Locke's Philosophy: Content and Context

Locke's Philosophy: Content and Context

Locke's Philosophy: Content and Context

Locke's Philosophy: Content and Context


Three hundred years after his major publications, John Locke remains one of the most potent philosophical influences in the world today. His epistemology has become embedded in our everyday presumptions about the world, and his political theory lies at the heart of the liberal democratic state. This collection by a distinguished international group of scholars looks both at core areas of Locke's philosophy and political theory and at areas not usually discussed the links between Locke's philosophy and his religious and political thought, the effects and implications of Locke's works in the world at the time, and the manifestation of those effects in the present day. Drawing on material not available until recently both the modern texts of the Clarendon Edition of Locke's works and unpublished manuscripts Locke's Philosophy: Content and Context adds to our appreciation of Locke's thought and influences as the first original collection of Locke scholarship in some years.


The chapters in this book were in earlier forms all given as papers at a conference held at Christ Church, Oxford in September 1990 and initiated by the Board of the Clarendon Edition of the Works of John Locke. The conference marked both the 300th anniversary of the publication of Locke's major works and also the new Clarendon Edition, several volumes of which had by then been published. The volumes of the Clarendon Edition to date mark a high point in Locke publication with the establishment over a number of years of texts produced to the highest scholarship that will eventually provide a firm and comprehensive basis for Locke studies into the foreseeable future.

The Clarendon Locke Conference brought together a large number of scholars from around the world whose interest in Locke reflected the many facets of his thought. But it is not surprising that the main focus was on the Essay concerning Human Understanding and the Two Treatises of Government and the present selection, of about one-third of those given at Oxford, in part reflect that. What the conference demonstrated and what it is hoped this volume will show is that Locke remains rewarding not only as a seminal influence on our history but also as a source for relevant insights into our modern predicament.

The chapters also reflect the buoyant state of Locke studies. This is in part the consequence of the availability of the rich sources of Locke's large manuscript collection now in the Bodleian Library, which provide us with such a full understanding of his philosophy, his person, and his times. Locke scholars and historians of the seventeenth century more generally are greatly indebted to a number of people who have made that source possible. One such is Paul Mellon, whose generosity in donating the bulk of Locke's library and many of his manuscripts to the Bodleian Library has added enormously to the value of the original purchase of the Lovelace Collection in 1947. Others to whom we are all indebted include the first General Editor of the Clarendon Edition,Peter Nidditch, who set a standard difficult to follow with his edition of the Essay concerning Human Understanding, and the first Chairman, Robert Shackleton. I would also like in this context to mention Esmund de Beer, who is remembered not only for his monumental edition of the Correspondence but also for his generous help to all Locke scholars, and particularly for his help to younger colleagues just tipping their toes in Lockean waters.

I would also like to pay tribute to the two scholars to whom this volume is dedicated, Peter Laslett and John Yolton. Peter Laslett's account of the recovery of Locke's library was one of the highlights of the conference and something that I very much hope will achieve a permanent record elsewhere. But that story is . . .

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