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John Locke

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The English Enlightenment philosopher John Locke was born in Wrington, Somerset, about twelve miles from Bristol on August 29,1632. He was born into a Puritan family. His father was a lawyer and clerk to the Justices of the Peace in Chew Magna, who had served as a captain of cavalry for the early part of the English Civil War. His mother was a homemaker. In 1647 Locke was sent to the highly prestigious Westminster School In London, sponsored by a family friend, also a member of Parliament. After completing studies there, he was admitted to Christ Church, in Oxford. Though a very capable student, he was irritated by the undergraduate curriculum of the time. He did not find the classical material that was taught at Oxford as interesting as he did the works of more modern philosophers. Locke however still managed to move forward in his career and through a friend he was introduced to medicine and the experimental philosophy being pursued at other universities and in the English Royal Society, which he eventually became a member of. In 1656 Locke was awarded his bachelors degree, later to be followed by a master's degree in 1658. After very intense studies during his Oxford years, Locke earned a bachelor of medicine in 1674. He worked with many noted scientists and thinkers to whom he looked up to such as Robert Boyle, Thomas Willis, Robert Hooke and Richard Lower, who all helped him along the way. He was lucky enough to meet Lord Anthony Ashley Cooper, First Earl of Shaftesbury. Shaftesbury had come to Oxford seeking treatment for his liver infection. After being impressed by Lockes' thinking and his outstanding accomplishments, he persuaded him to become part of his retinue. It was convenient since Locke had been looking for a career himself. He moved in with Shaftesbury at his Exteter House in London to serve as a physician. He was able to move on with his career and also continue his medical studies under the tutelage of Thomas Syndenham. Thomas Syndenham had a great great effect on the natural philosophical thinkings of Locke, a major effect that would later become evident in one of Locke's works, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Locke had a chance to prove his medical knowledge when Shaftesbury's liver infection worsened, and eventually became life-threatening. After gathering advice of several physicians, he persuaded Shaftesbury to go under the knife and take the chance with a risky surgery. Shaftesbury survived and grew healthier, and gave all his thanks to Locke, claiming that he had saved his life.

Locke took a new turn and served as Secretary of the Board of Trade and Plantations and Secretary to the Lords and Proprietors of the Carolinas, helping to shape his ideas on international trade and economics. Locke went on to excel in politics when he began to take note of Shaftesbury's work. Shaftesbury founded the Whig movement, which greatly influenced Locke. When Shaftesbury became Lord Chancellor in 1672, it gave Locke an opportunity to travel across France. Upon returning back to England, Locke was said to have composed the bulk of Two Treatises of Government, written to defend the Glorious Revolution of 1688, and also to counter the absolutist political philosophy of Sir Robert Filmer and Thomas Hobbes. Though he had been known to befriend the influential Whigs, his ideas about natural rights and government are today considered quite revolutionary for that period in English history.

Locke fled to the Netherlands, Holland, in 1683 due to strong suspicion of involvement in the Rye House Plot, which was a plot against King James II. There was however not much evidence to prove his involvement in the scheme. While in Holland, Locke had much time to work on his writings. He spent a great deal of time re-working the Essay and composing the Letter on Toleration. Locke didn't return home until after the Glorious Revolution. Upon return from exile, he brought along his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the Two Treatises of Civil Government, and A Letter Concerning Toleration.

A close friend of Locke, Lady Masham invited him to join her at the Masham's country house in Essex. Though his time there had been marked by variable health from asthma attacks, he became an intellectual hero of the Whigs. During this period, he discussed matters with such great figures as John Dryden and Isaac Newton. Locke died on October 28, 1704 after a slow and long decrease in health. Locke is buried in the churchyard of the village of High Laver, nearby to where he lived in the household of Sir Francis Masham since 1691. Locke never married, and left no children behind. Locke was a great influence on many to follow. He had great impact on Voltaire, while his works on liberty and social contract later influenced written works of Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, and other Founding Fathers of the United States. Locke's views also encouraged the American and French Revolutions. Some intellectual historians such as Charles Taylor and Jerrold Seigel argue that Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding marks the beginning of the modern conception of the self.

In his readings, Locke changed the way many thought about society, government, and the self. In A Letter Concerning Toleration, originally published in Latin, Locke argues for a new understanding of the relationship between religion and goverment. Locke argued that civil unrest results from confrontations caused by the practices of religion. The thing that he wants to persuade the reader is that government is instituted to promote external interests, relating to life liberty, and the general welfare, while the church exists to promote internal interests, i.e., salvation. The two serve as separate functions

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