Throughout historical times, many individuals contributed their ideas to humanity in order to make the world a better place. Many of these ideas crossed disciplines and borders thus allowing people to broaden their horizon, and contribute to the vast knowledge and wisdom that exists in today’s society. Many philosophers over centuries have made significant contributions to the field of psychology. Many of their ideas continue to persist today. In particular, John Locke was a philosopher from the 17th century who influenced some of the modern concepts we see in the field of psychology today. By taking a historical perspective, John Locke’s history, background, theoretical, and philosophical ideas will be explored throughout this paper, along with an emphasis of how his ideas and contributions influence the field of psychology. To begin, John Locke generated several important philosophical ideas that have a modern-day influence on psychology. Due to the vastness, richness, and diversity of ideas he presented to society, only three of John Locke’s philosophical ideas will be presented and analyzed within this paper. These three philosophical ideas are encountered for in his book An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690). John Locke’s famous and highly prestigious book was very important and influential for the field of psychology. Locke’s work presents many ideas in relation to human behaviour. John Locke’s concept of “tabula rasa” or blank slate, his perspective on nature versus nurture argument, as well as empiricism and its influences, are three key ideas that Locke presented that have an influence on the historical background of psychology. John Locke had spent 17 years of his life writing this book, and even after it had been published, he would constantly revise it. (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013). The book was divided into four parts. Locke aims to understand and interpret humans and the world around them. John Locke also aims to understand the origins of knowledge. Briefly, John Locke was born in England. Locke was born a decade before a civil war began in his country and he remarkably lived through it, which had sparked a keen interest in politics. Having been influenced by the environment, Locke and many other students that he had studied with had gone on to develop a lifelong interest in the field of politics (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013). Additionally, Locke’s political interest fueled the basis of many of his ideas and theoretical contributions which included not only psychology, but also education, politics, and government. Looking at the context in which John Locke lived through, it must be noted that 17th century Britain was a time of great conflict between governments and Christianity, which consequently resulted in a civil war (Uzgalis, 2018). John Locke also aimed to challenge some of the views that people during this time held, and was at odds with many philosophers who came before him, specifically Rene Descartes. He was an empiricist, and followers of empiricism do not believe in any sort of innate ideas (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013).
Meanwhile, Descartes was also a philosopher. Even though he passed away before Locke was born, his ideas were considered popular at the time. In contrast to John Locke, Rene Descartes did believe in innate ideas, as he was considered a nativist (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013). Key ideas that will be presented and analysed include how John Locke wanted to understand the origins of knowledge including his belief in how individuals were born with a blank slate, the concept of empiricism, as well as his perspective on the debate between nature and nurture. It proves to be useful to understand how philosophers such as Locke viewed the concept of knowledge, and to explore how individuals acquired the knowledge to understand the world around them. The timeframe and environment in which a person lives greatly impacts their understanding of the world. It is important to explore the contextual factors regarding John Locke’s life, as he grew up in a time of great disunity between the church and government, thus sparking an interest to try to understand humans, their quest for knowledge, and how their environment shapes them. In Book 1, John Locke argues that there are no innate ideas (Uzgalis, 2018). In Book II, John Locke refers to the idea that all of the information that a person can acquire in their minds comes from experience. He believes that knowledge is developed from experience. This belief is also known as empiricism (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013). To continue, Book III, focuses on the reasons why John Locke thought that knowledge was acquired, and Book IV, explains what humans can end up knowing and what they cannot. (Uzgalis, 2018). Ultimately, his books aim to share his knowledge and expertise regarding the pursuit of knowledge and sharing his insight regarding people’s behaviour to humanity. The philosophical undertones that are present in many of his ideas, help people to understand how some theoretical concepts are present in the field of psychology today. When Locke was writing An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), he was greatly influenced by factors around him including the environment around him. At the time, people believed that Aristotle, and the people who followed him, to be the source of all knowledge. Many of Aristotle’s theories were taught extensively in the universities that were in Europe (Uzgalis, 2018).
Additionally, John Locke’s essay also aimed to attack Rene Descartes as it opposed some of Descartes ideas. During that time period, the concept of innate ideas was still very popular and common, and many people believed that a religious deity such as God had imprinted innate ideas on people. Of course, Locke opposed this, and defended his perspective regarding innate ideas in his work. John Locke always aimed to defend his point of view. Furthermore, he would argue that when people are born as little, newborn babies, they do not even have innate concepts that are already inscribed in their mind such as having a concept of a God or a religious deity. He simply believed that there are no innate ideas (Rogers, 2018). John Locke was also interested in education, and his empiricist views recalling that humans can develop knowledge through experiencing the world, ultimately paved the way for many relevant theories in the field of education, and in developing children’s behaviour skills and etiquette.
In An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), Locke shares his perspectives and contributions relating to understanding humans. In Book 1, he gives his own account of his critique of nativism (Connolly, 2018). John Locke believed that people have to experience phenomena in order to gain knowledge. Many people during John Locke’s time period in the 17th century were heavily influenced by the Church and by many of Aristotle’s theories which were supported by church. Also, a common belief was that there are certain ideas that people have in their mind that are present from when they are born which is otherwise known as innate ideas (Connolly, 2018). John Locke would refute this, and he would explain that if this were to be true, then all of the information and mental content that is in a person’s brain and all of the information and mental content that they would eventually come to understand would all be exactly the same, affecting everyone equally thus being applicable to all people. John Locke claims that information has to be gained through some sort of experience which is described in detail in the next parts of his work. John Locke also had a particular perspective on the ongoing argument that is present in the field of psychology. This argument has been going on since the beginning of psychology and will likely go on for times to come. It does facilitate great discussion, contributions, ideas, and can help psychologists as well as those who will ever come to study psychology, to help them understand where they are going, and where they have been. To continue, as noted in Book I, John Locke explains his own critiques on nativism. Furthermore, it is important to look at how John Locke thought that ideas were to be formed through experience in a person’s brain. As noted previously, it has been mentioned that people who call themselves empiricists, believe that all knowledge comes from experience. In Book II, the discussion of what kind of experience and the ideas that John Locke postulates are explained. It is important to address what kind of experience.
