape his ideas on international trade and
economics. Shaftesbury, as a founder of the Whig movement, exerted
great influence on Locke's political ideas.
became involved in politics when Shaftesbury became Lord Chancellor
in 1672. Following Shaftesbury's fall from favour in 1675, Locke
spent some time travelling across France. He returned to England
in 1679 when Shaftesbury's political fortunes took a brief positive
turn. It was around this time, most likely at Shaftesbury's prompting,
that Locke composed the bulk of the Two Treatises of Government.
Locke fled to the Netherlands in 1683, under strong suspicion
of involvement in the Rye House Plot (though there is little evidence
to suggest that he was directly involved in the scheme). In the
Netherlands Locke had time to return to his writing, spending
a great deal of time re-working the Essay and composing the Letter
on Toleration. Locke did not return home until after the Glorious
Revolution. The bulk of Locke's publishing took place after his
arrival back in England - the Essay, the Two Treatises and the
Letter on Toleration all appearing in quick succession upon his
return from exile.
died in 1704 after a prolonged decline in health, and is buried
in the churchyard of the village of High Laver, east of Harlow
in Essex, where he had lived in the household of Sir Francis Masham
since 1691. Locke never married or had any children.
that happened during Locke's lifetime include the English Restoration,
the Great Plague of London and the Great Fire of London. He did
not quite see the Act of Union of 1707, though the thrones of
England and Scotland were held by the same monarch throughout
his lifetime. Constitutional monarchy and parliamentary democracy
were in their infancy during Locke's time.
Locke exercised a profound influence on subsequent philosophy
and politics, in particular on liberalism. His arguments concerning
liberty and the social contract later influenced the written works
Jefferson, James Madison, and other Founding Fathers
of the United States.
of Locke have often been tied to appraisals of the United States
and of liberalism in general. Detractors note that he was a major
investor in the English slave-trade through the Royal Africa Company,
as well as through his participation in drafting the Fundamental
Constitution of the Carolinas while Shaftesbury's secretary, which
established a feudal aristocracy and gave a master absolute power
over his slaves.
see his statements on unenclosed property as having justified
the displacement of the Native Americans. Because of his opposition
to aristocracy and slavery in his major writings, he is accused
of hypocrisy, or of caring only for the liberty of English capitalists.
Most American liberal scholars reject these criticisms, however,
questioning the extent of his impact upon the Fundamental Constitution
and his detractors' interpretations of his work in general.
Locke proposed a labour theory of property that built on the idea
of natural law. By mixing his labour with an object, a person
then owns that object. However, labour also set the bounds of
private property because, under the labour idea, a person could
only own that which could be enjoyed and used. By these bounds,
the economy should run efficiently because property will not be
wasted, spoiled, or hoarded.
uses the word property in both broad and narrow senses. In a broad
sense, it covers a wide range of human interests and aspirations;
more narrowly, it refers to material goods. He argues property
is a natural right and it is derived from labour.
believe that Karl Marx later adapted Locke's theory on property
in his philosophies. He also had an influence on the US Constitution
in the Preamble. John Locke had the thought that all men had the
natural rights of life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, and
estate. He also developed the Lockeian social contract which included
the state of nature, government with the consent of the governed
and all the natural rights.
Contradicting Thomas Hobbes, Locke believed that the original
state of nature was happy and characterized by reason and tolerance.
In that state all people were equal and independent, and none
had a right to harm another’s “life, health, liberty,
or possessions.” The state was formed by social contract
because in the state of nature each was his own judge, and there
was no protection against those who lived outside the law of nature.
The state should be guided by natural law.
of property are very important, because each person has a right
to the product of his or her labour. The policy of governmental
checks and balances, as delineated in the Constitution of the
United States, was set down by Locke, as was the doctrine that
revolution in some circumstances is not only a right but an obligation.
Labour theory of value
• By applying labour to the products of nature, man appropriates
them and makes them his property. • Labour not only is the
origin of property but also “puts the difference of value
on everything.” • He considers labour important enough
to account for nine-tenths, perhaps even ninety-nine hundredths,
of the value of goods, the rest being contributed by nature. •
Locke’s idea is that property precedes government and that
government cannot “dispose of the estates of the subjects
arbitrarily” was one of the great formative forces of the
• Labour creates property, but it also contains limits to
its accumulation: man’s capacity to produce and man’s
capacity to consume. These limits are considered to prevent goods
from being spoiled, or wasted.
Goods of greater durability are introduced, those exposed to quick
spoilage can be exchanged for something that lasts longer, for
example: plums for nuts, nuts for a piece of metal…
The introduction of money marks the culmination of this process.
Money makes possible the unlimited accumulation of property without
causing waste through spoilage. He also includes gold or silver
as money because they may be “hoarded up without injury
to anyone,” since they do not spoil or decay in the hands
of the possessor.
