He was especially known for his liberal, anti-authoritarian theory of the state, his empirical theory of knowledge and his advocacy of religious toleration. Much of Locke’s work is characterised by an opposition to authoritarianism, both at the level of the individual and within institutions such as the government and church.
Born in 1632, in his time he gained fame arguing that the divine right of kings is not supported by scripture. Instead, he defended a limited government whose duty is to protect the rights and liberty of its citizens. This idea is familiar to us now, yet at the time it was revolutionary, arguing against the monarchy as the source of society’s governance. A familiar idea in modern day, at the time it was revolutionary – an argument to depart from the monarchy as the source of society’s governance.
In defending his stance, Locke appealed to the notion of natural rights. He invited us to imagine an initial ‘state of nature’ with no government, police or private property. Locke argued that humans could discover, through careful reasoning, that there are natural laws which suggest that we have natural rights to our own persons and to our own labour.