PRACTICAL MAN OF THE WORLD
Search for Truth
A MAN OF HIS TIMES
No philosopher in an ivory tower, John Locke was at various stages a physician, a diplomat, a philosopher, a political exile, and a Trade Commissioner. He mixed with the great scientists of his day, men like Boyle and Newton and with notable statesman like the Earl of Shaftesbury who became his patron and William of Orange when he became English king. Locke asserted that everything we think and know, derives from experience. This is certainly true of Locke himself. He was inspired to write by specific instances and his conclusions are closely related to personal experiences.
Locke was inspired to write "Two Treatises of Civil Government" an analysis of the sovereign rights of monarchy by the problem of succession to the British throne. The Preface of the published version of the "Treatises" expresses the hope that it would "help to justify the title of King William to rule us", but the work was written many years before, in the time of the Stuart kings. It was written in response to the Catholic regime and their claim that the monarch's authority derived directly from God. Locke found the doctrine of absolute sovereignty "utterly alien" to Britain. This was not a justification for past action. This was a projection of possible future action.
His "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" was initiated when a discussion amongst five or six friends on the subject of the principles of worship could not be satisfactorily resolved. "It came into my thoughts that before we set ourselves upon inquiries of that nature, it was necessary to examine our own abilities, and see what objects our understandings were or were not fitted to deal with." The Essay was always designed for the practical purpose of providing a framework for discussion. Locke's stated purpose was to establish boundaries, to stop people "meddling with things" that exceed the mind's comprehension.