John Locke.

The philosophy of Locke, in extracts from The essay concerning human understanding; online

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Series of dDofcern pbilosopbers

Edited by . Hershey Sneath, Ph.D.







Mark Hopkins Professor of Philosophy in Williams College




129 /




THIS book, containing extracts from the Philosophy
of Locke, is the first of a series to be published under
my editorial supervision, for the purpose of presenting
the substance of the representative systems of modern
philosophy in selections from the original works. Each
volume is to be prefaced by a short biographical sketch
of the author, a statement of the historical position of
the system, a brief exposition of the system, and a

Eight volumes have been arranged for, as follows :
Des Cartes, by Professor Torrey, of the University
of Vermont ; Spinoza, by Professor Fullerton, of the
University of Pennsylvania ; Locke, by Professor
Russell, of Williams College ; Berkeley, by ex-Presi-
dent Porter, of Yale University ; Hume, by Professor
Aikins, of Trinity College, N. C. ; Reid, by the editor
of the series ; Kant, by Professor Watson, of Queen's
University, Canada ;* Hegel, by Professor Royce, of
Harvard University. If sufficient encouragement is
given, volumes representing Leibnitz, Jacobi, Fichte,
Herbart, Schelling, Schopenhauer, Hartmann, and
Spencer will probably follow.

* The publishers have purchased an edition of Professor Wat-
son's excellent book, entitled " Extracts from the Philosophy of
Kant," and include it in this series,



The object of the series is primarily to facilitate the
study of the history of philosophy in our colleges. . In
many colleges that course is gradually being enlarged,
and a mere text-book on the subject is inadequate to
meet the wants of the department. One simply fur-
nishes a brief exposition of the various systems, which,
it must be remembered, is merely an interpretation. It
is especially desirable, however, to put the student in
direct contact with the text of the author, permitting him
to make his own interpretation. This cannot be done
by resorting to the complete works of the various au-
thors, because, if a number of systems is to be studied,
in the majority of cases the books are too elaborate,
and, in German Philosophy, too expensive. This series
provides for this difficulty by giving the substance of
each system in selections from the author's works, and
in a form involving little expense on the part of the

A secondary object of the series is to meet the wants
of a large number of professional men, especially cler-
gymen, who are desirous of a wider acquaintance with
philosophy ; but, not having time to read the complete
works, still desire something more than a brief inter-
pretation such as may be found in works on the
History of Philosophy.


YALE UNIVERSITY, October ; 1891.


JOHN LOCKE was born at Wrington, a village in Som-
ersetshire, August 29, i6jf2 ; and he died at Gates, in u
Essex, a town about twenty miles from London,
October 28, 1704. His life period, seventy-two years,
coincided with one of the stormiest and most event-
ful epochs in the political and religious history of
England, and in the most important movements of
this epoch Locke had an influential part.

Of Locke's ancestors we have little certain informa-
tion. His father claimed a sort of cousinship with one
John Locke, who was mayor of Bristol in 1642, and who | %
was descended from an earlier John Locke, a sheriff of
London in 1460. Our John Locke's great-grandfather
was Edward Locke, a younger member of a branch that
had settled in Dorsetshire in the sixteenth century.

Locke's mother, it is probable, died when he was
very young. The only positive information we have
about her from Locke himself is a single sentence of
Lady Masham's, ** What I remember him to have said
of his mother expressed her to be a very pious woman
and affectionate mother." Of his father Locke has
given quite explicit information ; and it was doubtless
to him that Locke was most indebted for the favoring
circumstances of his early life, and Locke speaks of
him with the warmest appreciation and respect. Lady
Masham says, " From Mr. Locke I have often heard


of his f ather that- He was a man of parts. Mr. Locke
never mentioned him but with great respect and affec-
tion." Locke's father was an attorney, and appears
to have had a successful practice until the breaking
out of the civil war terminated his peaceful career.
He joined the cause of the Parliament, and served as
captain under his friend and legal associate, Alexander
Popham, who held the rank of colonel. The civil
war nearly ruined Locke's father financially, though
he retrieved his fortunes in a considerable degree, and
at his death in 1661 he left a comfortable estate to
his two sons. The older son, Thomas, dying shortly
after his father, John Locke was left in sole posses-
sion of the family estate.

