On Politics and Education

PDF EBook by John Locke

EBook Description

This is another book I read my first year in college, lo these many years ago, or at least I’m fairly certain that I read the Second Treatise on Civil Government and possibly the Letter Concerning Toleration, each of which may be found in this volume. On Politics and Education PDF EBook I’d heard of Locke at this time, and had some idea why he was important, but I believe this was the first time I’d read more than a short excerpt. Since I’m fairly certain I’ve not read the entirety of this volume, I won’t give it a star rating at this time.

Locke is a foundational philosopher of liberalism, which, as it was originally used, meant a society based on individual liberty as opposed to absolutism and the divine right of kings (note to Americans: this is why the “Liberal Party” in some other countries is actually the more conservative party by our standards). As such, he was a foundational thinker in the intellectual tradition that led to the American War for Independence and the creation of the US Constitution. Thus, it’s a pretty good idea for educated Americans (and other supporters of more- PDFor-less democratic or republican forms of government) to have some familiarity with his ideas. It’s also a good idea for those critical of the United States and its friends as imperialist, racist, and/or intolerant to look to Locke to see how those aspects of its culture were first formulated.

Although he was an Englishman and lived his whole life on that side of the Atlantic (mostly in Great Britain but for a period of exile in France), the North American continent loomed large in his imagination. There is a paradox to his treatment of the native peoples (about whom he knew next to nothing): on the one hand they represent a kind of idealized freedom and innocence to him, while on the other he says that most of the American wilderness is “wasteland” in the sense that it is a waste to leave it uncultivated and untilled by European methods, or in a word, unconquered by Europeans. To understand the first half of his argument, one must look to Thomas Hobbes, who had argued that life in a “state of nature” was “nasty, brutish, and short.” According to Locke, there are people living in the “state of nature” (a dubious proposition to modern minds, but believable to Europeans at the time), and look, it’s not so bad after all. The second part of his argument is founded in the notion of “progress” (which is central to liberalism): since we’ve come so far from that state, it must be to our benefit to have developed so much civilization and technology, therefore their way is good, but ours is better. Still, the paradox is not completely resolved, because Locke contains an element of nostalgia for that idealized past, and implies that we may learn from exposure to, and contemplation of, primitive peoples.

The introduction to this volume talks a good deal about Locke’s interest in the natural sciences, and his career as a scientist, which is ultimately not what he has been remembered for. In that sense, it is important to realize that science was in the process of shifting from drawing conclusions from a priori assumptions to seeking empirical evidence from which to build theories. As a philosopher, Locke is still largely in the deductive (or a-priori) mode of reasoning, as opposed to inductive (or empirical), but there are signs that he feels the need to back up his arguments with at least some evidence, as he critiques previous philosophers (such as Hobbes) for being too attached to their premises. There is a bit about the influence of Descartes on Locke here, but no mention of the importance of Spinoza, sadly. For Locke and Spinoza, see Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750.

In all, this is a nice introduction to Locke, a philosopher I will need to return to one of these days and read more thoroughly. Like this book? Read online this: Locke, The Politics of Gender and Education.

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