Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2014
  • Online publication date: July 2014

6 - Empiricism: John Locke, David Hume, and experience as reality


Only thirty-nine years after Hobbes revitalized the materialist perspective on psychology, a modernized version of a different psychological perspective began to enthrall scholars all over Europe. John Locke (1632–1704) wrote a fresh version of the ancient empirical perspective that inspired many readers, including David Hume (1711–1776) and a string of others now known as the British Empiricists.

But how could there have been such great interest in another perspective on psychology so soon after Hobbes had brilliantly modernized the materialist perspective? Part of the answer is that although Locke lived very close in time and place to Hobbes, the realities that these two scholars confronted were worlds apart. Things were changing very quickly, opening new space for different views on human nature. From the middle of the seventeenth to the end of the eighteenth century, Europe was caught up in the whirlwind of the Enlightenment, which included religious radicalism, political innovation, industrial revolution, and philosophical optimism (Jones, 1975, chap. 1). As Hobbes was writing Leviathan in the first half of the seventeenth century, England’s old style monarchy was desperately hanging on, under attack from every conceivable direction. By the end of that century, the old regime was gone forever. An effective and popular framework of constitutional monarchy, religious toleration, and global trade had been consolidated in the Glorious Revolution of 1688, propelling England on its way to becoming the most modern state in Europe and the hub of an immense global empire (Pincus, 2009).

