Devising ’empiricism’ in its modern sense, John Locke was fascinated by what we could really know of the outside world. Throwing holism and spirit out of the window, he declared man is born with no innate ideas. Each mind is a clean slate. He then fills the mind with experiences. These experiences produce sensations, upon which we reflect and conceive ideas of the outside world.
Locke then separated the outside world from our appreciation of it. Objects in the outside world have qualities, both primary and secondary. Primary qualities are in the object itself, such as size and weight. Secondary qualities produce ideas in the mind which are not in the object, such as colour, smell, taste. Thus the appearance of the outside world is different to the world we appreciate in the mind.
This was crucial to the fledgling sciences, for Locke had validated experience through experimentation as the route to knowledge, and had also reinforced the importance of conceptualization from data produced by observation.
Locke was also the intellectual father of liberal democracy, the principal form of government in the western world. Locke disagreed with Hobbes on man’s motives, deciding that in his natural state, man was peaceful and social. Hence, a contract between the people and government did not have to be dictatorial.
Rather, government should be consensual, only existing for the good of the people. As to the people, they had ‘inalienable rights’ to free speech, life, property, and to rebel against unjust laws.
Locke improved this urge towards democracy with the ‘separation of powers’ within government. He realized that if a body which made the law was also allowed to administer the law, then in reality they were above the law. Hence, a separation was required between the legislature and executive.
In this way, both bodies are subject to the other, with the lawmakers never administering the law, and the administrators never deciding law. Later refinements also went on to include the judiciary as a separate power to judge between the two.
Click link, below, to return