John Locke - 1632-1704AD

John Locke - 1632-1704AD

"The only fence against the world is a thorough knowledge of it."

It is widely agreed that Locke is the father of modern empiricism which espouses the view that knowledge comes from experience, as opposed to innate ideas. Experience is defined as the actions of the physical world on our sense organs.

His most significant work is his Essay Concerning Human Understanding, in which he describes his views on the nature of human knowledge.

"The mind at birth is like a blank slate, waiting to be written on by the world of experience."1

It was an intolerant age in which Locke lived. During his life he felt in danger on many occasions. He wrote in code and used invisible ink to keep his work secret. When he published, his papers and books were often published anonymously. Through fear of being tried as a traitor he fled to Holland for about ten years. The intolerance of the age inevitably influenced his writings.

Locke had read Descartes' Meditations, but had rejected his rationalist philosophy on which its conclusions were based. Locke believed that all human knowledge comes from the mind through ideas presented to the mind by the world of experience. There are two types of ideas; simple ones, and complex ones that are constructed by the mind out of a number of simple ones.


Locke believed in ethical behaviour and the natural goodness of humanity. He recognised what Kirkegaard described as aesthetic behavior, or the inevitable pursuit of happiness and pleasure. He believed that aesthetic behavior is acceptable when conducted rationally, as it leads to cooperation, and in the long run private happiness and the general welfare coincide. But immediate pleasures must give way to a prudent regard for ultimate good, including reward in the afterlife.

His beliefs in connection with how to lead your life to achieve happiness and fulfilment, therefore, coincided with those of other great philosophers such as Plato and Kirkegaard. Ethical behavior is the route to happiness, but he also recognised the part played by the aesthetic and the religious dimensions.

John Locke said, "A sound mind in a sound body is a short but full description of a happy state in this world." His emphasis on the mind and its development as the key to happiness goes against much of our contemporary culture, which suggests that people devote much of their free time to developing their body. Perhaps the world would be a happier place if there was more focus on the development of both the mind and the body.

For more information about the great philosophers and their views on narcissism and happiness, read Finding Happiness.

1 John Locke in 'Concerning Human Understanding (Essay)