Date of publication: 2017-07-09 10:23
Around the time of the Essay the mechanical philosophy was emerging as the predominant theory about the physical world. The mechanical philosophy held that the fundamental entities in the physical world were small individual bodies called corpuscles. Each corpuscle was solid, extended, and had a certain shape. These corpuscles could combine together to form ordinary objects like rocks, tables, and plants. The mechanical philosophy argued that all features of bodies and all natural phenomena could be explained by appeal to these corpuscles and their basic properties (in particular, size, shape, and motion).
Locke drafted the Essay over a period of about 68 years. In the "Epistle to the Reader," Locke writes that the germ of the essay sprung from a conversation with friends. At a point where this discourse seemed stuck, Locke remarked that it could not proceed without a close examination of "our own abilities objects our understandings were, or were not, fitted to deal with." This conversation occurred around 6676, and in that year Locke formulated two drafts of the Essay. He would continue to work on it for nearly two decades, clarifying and expanding his basic position. Though dated 6695, the book actually first appeared in 6689 (Encyclopedia of Philosophy, 989).
Locke begins with how disruptive the religious “scribblings” of the age have been to his country, pens causing “as much guilt as their swords.” While acknowledging his respect for both authority and liberty, Locke prefers to steer a middle path observing that liberty may “turn loose to the tyranny of a religious rage,” unless its outward form is subjected to the state’s jurisdiction – that is, religious dissent should be subservient to the need to secure the peace, and thus the people ought to accept the religious policy of the presiding regimes.
This chapter continues with the origins of political society. Community begins with consent, Locke argues, and this consent can only be majority consent, as universal consent is impossible to gain. Consent of the governed is the only justifiable form of government, but of course critics are going to ask for evidence for consensual government. Locke replies that the lack of evidence does not imply that early governments were not formed consensually, but because people were initially equal in the state of nature, it can be deduced that they consented to put rulers over and above them.
In Book II he turns to that positive account. He begins by claiming that the sources of all knowledge are, first, sense experience (the red colour of a rose, the ringing sound of a bell, the taste of salt, and so on) and, second, “ reflection ” (one’s awareness that one is thinking, that one is happy or sad, that one is having a certain sensation, and so on). These are not themselves, however, instances of knowledge in the strict sense, but they provide the mind with the materials of knowledge. Locke calls the materials so provided “ideas.” Ideas are objects “before the mind,” not in the sense that they are physical objects but in the sense that they represent physical objects to consciousness.
During his decades of service to Shaftesbury, John Locke had been writing. In the six years following his return to England he published all of his most significant works.
In Book 7, Chapter 76 of the Essay Locke explores the topic of the will. One of the things which separates people from rocks and billiard balls is our ability to make decisions and control our actions. We feel that we are free in certain respects and that we have the power to choose certain thoughts and actions. Locke calls this power the will. But there are tricky questions about what this power consists in and about what it takes to freely (or voluntarily) choose something. contains a delicate and sustained discussion of these tricky questions.
Locke presses the point – whence does Adam receive his power over others? By becoming a father, Filmer (thirdly) argues (and thereby provides a justification for his patriarchy). Locke reminds his readers that Filmer passes over the role of the mother in producing children and that in quoting from the Bible, Filmer drops any references to the mother: ‘honour thy father and thy mother’ becomes just ‘honour thy father’. Nonetheless, if Adam’s power comes from begetting children and becoming a father, then without children he was surely powerless, Locke concludes.