Social Contract, Religious Tolerance, and Personal Freedom: John Locke born August 29th 1632

Wyatt and Jonah in the sunflower field of Ukraine as they celebrate John Locke and freedom

John Locke was born August 29, 1632, the oldest child of a respectable Somersetshire family of Puritan sympathies. His father was a lawyer, small landowner, and captain of a volunteer regiment in the parliamentary army. Locke’s early education was carefully tended by his father at their rural home at Beluton, near Bristol. Locke was among the most famous philosophers and political theorists of the 17th century. He is often regarded as the founder of a school of thought known as British Empiricism, and he made foundational contributions to modern theories of limited, liberal government.

He was also influential in the areas of theology, religious toleration, and educational theory. In his most important work, the Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Locke set out to offer an analysis of the human mind and its acquisition of knowledge. He offered an empiricist theory according to which we acquire ideas through our experience of the world. The mind is then able to examine, compare, and combine these ideas in numerous different ways. Knowledge consists of a special kind of relationship between different ideas. Locke’s emphasis on the philosophical examination of the human mind as a preliminary to the philosophical investigation of the world and its contents represented a new approach to philosophy, one which quickly gained a number of converts, especially in Great Britain. In politics, Locke is best known as a proponent of limited government. He uses a theory of natural rights to argue that governments have obligations to their citizens, have only limited powers over their citizens, and can ultimately be overthrown by citizens under certain circumstances. He also provided powerful arguments in favor of religious toleration.

LOCKE ON SOCIAL CONTRACT: Locke argues that without a governmental body of some form, these states would devolve into violence rooted in fear and lack of confidence in their protection. The Social Contract, therefore, becomes a mutual agreement that the people of a state surrender some (not all) of their rights to government, in exchange for the protection and peaceful social existence that the law provides. But it stops there.. Locke believed that a government should be beholden to the people rather than vice-versa. He became the first person in history to suggest that if a people disapprove of their government, they should possess the power to change it as they see fit. This idea came to be known as the right to revolution.

LOCKE ON PROPERTY : Fundamentally, Locke observed that the human right to property is rooted in that one’s property begins with oneself. A person has the right to govern themselves; their essence is their property, and nothing and nobody can take that away. This is the introspective right of an individual; their ownership over their soul. Externally, an individual’s right to property is concerned with the world around them. The Earth provides humankind with bounty, shared throughout the world. LOCKE ON THR BLANK SLATE: John Locke was, like Aristotle, an empiricist. A central idea of Lockean thought was his notion of the Tabula Rasa: the “Blank Slate.” John Locke believed that all human beings are born with a barren, empty, malleable mind; every facet of one’s character is something observed, perceived, and learned via the senses.

LOCKE ON RELIGION: John Locke was born a Puritan, converted to a Socinian, and grew up through the religiously ambiguous English Civil War. As a result, he firmly believed that no political authority had the right to decide the religion of their people. The religious views offered by John Locke came from the context he lived in. Though he believed that one’s essence (or soul) is one’s own property, over which the self is the only governor, his idea of the body was different. To Locke, our bodies are the property of God. It is therefore a natural right and a natural law not to kill—murder was to be considered as directly harming the property of God.

LOCKE ON TOLERANCE: John Locke wrote extensively on the subject of toleration. It is likely that this was a lesson taught to him — or an idea that dawned on him — during his experience observing the English Civil War in his youth. In the conflict, Catholics and Protestants decimated one another. This was not unique to England, which saw the importation of Protestantism when King Henry VIII was denied a divorce by the Catholic Pope in 1534. Locke did not dismiss the act of being strongly opposed to something; one can still disagree and take issue with something, but true toleration simply allows it to exist. The bookend of the religious violence in England happened when Queen Elizabeth I decreed an official toleration of Catholics within the realm despite the state being Protestant, with herself being its supreme head. Source: Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy; Internet encyclopedia of philosophy

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