Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

John Locke

English Political and Educational Philosopher, Father of Liberalism

"Affectation in any part of our carriage is lighting up a candle to see our defects, and never fails to make us taken notice of, either as wanting sense or sincerity."

"Affectation is an awkward and forced Imitation of what should be genuine and easy, wanting the Beauty that accompanies what is natural."

"All the Actions, that we have any Idea of, reducing themselves, as has been said, to these two, viz. Thinking and Motion, so far as a Man has a power to think, or not to think; to move or not to move, according to the preference or direction of his own mind, so far is a Man Free. Wherever any performance or forbearance are not equally in a Man’s power; wherever doing or not doing, will not equally follow upon the preference of his mind directing it, there he is not Free, though perhaps the Action may be voluntary."

"All virtue lies in a power of denying our own desires where reason does not authorize them."

"Good and evil, reward and punishment, are the only motives to a rational creature: these are the spur and reins whereby all mankind are set on work, and guided."

"I think there cannot any one moral rule be proposed whereof a man may not justly demand a reason: which would be perfectly ridiculous and absurd if they were innate; or so much as self-evident, which every innate principle must needs be, and not need any proof to ascertain its truth, nor want any reason to gain its approbation."

"Envy and anger, not being caused by pain and pleasure simply in themselves, but having in them some mixed considerations of ourselves and others, are not therefore to be found in all men, because those other parts, of valuing their merits, or intending revenge, is wanting in them. but all the rest [of the passions], terminating purely in pain and pleasure, are, I think, to be found in all men. For we love, desire, rejoice, and hope, only in respect of pleasure; we hate, fear, and grieve, only in respect of pain ultimately. In fine, all these passions are moved by things, only as they appear to be the causes of pleasure and pain, or to have pleasure or pain some way or other annexed to them."

"Anger is uneasiness or discomposure of the mind upon the receipt of any injury, with a present purpose of revenge."

"Firmness or stiffness of the mind is not from adherence to truth, but submission to prejudice."

"Every one is forward to complain of the prejudices that mislead other men and parties, as if he were free, and had none of his own. What now is the cure? No other but this, that every man should let alone others' prejudices and examine his own."

"Madmen... do not appear to me to have lost the faculty of reasoning, but having joined together some ideas very wrongly, they mistake them for truths; and they err as men do that argue right from wrong principles. For, by the violence of their imaginations, having taken their fancies for realities, they make right deductions from them."

"Men’s happiness or misery is most part of their own making."

"Moral principles require reasoning and discourse, to discover the certainty of their truths; they lie not open as natural characters engraven on the mind."

"Nothing being so beautiful to the eye as truth is to the mind; nothing so deformed and irreconcilable to the understanding as a lie."

"Perception, thinking, doubting, believing, reasoning, knowing, willing, and all the different actings of our own minds; which we being conscious of, and observing in ourselves, do from these receive into our understanding as do from these receive into our understanding as distinct ideas as we do from bodies affecting our senses. This source of ideas every man has wholly in himself; and though it be not sense, as having nothing to do with external objects, yet it is very like it, and might properly enough be called internal sense. But as I call the other sensation, so I call this reflection, the ideas it affords being such only as the mind gets by reflecting on its own operation within self... These two, I say, vis. external material things, as the objects of sensation, and the operations of our own minds within, as the objects of reflection, are to me the only originals from whence all our ideas take their beginnings."

"Since the mind, in all its thoughts and reasonings, hath no other immediate object but its own ideas, which it alone does or can contemplate, it is evident that our knowledge is only conversant about them... Knowledge then seems to me to be nothing but the perception of the connection of and agreement, or disagreement and repugnancy of any of our ideas. In this alone it consists. Where this perception is, there is knowledge, and where it is not, there, though we may fancy, guess, or believe, yet we always come short of knowledge."

"The actions of men are the best interpreters of their thoughts."

"It is one thing to show a man that his is in an error, and another to put him in possession of truth."

"In every act of sensation, reasoning, or thinking, we are conscious to our selves of our own being; and, in this matter, come not short of the highest degree of certainty."

"The dread of evil is a much more forcible principle of human actions than the prospect of good."

"The highest perfection of intellectual nature lies in a careful and constant pursuit of true and solid happiness; so the care of ourselves that we mistake not imaginary for real happiness, is the necessary foundation of our liberty."

"The knowledge of our own being we have by intuition. The existence of a God, reason clearly makes known to us, as has been shown. The knowledge of existence of any other thing we can have only by sensation: for there being no necessary connection of real existence with any idea a man hath in his memory; nor of any other existence but that of God with the existence of any particular man: no particular man can know the existence of any other being but only when, by actual operating upon him, it makes itself perceived by him. For, the having the idea of anything in our mind, no more proves the existence of that thing, than the picture of a man evidences his being in the world, or the visions of a dream make thereby a true history."

