Robert L. Peters

24 August 2009

A salute: John Locke (1632-1704)


Belluton (Somerset), England

Philosopher John Locke is considered the first of the British empiricists, but is equally important to social contract theory. His ideas had enormous influence on the development of epistemology and political philosophy, and he is widely regarded as one of the most influential Enlightenment thinkers, classical republicans, and contributors to liberal theory. His writings influenced Voltaire and Rousseau, many Scottish Enlightenment thinkers, as well as the American revolutionaries.

Locke’s theory of mind is often cited as the origin for modern conceptions of identity and “the self,” figuring prominently in the later works of philosophers such as David Hume, Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Immanuel Kant. Locke was the first philosopher to define the self through a continuity of “consciousness.” He also postulated that the mind was a “tabula rasa” (blank state), that is, people are born without innate ideas, and knowledge is determined only by experience derived by sense perception.

Some quotables by Locke:

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What worries you, masters you.

The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts.

If we will disbelieve everything, because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do much what as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly.

Our incomes are like our shoes; if too small, they gall and pinch us; but if too large, they cause us to stumble and to trip.

It is of great use to the sailor to know the length of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths of the ocean.

There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men.

Parents wonder why the streams are bitter, when they themselves have poisoned the fountain.

Fashion for the most part is nothing but the ostentation of riches.

Where there is no desire, there will be no industry.

It is easier for a tutor to command than to teach.

That which is static and repetitive is boring. That which is dynamic and random is confusing. In between lies art.

Logic is the anatomy of thought.

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