By John Locke
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Additional info for An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Knowledge and Opinion
2. First, all purely identical propositions. We can see at a glance that these appear to contain no instruction in them - ·to give us no news·. For a proposition that affirms a term of itself tells us only what we must certainly have known already, before the proposition was put to us; and this is so whether the proposition Ÿcontains any clear and real idea or rather is Ÿmerely verbal - ·that is, is a mere construct of words with no backing in ideas. ) Indeed that most general proposition What is, is may serve sometimes to show a man the absurdity he is guilty of when he ·implicitly· denies something of itself.
When we find out an idea by whose intervention we discover the connection of two others, this is a revelation from God to us through Ÿthe voice of reason. For we then come to know a truth that we did not know before. When God declares any truth to us this is a revelation to us through Ÿthe voice of his spirit, and we are advanced in our knowledge. But in neither case do we receive our light or knowledge from maxims. In one case, the things themselves provide it, and we see the truth in them by perceiving their agreement or disagreement.
They are of use in disputes, for silencing obstinate wranglers and bringing those contests to some conclusion. ] 12. One more thing that is worth noting about these general maxims is that, far from increasing our knowledge or our hold on it, they can serve to confirm us in mistakes. This can happen when our notions are wrong, loose or unsteady, and we give our thoughts over to the sound of Ÿwords instead of fixing them on settled determinate Ÿideas of things. When people are using words in that way ·as substitutes for ideas·, general maxims can be employed to prove contradictions!