Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Over centuries of interpretation, the philosopher John Locke has been many things to many people: philosopher, polemicist, Christian, atheist, theologian, and even economist. The Locke one sees is largely dependent upon one’s method. In recent decades, the predominant approach used to understand Locke has been that of historicism, or linguistic contextualism, an interpretive lens which insists that Locke was a primarily a political actor, a natural law thinker, and a Christian—a man concerned with more than anything else his political circumstances. This dissertation seeks to correct this traditional narrative by revising two points integral to the contextualist interpretation: Locke’s chief intellectual influences, and the way in which one should approach the ideas of a given thinker of the past. I find Locke’s chief intellectual influences to be religion, rather than politics. Yet religion was not a positive influence on Locke: quite the opposite. Locke observed the sectarian Protestant theology of seventeenth-century England and believed it to be the root cause of the warfare and social instability seemingly ever-present within early modern European life. Locke reacted to that observation with an attempt to ground public life and morality upon the only thing he believed provided an objective standard of right: reason. All else—even revelation and Scripture—were of secondary importance and had to be relegated from the rank of truth to that of opinion. The way to discover this historical fact is not to focus on linguistic discourses, as the traditional historicist approach does, but rather to consider as most important the biographical sources and personal relationships Locke had over the course of his life. In all, I find that Locke’s rationalism resulted in a number of philosophical revolutions integral to the modern political order: not simply democracy, but radical individualism; and a rejection of core tenets of classical philosophy, especially the emphasis of political right before political duty.



Committee Chair

Suzanne Marchand

Available for download on Wednesday, March 26, 2031