Locke's student life began at Westminster School,
then under the charge of the famous Dr. Busby.
Locke was admitted to this school as a king's scholar,
through the influence of Colonel Popham, in 1646,
and here he remained probably six years, when he
entered Christ's College, Oxford, as Westminster stu-
dent. His matriculation bears the date of November
27, 1652, and he began his residence in the Michael-
mas term, December 22 of the same year.

Locke's connection with Oxford continued for
thirty-two years, though his residence there was con-
fined for the most part to the ten years following his
matriculation. He received his Bachelor's degree in
1656, his Master's degree in 1658. In 1660 he was
made Greek Lecturer; Rhetorical Reader in 1663;
and Censor of Moral Science in 1664. These, with
the senior studentship at Christ's College, were the
only academic positions that Locke held.


In 1666 Locke appears to have made his final de-
cision not to take orders, as his father had designed ;
he chose medicine, and, though he should properly
have forfeited his studentship, that being an eccle-
siastical one, by a royal dispensation, which is still
preserved and bears the date" of November 14, 1666,
he was permitted to retain the senior studentship in
Christ's College, and this fellowship he continued to
hold until his expulsion from Oxford by the mandate
of Charles II. in 1684.

Oxford, when Locke entered it, was under Puritan
control. Cromwell was chancellor ; Dr. John Owen,
the most distinguished Independent, was vice-chan-
cellor and dean of Christ Church. During the civil
wars the university had suffered greatly ; its discipline
had been greatly relaxed, and general disorder pre-
vailed, but at the time when Locke was a student
there the discipline of the university had been much
improved, the university was suffering, in fact, from
the opposite extreme, the closest religious censorship
was exercised over the students ; to quote from the
records of the time " frequent preaching in every
house was the chief matter aimed at. In June, 1653,
it was ordered that all Bachelors of Arts and under-
graduates in colleges and in halls be required, every
Lord's Day, to give an account, to some person of
known ability and piety, of the sermons they had
heard, and their attendance on other religious exer-
cises on that day." Nor were such exercises limited
to Sundays ; in most, if not all the colleges, two or
more such services were held during the week, at
which all members of the university were required to


be present. Such rigorous and narrow discipline was
doubtless irksome to such a nature as Locke's, but he
nowhere speaks of it with dissatisfaction. The influ-
ence, however, which he did deprecate, and from which
his mind reacted strongly, was the scholastic form of
teaching then prevalent at Oxford.

Lady Masham says: "I have often heard him say,
in reference to his first years spent in the university,
that he had so small satisfaction there from his
studies, as finding very little light there brought to his
understanding that he became discontented with his
manner of life, and wished his father had rather
designed him for anything else that what he was des-
tined to. This discouragement kept him from being
a very hard student."

It would hardly be correct to conclude, even from
Locke's own statements, that he derived from these
earlier years at Oxford no really important benefit;
even the scholastic training was not without a strong
and permanent influence upon Locke's mental de-
velopment, as is evinced in his chief work, the " Essay
Concerning Human Understanding" a book that
would hardly have been written if he had not passed
such years at Oxford.

. There were two influences which later in Locke's
student-life at Oxford contributed powerfully to mould
the development of his mind and to determine the
direction of his life; (one of these influences was that
of the new philosophy of free inquiry determined by
experience. This influence sprung both from Des
Cartes and Bacon, and reached Locke indirectly, but
which, according to his testimony, awakened him to


new life. It was, however, to Des Cartes rather thantif I
to his English predecessors, Bacon and Hobbes, that
Locke was the more indebted for this early quicken-
ing and direction of his mind. " He often told me,"
says Lady Masham, " that the first books that gave
him a relish for philosophical reading were those of
Des Cartes."

