Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Bacon & Locke: English Enlightenment Philosophers

Francis Bacon (1561-1626)

v     He was an English philosopher, politician, scientist, and diplomat.

v     He was the founder of empiricism and the scientific method – that all theories must be tested with experiments. He argued that knowledge comes only from the senses, and that science should be used for practical purposes, such as inventions to make work simpler and life better for all.

v     He was the first scientist ever to be knighted for his work.

v     As a member of parliament, he was a liberal reformer. He advocated religious tolerance, democracy, and the unification of England and Scotland.

v     Bacon ended his political career in disgrace, when his archrival, Sir Edward Coke, charged him with twenty-three counts of corruption. He was fined £40,000, and imprisoned in the Tower of London for a few days, until the king, his supporter, released him, and forgave the debt. Plus, he was banned from ever holding public office again – he couldn’t run in elections.

v     Bacon wrote a novel called The New Atlantis, about a utopian society on an island in the Pacific, which had freedom for all. Bacon also encouraged many people to go start colonies in America to try to realize his dream. So, he was a great inspiration for America’s founding fathers.

v     A few scholars debate whether Francis Bacon wrote some or all of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. The theory is that Shakespeare pretended to be the author, so that Bacon could write in secret and still hold a political office – being a playwright was considered a lower profession. Some people have even found “ciphers” in the works supporting this theory, a bit.

John Locke (1632-1704)

v     Locke was a physician (doctor) and one of the greatest philosophers of the English Enlightenment, a cultural movement emphasizing logic and science.

v     He’s known as the Father of Classical Liberalism, a political ideology in which liberty (freedom) is most important, and that government must be limited to protect liberty.

v     For Locke, one of the most important limits on government is the separation of church and state. Locke argued for religious toleration, with three arguments:

1. No one knows which is the true religion. People are imperfect and unfit to judge. Only God knows the true religion, and is fit to judge people.

2. Even if people knew the true religion, you can’t force people to believe in it.

3. Forcing one religion on society creates social disorder.

v     Locke also argued that property is a human right, since it is created from human labour.

v     Locke was the first to form the modern conception of identity in his Essay Concerning Human Understanding. He said that every baby starts as a tabula rasa (blank slate) and that knowledge comes from experience.

v     Locke wrote Two Treatises on Government, arguing against monarchies, and for natural rights, including the right to vote. While they were ignored in England, they were very influential in the American colonies, when they revolted against Britain. In fact, one line, Britain’s “long train of abuses” was quoted in the US Declaration of Independence.

v     Active in politics, Locke was a part of the Rye House Plot, a plan to kill both king Charles II and his brother James. It was discovered, and Locke fled to the Netherlands. Apparently, it wasn’t a detailed plan, it was more of an idea, but the king was so zealous (zápalistý) in finding and punishing these conspirators (sprisahanci) that it helped lead to riots (hýrenie) and the Glorious Revolution, in which William III took the throne. It’s a good example of someone creating exactly what he didn’t want to happen.

v     Locke is sometimes accused of hypocrisy, because he helped draft the Constitution of North Carolina which permitted slavery, and the taking of land owned by Native Americans, since the land was “unenclosed”, meaning it had no fence.

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