"The most precious of all possessions, is power over ourselves; power to withstand trial, to bear suffering, to front danger; power over pleasure and pain; power to follow convictions, however resisted by menace and scorn; the power of calm reliance in scenes of darkness an storms. He that has not a mastery over his inclinations; he that knows not how to resist the importunity of present pleasure or pain, for the sake of what reason tells him is fit to be done, wants the true principle of virtue and industry, and is in danger of never being good for anything."

"The thoughts that come often unsought, and, as it were, drop into the mind, are the most valuable of any we have, and therefore should be secured, because they seldom return again."

"There cannot any one moral rule be proposed whereof a man may not justly demand a reason."

"To love truth for truth's sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues."

"We must consider what person stands for; - which, I think, is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it: it being impossible for any one to perceive without perceiving that he does perceive. When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will anything, we know that we do so. Thus it is always as to our present sensations and perceptions: and by this every one is to himself that which he calls self."

"What is it that determines the Will in regard to our Actions?... we shall find, that we being capable but of one determination of the will to one action at once, the present uneasiness, that we are under, does naturally determine the will, in order to that happiness which we all aim at in all our actions: For as much as whilst we are under any uneasiness, we cannot apprehend ourselves happy, or in the way to it... And therefore that, which of course determines the choice of our will to the next action, will always be the removing of pain, as long as we have any left, as the first and necessary step towards happiness."

"Another great abuse of words, is the taking them for things."

"Education begins the gentleman, but reading good company, and education must finish him."

"Every man is born with a double right. First, a right of freedom to his person, which no other man has a owner over, but the free disposal of it lies in himself. Secondly, a right before any other man, to inherit, with his brethren, his father’s goods."

"Experience: in that all our knowledge is founded; and from that it ultimately derives itself. Our observation employed either about external or 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."

"Figured and metaphorical expressions do well to illustrate more abstruse and unfamiliar ideas, which the mind is not yet thoroughly accustomed to."

"Freedom from absolute, arbitrary power is so necessary to, and closely joined with, a man’s preservation, that he cannot part with it but by what forfeits his preservation and life together. For a man, not having the power of his own life, cannot by contract or his own consent enslave himself to any one, nor put himself under the absolute, arbitrary power of another to take away his life when he pleases. Nobody can give more power than he has himself, and he that cannot take away his own life cannot give another power over it."

"Curiosity in children is but an appetite for knowledge. One great reason why children abandon themselves wholly to silly pursuits and trifle away their time insipidly is, because they find their curiosity balked, and their inquiries neglected."

"Cunning is the ape of wisdom."

"As there is a partiality to opinions, which is apt to mislead the understanding, so there is also a partiality to studies, which is prejudicial to knowledge."

"General observations drawn from particulars are the jewels of knowledge, comprehending great store in a little room."

"God has scattered several degrees of pleasure and pain in all the things that environ and affect us, and blended them together in almost all our thoughts."

"He that has found a way to keep a child's spirit easy, active, and free, and yet at the same time to restrain him from many things that are uneasy to him has, in my opinion, got the true secret of education."

"He that is master of himself and his own life has a right, too, tot he means of preserving it."

"He that takes away reason to make way for revelation puts out the light of both, and does much the same as if he would persuade a man to put out his eyes the better to receive the remote light of an invisible star by a telescope."

"If an ingenuous detestation of falsehood be but carefully and early instilled, that is the true and genuine method to obviate dishonesty."

"If punishment reaches not the mind and makes not the will supple, it hardens the offender."

"If there remains an eternity to us after the short revolution of time we so swiftly run over here, ‘tis clear that all the happiness that can be imagined in this fleeting state is not valuable in respect of the future."

"It is an established opinion among some men that there are in the understanding certain innate principles, some primary notions, stamped, as it were, upon the mind of man which the soul receives in its very first being, and brings into the world with it. It would be sufficient to convince unprejudiced readers of the falseness of this supposition, if I should only show how many men obtain to all the knowledge they have, without the help of any such innate impressions... Let us suppose the mind to be a blank tablet; how comes it to be furnished? To this answer in one word, from experience."

"It is labor... which puts the greatest part of value upon land, without which it would scarcely be worth anything."

"Joy is a delight of the mind, from the consideration of the present or assured approaching possession of a good; and we are then possessed of any good, when we have it so in our power that we can use it when we please... Sorrow is uneasiness in the mind, upon the thought of a good lost, which might have been enjoyed longer; or the sense of a present evil."

"Knowing is seeing... Until we ourselves see it with our own eyes, and perceive it your own understandings, we are as much I the dark as void of knowledge as before, let us believe any learned author as much as we will."

"New opinions are always suspected, and usually opposed, without any other reason but because they are not already common."