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According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, John Locke (1632 – 1704) “…is often classified as the first of the great English empiricists” Locke felt it was of the utmost importance to determine the limits of human understanding. His great work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding was the result of this goal.
According to this seminal work, the only truths that we know are those that are proven by our senses and our reason. We are responsible for attempting to understand the truth. An Oxford academic and an influential philosopher and medical researcher, Locke investigated the limits of our understanding in many different areas. He contends that many problems arise out of our mistaken belief that we can know something that we cannot reasonably say we know.
Locke lived in a time when Britain was struggling with religious and political turmoil. He was a revolutionary whose political writing heavily influenced the Glorious Revolution in 1688. In his famous political work, The Second Treatise of Government, Locke contends that sovereignty is of the people, and argues that there are legitimate limits to the power of the government, based on natural law and the social contract. He felt that the separation of church and state was a priority.
John Locke Quotes
Here are 50 of John Locke’s quotes that inspired revolution and the enlightenment.
- “The reservedness and distance that fathers keep, often deprive their sons of that refuge which would be of more advantage to them than an hundred rebukes or chidings.”
- “I have always thought the actions of men the best interpreters of their thoughts.”
- “Parents wonder why the streams are bitter, when they themselves poison the fountain.”
- “So that, in effect, religion, which should most distinguish us from beasts, and ought most peculiarly to elevate us, as rational creatures, above brutes, is that wherein men often appear most irrational, and more senseless than beasts themselves.”
- “All mankind… being all equal and independent, no one ought to harm another in his life, health, liberty or possessions.”
- “There is frequently more to be learned from the unexpected questions of a child than the discourses of men.”
- “He that would seriously set upon the search of truth, ought in the first place to prepare his mind with a love of it. For he that loves it not, will not take much pains to get it; nor be much concerned when he misses it.”
- “Our incomes are like our shoes; if too small, they gall and pinch us; but if too large, they cause us to stumble and to trip.”
- “Fortitude is the guard and support of the other virtues.”
- “To love our neighbor as ourselves is such a truth for regulating human society, that by that alone one might determine all the cases in social morality.”
- “It is hard to know what other way men can come to truth, to lay hold of it, if they do not dig and search for it as for gold and hid treasure; but he that does so, must have much earth and rubbish, before he gets the pure metal; sand, and pebbles, and dross usually lie blended with it, but the gold is nevertheless gold, and will enrich the man that employs his pains to seek and separate it.”
- “New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common.”
- “What worries you, masters you.”
- “For law, in its true notion, is not so much the limitation, as the direction of a free and intelligent agent to his proper interest, and prescribes no farther than is for the general good of those under the law.”
- “If we trace the progress of our minds, and with attention observe how it repeats, adds together, and unites its simple ideas received from sensation or reflection, it will lead us farther than at first, perhaps, we should have imagined.”
- “The most precious of all possessions is power over ourselves.”
- “In short, herein seems to lie the difference between idiots and madmen, that madmen put wrong ideas together, and so make wrong propositions, but argue and reason right from them: but idiots make very few or no propositions, and reason scarce at all.”
- “The end of law is not to abolish or restrain, but to preserve and enlarge freedom.”
- “The visible mark of extraordinary wisdom and power appear so plainly in all the works of creation.”
- “The dread of evil is a much more forcible principle of human actions than the prospect of good.”
- “Every man carries about him a touchstone, if he will make use of it, to distinguish substantial gold from superficial glitterings, truth from appearances. And indeed the use and benefit of this touchstone, which is natural reason, is spoiled and lost only by assumed prejudices, overweening presumption, and narrowing our minds.”
- “This is that which I think great readers are apt to be mistaken in. Those who have read of every thing are thought to understand everything too; but it is not always so. Reading furnishes the mind only with materials of knowledge; it is thinking makes what we read ours. We are of the ruminating kind, and it is not enough to cram ourselves with a great load of collections; unless we chew them over again, they will not give us strength and nourishment.”
- “I pretend not to teach, but to inquire.”
- “The chief art of learning is to attempt but a little at a time.”
- “Virtue is harder to be got than knowledge of the world; and, if lost in a young man, is seldom recovered.”
- “Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided.”
- “The greatest part of mankind … are given up to labor, and enslaved to the necessity of their mean condition; whose lives are worn out only in the provisions for living.”
