John Locke, born August 29, 1632, was one of the greatest liberal minds of the Enlightenment. He fathered Classical Liberalism, a school of thought that departed from the idea of society as a family and took on the view of society as a mere mesh of its individuals, all of whom were innately cold, manipulative, and self-centered. This idea came before society was generally defined as a complex network of social relationships, and was supported by Jean Baptis-Say, David Ricardo, and Thomas Malthus.
Classical liberals believed that individuals should be free to obtain work from the highest-paying employers, while the profit motive would ensure that products that people desired were produced at prices they would pay. In a free market, both labour and capital would receive the greatest possible reward, while production would be organised efficiently to meet consumer demand. (Hunt, pp. 46-47)
Locke was an English philosopher and physician. He was born to two Puritan parents in a small thatched cottage located next to a church just twelve miles outside of Bristol. John was baptized the same day and shortly after his birth, the family moved into a Tudor house in a market town just outside of Bristol, where he spent his childhood. Once school age, John was accepted into the prestigious Westminster School in London and went on to attend Oxford University.
In school, Locke was greatly influenced by philosopher Descartes and found his readings more interesting than classical material taught at school. He later became fascinated with medicine as well, and obtained his bachelor’s of medicine in 1674 at Oxford. He worked with famous scientists and thinkers of the time, including Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, Robert Hooke, and Richard Lower. In 1666, Locke moved into the home of his friend Lord Ashley Cooper, 1st Earl of Shaftesbury, who was seeking experimental treatment for a liver infection and employed Locke to be his personal physician. Later, when the liver infection became life threatening, Locke performed a risky operation that wound up saving Lord Ashley’s life.
It was clear in his work, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, that Locke had been greatly influenced by his medical tutor Thomas Sydenham, another English Physician. The essay described the mind as a blank slate at birth that is later filled with experiences throughout a man’s life. It became a basis for empiricism in philosophy and was a great marker on Locke’s process to developing classic liberalism.
Locke was the first to take up the challenge of Bacon and to attempt to estimate critically the certainty and the adequacy of human knowledge when confronted with God and the universe. (PMM 164).
During his time living with Shaftesbury, who was a great supporter of the Whig movement, Locke wrote Two Treatise of Government, which brought forth a general argument against absolute monarchy. Though many thought the work was written to defend the Glorious Revolution of 1688, more recent criticism has revealed that it was written well before the movement took place. Though closely associated with the Whigs, Locke’s ideas about natural rights and government were much more revolutionary for the time.
In 1683, Locke fled to the Netherlands. Many believed at the time that it was due to him being a participant in the Rye House Plot, a plan to assassinate King Charles II of England and his brother, but there is little evidence to support his involvement. Towards the end of his life, after his return to England, John Locke was invited by his close friend Lady Masham to live with her at the Masham’s country house in Essex. Though this part of his life was marked by his troubles with asthma, Locke became an intellectual hero of the Whig movement. He eventually died on October 28, 1704 and remains buried in the churchyard in the village of High Laver.
Available with us is the first edition of the first collected edition of his work and the earliest to put his name to Two Treatises on Government as well as the letters on Toleration and The Reasonableness of Christianity.