chapter  15
11 Pages

The life of man

Locke’s political thought

Unlike all our other philosophers, Locke was more influential as a political thinker than as a thinker of any other kind. I have tried already to bring out the political dimension of the topics we have looked at. He speaks throughout from the engaged perspective of the man of affairs, and his whole thought is organised around the demand for freedom of the individual – or at least for freedom of middle-class white European males such as himself. We saw this in his rejection of the doctrine of innate ideas – we are born as white paper, nothing is beyond question, and all knowledge is in principle available to anyone who has full use of his faculties. The same attitude lies behind his account of personal identity and his denial of the possibility of a true science: no-one has access to the hidden secrets of nature, but what we need to know for practical purposes we can know. Even the most arcane scientific discoveries yield only provisional hypotheses which are testable by experience and which are valuable to the extent that they provide useful

practical results for practical people of the world. The ideal life for man is not the contemplation of eternal verities or the recapitulation of the understanding of God, but the life of the free man who knows his obligations to his fellow men and to God. So what exactly are those obligations?