I'm currently reading a critique of Locke's Essay Concerning Human Understanding (haven't read the original essay yet, just reading its critque by Aaron, a book – freely available online – which I heartily recommend).
Locke's essay was pathbreaking in many fields including cognitive psychology, linguistics and epistemology. His essay, along with others like Francis Bacon's Novum Organum (and even Descartes's s Discourse on the Method), contributed to establishment of the institution of critical thinking, of which the scientific method is one component. I have TWO separate chapters on critical thinking in DOF - work in progress, though.
Without being able to think independently, and without knowing how to think, the West would never have broken free from the heavy chains of its bondage to the Church – which was (often) more intolerant and more violent than even the most fanatic elements of Islam today (I need not remind readers, for instance, of the total eradication – through massacre and deportation – of the Moors in Spain, for instance).
It is the process of understanding (a) how we acquire knowledge, and (b) how we should think in order to maximise knowledge, that marks the birth of the modern era.
Locke was a major contributor to the modern era from all angles. In particular, he denied the value of pure reason that is untested on the touchstone of experience and observation.
Note that similar thoughts had been expressed in ancient India by Charvaka, but unfortunately these thoughts soon disappeared in the sands of time. To Locke, therefore, all of us owe the origin of the modern society.
I cited an excellent article on the subject of knowledge (here) on FB recently, and wrote a comment in response to a discussion. Harsh Vora believes that my comment deserves its separate post. I have no objection to doing so, given FB's ordinary search feature. Also, what one writes on FB is lost forever. On the other hand, a good blog is likely to remain behind, and engage the wandering passerby in discussion well after one is dead and gone.
And so, for whatever it is worth here's the relevant extract of my very ordinary and routine comment on FB:
Sanjeev Sabhlok (linking to this article: http://www.quantumdiaries.org/2012/01/27/the-role-of-the-individual-in-science-and-religion/)
In science "nothing is gained by going to the older sources. Science advances and the older writings lose their pedagogical value. This is because in science, the ultimate authority is not a person, but observation."
Sudeep Shetty Pretty Interesting … If older source (science) are true we can pickup the basic from old source and always make it better and stronger …
Sanjeev Sabhlok Sudeep, in every science, the basics are automatically adopted into basic education. Aryabhata's work (zero) is taught in class 1, Newton's work in class 12 or first year BSc, Einstein's work in third year BSc (or earlier), and so on. By the time a person has finished graduation, he is now just about 30 years away from the frontier of knowledge. By the time post graduation is completed, he is 10 years from the fronter, and by the time PhD is completed, he is AT or beyond the frontier.
Therefore, except for the student who wants to learn the history of science, there is no value in going back to Aryabhata or Newton.
Only religion goes back to what was said thousands of years ago. That is because it ASSUMES that what was said is true. There is NO verification at any stage of the content of religious scriptures.
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