This page contains a list of the seven best books on or by John Locke. Finding good introductory philosophy books can be difficult for two reasons. First, searching google for recommendations usually doesn’t bring up anything useful. Second, phrases like “best books on Locke” are ambiguous. One person may be looking for a short, beginner friendly introduction, someone else may want a comprehensive academic overview, a third person may be looking for classic works by Locke. This list tries to account for this ambiguity by recommending different types of books on Locke. Here are the best books on or by Locke in no particular order:
Locke: A Very Short Introduction by John Dunn
Category: Short Textbook | Length: 136 pages | Published: 2003
Publisher’s Description: John Locke (1632-1704) one of the greatest English philosophers of the late seventeenth and early eighteenth century, argued in his masterpiece, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, that our knowledge is founded in experience and reaches us principally through our senses; but its message has been curiously misunderstood. In this book John Dunn shows how Locke arrived at his theory of knowledge, and how his exposition of the liberal values of toleration and responsible government formed the backbone of enlightened European thought of the eighteenth century.
Locke by Samuel Rickless
Category: Short Textbook | Length: 238 pages | Published: 2014
Publisher’s Description: In a focused assessment of one of the founding members of the liberal tradition in philosophy and a self-proclaimed “Under-Labourer” working to support the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, the author maps the full range of John Locke’s highly influential ideas, which even today remain at the heart of debates about the nature of reality and our knowledge of it, as well as our moral and political rights and duties.
- Comprehensive introduction to the full range of Locke’s ideas, providing an up-to-date account that acknowledges issues raised by recent scholarship over the past decade
- A well-rounded perspective on one of the intellectual giants of the western philosophical tradition
- Provides detailed coverage of Locke’s two key works, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and The Two Treatises of Government.
- A sophisticated analysis by a highly respected academic
Locke: A Biography by Roger Woolhouse
Category: Biography | Length: 558 pages | Published: 2007
Publisher’s Description: This is the first comprehensive biography in half a century of John Locke -“a man of versatile mind, fitted for whatever you shall undertake”, as one of his many good friends very aptly described him. Against an exciting historical background of the English Civil War, religious intolerance and bigotry, anti-Government struggles and plots, and the Glorious Revolution of 1688, Roger Woolhouse interweaves the events of Locke’s rather varied life with detailed expositions of his developing ideas in medicine, theory of knowledge, philosophy of science, political philosophy, philosophy of religion, and economics. Chronologically systematic in its coverage, this volume offers an account and explanation of Locke’s ideas and their reception, while entering at large into the details of his private life of intimate friendships and warm companionship, and of the increasingly visible public life into which, despite himself, he was drawn – Oxford tutor, associate of Shaftesbury, dutiful civil servant. Based on broad research and many years’ study of Locke’s philosophy, this will be the authoritative biography for years to come of this truly versatile man whose long-standing desire was for quiet residence in his Oxford college engaged in the study and practise of medicine and natural philosophy, yet who, after years in political exile, finally became an over-worked but influential public servant and who is seen now as one of the most significant early modern philosophers.
The Cambridge Companion to Locke by Vere Chappell
Category: Comprehensive Textbook | Length: 344 pages | Published: 1994
Publisher’s Description: The essays in this volume provide a systematic survey of Locke’s philosophy informed by the most recent scholarship. They cover Locke’s theory of ideas, his philosophies of body, mind, language, and religion, his theory of knowledge, his ethics, and his political philosophy. There are also chapters on Locke’s life and subsequent influence. New readers and nonspecialists will find this the most convenient, accessible guide to Locke currently available.
An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke
Category: Classic | Published: 1690
Publisher’s Description: In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, first published in 1690, John Locke (1632-1704) provides a complete account of how we acquire everyday, mathematical, natural scientific, religious and ethical knowledge. Rejecting the theory that some knowledge is innate in us, Locke argues that it derives from sense perceptions and experience, as analysed and developed by reason. While defending these central claims with vigorous common sense, Locke offers many incidental – and highly influential – reflections on space and time, meaning, free will and personal identity. The result is a powerful, pioneering work, which, together with Descartes’s works, largely set the agenda for modern philosophy.
Second Treatise of Government by John Locke
Category: Classic | Published: 1689
Publisher’s Description: The Second Treatise is one of the most important political treatises ever written and one of the most far-reaching in its influence.
In his provocative 15-page introduction to this edition, the late eminent political theorist C. B. Macpherson examines Locke’s arguments for limited, conditional government, private property, and right of revolution and suggests reasons for the appeal of these arguments in Locke’s time and since.
On Toleration by John Locke
Category: Classic | Published: 1689
Publisher’s Description: John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration (1689) is one of the most widely-read texts in the political theory of toleration, and a key text for the liberal tradition. However, Locke also defended toleration more extensively in three subsequent Letters, which he wrote in response to criticism by an Anglican cleric, Jonas Proast. This edition, which includes a new translation of the original Letter, by Michael Silverthorne, enables readers to assess John Locke’s theory of toleration by studying both his classic work and essential extracts from the later Letters. An introduction by Richard Vernon sets Locke’s theory in its historical context and examines the key questions for contemporary political theorists which arise from this major work in the history of political thought.
This list was created by following a method that I’ve found to be useful when searching for introductory philosophy books. It involves:
- browsing required reading lists on university course syllabi
- searching for books using the Open Syllabus Project
- browsing the bibliographies of articles on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy and Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
- searching for recommendations on philosophy forums
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Locke
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Locke
If you’d like to learn more about Locke, check out:
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