Brief History

John Locke was one of the earliest and most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment era.
Please view this time line of John Locke's life as well as these three video's(1,2,3) to learn about his biography.


John Locke was born on August 29, 1632 in Wrington Somerset, England to his father who was also named John Lockes, who was a country lawyer and clerk to the Justices of the Peace in Chew Magna. His mother, Agnes Keene, was a tanner's daughter. Both parents were Puritans. Locke was born in a small thatched cottage right by a church. He was baptized the same day. Soon after his birth, the family moved to the market town of Pensford, about seven miles south of Bristal, where Locke grew up in a rural Tudarhouse in Belluton. (
John Locke and many interests that had kept him busy through his life. Some of these interests include, metaphysics, epistemology, political philosophy, philosophy of mind, and education.
During Locke's childhood, the King, Protestants, Parliment, Anglicans and Catholics were all in conflict with eachother; this led to the civil war in 1640.

Early Adulthood

John Locke was a British philosopher, an Oxford academic, and a medical researcher. In the year 1647 he went to the Westminster School in London and became part of "a small group [called the King's Scholar's who] ...had the privilege of living in the school and who received a stipend for two or three years before standing for election for either Christ Church, Oxford or Trinity College Cambridge." He entered Christ Church, Oxford in 1652 at the age of twenty and received his Bachelor of Arts in 1656. Locke continued his schooling until 1658 in order to receive his Masters where he was "elected a Senior Student of Christ Church College." From there, he was a lecturer in Greek as well as Rhetoric. Throughout his studies, Locke decided to become a doctor and was influenced by various individuals in order to develop his personal philosophy. After reading one of Descartes' essays entitled "An Essay Concerning Human Understanding" Locke adopted his 'way of ideas' which later became "an organic part of Locke's philosophy." Locke, along with Boyle and Newton became members of the English Royal Society where he continued to develop his philosophy. These two individuals were close friends of Locke's as well as great influences of his theory. (John Locke site)

Educational Theory

John Locke's theories centre around the case that the mind at birth is a "complete, but receptive, blank slate" otherwise known as a tabula rasa. It is the experiences placed upon this blank slate throughout life that determine a child's characteristics and behaviours. Locke rebelled against the traditional theories of original sin. He did not agree that children were born into the world as evil beings, but rather that they were born without innate ideas. Locke believed that things could only be added to a child's blank slate through EXPERIENCE (Tabula Rasa Site). Locke discussed two aspect of experience: external and internal experiences.
  • External experience (sensation) gives us thoughts on external objects (ex. what colour, sound, motion, etc)
  • Internal experience (reflection) refers to the spirit on the external objects (ex. knowing, wondering, doubting, etc) (Philosophy)

Locke's major works include Treatises on Government, Essay Concerning Human Understanding, and Thoughts on Education. Locke recommends in Thoughts on Education that practical learning is needed "to prepare people to manage their social, economic, and politic affairs efficiently (Tabula Rasa Site). Some of Locke's best known words state:

"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

Thoughts on Education was originally written for a friend of Locke's, but had a larger appeal towards women and lower classes. This work inspired people to want practical educations for their children. Children were taught mathematics, sciences (geography, anatomy, astronomy, etc), and emerging languages rather than simply Greek and Latin. Male students were also encouraged to study a trade. Parents of the Renaissance were quickly realizing the importance of raising children educated in many areas, in the quickly changing economy. Locke also recommended that parents spend time with their children so that they grow up to be "contributing members of a society" (Life Span Development-Ed Pysch Text). Locke advised parents to observe their children's "natures and aptitudes" in order to determine what life paths to follow (Concerning Education site).

Above all, Locke believed that children could reason early in life and should be addressed as "reasoning beings" by their parents (Concerning Education site). Locke felt that establishing a habit or way of reasoning was more valuable than memorizing rules. Instilling a love and enjoyment for learning are essential to a child's academic success, suggests Locke. Curriculum was of little importance to Locke. Rather, he supported teaching children so that they would be passionate towards acquiring further knowledge and developing critical thinking skills.


John Locke's theories on education influenced many later educational theorists. Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi used Locke's theories developing the concept of object lesson. Maria Montessori also used Locke's theories to help develop Montessori Education. It has also been said that Locke's theories were used in the television show Sesame Street to give underprivileged city children "the basic experiences that their environment normally does not provide" (Concerning Education site).

Influences in North American Education

John Locke's theory that the mind begins as a blank tablet influenced early colonialist in the United States who wanted to move away from the ties of their past. Therefore they turned from thinking that children were born with original sin to embracing theories like Locke's. "American leaders liked his emphasis on common sense and empirical knowledge, leading to a strong emphasis on the value of practical experience and the worthiness of scientific experimentation that could be replicated by others." (United States- History and Background )

Influences on other important historical figures

John Locke's writings on education and other subjects, such as government, had an impact on the thinking of other men who shaped the world we live in today. "Hans Aarsleff remarks that Locke ‘is the most influential philosopher of modern times.’ He notes that besides initiating the vigorous tradition known as British empiricism, Locke's influence reached far beyond the limits of the traditional discipline of philosophy. ‘His influence in the history of thought, on the way we think about ourselves and our relation to the world we live in, to God, nature and society, has been immense.' " (Standford Enclycopedia of Philosophy) It is thought that John influenced men like Jefferson who wrote the American constitution and believed in the equality of man (Notes on John Locke).

Influences in Today's Society

John Locke now shares his name with a character on the popular television series Lost. Comparisons between the real life and fictional man can be made. Not only do they share the same name, but the John Locke from Lost believes that his slate has been wiped clean when he is stranded on the Island which sounds very much like Tabula Rasa. This video
made by students, explores more deeply the similarities between the two men. It is interesting that Lost would create such a character. Could this television show be a vehicle through which John Locke's theories will continue to influence thought today?

-Crystal McLean, Sarah Ramer, Erin Toppings, Bethany Wagner