10 John Locke's Contributions to Philosophy and Humanity

Some Contributions by John Locke Most important are the theory of ideas, the concept of primary and secondary qualities of objects or modern liberalism.

John Locke (1632-1704), born in England, was a multifaceted man with great ideas that revolutionized his time. He studied medicine and related to prominent scientists, he also studied a doctorate in political philosophy and distinguished himself as a theologian, economist, diplomat and professor.

10 John Locke's Contributions to Philosophy and Humanity Portrait of John Locke

He achieved his fame through his Philosophical Essays , Which served as a basis for liberal political thought and inspiration for the United States Constitution. It was also very critical of the educational system of the time where corporal punishment abounded.

He worked as a doctor for the Earl of Shaftesbury, Where he begins his interest in politics, laying down fundamental principles that all men are born with natural rights that the state must protect, especially life, liberty and property.

When the Earl dies, Locke flees to the Netherlands escaping political persecution. In exile, he begins to work on essays and epistles that would give him fame.

Main contributions left by John Locke as a legacy to humanity

Human Understanding

In many ways the works of Locke are the best way to understand the human intelligentsia. The power of knowledge and the development of ideology over the understanding of the human being and his actions justify his reputation as a philosopher.

Locke explores the conception of knowledge and divides it into three grades.

The first would be intuitive knowledge. It is when the connection between two ideas is directly perceived.

The second is called demonstrative. When it is not possible to perceive an immediate connection between two ideas.

The third is the sensible knowledge. Locke claims that the first two are the only forms of knowledge, but that there is"another perception of the mind..."that goes a little further and would be related between the ideas and external objects that produce them.

Theory of Ideas

Locke develops and defends the theory that the mind is a blank page in which information is recorded through the senses from the outside and others from the activity of the mind itself.

This is called" reflection ", Rejecting the thought that knowledge of God, morals or laws of logic are innate in the human mind as it was believed.

" Words in their primary or immediate significance represent nothing, But the Ideas In the Mind of the one who uses them ".

He affirms that the source of all knowledge is the sensory experience and that the ideas are divided into simple and complex.

Analyzing complex ideas, also called concepts, became an important topic in philosophy.

Elementary and Secondary Qualities of Objects

Locke outlines themes that have been the source of many debates. The qualities are divided into:

  • Secondary, which would be the product of the power that has the object to impress the mind with certain ideas, such as color, smell and taste.

Locke suggests this experiment to prove his theory:

"Assuming that an adult man, blind from birth, is taught to differentiate a sphere from a cube by touch. Then suppose that both objects are placed in front of the blind man and he is made to see. The unknown is yes through the vision, without touching the figures, it could tell which is the cube and which sphere."

After evaluating the possible results, Locke determines:

«I am of the opinion that the blind man could not say with certainty what the sphere is and what the cube with only seeing them; Although I could recognize them unequivocally by tact.


In exploring the subject of the will, Locke determines the human ability to make decisions and have control over actions.

In his analysis, he offers a useful way of differentiating between voluntary and involuntary actions, but there remains one open question about whether the will itself is free.

At first Locke infers that the will is determined, and later agrees that it is linked to the restlessness.

A"restlessness"that is found in humans would be what would determine the will and its action. Then, the perception of the matter, whether it is good or bad, would establish the choice.

Personal identity

The question What makes me the same person as the one who did certain things in the past and who will do certain things in the future? Allowed Locke to pay special attention to personal identity.

Very important subject in the time by religious reasons, since the Christians maintained the theory that exists a life where the integrants were rewarded in the sky and the sinners punished in the hell.

Locke suggests that what determines a person to be the same over time is the ability of the person to recognize himself in past experiences, that is, the continuity of consciousness. This theory was very controversial in later philosophical discussions.

Real and nominal essences

One of the most admirable components of Locke's essays belongs to the differentiation that he makes about the real essence of a thing and the nominal essence of it.

The greatest philosophers of the time argued that the main aim of science was to learn about the essence of things.

Locke thought that theory was wrong, for to him this kind of knowledge was not available to man. Therefore it suggests concentrating on the nominal essence.

