John Locke

Researched and written by: Erica K. Williams
I attest that the following biography is a product of my own original work..

“To understand fully any system of thought, one should, ideally
read the original data of history on which writers base their books
and professors create their lectures.”                                                             

“Though the familiar use of the things about us,
takes off our wonder; yet it cures not our ignorance.”                                                                                

-An Essay Concerning Human Understanding



           In Wrington, just outside of Somerset, England, John Locke Sr. and Anne Keene gave birth to their eldest son, John Locke, on August 29, 1632. John Locke Sr. and Anne had married two years previous in 1630. John Locke Sr. was a county attorney in England and clerk to the Justice of the Peace born to a middle class, Puritan family.  His father, Nicholas Locke, owned a clothier in Pensford as well as in Sutton Wick.  Nicholas Locke sold his land and modest house, known as the Beluton Mansion, to his eldest son, John Locke Sr., in 1630 shortly before his marriage to Anne Keene.  (Fraser, 1970) 
           Unfortunately not much is known about Anne Keene except from what Locke wrote in his letters to his father.  These letters tell us that Anne was known as a very pious woman and that John only showed affection for his mother.  Anne was 10 years older than her husband, and was the daughter of a substantial Puritan tradesman.  (Aaron, 1965) 

            The young family resided in the Beluton mansion, part of a rural Puritan community, and he bore a second son, Thomas Locke, in August of 1637.  A civil war broke out in this quiet region in 1642 and Locke Sr. became a Captain in the army serving the Parliament.  Though the civil war lasted for 4 years, John Locke Sr. had returned from the war less than 2 years after he had joined the service.  The war had taken a financial toll on the Locke family, and his two sons inherited a smaller estate than originally owned by the family upon his death in 1661. (Fraser, 1970) 

            John and his brother, Thomas were home schooled by their father for the first 14 years of their lives.  He often wrote about his father in his letters with tenderness and affection.  Though Thomas Locke later pursued his father’s profession and was married, he died unexpectedly of consumption (a wasting away of his tissues) and fathered no children. (Fraser, 1970)   

            John Locke, unlike his brother, followed a more educationally focused path.  Locke was admitted to the Westminster School in 1646, where he was enrolled for less than 6 years.  By the summer of 1652, John Locke was in Oxford and had been elected to a Junior Studentship in Christ Church.  Locke enrolled as a member of the university’s student body the following November at Oxford.  Tragedy struck in Locke’s early years at Oxford, somewhere between 1652 and 1660, when his mother, whom he had spoken affectionately of, passed away.  Despite the loss of both of his parents, Locke made Oxford his home and remained there on and off for the next 30 years. (Fraser, 1970)

           In 1667 John Locke moved to London to become the personal physician of his friend Lord Ashley, who he had met a year prior at Oxford.  Ashley was one of the most influential people in the country at the time.  Locke grew fond of him and assisted him in more than medical affairs.  Locke assisted Ashley as he became the First Earl of Shaftsbury, in public business, commercial, political affairs, and followed him into government service. (Aaron, 1965)  Locke grew into Ashley’s adviser and helped him in his daily affairs.  Locke also supervised the surgery to remove a cyst from Lord Ashley’s liver, took up the task of finding a wife for Ashley’s son, and also tutored Ashley’s grandson. 

            In 1670, under Ashley’s supervision Locke was given more political duties, such as writing The fundamental Constitution of Carolina.  While Lord Ashley moved up in rank (for a short time) Locke also grew in power.  In 1671, Locke was appointed secretary to the Lord Proprietors of Carolina.  He held this position until 1675 when his work began to become a hindrance on his health and he was forced to try a prolonged stay in France.(Aaron, 1965)

            Nonetheless, Locke’s true nature was to write.  According to the Encyclopedia of Philosophy, while in France, Locke kept a journal full of minute descriptions of places, customs and institutions.  During this time he wrote the first draft of his Essay Concerning Human Understanding.

            A few years after Locke’s return to England in 1679, Lord Ashley fled to Holland in fear of a charge of treason, punishable by death.  Ashley only lived a few more weeks before he died in Amsterdam.  Following his death, Locke began to fear for his life, because he was so close to Ashley and his political affairs, and fled to Holland as well.  While in Holland, Locke for sometime went under the alias of Dr. Van Der Linden. (O’Connor, 1967)  But Locke professed his innocence and, even after he was granted a pardon, he refused to return to England because he stated that he had committed no crime.

            At the age of 57, Locke had written many pieces but had not published a single work.  In 1689 he finally returned to England and stayed in the rooms at Westminster for the next two years.  During this time he worked hard on preparing and publishing philosophical books that he had worked on during his stint in Holland.

            Locke published three Letters Concerning Toleration between the years of 1689- 1693.  In 1690, he published the Two Treaties on Civil Government and the Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  He decided to move in 1691 from Westminster to Oates in Essex, just outside of London, which was the residence of his friends Sir Francis and Lady Masham.  Locke resided at Oates until his death in 1704.


            During time when he decided to reflect upon life, Locke published Some Thoughts Concerning Education in 1693 and the second edition of the Essay Concerning Human Understanding in 1694.  Then in 1695 he published The Reasonableness of Christianity and answered his critics in the same year by publishing A Vindication of the Reasonableness of Christianity.

            While Locke did contribute greatly to topics of education, philosophy, politics, and religion, he also gave greatly in the field of psychology.  The main work that is of importance to psychology is Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  In this essay Locke wrote four books: Book I: of Innate Notions, Book II: of Ideas, Book III: of Words, and Book IV: of Knowledge and Opinion.  In these books Locke expressed his ideas his ideas of human nature and his understanding of it.  Locke was concerned primarily with cognitive functioning.  He didn’t believe in innate ideas as his teacher Descartes did, he was interested with the studies of Aristotle.  He believed that at birth our minds are a tabula rasa, a blank slate, on which experience would write. (Schultz & Schultz, 2004)

            Locke also believed that our experiences were derived from two sources, sensation and reflection.  The ideas that were derived from sensation came from direct sensory input from physical objects in the environment.  These were simple sense impressions.  These sense impressions operated on the mind, and the mind itself also operated on the sensations, reflecting on them to form ideas.  This mental or cognitive function of reflection as a source of ideas depended on sensory experience.  This was because the ideas produced by the mind’s reflection were based on impressions already experienced through the senses. (Schultz & Schultz, 2004)  In reflecting, we recall past sensory ideas which arise from sensation and reflection, but the ultimate source remains our sensory experiences.  (Schultz & Schultz, 2004)

            Locke also contributes to psychology the concept of simple and complex ideas.  Simple ideas were elemental ideas that arise from sensation and reflection; complex ideas were derived ideas that were compounded of simple ideas and thus could be analyzed or reduced to their simple components.  Other topics that Locke wrote about were include Theory of Association, the notion that knowledge results from linking or associating simple ideas to form complex ideas. (Schultz & Schultz, 2004)

             Locke throughout his life has been influential in all that he accomplished. He gave to the study of psychology many ideas and concepts that weren’t previously thought of in the study. Locke integrated ideas of philosophy and science to form ideas that became very influential to the field of psychology. We can see that not only was John Locke a vital man in history of philosophy, politics, science and literature, but he also made a major impact on psychology and thus cannot be forgotten.   





Aaron, Richard I. (1965). John Locke.  London: Oxford Press.


Fraser, A. C. (1970).  Locke.  Port Washington: Kennikat Press.


O’Connor, D.J. (1967). John Locke. New York, NY: Dover.

Schultz, D.P., Schultz, S.E. (2004) A History of Modern Psychology .Wadsworth,  Thomson Learning Inc.







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