Human Malleability and Liberalism in Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education


Locke’s Some Thoughts Concerning Education plays an important yet underappreciated role in resolving a classic debate in Locke scholarship. In An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke rejects essentialism, arguing that natural species, including “man,” do not exist. This position rests uneasily with the liberal conception of man that informs his political thought, and scholars have long debated whether and, if so, how Locke’s anti-essentialism and liberalism are related. While several proposals have been made, all must grapple with the fact that Locke’s principal discussions of politics and anti-essentialism occur in different texts. The Thoughts helps to address this difficulty, for under one cover Locke shows how a proxy for anti-essentialism—human malleability—is related to liberal ideas. There, he describes how to transform rather malleable children into modern English gentlemen, but he also indicates that nature does not mandate a liberal approach to the development of human nature. The Thoughts thus favors the view that Locke was a conventionalist about his political liberalism.


Political Science

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Perspectives on Political Science