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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.
Not innate §. To conclude this argument of unibecause not versal consent, I agree with these defenders universally 0f innate principles, that if they are inassented to. n^e, t^ey must needs have universal assent. For that a truth should be innate, and yet not assented to, is to me as unintelligible, as for a man to know a truth, and be ignorant of it, at the same time. But then, by these men's own confession, they cannot be innate; since they are not assented to by those who uo.derstand not the terms, nor by a great part of those who do understand them, but have yet never heard nor thought of those propositions; which, I think, is at least one half of mankind. But were the number far less, it would be enough to destroy universal assent, and thereby show these propositions not to be innate, if children alone were ignorant of them.
§. 25. But that I may not be accused to These maxargue from the thoughts of infants, which ims not the are unknown to us, and to conclude from known, what passes in their understandings before they express it; I say next, that these two general propositions are not the truths that first possess the minds of children, nor are antecedent to all acquired and adventitious notions; which, if they were innate, they must needs be. Whether we can determine it or no, it matters not, there is certainly a time when children begin to think, and their words and actions do assure us that they do so. When therefore they are capable of thought, of knowledge, of assent, can it rationally be supposed, they can be ignorant of those notions that nature has imprinted, were there any such? Can it be imagined, with any appearance of reason, that they perceive the impressions from things without, and be at the same time ignorant of those characters which nature itself has taken care to stamp within? Can they receive and assent to adventitious notions, and be ignorant of those which are supposed woven into the very principles of their being, and imprinted there in indelible characters, to be the foundation and guide of all their acquired knowledge, and future reasonings? This would be, to make nature take pains to no purpose; or, at least, to write very ill; since its characters could not be read by those eyes, which saw other things very well; and those are very ill supposed the clearest parts of truth, and the foundations of all our knowledge, which are not first known, and without which the undoubted knowledge of several other things may be had. The child certainly knows, that the nurse that feeds it, is neither the cat it plays with, nor the blackmoor it is afraid of; that the wormseed or mustard it refuses, is not the apple or sugar it cries for; this it is certainly and undoubtedly assured of: but will any one say, it is by virtue of this principle, "that it is impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be," that it so firmly assents to these, and other parts of its knowledge? Or that the child has any notion or apprehension of that proposition at an age, wherein yet, it is plain, it knows a great many other truths? He that will say, children join these general abstract speculations with their sucking bottles and their rattles, may, perhaps, with justice, bethought to have more passion and zeal for his opinion, but less sincerity and truth, than one of that age.
§. 26. Though therefore there be several 4nate0 &enenu* propositions, that meet with coninna e. stant and ready assent, as soon as proposed to men grown up, who have attained the use of more general and abstract ideas, and names standing for them; yet they not being to be found in those of tender years, who nevertheless know other things, they cannot pretend to universal assent of intelligent persons, and so by no means can be supposed innate: it being impossible, that any truth which is innate (if there were any such) should be unknown, at least to any one who knows any thing else: since, if there are innate truths, they must be innate thoughts; there being nothing a truth in the mind, that it has never thought on. Whereby it is evident, if there be any innate truths in the mind, they must necessarily be the first of any thought on; the first that appear there.
§. 27. That the general maxims, we are Not innate, discoursing of, are not known to children,
D6C3.USG ^ theyappear idiots, and a great part of mankind, we least, where have already sufficiently proved; whereby what is in- it is evident, they have not an universal asUtelfclear sent>nor are general impressions. But there is egt. this farther argument in it against their being
innate, that these characters, if they were native and original impressions, should appear fairest and clearest in those persons in whom yet we find no footsteps of them: and it is, in my opinion, a strong presumption, that they are not innate, since they are least known to those, in whom, if they were innate, they must needs exert themselves with most force and vigour. For children, idiots, savages, and illiterate people, being of all others the least corrupted by custom, or borrowed opinions; learning and education having not cast their native thoughts into new moulds, nor, by superinducing foreign and studied doctrines, confounded those fair characters nature had written there; one might reasonably imagine, that in their minds these innate notions should lie open fairly to every one's view, as it is certain the thoughts of children do. It might very well be expected, that these principles should be perfectly known to naturals, which being stamped immediately on the soul (as these men suppose) can have no dependance on the constitutions or organs of the body, the only confessed difference between them and others. One would think, according to these men's principles, that all these native beams of light (were there any such) should in those who have no reserves, no arts of concealment, shine out in their full lustre, and leave us in no more doubt of their being there, than we are of their love of pleasure, and abhorrence of pain. But alas, amongst children, idiots, savages, and the grossly illiterate, what general maxims are to be found? what universal principles of knowledge? Their notions are few and narrow, borrowed only from those objects they have had most to do with, and which have made upon their senses the frequentest and strongest impressions. A child knows his nurse and his cradle, and by degrees the play-things of a little more advanced age: and a young savage has, perhaps, his head filled with love and hunting, according to the fashion of his tribe. But he that from a child untaught, or a wild inhabitant of the woods, will expect these abstract maxims and reputed principles of science, will, I fear, find himself mistaken. Such kind of general propositions are seldom mentioned in the huts of Indians, much less are they to be found in the thoughts of children, or any impressions of them on the minds of naturals. They are the language and business of the schools and academies of learned nations, accustomed to that sort of conversation or learning, where disputes are frequent: these maxims being suited to artificial argumentation, and useful for conviction; but not much conducing to the discovery of truth, or advancement of knowledge. But of their small use for the improvement of knowledge, I shall have occasion to speak more at large, /. 4. c. 7
§. 28. I know not how absurd this may
tfonapitUla" seem to masters of demonstration: and probably it will hardly down with any body at first hearing. I must therefore beg a little truce with prejudice, and the forbearance of censure, till I have been heard out in the sequel of this discourse, being very willing to submit to better judgments. And since I impartially search after truth, I shall not be sorry to be convinced that I have been too fond of my own notions; which I confess we are all apt to be, when application and study have warmed our heads with them.
Upon the whole matter, I cannot see any ground to think these two speculative maxims innate, since they are not universally assented to; and the assent they so generally find, is no other than what several propositions, not allowed to be innate, equally partake in with them; and since the assent that is given them, is produced another way, and comes not from natural inscription, as I doubt not but to make appear in the following discourse. And if these first principles of knowledge and science are found not to be innate, no other speculative maxims can (I suppose) with better right pretend to be so.