Philosophy John Locke
Keith Allen
  • LAST REVIEWED: 10 May 2010
  • LAST MODIFIED: 10 May 2010
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0066


John Locke (1632–1704) was an English philosopher best known for his work in epistemology, metaphysics, and political philosophy; however, he also made important contributions to diverse fields such as education, theology, medicine, physics, economics, and politics. Locke’s empiricist epistemology influenced Berkeley, Hume, and the subsequent course of empiricism. Locke’s political philosophy is often credited with influencing both the American Constitution and the French Revolution and remains a cornerstone of liberal political thought. Locke’s most famous works are An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Two Treatises of Government, and A Letter Concerning Toleration.

General Overviews

For a brief overview of some of the main themes of Locke’s philosophy, see McCann 2002. There are many excellent book-length treatments of Locke’s philosophy. Dunn 2003 discusses Locke’s life, political philosophy, and epistemology. Aaron 1971 focuses in more detail on the epistemology and metaphysics of the Essay but also provides an introduction to Locke’s moral, political, religious, and educational writings, as well details of Locke’s life. General discussions of Locke’s work tend, however, to focus on either his epistemology and metaphysics (particularly the Essay) or his political philosophy (particularly the Two Treatises). Ayers 1991 is by far the most comprehensive account of Locke’s epistemology and metaphysics. Lowe 1995 and Jolley 1999 are useful shorter introductions. Lloyd Thomas 1995 is a good introduction to Locke’s political philosophy. The entries in Savonius, et al. 2010 provide brief introductions to all aspects of Locke’s life and thought.

  • Aaron, Richard I. John Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971.

    A good general introduction. Focuses in most detail on the Essay (Part II). Also contains a discussion of Locke’s life (Part I), and briefer discussions of his work on moral and political philosophy, philosophy of religion and education (Part III).

  • Ayers, Michael. Locke. 2 vols. London: Routledge, 1991.

    The most comprehensive discussion of Locke’s epistemology (volume 1) and metaphysics (volume 2). Contains excellent discussions of the historical context and philosophical issues arising from Locke’s discussion. Essential reading.

  • Dunn, John. Locke: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2003.

    A short book-length introduction to Locke’s life, political thought, and epistemology.

  • Jolley, Nicholas. Locke. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

    A readable book-length introduction to Locke’s epistemology and metaphysics. Chapter 10 considers how the Essay relates to the Two Treatises.

  • Lloyd Thomas, D. A. Locke on Government. London: Routledge, 1995.

    An engaging introductory guide to the Two Treatises, focusing on Locke’s discussions of the justification of political authority, the right to rebellion, and private property.

  • Lowe, E. J. Locke on Human Understanding. London: Routledge, 1995.

    A clear introduction to many of the central themes of the Essay. Situates Locke’s thought in relation to contemporary philosophical debates in epistemology, metaphysics, and the philosophy of mind.

  • McCann, E. “John Locke.” In A Companion to Early Modern Philosophy. Edited by Steven Nadler, 354–374. Oxford: Blackwell, 2002.

    A brief introduction to Locke’s thought, covering his epistemology, metaphysics, and political philosophy.

  • Savonius, Sami-Juhani, Jonathan Walmsley, and Paul Schuurman, eds. The Continuum Companion to Locke. London: Continuum, 2010.

    Consists of numerous short entries on Locke’s life, sources, contemporary critics, key Lockean concepts, main works, and influence.

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