Hence his thesis on knowledge determines that very few things are real. Everything would be associated with our ideas of things, probabilities and expectations.

Reality is directly involved with the senses, while truth is only a matter of words.


The role of language in the mental life of man would be the first philosophical study of the meaning of language.

Words are representations of ideas in the mind of those who use them, through them are transmitted data housed in the private thoughts of each.

For Locke, most words are general to which people apply particularities.

Locke infers that general ideas become such through abstraction. For example, the concept of the word triangle is the result of abstracting the particularities of specific triangles leaving only the information that all triangles have in common (three sides).

Although this theory leaves many loose ends and was reason of debate between many philosophers of the history.


Locke is considered the father of modern liberalism. He held various positions in the government there that took interest and debated the importance of the separation of powers as a form of balance.

He argued that"the subject of national sovereignty is the people,"therefore, the state must protect and guarantee the rights and desires of popular sovereignty, such as life, property and personal freedom. He also saw the right to happiness As the fundamental axis of society.

"For me, the State is a society of men constituted solely for the purpose of acquiring, preserving and improving their own civil interests. Civil interests called for the life, freedom, health and prosperity of the body; And to the possession of external goods, such as money, land, house, furniture and the like.â???? (.J. LOCKE: Letter on Tolerance, 1689.)

Locke states in his Two Treaties on Civil Government (1690), that the State arises from a social contract, leaving aside the doctrine of the"divine origin of power."

Arguing that this contract was revocable by the citizens, leaving them disconnected from absolute obedience to their rulers, laying the foundations of what we now know as democracy. He believed in freedom of worship and in the separation of state and church.


"People should be allowed to believe in what they choose to believe."

This is a predominant ruling in its Epistle of Tolerance . He also devoted much of his life to theology.

In his work The Reasonableness of Christianity , Discussed many beliefs that are binding on Christians as unnecessary, developing a controversial work on"belief according to faith and belief according to reason,"where the person believes something according to faith when he understands it as a message from God and believes according to Reason when it discovers something through the natural faculties of being.

Shortly before his death, Locke writes about the Pauline epistles. This work was incomplete but was published after his death as a brief treatise on miracles.


Some thoughts about education , Was another of his fundamental works, where he insists firmly on the importance of physical and mental development.

It registers that one learns better when the student is committed to the subject, outlining the pedagogical idea that the student should have a type of"self-direction"in his studies, subject that allows him to reach his personal interests

In this way, he determined that prejudices that occur in youth are often very difficult to start in adult life, thus rejecting authoritarian approaches and methods that help to understand the difference between good and evil by acquiring a correct moral sense .

Locke suffered respiratory distress that increased in his constant trips to places where the quality of the air ere deficient. His health weakens and finally dies in 1704. He had written his epitaph.

"Here lies John Locke. If you ask yourself what kind of man he was, he would tell you himself Content with its mediocrity. Someone who, although he did not go so far in the sciences, only Sought the truth. You will know this from his writings. From what he leaves, they will inform you more Faithfully than the suspicious compliments of the epitaphs. Virtues, if you had them, not so much As if to praise him or to set him an example. Vices, some with which he was buried. If you are looking for an example to follow, in the Gospels you find it; If one of vice, Hopefully nowhere; If one of you, mortality is of benefit, here and everywhere."


  1. Letters on Tolerance (2009). John Locke; Introduction, synthesis and notes of Leonidas Montes, edition Fernando Robles Otero . Mexico City. Mexico.
  2. Biographies of the most prominent characters in History / Locke, John; Introduction and notes by Patrick J. Connolly. Iowa State University. USA . Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy iep.utm.edu.
  3. AMERICAN HISTORY From Revolution to the Reconstruction and beyond / Locke, John; Author Graham AJ Rogers, University of Groningen let.rug.nl.
  4. Biography / Locke, John; biography.com
  5. BRITANNICA ENCYCLOPAEDIA / Locke, John; Britannica.com.
  6. JOHN LOCKE FOUNDATION / Who is John Locke?; Johnlocke.org.

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