From late seventeenth century to through the eighteenth century the philosophical world witnessed various conflicting opinions leading to the making of different philosophies altogether. One such debate was between British Empiricism and European Rationalism as it would come to be known.
It has been understood that rationalism tend to make a distinction between two types of knowledge: a priori knowledge that arises from the faculty of reason and exists in us prior to any real experience and other is empirical knowledge that is purely based on one’s experience and comes to us through our experiences of it.
Empiricism, on the other hand, denies any such distinction and argues that there’s not any a priori knowledge that may arise through reason. It maintains that all forms of knowledge can be reduced to only one origin and that is our sense perception. Experiences lead us to knowledge through our sensory organs. John Locke belongs to British empiricism and is considered to have laid the foundations of it.
John Locke had lived through Renaissance and had contributed to Enlightenment, which makes him one of those thinkers who witnesses one of the most politically tensed times in England. He was a Puritan in his political affiliations because, maybe, he attended Oxford which also sympathized with Puritans.
Puritanism was a progressive movement that was aimed to reform the Church of England and free it of old Catholicism, and make it more protestant. He read the works of Rene Descartes, was friends Isaac Newton, and was exiled in Holland until the Protestant King, William of Orange, gained the English throne.
Locke’s political views and association were progressive enough to gain him a reputation in the good books of history. Among his most famous works are: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), and Two Treatises of Government (1689), etc.
His Essay Concerning Human Understanding is more philosophical essay compared to other works which were political in nature. In this essay, Locke takes up the concept of tabula rasa to explain the nature of human mind. He argues that when a human is born his mind is like a tabula rasa, meaning blank slate. After the birth, through his/her sensory organs, knowledge is imprinted on this blank, which serves as basic knowledge for the construction of more complex ideas.
This conception also informs us of his belief in empiricism that knowledge is derived through sensory organs, and experience. Some Thoughts Concerning Education is neither a philosophical nor a political work but rather a friendly advice on how to raise children.
In this work, he argues against the coddling of the children and overprotective treatment of them. He believes, on the contrary, that children must develop a sound mind and body as they, too, have the same ability to reason and rationality as adults and, therefore, they must be treated as such.
The Two Treatises of Government is political and polemic work and for this reason it was published anonymously. The First Treatise was his attack on then widely believed and held normal notion of jure divine, meaning that king is directly connected to Adam and derives his from the divine. Locke argues if the king is an heir to Adam, there has to be only one heir and, by that logic, all except one are the fake heirs.
He suggests that jure divine is not a sustainable political philosophy and it must be eliminated. The Second Treatise presents a sort of an alternative to absolute monarchy, which is based on jure divine. Locke says that a government must only be concerned with safeguard of the ‘property’, which exists before and after the state.