Who was he: John Locke is known as the Father of Liberalism. This is not liberalism as Americans understand it, however, but "classical liberalism," which evolved in Britain as a political and economic approach that emphasized minimal government and encouraged the growth of private markets.
Locke was a philosopher and physician and viewed as one of the most prominent of Enlightenment thinkers. He is considered one of England's first "Empiricists" and is considered equally as important to social contract theory.
Locke's work had great influence on the advancement of epistemology and political philosophy. His texts influenced Voltaire, Scottish Enlightenment thinkers and American revolutionaries. Locke's contributions to classical republicanism and liberal theory are echoed in the American Declaration of Independence.
Locke's theory of mind is often named as the foundation of modern conceptions of identity and the self, figuring highly in the work of later philosophers such as Hume. Locke was the first to define the self through a continuity of awareness.
Locke suggested that the mind was a blank slate. Contrary to pre-existing Cartesian philosophy, he maintained that man is born without instinctive concepts and that knowledge is determined only by experience taken from sense perception.
This latter focus has unfortunately proven to be a most destructive concept, however. It has justified statist interference of all types; those who run governments, or wish to run them, have used such concepts to try all sorts of inevitably destructive and even genocidal social engineering experiments.
Background: John Locke was born on August 29th, 1632 in Wrington, England. In 1647, he was sent to Westminster School in London, sponsored by a Member of Parliament. After he completed his studies, Locke was admitted to Christ Church, Oxford.
Although a talented pupil, Locke was vexed by the undergraduate curriculum. He found the works of modern philosophers, such as Descartes, more stimulating than the traditional material imparted at the university. Through a friend from Westminster School, Locke was introduced to medicine and the experimental philosophy being pursued elsewhere.
Locke was granted a Bachelor's degree in 1656 and a Master's in 1658. He acquired a Bachelor of Medicine in 1674. In 1666, he met Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who required treatment for liver infection. Locke impressed Cooper and was persuaded to become one of his aides. In 1667, Locke moved into Shaftesbury's household in London, serving as Lord Ashley's private physician.
In London, Locke continued his medical studies with Thomas Sydenham. Sydenham had a huge influence on Locke's philosophy, an effect that became evident in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. During 1671, Locke's Human Understanding was drafted. Locke also functioned as Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords and Proprietors of the Carolinas, shaping his ideas on international trade and economics.
Founder of the Whig movement, Shaftesbury exerted great influence on Locke's political ideas. Shaftesbury became Lord Chancellor in 1672 and Locke followed him into politics. Locke travelled across France as tutor and medical attendant to Caleb Banks after Shaftesbury fell out of favor in 1675.
In 1679, Locked returned to England due to a brief resurgence of Shaftesbury's popularity. Then, Locke wrote the majority of Two Treatises of Government, an argument opposed to absolute monarchy and for individual assent as the foundation of political validity.
Locke escaped to the Netherlands in 1683, under suspicion of having participated in the Rye House Plot, although there is very little evidence to suggest that he was directly linked to the conspiracy. While in the Netherlands, Locke had time to continue his writing. He spent a great deal of time editing the Essay and composing the Letter on Toleration.
Locke did not return to England until after the Glorious Revolution and when he did, he escorted William of Orange's wife back to England in 1688. The majority of Locke's works were published after he returned to England from exile; his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Two Treatises of Civil Government and A Letter Concerning Toleration all appeared in quick succession.
An intimate friend of Locke's, Lady Masham invited him to join her at the Masham's country house in Essex upon his return. While the time he spent there was marked by inconstant health caused by asthma attacks, he still became an intellectual idol of the Whigs. During this era, he debated matters with such figures as John Dryden and Isaac Newton.
John Locke died on October 28th in 1704. He is interred in the church cemetery 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 did not marry, nor did he have any children.