^ The other strong influence upon Locke at this time A"
was a religious one, and came from his intimate asso-
ciation with the dean of his college, Dr. John Owen.
Locke's debt to this large and liberal mind is a large
one; he learned from him to take liberal and tolerant
views of religious differences; the doctrine of tolera-
tion, which Locke so profoundly taught and illustrated,
had its inception in no slight degree from the influ-
ence of John Owen.

The year 1666 marks a turning-point in the career
of Locke. In the autumn of the previous year he
had, as secretary, accompanied Sir Walter Vane, who
had been sent on an embassy to the Elector of Bran-
denburg. On his return, in the spring of 1666, Locke
was tendered the post of secretary to the Earl of
Sandwich, then about to set out for Spain as embassa-
dor. This offer, after considerable hesitation, he
declined, remarking that he may "have let slip the
minute that they say every man has once in his life to
make himself."

In the same year Locke met for the first time, and
became the friend of, Lord Ashley, afterwards the
Earl of Shaftesbury, and the most powerful nobleman
of his time. This acquaintance with Lord Ashley,
due to the most casual circumstance, was of decisive


import to Locke's subsequent life; almost with the
beginning of this connection, Locke entered upon a
new career, and began to participate in and to influ-
ence public affairs. In the following year he became
a member of Lord Ashley's family, and from that
time he shared the varying fortunes of his patron. In
the household of Lord Ashley, Locke appears to have
discharged miscellaneous duties ; he was medical
adviser, tutor to Ashley's son, and secretary and con-
fidential adviser to Lord Ashley.

Locke's circumstances at this time were happy and
favorable to his chosen pursuits. Outside of Ashley's
family he practised medicine but little, but he had
leisure for study, and opportunities for acquaintance
with the most distinguished men in learning and in
public life. In 1668 Locke was elected a Fellow of
the Royal Society, which had been founded not long
before by Boyle. In 1669 and in 1672 he was a mem-
ber of a council belonging to this society, but he
never took an active part in the proceedings of the

In 1672 Lord Ashley was created Earl of Shaftes-
bury, and a little later he was appointed Lord Chan-
cellor of England. Locke was then made Secretary
of Presentations, with a salary of three hundred
li , pounds. He had previously, in 1667, been made, in
an informal way, chief secretary and manager of the
Company known as Lords Proprietors of Carolina.
This informal but onerous office he held till the
autumn of 1672, and in the discharge of his multi-
farious duties he evinced those talents and versatility
of powers that so distinguished him in later years.


In November, 1673, Shaftesbury incurred the king's
displeasure and was dismissed from office, and Locke
lost his secretaryship. He had, however, been ap-
pointed secretary for the Council of Trade, with a 3.
salary of five hundred pounds, and this office he con-
tinued to hold until the dissolution of the council in
March, 1674, though in fact the salary was never paid.

In 1674-5 Locke received the degree of Bachelor
of Medicine, and in the January following he was ap-
pointed to one of the two medical studentships in
Christ's College. The income from this studentship,
together with an annuity of one hundred pounds
granted him by Shaftesbury, and the revenue from his
small estates in Somersetshire, secured to him a com-
fortable maintenance.

One circumstance belonging to this period, from its
connection with Locke's philosophical career, should
not be passed over ; it was the historical occasion of
the " Essay Concerning Human Understanding,"
spoken of by him in the Epistle to the Reader. This
memorable meeting occurred probably in 1670-71.

In 1675 Locke's health, which had been precarious
for some time, was now so seriously impaired that he
resolved to make a sojourn in France. He left Eng-
land the same year, and on Christmas Day he reached
Montpellier, the place he had selected for his resi-
dence, and there he remained for the most of the time
till the spring of 1677.

The chief occupation of Locke during the period
of his residence in France was the Essay, the few
scattered notes for which he had prepared in England.
It is probable that before he returned to England, in


1679, he had advanced the work upon the Essay well
toward its completion. In a letter to Thonyard, in
1679, he speaks of the work as "completed," adding
that " he thought too well of it to let it go from his

Locke returned to London on April 30, 1679, to
J7 find Shaftesbury again in royal favor and president of
the newly formed council. Shaftesbury had need of
Locke's services only for a short time ; he was soon
in opposition again, and his tenure of office quickly
came to an end.

