I'm a tabula rasa
May 7, 2006 8:14 PM   Subscribe

Do you have a favorite biography of John Locke (the British Empiricist)?

I need to complete a research project and I would like to do it by reading biographies of John Locke. I know that there was one written very soon after his death but I can't remember the name of it. I've also heard that there was a new biography that either came out very recently or is due to come out soon. If you could identify either of those books I would be greatfull.

But I would also like to hear from you if you have a particular volume that you like; perhaps you can convince me to read that instead.
posted by oddman to Society & Culture (2 answers total)
A couple of suggestions:

Maurice Cranston's 1957 John Locke: A Biography (London: Longmans) is still highly regarded.

If you're up for it (it's long, and very detailed), there's also John Marshall's John Locke: Resistance, Religion and Responsibility (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).

The late Richard Ashcraft's Revolutionary Politics and Locke's Two Treatises of Government (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986), is, in places, a rollicking read, but needs to be taken with a big grain of salt.

You might also be interested in this comprehensive Locke bibliography ...
posted by Sonny Jim at 9:45 PM on May 7, 2006

My knowledge of the secondary literature is several years out of date, but I'll have a shot at answering this.

Just to put it in perspective: the big story in Locke scholarship, over the last twenty years or so, has been the replacement of liberal Locke by radical Locke. In politics: Locke the apostle of toleration has been replaced by Locke the advocate of resistance theory. In religion: Locke the defender of reasonable religion has been replaced by Locke the sceptical critic of Christian orthodoxy. And although I'm not familiar with the scholarship on Locke's philosophy of mind, I'd be willing to bet that a similar transformation has taken place there too. What this means is that a lot of the older literature on Locke is now looking seriously out of date.

Nobody, so far, has produced an accessible synthesis of all this new scholarship. Mark Goldie has a new biography of Locke on the way, but it hasn't been published yet. In the meantime: there's John Dunn's Locke: A Very Short Introduction if you want a general overview, and Vere Chappell's Cambridge Companion to Locke if you want something more detailed. Goldie's edition of Locke's Selected Correspondence has a good historical introduction. Or if you want something brand new, and don't mind getting into some heavy scholarship, there's John Marshall's John Locke, Toleration and Early Enlightenment Culture, which came out last month (and no, I haven't read it yet).

We had to wait years for a popular biography of Spinoza, and then two came out at once (with a third on the way). I think the same thing is about to happen with Locke, and in a few years the market will be glutted with books with catchpenny titles like Locke: The Incredible Story of the Man Who Invented Modernity. But it hasn't happened yet, and a lot of important new material on Locke is still locked up in specialist academic monographs, waiting for someone to set it free.
posted by verstegan at 3:10 PM on May 9, 2006

« Older how do I protect my idea when presenting it to a...   |   Job-finding clubs find jobs only for Canadians? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.