Friday, June 06, 2008
John Locke (1632-1704 A. D.)
By Richard E. Noble
From a psychological point of view, John Locke appears to be fairly normal, and for a philosopher this seems to be quite an accomplishment. He didn't hate either Mom or Dad. He wasn't overcoming any childhood abuse. He never married, but had romances with woman. He lived through the period of the English civil war in 1688. His father was a Puritan and supported Cromwell. When the crown was reestablished in England he and his benefactor, the lord of Shaftsbury formally the Lord Ashley, and off-and-on again chancellor of England and resident prisoner in the tower of London, found prudent refuge in liberal, tolerant Holland.
Locke is considered the philosophical father of Liberalism. His political ideas founded the basis of our government.
Locke was heavy on the idea of tolerance and wrote notable papers supporting the idea, but in real life he had several prejudices of his own. He thought that teaching Poetry to boys was folly and should be discouraged. But yet in his fifties, falling in love with an attractive and much younger woman, a little sweetie by the name of Damaris Cudworth, he found it necessary to write a few little foolish love poems himself. Miss Cudworth finally married someone else, but she and her husband welcomed John to the security of their household in his old age, where he became a grandfatherly figure to the children of her and all of his old friends.
He also thought that there were two groups to whom tolerance should not be shown; Roman Catholics because they owned allegiance to a foreign power, the Pope and Atheists to whom, supposedly, no authority was justified. But in truth, don't all religions owe allegiance to a Foreign Power?
He is most noted for challenging the divine right of Kings. A theory, espoused at the time by a guy named Filmer and later by Edmond Burke who was Tom Paine's adversary in the same argument a century later. Both men traced the authority of governments over people, from God, to Adam, to the Kings. The Egyptians, the Mexicans, the Peruvians and the Japanese held pretty much the same philosophy. And today I would say that most religions hold a similar view at least with regards to faith and morals. Authority begins with God, is then extended to some human benefactor, a Savior, or Prophet (Moses, Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, John Smith etc.) and then to the popes, or rabbis, or bishops, or ministers of whatever modern day philosophy they now profess.
John Locke and Tom Paine said that the power of governments originated within the independence and freedom of the individual, who then through some sort of unwritten contract or agreement temporarily transferred this authority to a leader or government. Rousseau was of the similar opinion.
The trouble with both of these ideas is similar. In the first case no one has yet been able to get God to verify their particular claims in Person, and in the second case no one seems to be able to find any such signed contract to which supposedly everyone has agreed. This whole confusion has produced quite a dilemma and controversy, one that continues to this very day.
It is agreed, John Locke was a nice guy, but very inconsistent.