Shaftesbury's political career was soon terminated.
In July, 1681, he was arrested on a charge of high
treason and confined in the Tower ; he was indicted
by a special commission, November 24th, but on De-
> cember ist the Grand Jury threw out the bill, and
Shaftesbury was acquitted, but only to enjoy a brief
triumph. In the spring of 1682-3 he was implicated
in a scheme to effect a general uprising against the
king ; the scheme failed, and Shaftesbury for safety
took refuge in Holland, where he died in January,
1683. Shaftesbury's fall rendered Locke's situation
unpleasant and somewhat dangerous ; and, though
there was no evidence to implicate him in Shaftes-
bury's designs, he was suspected and watched. Partly
for this reason and partly on account of his disgust at
the turn affairs were taking in England, he determined
upon what he regarded as voluntary exile. He left
England some time in 1683, and arrived in Holland
late in the same year.

v The five years Locke passed in Holland, though
not the happiest, were probably the most favorable to


his aims and the most fruitful of results of any period
in his lifetime. In these years he matured the prep-
aration of his most important works, and it was in
Holland that he began to give to the world the fruit
of his many years of profound study and wide experi-
ence ; it was in Holland that he formed some of the
friendships he valued most highly, with Limborch,
the distinguished theologian of the Remonstrants, and
with whom he maintained the closest and most affec-
tionate intercourse during the remainder of his life ;
and also with Le Clerc, whose acquaintance he formed
in 1685-6, and to whom Locke was indebted for the
first distinctive impulse to authorship. Le Clerc was
just projecting the " Bibliotheque Universelle," and by
his instigation Locke published in this periodical the
epitome of the " Essay Concerning Human Under-
standing" in 1688.

During his stay in Holland Locke had no perma-
nent residence ; he resided principally in Amsterdam,
Utrecht, and Rotterdam. The winter of 1683-4 he
probably passed in Amsterdam. In 1684 he made a
tour through Holland, and he appears to have re-
turned to Amsterdam the following winter.

After the death of Charles II. in February, 1684-5,
Locke, being suspected of complicity in the attempt
to set the Duke of Monmouth on the English throne,
was included among those persons deemed dangerous
and whom the government of Holland was requested
to deliver up. Locke was compelled for a time to be
in hiding and to assume a fictitious name. He stayed
for some time in the house of Dr. Veen, in Amster-
dam, and as Dr. Van der Linden he made a brief


sojourn in Cleves. This political danger, however,
passed away in 1686.

The winter of 1686-7 was spent in Amsterdam, and
after a brief sojourn at Utrecht in the following sum-
mer, Locke took up his residence with Mr. Benjamin
Furly in Rotterdam, at whose house he continued to
reside till the winter of 1687-8, and for whom he
formed a strong personal attachment.
y In November, 1688, William of Orange set out on
his expedition to England. Locke followed in Feb-
ruary of the next year, and on the i2th of February
he was back in London, and at once he entered upon
the most active and laborious periods of his life. Two
positions were offered him by King William, the
post of ambassador to Frederick, the first Elector of
Brandenburg, and a like position at the Court of
Vienna. Locke declined both honors on the ground
of poor health and unfitness for such responsibilities ;
rbiit at his own suggestion he was made Commissioner
of Appeals, an office which he retained during the
remainder of his life.

The years that followed immediately upon Locke's
return to England were crowded with arduous and
responsible labors. It was the period of the publica-
tion of all his more important writings, and during
these six years he took a most active interest in politi-
cal affairs, and, directly or indirectly, did more, it is
probable, to shape the policy of the new government
than any single mind of his generation. His hand is
traceable in the most important measures of William's
government ; his direct assistance or counsel was
sought by the king himself or by his advisers on all


matters of importance. The Toleration Bill, which
effected important religious changes ; the measure
for reorganizing the currency and restoring a proper
standard of value perhaps the most important meas-
ure of William's reign were largely Locke's work;
and of the Board of Trade, which had in charge the
economic and industrial interests of the country,
Locke was for years the " presiding genius."

