— 424 —
Simple Ideas why undefinable, farther explained.       §11. Simple Ideas, as has been shewn, are only to be got by those
impressions Objects themselves make on our Minds, by the proper
Inlets appointed to each sort. If they are not received this way, all
the Words in the World, made use of to explain, or define any of their
Names, will never be able to produce in us the Idea it stands for. For Words
being Sounds, can produce in us no other simple Ideas, than of
those very Sounds; nor excite any in us, but by that voluntary
connexion, which is known to be between them, and those simple
Ideas, which common Use has made them Signs of. He that thinks
otherwise, let him try if any Words can give him the taste of a Pine-
Apple, and make him have the true Idea of the Relish of that cele-
brated delicious Fruit. So far as he is told it has a resemblance with
any Tastes, whereof he has the Ideas already in his Memory, im-
printed there by sensible Objects not Strangers to his Palate, so far
— 425 —
may he approach that resemblance in his Mind. But this is not giv-
ing us that Idea by a Definition, but exciting in us other simple Ideas,
by their known Names; which will be still very different from the
true taste of that Fruit it self. In Light and Colours, and all other
simple Ideas, it is the same thing: for the signification of Sounds, is
not natural, but only imposed and arbitrary. And no definition of
Light, or Redness, is more fitted, or able to produce either of those
Ideas in us, than the sound Light, or Red, by it self. For to hope to
produce an Idea of Light, or Colour, by a Sound, however formed, is
to expect that Sounds should be visible, or Colours audible; and to
make the Ears do the Office of all the other Senses. Which is all one
as to say, that we might Taste, Smell, and See by the Ears: a sort of
Philosophy worthy only of Sanco Panca, who had the Faculty to see
Dulcinea by Hearsay. And therefore he that has not before received
into his Mind, by the proper Inlet, the simple Idea which any Word
stands for, can never come to know the signification of that Word,
by any other Words, or Sounds, whatsoever put together, accord-
ing to any Rules of Definition. The only way is, by applying to his
Senses the proper Object; and so producing that Idea in him, for
which he has learn’d the name already. A studious blind Man, who
had mightily beat his Head about visible Objects, and made use
of the explication of his Books and Friends, to understand those
names of Light, and Colours, which often came in his way; bragg’d
one day, That he now understood what Scarlet signified. Upon
which his Friend demanding, what Scarlet was? the blind Man
answered, It was like the Sound of a Trumpet. Just such an Under-
standing of the name of any other simple Idea will he have, who
hopes to get it only from a Definition, or other Words made use of
to explain it.
Locke Hum III, 4, §11, pp. 424-425