John Locke (1632–1704) was born at Wrington in Somerset, England, six years after the death of Francis Bacon. His father was a Puritan, a land- owner, and an attorney. Locke was a 17-year-old student at Westminster School when, on January 30, 1649, King Charles I was executed as a traitor to his country. The execution, which Locke may have witnessed, took place in the courtyard of White- hall Palace, which was close to Locke’s school. Locke was born 10 years before the outbreak of civil war, and he lived through this great rebellion that was so important to English history. It was at least partially due to the Zeitgeist then that Locke, as well as several of his fellow students, developed a lifelong interest in politics. Indeed, Locke was to become the most influential political philosopher in post-Renaissance Europe.
In 1652 Locke, at age 20, obtained a scholarship from Oxford University, where he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1656 and his master’s degree in 1658. His first publication was a poem that he wrote as an undergraduate—a tribute to Oliver Cromwell. Locke remained at Oxford for 30 years, having academic appointments in Greek, rhetoric, and moral philosophy. He also studied medicine, and on his third attempt, he finally attained his doctorate in without any ideas; how comes it to be furnished? Whence comes it by that vast store which the busy and boundless fancy of man has painted on it with an almost endless variety? Whence has it all the materials of reason and knowledge? To this I answer, in one word, from experience. In that all our knowledge is founded, and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation employed either about external sensible objects, or about the internal operations of our minds perceived and reflected on by ourselves, is that which supplies our understandings with all the materials of thinking. These two are the fountains of knowledge, from whence all the ideas we have, or can naturally have, do spring.