The introduction of money eliminates the limits of accumulation
and inequality. Locke stresses that inequality has come about
by tacit agreement on the use of money, not by the social contract
establishing civil society or the law of land regulating property.
He is aware of a problem posed by unlimited accumulation but does
not consider it his task. He just implies that government would
function to moderate the conflict between the unlimited accumulation
of property and a more nearly equal distribution of wealth and
does not say which principles that government should apply to
solve this problem.
However, not all elements of his thought form a consistent whole.
For example, labour theory of value of the Treaties of Government
stands side by side with the demand-and-supply theory developed
in the Considerations. Moreover, Locke anchors property in labour
but in the end upholds the unlimited accumulation of wealth.
on value and price theory
• Locke’s general theory of value and price is a demand-and-supply
• Supply is quantity and demand is rent.
• “The price of any commodity rises or falls by the
proportion of the number of buyer and sellers.” and “that
which regulates the price... [of goods] is nothing else but their
quantity in proportion to their vent.”
The quantity theory of money forms a special case of this general
theory. His idea is based on “money answers all things”
(Ecclesiastes) or “vent of money is always sufficient, or
more than enough,” and “varies very little…”
• Regardless of whether the demand for money is unlimited
or constant, Locke concludes that as far as money is concerned,
the demand is exclusively regulated by its quantity.
• He also investigates the determinants of demand and supply.
For supply, goods in general are considered valuable because they
can be exchanged, consumed and they must be scarce. For demand,
goods are in demand because they yield a flow of income.
• Locke develops an early theory of capitalization, such
as land, which has value because “by its constant production
of saleable commodities it brings in a certain yearly income.”
Demand for money is almost the same as demand for goods or land;
it depends on whether money is wanted as medium of exchange or
as loanable funds. For medium of exchange “money is capable
by exchange to procure us the necessaries or conveniences of life.”
For loanable funds, “it comes to be of the same nature with
land by yielding a certain yearly income … or interest.”
• Locke distinguishes 2 functions of money: “counter”
serves as measure of value and “pledge” as claim to
Paper money has been used in domestic transactions, but for international
transactions, gold and silver are dispensable because a domestic
law may make paper money acceptable in domestic use but it can
not give “the intrinsic value which the universal consent
of mankind has annexed to silver and gold.”
Locke states that the ratio of a country’s money stock to
its "trade" must not be "far less" than it
is in other countries, if it happens the country will suffer a
loss in its trade.
His arguments serve a mercantilist idea of a favourable balance
of trade. A country must seek a favourable balance of trade, minimizing
its money stock fall behind that of other countries.
He argues the world money stock is continuously growing, if a
country that stands still will fall behind as other countries’
money stock rises, a country can not afford merely to maintain
its own but must seek to enlarge it.
He does not consider low prices a welcome stimulus to exports.
If M is rising, P could only remain stable if T is to increase.
• Locke develops his theory of the foreign exchanges, in
addition to commodity movements, there are also movements in country
stock of money and movements of capital determine exchange rate.
The latter is less significant and less volatile than commodity
As for country’s money stock, if it is large relative to
that of other countries, it will cause the country’s exchange
to rise above par, as an export balance would do.
He also prepares estimates of the cash requirements for different
economic groups (landholders, labourers and brokers). In each
group the cash requirements are closely related to the length
of the pay period. He argues the brokers – middlemen –
whose activities enlarge the monetary circuit and whose profits
eat into the earnings of labourers and landholders.
is the assent to any proposition not made out by the deduction
of reason but upon the credit of the proposer."
Church which taught men not to keep faith with heretics, had no
claim to toleration."
find every sect, as far as reason will help them, make use of
it gladly; and where it fails them, they cry out, it is a matter
of faith, and above reason."
opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any
other reason but because they are not already common."
esteem it above all things necessary to distinguish exactly the
business of civil government from that of religion and to settle
the just bounds that lie between the one and the other."
however, that some may not colour their spirit of persecution
and unchristian cruelty with a pretence of care of the public
weal and observation of the laws; and others, under pretence of
religion, may not seek impunity for their libertinism and licentiousness;
in a word, that none may impose either upon himself or others,
by the pretences of loyalty and obedience to the prince, or of
tenderness and sincerity in the worship of God; I esteem it above
all things necessary to distinguish exactly the business of civil
government from that of religion, and to settle the just bounds
that lie between the one and the other."
the magistrate has no power to impose by his laws the use of any
rites and ceremonies in any church, so neither has he any power
to forbid the use of such rites and ceremonies as are already
received, approved, and practised by any church; because if he
did so, he would destroy the church itself; the end of whose institution
is only to worship God with freedom, after its own manner."
care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate."
should have a great many fewer disputes in the world if words
were taken for what they are, the signs of our ideas only, and
not for things themselves."
only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it."