Alexander, B.K. (2010). The globalization of addiction: A study in poverty of the spirit. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Allman, M.J., and Meck, W.H. (2012). Pathophysiological distortions in time perception and timed performance. Brain, 135(3), 656–677.
Aristotle, (1963). The physics (Wicksteed, P.H. and Cornford, F.M., Trans.). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. (Original work published circa 350 BC)
Bongie, L.L. (2000). David Hume: Prophet of the counter-revolution (2nd edn.). Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund.
Boring, E.G. (1950). A history of experimental psychology. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Brock, A.C. (2006). Introduction. In Brock, A.C. (Ed.), Internationalizing the history of psychology (pp. 1–15). New York: New York University Press.
Burns, R. (1786). Address of Beelzebub. Retrieved August 9, 2012, from
Capelin, N. (1975). David Hume: The Newtonian philosopher. Boston, MA: Twayne.
Clapp, J.G. (1967). John Locke. In Edwards, P. (Ed.), The encyclopedia of philosophy (Vol. 4, pp. 487–503). New York: Collier Macmillan.
Craig, C. (2003). The Scots’ crisis of confidence. Edinburgh, UK: Big Thinking.
Danziger, K. (1990). Constructing the subject: Historical origins of psychological research. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Danziger, K. (1997). Naming the mind: How psychology found its language. London, UK: Sage.
Danziger, K. (2006). Universalism and indigenization in the history of modern psychology. In Brock, A.C. (Ed.), Internationalizing the history of psychology (pp. 208–225). New York: New York University Press.
Danziger, K. (2008). Marking the mind: A history of memory. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Davies, S. (2012). Embracing reflective practice. Education for Primary Care, 23, 9–12.
Devine, T. (2011, May 26). The lowlands clearances and the transformation of southwest Scotland. Presentation to the Royal Society of Edinburgh. (Reported by Kate Kennedy). Retrieved August 2, 2012, from
Fry, M. (2009). Edinburgh: A history of the city. London, UK: Pan Macmillan.
Hacker, J.S., and Pierson, P. (2011). Winner-take-all politics: How Washington made the rich richer – and turned its back on the middle class. New York: Simon & Schuster.
Harris, B. (1997). Repoliticizing the history of psychology. In Fox, D. and Prilleltensky, I. (Eds.), Critical psychology: An introduction (pp. 21–33). London: Sage.
Hawking, S., and Mlodinow, L. (2011). The grand design: New answers to the ultimate questions of life. London, UK: Transworld Publishers.
Hedges, C. (2009). Empire of illusion: The end of literacy and the triumph of spectacle. New York: Nation Books.
Heidbreder, E. (1933). Seven psychologies. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts.
Herman, A. (2001). How the Scots invented the modern world. New York: Crown.
Herman, E. (1995). The romance of American psychology: Political culture in the age of experts. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.
Holborn, P. (1988). Becoming a reflective practitioner. In Holborn, P., Andrews, I.H., and Wideen, M. (Eds.), Becoming a teacher (pp. 196–209). Toronto, ON: Kagen and Woo.
Hume, D. (1759). The history of England, under the house of Tudor (Vol. I). London, UK: A. Millar.
Hume, D. (1888). A treatise of human nature. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. (Original work published 1739)
Hume, D. (1985). Essays: Moral, political, and literary. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund. (Original work published 1777)
Johnson, C. (2004). The sorrows of empire: Militarism, secrecy, and the end of the republic. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Jones, W.T. (1969). Hobbes to Hume (2nd edn.). New York: Harcourt, Brace, and World.
Jones, W.T. (1975). Kant and the nineteenth century (2nd edn., revised). New York: Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovich.
Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, fast and slow. Toronto, ON: Doubleday Canada.
Kimble, G.A. (1989). Psychology from the standpoint of a generalist. American Psychologist, 44, 491–499.
Kuhn, T.S. (1970). The Structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.
Laslett, P. (1988). Introduction. In John Locke, Two treatises of government (Student edn., pp. 3–135). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published anonymously 1690)
Leahey, T.H. (2001). A history of modern psychology (3rd edn.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
Leonov, A., Lebedev, V., and Belitsky, B. (2001). Space and time perception by the cosmonaut (Belitsky, B., Trans.). Honolulu, HI: University Press of the Pacific. Retrieved August 9, 2012, from
Locke, J. (1959). An essay concerning human understanding. New York: Dover Publications. (Original work published 1690)
Locke, J. (1988). Two treatises of government (Student edn.). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. (Original work published 1690)
Lovejoy, A.O. (1936). The great chain of being. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Matsumoto, D. (2009). The Cambridge dictionary of psychology. New York: Cambridge University Press.
Mossner, E.C. (1980). The life of David Hume (2nd edn.). London, UK: Clarendon.
Nakamura, J., and Csikszentmihalyi, M. (2009). Flow theory and research. In Snyder, C.R. and Lopez, S.J. (Eds.), Oxford handbook of positive psychology (2nd edn., pp. 195–206). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Nelson, J.O. (1967). Innate ideas. In Edwards, P. (Ed.), The encyclopedia of philosophy (Vol. IV, pp. 196–198). New York: Collier Macmillan.
Paine, T. (1776). Common sense; Addressed to the inhabitants of America on the following interesting subjects. Retrieved October 10, 2012, from
Paranjpe, A.C. (2010). Self and identity in modern psychology and Indian thought. New York: Plenum Press.
Passer, M.W., and Smith, R.E. (2011). Psychology: The science of mind and behavior. New York: McGraw-Hill Ryerson.
Passmore, J. (1968). Hume’s intentions (3rd edn.) London, UK: Gerald Duckworth & Co.
Pincus, S. (2009). 1688: The first modern revolution. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
Pipher, M. (1996). The shelter of each other: Rebuilding our families. New York: Ballantine.
Polanyi, K. (1944). The great transformation: The political and economic origins of our times. Boston, MA: Beacon.
Powell, R., Bhatt, G., Grady, B., Tonks, R., and Carpendale, J. (1991, June). United we stand? Our disciplinary commitments as psychologists. Paper presented at the Annual Convention of the Canadian Psychological Association, Calgary, Alberta, Canada.
Prebble, J. (1963). The Highland Clearances. London: Penguin.
Prebble, J. (1971). The lion in the north: A personal view of Scotland’s history. Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin.
Rose, N. (1998). Inventing our selves: Psychology, power, and personhood. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
Rose, N. (2007). The politics of life itself: Biomedicine, power, and subjectivity in the twenty-first century. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Russell, C., and Davies, J.B. (2009). Empirical, logical and philosophical arguments against cigarette smoking as a pharmacologically compelled act. Current Psychology, 28, 147–168.
Sandel, M.J. (2012). What money can’t buy: The moral limits of markets. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Giroux.
Schaler, J.A. (2000). Addiction is a choice. Chicago, IL: Open Court.
Siebert, D.T. (1990). The moral animus of David Hume. Newark, DE: University of Delaware Press.
Smith, A. (1991). The wealth of nations. New York: Knopf. (Original work published 1776)
Stam, H.J. (1992). Deconstructing the subject: Banishing the ghost of Boring. Contemporary Psychology, 37, 629–632.
Titchener, E.B. (1926). A textbook of psychology. New York: Macmillan.
Treisman, A. (1986). Features and objects in visual processing. Scientific American, 255, 114–125.
Wong, L.S. (1990). Critical analysis of drug war alternatives: The need for a shift in personal and social values. Journal of Drug Issues, 20, 679–688.