John Locke


Locke (1632–1704) was undoubtedly the most important influence on the American Founders, especially through his brilliant political work, the Second Treatise of Government, which was used to justify the American Revolution and to ground the philosophical principles of the US Constitution. In addition to his political influence, Locke also defended the common sense thesis that knowledge derives from reflection on nature.

All Knowledge Derives from Experience

The republican theory of government is grounded in nature. Our minds do not come equipped with a set of ideas (unlike the body, which has instincts); knowledge comes solely through sensation and reflection.

God Exists as a Non-Material Being

We are able to know, through reflection on nature, that God exists as an eternal, intelligent, and spiritual being. Our own minds are likewise spiritual, as is evident from the difference between mind and matter.

The Justice of Human Law Flows from Nature

No statement of principle was more critical to the American founding than the opening section of the Second Treatise of Government. The law of nature, which is universal, precedes government and is known by mind.

The Origin and Role of Property in Government

Economic value derives from labor, as does the right of property. When we work, we appropriate nature to ourselves. The legislature is representative of the people and may not take propery without consent.