Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding

Philosophical Essays Concerning Human Understanding-90
These have so settled a reputation of maxims universally received that it will, no doubt, be thought strange if any one should seem to question it.

These have so settled a reputation of maxims universally received that it will, no doubt, be thought strange if any one should seem to question it.But yet I take liberty to say, that these propositions are so far from having an universal assent, that there are a great part of mankind to whom they are not so much as known.If therefore children and idiots have souls, have minds, with those impressions upon them, they must unavoidably perceive them, and necessarily know and assent to these truths; Which, since they do not, it is evident that there are no such impressions.

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So that, to be in the understanding and not to be understood; to be in the mind, and never to be perceived; is all one as to say, anything is, and is not, in the mind or understanding.

If therefore these two propositions: “Whatsoever is, is;” and, “It is impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be,” are by nature imprinted, children cannot be ignorant of them; infants, and all that have souls, must necessarily have them in their understandings, know the truth of them, and assent to it.

– If they mean that by the use of reason men may discover these principles, and that this is sufficient to prove them innate, their way of arguing will stand thus: viz.

That, whatever truths reason can certainly discover to us and make us firmly assent to, those are all naturally imprinted on the mind; since that universal assent which is made the mark of them, amounts to no more but this – that by the use of reason we are capable to come to a certain knowledge of, and assent to, them; and by this means there will be no difference between the maxims of the mathematicians and theorems they deduce from them: all must be equally allowed innate, they being all discoveries made by the use of reason and truths that a rational creature may certainly come to know, if he apply his thoughts rightly that way.

– But, which is worse, this argument of universal consent, which is made use of to prove innate principles, seems to me a demonstration that there are none such; because there are none to which all mankind give an universal assent.

I shall begin with the speculative, and instance in those magnified principles of demonstration: “Whatsoever is, is; ” and “It is impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be,” which, of all others, I think, have the most allowed title to innate.I shall here only, and that very readily, allow, that these maxims and mathematical demonstrations are in this different – that the one has need of reason using of proofs to make them out and to gain our assent; but the other, as soon as understood, are, without any the least reasoning, embraced and assented to.But I withal beg leave to observe, that it lays open the weakness of this subterfuge which requires the use of reason for the discovery of these general truths, since it must be confessed, that in their discovery there is no use made of reasoning at all.– There is nothing more commonly taken for granted, than that there are certain principles, both speculative and practical (for they speak of both), universally agreed upon by all mankind; which therefore; they argue, must needs be constant impressions which the souls of men receive in their first beings, and which they bring into the world with them, as necessarily and really as they do any of their inherent faculties.- This argument, drawn from universal consent, has this misfortune in it, that if it were true in matter of fact that there were certain truths wherein all mankind agreed, it would not prove them innate, if there can be any other way shown, how men may come to that universal agreement in the things they do consent in; which I presume may be done.We may as well think the use of reason necessary to make our eyes discover visible objects as that there should be need of reason, or the exercise thereof to make the understanding see what is originally engraved in it, and cannot be in the understanding before it be perceived by it.So that to make reason discover these truths thus imprinted, is to say, that the use of reason discovers to a man what he knew before; and if men have those innate impressed truths originally, and before the use of reason and yet are always ignorant of them till they come to the use of reason, it is in effect to say that men know, and know them not, at the same time.– For, first, it is evident, that all children and idiots have not the least apprehension or thought of them; and the want of that is enough to destroy that universal assent, which must needs be the necessary concomitant of all innate truths: it seeming to me near a contradiction to say, that there are truths imprinted on the soul which it perceives or understands not; imprinting, if it signify anything, being nothing else but the making certain truths to be perceived.For to imprint anything on the mind without the mind’s perceiving it, seems to me hardly intelligible.He therefore that talks of innate notions in the understanding, cannot (if he intend thereby any distinct sort of truths) mean such truths to be in the understanding as it never perceived, and is yet wholly ignorant of.For if these words (“to be in the understanding”) have any propriety, they signify to be understood.

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