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John Locke - an older white man, very thin, with a brown robe on

John Locke

John Locke was an English philosopher in the late 1600s AD. He was just starting his career at the height of the Enlightenment, when Hobbes was an old man.

Locke’s mother and father were both Puritans; his mother ran the household while his father worked as a lawyer. Locke went to college at Oxford, though he didn’t like it much. He studied medicine and became a respected doctor. Though he had a romance with another philosopher Damaris Masham, Locke never got married or had any kids.

Locke became the doctor for a powerful rich politician, and so he got involved with English politics. In the late 1600s, the most important political question in England was how to keep having kings and queens, but set limits on their power. Like Hobbes, Locke thought people needed “social contracts” and governments to stop wars. But Locke didn’t believe in absolute rulers. He thought people had natural rights that the government shouldn’t take away from them. Having lived through the Thirty Years’ War, in which millions of people in Europe died for their religion, Locke followed Roger Williams and Milton in arguing that people had a right to worship God however they pleased. Locke also thought people had a right to life, and to be free, to be healthy, and to keep their own property (as long as it wasn’t too much or too unequal). And Locke wrote that if the government interfered with these natural rights, people had a right – even a duty – to revolt and overthrow that government.

Even though Locke was all about freedom for English men, he didn’t see any problem with forcing African men to work as slaves in the tobacco fields of the Carolinas. Even though Locke worked with Masham, he didn’t think the question of where women fit into society was important enough to worry about, either.

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