Locke's authorship during these years was pro- /.
digious. " The Essay Concerning Human Under-
standing" was published in 1690. "The Epistola
Tolerantia " preceded it by a few months. The two
treatises on Government appeared the same year.
Two subsequent Letters on Toleration. A second
and third edition of the Essay, and a number of lesser
publications on economic subjects, and an " Essay on <t
the Reasonableness of Christianity" were published
during these years.

In 1700 Locke was compelled by feeble health to
abandon all political service. He had some years be-
fore made his home in the family of Sir Francis and
Lady Masham at their country seat at Gates, in
Essex. Here Locke passed the closing years of his
life, and these years were most happy and tranquil.
The last important literary work of his was the pub-
lication of the fourth edition of the Essay, which
appeared in 1700. Four years later, on October 28,
Locke passed away, and his body was buried in the
churchyard at High Laver.




The position which Locke occupies in the develop-
ment of modern philosophy can be best determined by
an examination of his chief philosophical work, " The
Essay Concerning Human Understanding."

The design of the Essay, as Locke states it, is " To
inquire into the original, certainty, and extent of
human knowledge, together with the grounds and
degrees of belief, opinion and assent," and the method
Locke proposes is^^ist, to inquire into the original
of these ideas, notions, or whatever else you please to
call them, which a man observes and is conscious to
himself he has in his mind, and the ways whereby the
understanding comes to be furnished with them; 2d,
to show what knowledge the understanding hath by
those ideas, and the certainty, evidence and extent of

Accordingly the Essay falls into two natural di-
visions, the first three books making the first divi-
sion, and Book IV. constituting the second division.
Locke's theory of knowledge is contained essentially
in Books II. and IV., Book I. being hardly more than
a negative answer to the fundamental question of
Book II.; and Book III., in relation to the main
design of the Essay, is an explanation of Book II.


Locke's theory of knowledge may be comprehended
in the answer to two questions: ist. How does the
individual mind come to have knowledge ? and 2d.
What certain and real knowledge is possible to the
individual mind ? or, put more simply, What is it that
the mind does in knowing, and consequently, What is
it that the mind can certainly know ?

Following now Locke's method, namely, " looking
into one's own understanding to see how it works,"
we may epitomize Locke's account of human knowl-
edge in this way: If I look into my mind to see what
it is that I do in knowing, or how my knowledge
comes to me, I find, first, that all knowledge consists
in the perception of the agreement or disagreement of
ideas, ideas being whatever object the mind has
immediately before it when it thinks or feels or wills;
when, therefore, I analyze any act of knowledge, or
any knowledge I am supposed to possess, I reach
those simple elements of meaning which are not capa-
ble of further analysis ; these are what I mean by
simple ideas as the beginnings and materials of

My first inquiry is, therefore, How do we come by
these ideas ; that is, How does there come to be
meaning for my understanding ? I answer : These
elements of all possible knowledge come from experi-
ence and from experience only; they are not innate ;
by which I mean the mind is not in actual possession
of any of them at our birth, but acquires them subse-

I do not deny that the mind has certain powers
proper to it, and that it exerts them in the formation


of knowledge nay, in the having of its simple ideas; I
mean only that, prior to the awakening of the mind by
the action of things upon the senses, there are no
ideas in the understanding. Knowledge in a temporal
respect begins with sensation. This experience,
which is the source and beginning of knowledge, is of
two kinds, external and internal; external experience
is sensation, by which I mean " such an impression or
motion made in some part of- the body as produces
some perception in the understanding;" internal ex-
perience is reflection, by which term I mean "that
notice the mind takes of its own states and operations,
by which it has ideas of the same."

Now since in the order of time external experience
comes first, the proposition is true that ideas are
coeval with sensation. But experience is not only
the origin in time of knowledge ; I find I am abso-

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Online LibraryJohn LockeThe philosophy of Locke, in extracts from The essay concerning human understanding; → online text (page 1 of 11)