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treatise on words or language which is now the third book; and that ultimately he wrote several additional chapters of the second book, and, perhaps last of all, the three chapters on “innate principles," which, with the introductory chapter, constitute the first book.
1 Premising that my study of the phraseology of the essay, with this special object, has not been minute enough to lead me to speak authoritatively, if indeed it would be allowable in any case to speak authoritatively about the order of composition followed in a work avowedly “written by incoherent parcels, and, after long intervals of neglect, resumed again, as humour or occasions permitted,'' I may briefly enumerate the following points in support of the suggestion made above :
1. The beginning of book ii. is in direct continuation of book i., ch. i. The latter ends thus: “I presume it will be easily granted me that there are such ideas in men's minds. Every one is conscious of them in himself, and men's words and actions will satisfy him that they are in others. Our first inquiry then shall be how they come into the mind.” Book ii., ch. i., is • Of Ideas in General and their Original,' and thus commences : Every man being conscious to himself that he thinks, . ... it is in the first place to be inquired how he comes by them,” i.e., his ideas.
2. That book iv. was begun before book iii. is clear from the passage quoted in the text. This, if it needs confirmation, may be slightly confirmed by a comparison between book iv., cb.iii., § 18 (also book iv., ch. xii., $ 8) and book iii., ch. xi., § 16.
3. At least one part of book ir. was written before one part of book ii. Speaking of ideas of duration in book ü., ch. xvii., § 5, Locke says, “He that considers something now existing must necessarily come to something eternal. But having spoke of this in another place, I shall here say no more of it.” The “other place " is book iv., ch. X., § 3.
4. It seems to have been Locke's invariable rule to clear his ground as he went along, never to assume as proved anything that he intended afterwards to prove or try to prove. To this rule, I know of no exceptions in his argumentative writings out of the essay, whereas instances are numerous there, all tending to show, as I think, that book iv. was substantially written at an early date (ch. x. at any rate, as has been noted in the text, was written before 1683, when Shaftesbury referred to it on his death-bed), and the last three chapters of book i. last, or nearly last, of all. Without taking up too much space with quotations, I may refer the curious reader for such allusions But we must look at Locke's arguments in the order in which he chose to publish them.
The purpose of the “Essay concerning Human Understanding,' as Locke announced in his introductory chapter, was “to inquire into the original, certainty and extent of human knowledge, together with the grounds and degrees of belief, opinion and assent.” “In order whereunto," he said, “I shall pursue this following method. First, I shall inquire into the original of those ideas, notions, or whatever else you please to call them, which a man observes and is conscious to himself he has in his mind; and the ways whereby the understanding comes to be furnished with them. Secondly, I shall endeavour to show what knowledge the understanding hath by those ideas, and the certainty, evidence and extent of it. Thirdly, I shall make some inquiry into the nature and grounds of faith or opinion; whereby I mean that assent which we give to any proposition as true, of whose truth yet we have no certain knowledge; and here we shall have occasion to examine the reasons and degrees of assent.”ı
and assumptions to book i., ch. ii., §§ 1, 10, 11, 12, 16, 18, 23, 27, 28, and book i., ch. iv., $ $ 13, 21. Book i., ch. iv., § 1, assumes the whole argument of book ii.
5. The extracts made from, and the references to, Thevenot and other travellers in book i., ch. iii., show that this chapter at any rate could not have been written till after Locke had studied their works. Locke made the acquaintance of Thevenot while in Paris, and after that was reading Thevenot's books, and communicating with him about barbaric customs. But I bare given reasons for supposing that a large part of the essay was written at Montpellier, before Locke went to reside in Paris.
1 Concerning Human Understanding,' b. i., ch. i., $$ 2, 3. The following references are to the fourth (the last edited by Locke himself) and subsequent editions. In the earlier editions, in consequence of his interpolations, the numbering of both chapters and sections is sometimes different. Except in one or two cases which will be noted, I have, however, in this chapter, quoted exclusively from the first edition, my desire being to give some account of his opinions at this time. A few later addi. tions will be described in their chronological order.
