John Locke: The Individual Rights Meme

  • Maureen P. Heath


This chapter provides an excellent example of the evolutionary nature of individualism using the biological metaphor. Locke’s focus on natural law and natural rights was not new, it had been written on extensively in the fourteenth century by William of Ockham. Nonetheless, in Ockham’s time the cultural environment was not conducive to this idea and the meme failed to replicate. However, in the century after Luther had died, Protestant literature emphasized the individual conscience and responsibility, setting the framework for Locke’s pivotal work and the turn into modernity. His treatises on government are based on his deep Christian belief in a basic principle of equality of all humans. The key points this chapter will elucidate are the influence Locke had on eliciting a meme that assumed individuals had the freedom and the capacity for “figuring it out on their own” so to speak, using their own mind, which he redefined as consciousness. This has been deemed “the democratization of mind,” as it displayed Locke’s confidence in individuals’ ability to acquire knowledge and construct meaningful identities from the intellectual materials made available to their minds through sensation and reflection. Further, Locke was key in shaping the more modern notions of the mind with his Essay on Human Understanding and its groundbreaking assumption that matter can think.

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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maureen P. Heath
    • 1
  1. 1.FairfaxUSA

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