- “A father would do well, as his son grows up, and is capable of it, to talk familiarly with him; nay, ask his advice, and consult with him about those things wherein he has any knowledge or understanding. By this, the father will gain two things, both of great moment. The sooner you treat him as a man, the sooner he will begin to be one; and if you admit him into serious discourses sometimes with you, you will insensibly raise his mind above the usual amusements of youth, and those trifling occupations which it is commonly wasted in.”
- “When we find out an Idea, by whose Intervention we discover the Connexion of two others, this is a Revelation from God to us, by the voice of Reason.”
- “Wherever Law ends, Tyranny begins.”
- “Every man has a property in his own person. This nobody has a right to, but himself.”
- “He that has his chains knocked off, and the prison doors set open to him, is perfectly at liberty, because he may either go or stay, as he best likes; though his preference be determined to stay, by the darkness of the night, or illness of the weather, or want of other lodging.”
- “Nobody is made anything by hearing of rules, or laying them up in his memory; practice must settle the habit of doing, without reflecting on the rule; and you may as well hope to make a good painter, or musician, extempore, by a lecture and instruction in the arts of music and painting, as a coherent thinker, or a strict reasoner, by a set of rules, showing him wherein right reasoning consists.”
- “All wealth is the product of labor.”
- “The difference, so observable in men’s understandings and parts, does not arise so much from their natural faculties, as acquired habits.”
- “There is only one thing which gathers people into seditious commotion, and that is oppression.”
- “When Fashion hath once Established, what Folly or craft began, Custom makes it Sacred, and ’twill be thought impudence or madness, to contradict or question it.”
- “Nay, if we may openly speak the truth, and as becomes one man to another, neither Pagan nor Mahometan nor Jew, ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the commonwealth because of his religion.”
- “It is only practice that improves our minds as well as bodies, and we must expect nothing from our understandings any farther than they are perfected by habits.”
- “Education begins the gentleman, but reading, good company and reflection must finish him.”
- “Men in great fortunes are strangers to themselves, and while they are in the puzzle of business, they have no time to tend their health either of body or mind.”
- “Men living together according to reason, without a common superior on earth, with authority to judge between them, is properly the state of nature.”
- “The reason why men enter into society is the preservation of their property.”
- “In many cases it is not one series of consequences will serve the turn, but many different and opposite deductions must be examined and laid together, before a man can come to make a right judgment of the point in question. What then can be expected from men that neither see the want of any such kind of reasoning as this, nor, if they do, know they how to set about it, or could perform it?”
- “Whosoever is found variable, and changeth manifestly without manifest cause, giveth suspicion of corruption: therefore, always, when thou changest thine opinion or course, profess it plainly, and declare it, together with the reasons that move thee to change.”
- “Curiosity should be as carefully cherish’d in children, as other appetites suppress’d..”
- “Lying … is so ill a quality, and the mother of so many ill ones that spawn from it, and take shelter under it, that a child should be brought up in the greatest abhorrence of it imaginable. It should be always spoke of before him with the utmost detestation, as a quality so wholly inconsistent with the name and character of a gentleman, that no body of any credit can bear the imputation of a lie; a mark that is judg’d in utmost disgrace, which debases a man to the lowest degree of a shameful meanness, and ranks him with the most contemptible part of mankind and the abhorred rascality; and is not to be endured in any one who would converse with people of condition, or have any esteem or reputation in the world.”
- “Children (nay, and men too) do most by example.”
- “I think I may say, that of all the men we meet with, nine parts of ten are what they are, good or evil, useful or not, by their education.”
- “The better to understand the nature, manner, and extent of our knowledge, one thing is carefully to be observed concerning the ideas we have; and that is, that some of them are simple and some complex.”
See also: David Hume Quotes
John Locke Video – Political Theory
This is a very interesting, well produced short introduction to Locke’s Political Theory. John Locke is one of the most famous philosophers and political theorists of the 17th century. He is frequently regarded as the founder of a school of thought known as British Empiricism, and he made foundational contributions to modern theories of limited, liberal government.
In addition to influencing a British revolution, Locke’s empirical thought influenced the French Enlightenment and the French Revolution. He also impacted contemporary and modern scientific thought. Locke’s legacy is that he both attempted to and succeeded to his satisfaction to find the limits of human knowledge and political power.
Locke was a thinker of the greatest magnitude, who left us so much to consider. Reflect on these 50 quotes, and remember they inspired much of the modern western world.