Moreover, John Locke explains how a person’s mind gets supplied with ideas in the first place. If the ideas are not innate or do not come from a God or a deity, then the origin of a particular idea relating to how people may experience their environment, and perceive the world around them, must come from somewhere. John Locke claims that experience is how we contribute to and experience knowledge. In Book II, Locke explains that all ideas come from two concepts; which are sensation and reflection (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013). To break these two concepts down, ideas come from the stimulation of different sensory organs and how a human’s mind perceives objects from the external environment (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013). A person’s senses include: what a person sees with their eyes, smells with their nose, and touches with their hands. Locke describes these experiences and how we make sense of the outside physical world as the concept of sensation. Meanwhile, reflection would be more about how people perceive the world that they live in, and reflect on their sensory experiences. Reflection has to do with the thoughts that go on in a person’s mind, and how they use their own perception to recognize the world around them, and to make decisions for themselves. Ideas related to reflection could include how people remember certain phenomena or how they make their own decisions and judge other people (Connolly, 2018). Reflection is about what goes on in a person’s mind, and their mental components. People perceive the world around them in a variety of different ways; reflection helps us to understand how the physical world and how the mental world can come together into fruition, and how they relate to each other. It is only when these two ideas work together, can a person get a true understanding and a comprehensive picture of what is going on in the world around them. In Book III, John Locke also mentioned an important concept called the association of ideas (Rogers, 2018). Locke wanted to explain the phenomenon where a person can think of one idea, and from that idea, has the ability to link it to other ideas. John Locke even postulates that the ideas do not necessarily have to have a common factor or a common variable in them. It could simply be the possibility that they were somehow linked together in the mind before, thereby associating the two ideas together. These ideas that people have, and what they think about, and how that can contribute to their understanding of the world, are learned through experience. Looking at the field of learning, it can be postulated that if people can relate specific ideas to each other, they can affect some sort of change in their behaviour, regardless if that change happens to be adaptive or maladaptive (Rogers, 2018).
It is an important area of interest, and further research in the field of associationism, can lead to expanding John Locke’s theoretical contribution and ideas, and can lead to the development of theories aimed to serve specific communities such as the education of children. If what a person thinks can in turn influence their actions, and if a child is taught progressive and non-maladaptive skills and methods for coping with the regulation and the reinforcement of positive behaviour, then that student will develop good choices. It can also contribute positively to the school environment, with the hopes of this socialization passing on later on to the general society, in order to give back and learn skills required to be a productive member of society. John Locke’s theoretical ideas and contributions prove to be useful both in and out of the field of psychology. In this case, the association of ideas can be used in a practical application to the field of education. If ideas shape behaviour, then children can therefore be trained to organize thoughts in such a way to influence and shape their own actions. Another concept that John Locke suggests is in relation to the way humans perceive emotions. He believed that the two main emotions that a person could experience consisted of pleasure and pain (Henley & Hergenhahn, 2013). Locke thought that humans wanted to feel pleasure, and were motivated to pursue activities and events that helped to ensure and increase feelings of pleasure and wanted to move away from and activities, events, and situations that would contribute to feelings of pain. Locke, like other philosophers at the time, associated pleasure with pleasant feelings and associations, such as: participating in activities that make a person feel good, experiencing thoughts that are generally pleasant, and avoiding activities and situations in which a person feels unpleasant. He also explained that all other emotions that a person can experience in their life, which stems from a variety of situations, all derive from pleasure or pain. Since emotions can have a large impact on how a person behaves and on the actions that they pursue, John Locke’s view on emotions can aim to understand how people pursue certain activities. If they have a general positive self-concept and view on the world, then this will influence their behaviour. If they believe that the world is negative, and develop certain coping mechanisms, skills, and attitudes of behaviour that are maladaptive for them, then this in turn will influence their actions, and cause them to pursue other actions that could possibly be harmful. Through an analysis of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1690), it can be concluded that John Locke’s background, history, philosophical, and theoretical ideas and contributions have a major influence on modern-day psychology. In his work, Locke ultimately aims to understand how humans interact with the world around them and how they make sense of their environment.
Through experience, making sense of ideas, and using their senses, humans try to interpret the world around them. Many psychology theories ultimately aim to help people. Whether they stem from different areas in psychology such as the field of behavioural psychology whose aim is to try to understand maladaptive behavior patterns and focus on new ways of coping, all the way to health psychology whose aim is to try to find ways to make a person’s health better through improving the habits that they go through each day, to industrial-organizational psychology whose aim is to try to improve the productivity of a workplace; psychology aims in all of its different fields to find solutions to understand and prevent problematic human behaviour, as well as to help people adapt to and build healthy, and positive human interactions and behaviour. Through understanding the background, history, theoretical, and philosophical ideas posed by John Locke in the 17th century, Locke has made a significant and influential contribution to the field of psychology and will always be known as one of the most influential philosophers of his time, who used his theories for the betterment of humanity. John Locke became famous for theories relating not only to psychology but also government, politics, and education. Locke made an exceptional contribution to the philosophical and historical background of psychology, and serves as a prime example of a person’s contributions extending into history far beyond their own lifetime. Psychology would not be the field that it is today without the rich philosophical history that has enriched many of the theoretical constructs in the field of psychology.