“Successful revolutions are stimulating to those who believe in them. Locke is the most fortunate of all philosophers for, he completed his work in theoretical philosophy just at the moment when the Government of his country fell into the hands of men who shared his political opinions. His political doctrine is embedded in the American Constitution.” (Bertrand Russel)
John Locke was born at Wrington in north Somersetshire in 1632. His father was an attorney and land-owner of modest means. He got his early education at home and later on he was admitted to Westminster School. In 1652, he was sent to Oxford for higher education. At that time he was only twenty-two and entered Christ Church College (Oxford). His university career was not very shining because the narrow discipline of the place dulled his enthusiasm for formal studies. In 1660, he got the degree of Master of Arts. After taking the M.A. degree, Locke was appointed as a tutor in Greek.
Locke did not like teaching profession and he started medicine. He was greatly influenced by Descartes and became physician. Later on he became the confidential Secretary of Lord Shaftsbury, the founder of the Whig Dynasty. He went over to the Parliamentary side and was later on made a field marshal in the rebel forces. When Charles II became king, he was made Earl of Shaftsbury in 1672.
In 1682, Shaftsbury was charged with the crime of conspiracy. He was arrested and tried for treason. He was, however, acquitted but was compelled to leave England. Locke also facing his persecution fled with him to Holland and remained there until the bloodless Revolution. After the glorious revolution of 1688, he came under the liberalizing influences that were beginning to be felt in England and he devoted his entire intellectual faculties towards literary work and to numerous controversies arising out of his works.
attributes John Locke in these words, “his sincerity, his profound moral convictions, his genuine belief in liberty in human rights, and in the dignity of human nature united with his moderation and good sense, made him the ideal spokesman of the middle-class revolution.”
Locke’s father, a renowned attorney of his time exerted a considerable influence in making him zealous advocate of liberty, equality and democracy. Locke completely discarded the Hobbes’s conception of man who depicted as utterly selfish, irrational, solitary and brutish. He portrayed his men in the state of nature fully possessed a sense of sociability bringing all men in togetherness of mutual benefit and for the progress of civil society. He advocated for the elimination of the coerciveness and intimidation over the subject for peaceful progress of the state.
Bases of his Philosophy
Locke was of the view that all knowledge and beliefs come through our senses and experiences. There is nothing in mind except what was first in the sense.
He is one of the great pleader of utilitarianism. His conception is quite apparent from his contention that “happiness and misery are the two great springs of human action.” He was of the view that morality is pleasure and pleasure is only conformity to universal law.
Optimistic Conception of Human Nature:
Locke believes in the inherent goodness of human beings. He says that man is a rational, sensible and social creature. He feels love, sympathy and tenderness towards his fellow-beings and is capable of being actuated by altruistic motives. He wants to live in peace and harmony with others.
Rejection of Absolute Monarchy based on Divinity and Heredity:
Locke refuted emphatically the hereditary principle in kingship advocated most fervently by Filmer in his Patriarcha and upheld by the Anglican Church. Filmer contended that political power is derived from the authority of father over his children and that regal authority is subjection of children to parents, and since the actual monarchs are the heirs of Adam, therefore they can demand from the citizens unflinching loyalty. Locke points out the injustice of primogeniture (the principle by which property descends to the eldest son) which is unavoidable if inheritance is to be the basis of monarchy. Further, Adam can have only one heir, but no one knows who he is. And if the true heir could be discovered, would all existing monarchs put their crowns at his feet. Moreover, in case of this discovery all kings except, at most one, would be usurpers and would have no right to demand the obedience of their de facto subjects.