Locke, John (1632–1704)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DA054-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2017
Retrieved December 12, 2018, from

12. Legacy

Locke’s influence on subsequent philosophy has been profound. In some domains he opened up new philosophical terrain, penning foundational discussions and setting the agenda for subsequent generations. Of particular note in this regard is his treatment of personal identity which remains the locus classicus of the subject (see Personal identity). His treatment of the association of ideas added to the fourth edition of the Essay was the major stimulus to the eighteenth-century associationism in the likes of David Hartley and David Hume. And his account of demonstrative knowledge as the perception of the agreement or disagreement of ideas became a common trope in eighteenth-century logic and theories of the understanding. Again, his suggestion that matter fitly disposed might have the power of thought was central to subsequent debates about the ontological status of the mind and Enlightenment debates over vitalism (see Mind and body, in early modern philosophy; Vitalism).

In the case of philosophical problems that were already established in Locke’s day, his theory of property has exerted enormous influence and together with his theory of government is considered to be foundational to modern liberalism (see Liberalism). Likewise, his discussions of the nature of substance, the nature of species and the theory of qualities remain some of the richest and most influential treatments of these issues. Indeed, in the theory of properties the expressions ‘primary quality’ and ‘secondary quality’ as used in the Essay quickly became standard terminology (see Primary-secondary distinction).

In addition to these important contributions Locke introduced some classic thought experiments that were subsequently taken up by other philosophers and remain standard fare in undergraduate philosophy courses today, such as the problem put to him by William Molyneux and the man in a locked room (see Molyneux Problem). Moreover, the critical response to his philosophy has generated more of the same, such as Thomas Reid’s argument against Locke’s theory of personal identity in which an officer, who took a standard in his first battle, remembers being flogged as a boy (see Reid, Thomas (1710–1796)). As an old general he remembers taking the standard but not the flogging. By Locke’s criterion for personal identity, the boy is the same person as the officer and the officer the same person as the general, but the boy is not the same person as the general (Reid 2002: 276).

Locke’s legacy is also to be seen in the critical engagement with his thought by individual philosophers of merit. In his own day, Catharine Cockburn, Anthony Collins and the third Earl of Shaftesbury were all deeply influenced by Locke. In following generations, George Berkeley, Francis Hutcheson, Hume and Reid all pursued philosophy according to the agenda set by Locke. And his flag flew high in France. Voltaire devoted a letter on him in his Letters Concerning the English Nation and Denis Diderot wrote an entry on him in the Encyclopédie. Locke is unquestionably one of the greatest English philosophers.

Citing this article:
Anstey, Peter. Legacy. Locke, John (1632–1704), 2017, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DA054-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2018 Routledge.

Related Articles