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Political Writings of John Locke

by John Locke

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While the excerpts from this book deal with John Locke’s political theories, educators should also be aware of Locke’s philosophical ideas. In my classroom, we occasionally referenced Locke’s political theories when discussing inalienable rights and the American Revolution, but we referred back to one of his philosophical concepts much more often: the concept of Tabula Rasa.

Tabula Rasa means “blank slate,” and what Locke meant by this was that men and women are born without any innate ideas. He used three metaphors to describe our condition at birth: the blank slate, an empty pantry which needs to be stocked, and a dark closet which needs light. Each metaphor conveys the same concept: men gain all knowledge through experience. The concept of Tabula Rasa is ultimately an epistemological concept, because it deals with the way people may know something with certainty.

At first glance, Locke’s theory seems indisputable. Of course babies don’t know anything! We have to teach them everything, including language and manners and the way the world works.

But do we have to teach them that murder is wrong? Or is that something that everyone knows, without ever receiving instruction?

The Bible answers these questions plainly in Romans 2:14-15. Paul writes, “Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thought now accusing, now even defending them.” Put simply, God reveals some of His moral truth to all men innately.

Locke is not wrong, of course, when he suggests that we find out many things through experience. Certainly, men and women rely on their senses to know about the world around them. But that’s not the only way men acquire knowledge, and to suggest otherwise is reductionistic.

More importantly, our experience can never provide certain knowledge! Man is finite and in and of himself is capable of knowing nothing for certain. Our only hope is that the living God reveals certain knowledge to us. To use Locke’s terms, anything we write on the blank slate is easily smudged or erased; we need God to reveal truth written in stone.

by Jeff Baldwin