John Locke was born on August 29, 1632, in Somerset, England, to a Puritan family. Locke’s father, a lawyer who also served as a captain in the English Civil War, was well connected with the English government. As a result, Locke was able to receive an outstanding and diverse education. In 1647, while attending Westminster School in London, Locke was named King’s Scholar (an honor bestowed upon only a select few), and in 1652, Locke attended Oxford’s most prestigious school, Christ Church. It was at Christ Church that John Locke became familiar with metaphysics and logic, and while pursuing his Master of Arts, he immersed himself in the work of Descartes and Robert Boyle (who is considered to be the father of chemistry) and pursued a career as a doctor.
In 1665, Locke became friends with Lord Ashley (who was a founder of the Whig party and would go on to become Earl of Shaftesbury), one of England’s most skilled statesmen, who came to Oxford looking for medical treatment. Lord Ashley invited Locke to live in London and work for him as his personal physician, and Locke moved there in 1667. As Lord Ashley’s power and responsibility grew, so too did Locke’s responsibilities, and he soon found himself working in trading and colonization. One project Lord Ashley took on was the colonization of the Carolinas in the New World, and Locke took part in writing the constitution for the land. It was during this time that Locke started to become interested in philosophical discussions.
In 1674, with Lord Ashley no longer in government, Locke returned to Oxford to get a bachelor of medicine degree and then traveled to France, where he spent a lot of his time learning about Protestantism. Upon returning to England in 1679, Locke found himself embroiled in controversy. As Charles II and Parliament fought for control and revolution seemed possible, Locke’s involvement in a failed assassination attempt of the king and the king’s brother forced Locke to leave the country. It was during this time that Locke also wrote the highly regarded Two Treatises of Government.
While living in exile in Holland, Locke finished perhaps what is his most famous work, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which he had started while in France. Locke was finally able to return to England in 1688, when William of Orange invaded England, forcing James II (who ruled after his brother, Charles II, died) to flee to France, starting the Glorious Revolution. It was only after Locke’s return to England that An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and Two Treatises of Government were published.
The Glorious Revolution had a profound impact on England and shifted power away from the monarchy and toward Parliament. John Locke was not only considered to be a hero during his time; his contributions to Western philosophy have proven that he is one of the greatest minds of human history. His philosophical works touched on empiricism, epistemology, government, God, religious toleration, and private property.