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§ 23. There is, I fear, this farther weakness in the foregoing argument, which would persuade us, that therefore those maxims are to be thought innate, which men admit at first hearing, because they assent to propositions, which they are not taught, nor do receive from the force of any argument or demonstration, but a bare explication or understanding of the terms. Under which, there seems to me to lie this fallacy, that men are supposed not to be taught, nor to learn any thing when, in truth, they are taught, and do learn something they were ignorant of before. For first it is evident, that they have learned the terms, and their signification; neither of which was born with them. But this is not all the acquired knowledge in the case: the ideas themselves, about which the proposition is, are not born with them, no more than their names, but got afterwards. So that in all propositions that are assented to at first hearing, the terms of the proposition, their standing for such ideas, and the ideas themselves that they stand for, being neither of them innate; I would fain know what there is remaining in such propositions, that is innate. For I would gladly have any one name that proposition, whose terms or ideas were either of them innate. We by degrees get ideas and names, and learn their appropriated connexion one with another; and then to propositions, made in such terms, whose signification we have learnt, and wherein the agreement or disagreement we can perceive in our ideas, when put together, is expressed, we at first hearing assent; though to other propositions, in themselves as certain and evident, but which are concerning ideas, not so soon or so easily got, we are at the same time no way capable of assenting. For though a child quickly assents to this proposition, “that an apple is not fire,” when, by familiar acquaintance, he has got the ideas of those two different things distinctly imprinted on his mind, and has learnt that the names apple and fire stand for them; yet it will be some years after, perhaps, before the same child will assent to this proposition, “that it is impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be:” because that, though, perhaps the words are as easy to be learnt, yet the signification of them being more large, comprehensive, and abstract, than of the names annexed to those sensible things the child hath to do with, it is longer before he learns their precise meaning, and it requires more time plainly to form in his mind those general ideas they stand for. Till that be done, you will in vain endeavour to make any child assent to a proposition made up of such general terms: but as soon as ever he has got those ideas, and learned their names, he forwardly closes with the one, as well as the other of the forementioned propositions, and with both for the same reason; viz. because he finds the ideas he has in his mind to agree or disagree, according as the words standing for them, are affirmed or denied one of another in the proposition. But if propositions be brought to him in words, which stand for ideas he has not yet in his mind; to such propositions, however evidently true or false in themselves, he affords neither assent nor dissent, but is ignorant. For words being but empty sounds, any farther than they are signs of our ideas, we cannot but assent to them, as they correspond to those ideas we have, but no farther than that. But the showing by what steps and ways knowledge comes into our minds, and the grounds of several degrees of assent, being the business of the following discourse, it may suffice to have only touched on it here, as one reason that made me doubt of those innate principles.
in the Sumerian city-state of Lagash.
it is very helpfulll for preparing my project
§ 22. If I have dwelt pretty long on the consideration of duration, space, and number, and what arises from the contemplation of them, infinity; it is possibly no more than the matter requires, there being few simple ideas, whose modes give more exercise to the thoughts of men than these do. I pretend not to treat of them in their full latitude; it suffices to my design to show how the mind receives them, such as they are, from sensation and reflection; and how even the idea we have of infinity, how remote soever it may seem to be from any object of sense, or operation of our mind, has nevertheless, as all our other ideas, its original there. Some mathematicians perhaps of advanced speculations, may have other ways to introduce into their minds ideas of infinity; but this hinders not, but that they themselves, as well as all other men, got the first ideas which they had of infinity, from sensation and reflection, in the method we have here set down.
This is a good topic for asl friends
§ 21. But yet after all this, there being men who persuade themselves that they have clear positive comprehensive ideas of infinity, it is fit they enjoy their privilege: and I should be very glad (with some others that I know, who acknowledge they have none such) to be better informed by their communication. For I have been hitherto apt to think that the great and inextricable difficulties which perpetually involve all discourses concerning infinity, whether of space, duration, or divisibility, have been the certain marks of a defect in our ideas of infinity, and the disproportion the nature thereof has to the comprehension of our narrow capacities. For whilst men talk and dispute of infinite space or duration, as if they had as complete and positive ideas of them, as they have of the names they use for them, or as they have of a yard, or an hour, or any other determinate quantity; it is no wonder if the incomprehensible nature of the thing they discourse of, or reason about, leads them into perplexities and contradictions: and their minds be overlaid by an object too large and mighty to be surveyed and managed by them.