by Brenée Goforth
Media Manager & Communications Associate, John Locke Foundation
“John Locke is the most influential philosopher of modern times.
Locke’s importance reaches far beyond the limits of what has since his time become recognized as the professional discipline of philosophy. His influence in the history of thought, on the way we think about ourselves and our relations to the world we live in, to God, nature and society, has been immense. His message was to set us free from the burden of tradition and authority, both in theology and knowledge, by showing that the entire grounds of our right conduct in the world can be secured by the experience we make gain by the innate faculties and powers we are born with.”
– Hans Aarrsleff, Professor Emeritus of Princeton University
John Locke — the namesake of this foundation — was born on August 28, 1632 in Wrington, Somerset, England. He was born the son of a lawyer. When the English civil wars began, John Locke was merely 10 years old, and his father served as a captain in the cavalry of the parliamentarians under Oliver Cromwell. Through his high academic ability, Locke was able to attend the famous Westminster School in London and later receive his bachelor’s of medicine from Oxford University.
From there, Locke became the physician to Lord Ashley, the future Earl of Shaftesbury, minister to the crown, and one of the Lords Proprietors of Carolina. It was for Lord Ashley that Locke wrote his first notable work, “The Fundamental Constitutions of Carolina,” in 1669. According to George M. Stephens, economist and author of Locke, Jefferson and the Justices, “It set up a system of nobility and serfs, which is so out of character with his philosophy that it seems likely that he was under orders to write as he did.”
John Locke went on to make countless contributions to philosophy, epistemology, theology, government, and more. He published dozens of works on such varying subjects as education, religion, and governance. Locke’s works have been considered the foundation of numerous fields of study. Locke has been called “The father of modern psychology, “The father of classical liberalism,” “father of English empiricism,” and perhaps even the father of modern economics.
His legacy was particularly influential in the founding of America. It has been said that “Locke’s justification of revolt, as based on his theory of natural rights, was the background from which the Declaration sprang.” His most famous writings, A Letter Concerning Toleration and Second Treatise of Government, both heavily influenced the author of the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson. The entire Declaration has been said to have “Succeeded admirably in condensing Locke’s fundamental argument into a few hundred words.”
Locke lived a long life, especially for his era. He lived to be 72 in a time where the average life span of the European elite was around 50 years old. However, his work has far outlasted his life, and will continue to influence the world around us, including right here in North Carolina, where the John Locke Foundation is proud to defend and advance freedom and liberty for all.
Learn more about John Locke here.