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Locke 1

Locke, Oxford, Science and the Restoration

Locke received his B.A. in February 1656. His career at Oxford, however, continued beyond his undergraduate days. In June of 1658 Locke qualified as a Master of Arts and was elected a Senior Student of Christ Church College. The rank was equivalent to a Fellow at any of the other colleges, but was not permanent. Locke had yet to determine what his career was to be. This was difficult for the following two years were filled with uncertainty. Oliver Cromwell died in 1658, and it was not clear until 1660 what was to happen. General Monk decided on the return of the Stuart monarchy. Charles II returned to England in 1660 to a joyful welcome from his subjects, including one John Locke. Locke was elected Lecturer in Greek at Christ Church in December of 1660 and he was elected Lecturer in Rhetoric in 1663. At this point, Locke needed to make a decision. The statutes of Christ Church laid it down that fifty five of the senior studentships should be reserved for men in orders or reading for orders. Only five could be held by others, two in medecine, two in law and one in moral philosophy. Thus, there was good reason for Locke to become a clergyman. The alternative was to be a doctor. Locke was attracted to the medical alternative because he was becomming increasingly interested in science.

Robert Boyle
John Wilkins had left Oxford with the Restoration of Charles II. The new leader of the Oxford scientific group was Robert Boyle. He was also Locke's scientific mentor. Boyle (with the help of his astonishing assistant Robert Hooke) built an air pump which led to the formulation of Boyle's law and devised a barometer as a weather indicator. Boyle was most influential as a theorist. He was a mechanical philosopher who treated the world as reducible to matter in motion. Locke read Boyle before he read Descartes. When he did read Descartes, he saw the great French philosopher as providing a viable alternative to the sterile Aristotelianism he had been taught at Oxford. But his involvement with the Oxford scientists gave him a perspective which made him critical of the rationalist elements in Descartes' philosophy.


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