PRACTICAL MAN OF THE WORLD
"The mind is but white paper upon which experience writes."
John Locke was inspired to write his "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" when a discussion amongst friends could not be satisfactorily resolved. His stated purpose was to stop people "meddling with things" that exceed the mind's comprehension. Locke asks us to "suppose the mind to be a white paper, void of all characters" and then asks "Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge?". The answer - "All that we know comes from sense experience, and from reflection upon experience." The perceiver responds not to the object, but to "ideas", qualities of the object. The implication of Locke's "Way of Ideas" is that our knowledge is limited "to the paucity and imperfections of the ideas we have, and which we employ about it". This English empiricist view was in opposition the French rationalist position inspired by Descartes that the human mind is born complete with innate ideas.
Locke's political philosophy as outlined in "Two Treatises of Civil Government" affirms man's "natural rights" to life, liberty and property and the right to overthrow a sovereign who failed to benefit the people or who denied his subjects these Natural Rights. Locke lived in a time when England was torn by religious strife, when the Catholic James II was replaced by a Protestant king, William of Orange - a foreigner, but married to a member of the British royal family. William paid a price for the throne - the acceptance of a Bill of Rights which limited royal rights and upheld parliamentary power. The issues Locke debated were real issues of the day.
- "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" (1689)
- "The Two Treaties of Government" (1689), the second one available on-line
- "A Letter Concerning Toleration" (1689)
- "Some thoughts Concerning Education" (1693)
- "The Reasonableness of Christianity" (1695)