From beginner-friendly introductions to classic books by John Locke, this page contains books to suit any learning style. It’s important to note that there is no single best book on Locke. The best book for you will depend heavily on your preferred learning style and the amount of time/energy you’re willing to spend reading. For example, if you tend to find classic works of philosophy difficult to understand, you might want to start with a short, beginner-friendly introduction. If you prefer more depth, you can choose a more comprehensive introduction or read Locke for yourself.
It’s also worth noting that it is not a list of personal recommendations. Personal book recommendations tend to be highly subjective, idiosyncratic, and unreliable. This list is part of a collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists which aim to provide a central resource for philosophy book recommendations. These lists were created by searching through hundreds of university course syllabi, internet encyclopedia bibliographies, and community recommendations. Links to the syllabi and other sources used to create this list are at the end of the post. Following these links will help you quickly find a broader range of options if the listed books do not fit what you are looking for.
Here are the best books on or by John Locke in no particular order.
Locke: A Very Short Introduction by John Dunn
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
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
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 …
The Cambridge Companion to Locke by Vere Chappell
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
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
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
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.
The following sources were used to build this list:
University Course Syllabi:
- Political Thought of John Locke – University of Dallas
- Bibliography for the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Locke
- Bibliography for the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Locke
You might also be interested in the following reading lists:
Or browse this collection of over 100 philosophy reading lists to find more philosophy book recommendations.
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A Collection of the Greatest Philosophical Quotations
A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is a collection of the greatest thoughts from history’s greatest thinkers. Featuring classic quotations by Aristotle, Epicurus, David Hume, Friedrich Nietzsche, Bertrand Russell, Michel Foucault, and many more, A History of Western Philosophy in 500 Essential Quotations is ideal for anyone looking to quickly understand the fundamental ideas that have shaped the modern world.