Spring 2021 Student Scholar

John Locke: Enlightenment and Liberty in a Modern Context


Madison Maddocks-Casada is a junior at Texas Tech University studying for her Bachelor of Business Administration, with a focus in Marketing, in the Rawls College of Business. She is also a member of the Honors College at Texas Tech.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and related closure of the Texas Tech campus in March 2020, Madison was unable to provide her public lecture. She recorded the following video at home, please take your time to watch it:

Madison ultilized several John Locke works from The Remnant Trust’s collection, including: Two Treatises of Government (7th Edition, 1772, #0207), The Works of John Locke, Esq. (3rd Corrected Edition, 1727, #0208-0210), Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1798, #), and Some Thoughts on the Conduct of the Understanding in the Search of Truth (1st Authorized Separate Edition, 1754, #0688).

The following text is taken from the text of Madison’s display located in the Croslyn Center in the Texas Tech University Library:


John Locke

John Locke (1632-1704) was an Enlightenment-era philosopher and a propagator of many significant political theories of the 17th century in England. Some of his most influential patterns of thought such as religious tolerance, individual liberty and the right to rebel against the government seem to be very relevant to the modern day, and exploration of such ideas can grant us further insight into our own issues we face as a generation.


Thoughts on Understanding

This book was essentially Locke’s first attempt to discuss the differences in thought and necessitate discussion on the subject. He was well aware that the writing was not his usual quality and was convoluted and difficult to understand, so he re-wrote and collected his thoughts in the following Essay Concerning Human Understanding, which was one of the most influential pieces concerning Empiricism of the era. Both this book and the following essay are considered to be useful foundational reading for anyone interested in the works of Locke, as they discuss many of his thoughts concerning knowledge, ideas and how we learn. 


Essay Concerning Human Understanding

This essay is one of the principal works concerning Empiricism, a foundation of thought by which the mind is originally a blank slate and is filled later through experience. This is one of the most well-received essays of his collection, having influenced many philosophers during the Enlightenment period. Book I contains Locke’s disapproval of the rationalist notion of innate ideas – ideas we are born with – and why it’s a baseless theory. Book II distinguishes how the mind conceives the world, and is broken down into a theory of ideas concerning simple and complex ideas. Book III discusses language and its functionality in the process of understanding. Book IV finally discusses concepts such as intuition, faith, opinion, moral philosophy and many other more nuanced insights into advanced theory. 


Reasonableness of Christianity

This book was one that elaborated on how Locke truly felt regarding the Church as well as his views on Christianity and its presented ideas and how that factored into his prior notions about thought, understanding and the human experience. After a visit to a religious community in Cleves as a young adult, Locke found his notions of tolerance changed significantly in seeing many different religions living together in harmony. 


Two Treatises of Government

Locke discusses some of the fundamental concepts of Natural Law within this text, as well as the duties of the people to each other as well as the government to the people. The concept of liberty really comes to light here as Locke displays a concept of how people should be owed certain rights and autonomy (control over themselves and their lives). 


Locke in the Modern Context

You would be mistaken if you think that old philosophy has little bearing on the world today. Locke, being one of the most influential philosophers of the Enlightenment period still has an impact on the world today. We find ourselves adhering to the same sense of moral and societal codes relevant centuries ago, because Locke was merely putting a name to the common ideology of humans: we want to do what is mutually beneficial. Generally, humans desire to do things that bring them freedom and happiness and when those things are good for society, they are celebrated as virtues, and encouraged. Locke simply pointed this out and discussed it further.


Locke and His Indirect Influence on Youth in Politics

Locke believed in the concept of self-authority and governance. This was a radical political philosophy for his time, where he expected the people to be able to rise up against stifling governments which exerted too much power over people’s rights to property or free will. He had one famous claim that man “should receive ownership over a product once he has mixed his labor with it.” Many people hold this philosophy close to their hearts today, even if they do not word it so concisely!