From Oxford to Enlightenment: The Early Years of John Locke


John Locke is a name that is widely recognized in the world of philosophy and political theory. The impact of his ideas and writings have had a lasting influence on the development of modern Western society and thought. However, before he became the prolific thinker and writer that we know today, Locke’s early years played an important role in shaping his beliefs and ideas.

Born in 1632 in Wrington, a small village in Somerset, England, Locke was the son of a country lawyer. Despite his humble origins, Locke’s academic potential was recognized early on and he received a scholarship to study at Westminster School and later at Christ Church, Oxford. It was during his time at Oxford that Locke’s interest in philosophy and politics began to flourish.

At Oxford, Locke was exposed to various prominent philosophers and thinkers, such as Francis Bacon and Rene Descartes. Their ideas would have a significant influence on his own thoughts and theories. One particular professor, John Owen, would become a close friend and mentor to Locke and would greatly shape his religious beliefs.

After completing his studies, Locke was offered a position as a tutor to the son of Alexander Popham, a member of parliament. It was here that he gained valuable insight into the workings of politics and the inner workings of government. This experience would later inform his political theories and writings.

In 1666, Locke was appointed as a physician to Lord Ashley, the future Earl of Shaftesbury. It was during his time working for Lord Ashley that Locke developed a close relationship with him and was introduced to influential figures in the government. This would prove to be a key factor in Locke’s later role as a political advisor and his involvement in major political events of the time.

In the late 1660s, Locke began to travel and study abroad. He spent time in France, where he met prominent thinkers such as Pierre Gassendi and Robert Boyle. He also traveled to Germany, where he met and corresponded with other philosophers, including Gottfried Leibniz. These interactions would greatly expand Locke’s knowledge and understanding of various philosophical and scientific ideas, which he would later incorporate into his own theories.

During his travels, Locke began to develop his ideas on natural law and the social contract. These concepts would become central to his political philosophy and his ideas on the role of government in society. His belief that individuals have certain rights that should be protected by a just government would go on to have a profound impact on the development of democracy and human rights.

In 1679, Locke returned to England and became more involved in political matters. He wrote several influential papers on topics such as religious liberty and the limits of government. His ideas would become increasingly popular, and he was seen as a key figure in advocating for political reform.

Locke’s early years, from his education at Oxford to his travels and experiences abroad, played a crucial role in shaping his later ideas and beliefs. His exposure to different cultures, philosophies, and political systems allowed him to develop a well-rounded understanding of the world and its complexities. His contributions to philosophy and politics continue to be studied and debated to this day, solidifying his place as one of the most influential thinkers of the Enlightenment period.