“If by this inquiry into the nature of the understanding," he added, “I can discover the powers thereof, how far they reach, to what things they are in any degree proportionate, and where they fail us, I suppose it may be of use to prevail with the busy mind of man to be more cautious in meddling with things exceeding its comprehension, to stop when it is at the utmost extent of its tether, and to sit down in a quiet ignorance of those things which, upon examination, are found to be beyond the reach of our capacities. We should not then, perhaps, be so forward, out of an affectation of an universal knowledge, to raise questions, and perplex ourselves and others with disputes, about things to which our understandings are not suited, and of which we cannot frame in our minds any clear or distinct perceptions, or whereof (as it has perhaps too often happened) we have not any notions at all. If we can find out how far the understanding can extend its view, how far it has faculties to attain certainty, and in what cases it can only judge and guess, we may learn to content ourselves with what is attainable by us in this state.” 1
The excellent meaning of those sentences must not be lost sight of. Locke never varied in his assertion that truth is the noblest pursuit of man; but he held that truth is only to be attained by knowledge, and knowledge by intelligence or understanding. Let us do all we can, he said in effect, to find out what we can understand, and, as a preliminary thereto, how we can understand. Let us study the anatomy of our minds, their original nature and composition, their capacities for expansion and development, and the best ways of expanding and developing them. Unless we do that, we shall not know what material we are working with or what work it is fit for. But when that is done, as far as we are able to do it, we must take care that we make right use of our minds. Let us always remember that they can only be used in the acquisition of knowledge, that we are bound to store them with all the knowledge they are capable of; and also, that it is not possible to store them with knowledge for which they have not capacities, and that to attempt to do this is as useless and injurious as to abstain from supplying them with such knowledge as they have power to apprebend. We can know nothing that we do not understand, and they alone are philosophers who educate themselves into avoidance of the unknowable as well as into acquisition of that which can be known. There is & “ quiet igno
” to which the wisest men must resign themselves, just as there is a quiet ignorance “ with which none but fools will be content." The old-world sophists, whether pre-Socratic or post-Aristotelian, who professed to know
1 • Conceruing Human Understanding,' b. i., ch. i., § 4.
everything, strayed as far from the paths of wisdom as the mindless sensualists whose whole theory of life was expressed in the motto, “Let us eat and drink, for to-morrow we die.” The modern disciples of Duns Scotus and Thomas Aquinas, who, each in their own rival ways, undertook to solve all the secrets of the universe, were as impotent instructors as they who taught that there were no secrets in the universe to be solved. If we would make good use of our intellects, we must find out their strength and capacity, and, while learning all we can, steer clear of what cannot be learned.
“When we know our own strength,” said Locke, “ we shall the better know what to undertake with hopes of success; and when we have well surveyed the powers of our own minds, and made some estimate what we may expect from them, we shall not be inclined either to sit still and not set our thoughts on work at all, in despair of knowing anything, or, on the other side, question everything and disclaim all knowledge because some things are not to be understood. It is of great use to the sailor to know the length of his line, though he cannot with it fathom all the depths of the
It is well he knows that it is long enough to reach iho bottom at such places as are necessary to direct his voyage and caution him against running upon shoals that may ruin him. Our business here is not to know all things, but those which concern our conduct. If we can find out those measures whereby a rational creature, put in that state in which man is in this world, may and ought to govern his opinions, and actions depending thereon, we need not to be troubled that some other things escape our knowledge.” We must not expect to understand everything; but we are bound to understand all we can. “ It will be no excuse to an idle and unto. ward servant, who would not attend his business by candle-light, to plead that he had not broad sunshine. The candle that is set in us shines bright enough for all our purposes.” “ If we will disbelieve everything because we cannot certainly know all things, we shall do much-what as wisely as he who would not use his legs, but sit still and perish, because he had no wings to fly." 1
Having thus explained the scope and purport of the discussion on which he proposed to embark, Locke, before proceeding to the discussion itself, interpolated three chapters on innate principles. He had to disprove the erroneous opinions that were in vogue before he could build
his own system of intellectual activity. “To clear my way,” he said, “ to those foundations which I conceive are the only true ones whereon to establish those notions we
1. Concerning Human Understanding,' b. i., ch. i., $$ 6, 5.
can have of our own knowledge, it hath been necessary for me to give an account of the reasons I had to doubt of innate principles. And since the arguments which are against them do some of them rise from common received opinions, I have been forced to take several things for granted, which is hardly avoidable to any one whose task is to show the falsehood or improbability of any tenet; it happening in controversial discourses as it does in assaulting of towns, where, if the ground be but firm whereon the batteries are erected, there is no farther inquiry of whom it is borrowed nor whom it belongs to, so it affords but a fit rise for the present purpose. Locke only borrowed from himself the groundwork that he had done his best to establish in the later, but apparently earlier written portions of his work.
“There is nothing more commonly taken for granted," he said, referring especially to the Cartesians, and generally to the great majority of theologians, “ 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 assumption he proceeded to controvert with care and skill that were not wasted in his own day, seeing that he had all the pseudo-Aristotelian schoolmen and their benighted successors, as well as all the Carte. sians, to contend against. But his arguments on this score are now chiefly noteworthy as antique weapons which did good service in their own day, but for which the need has almost passed away. In the course of his argument, however, he took occasion to give an excellent summary of his own theory as to the way in which knowledge is acquired.
“ The senses at first let in particular ideas,” he said, “and furnish the yet empty cabinet, and, the mind by degrees growing familiar with some of them, they are lodged in the memory, and names got to them. Afterwards the mind, proceeding farther, abstracts them, and by degrees learns the use of general names. In this manner the mind comes to be furnished with ideas and language, the materials about which to exercise its discursive faculty ; and the use of reason becomes more visible as these materials that give it employment increase. But, though the having of general ideas and the use of general words and reason usually grow together, yet I see not how this any way proves them innate. The knowledge of some truths, I confess, is
1 Concerning Human Understanding,' b. i., ch. iv., $ 25.