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What use these general Maxims have.
      §11. What shall we then say. Are these general Maxims of no use?
By no means, Though perhaps their use is not that, which it is
commonly taken to be. But since doubting in the least of what
hath been by some Men ascribed to these Maxims may be apt to be
cried out against, as overturning the Foundations of all the Sciences;
it may be worth while to consider them, with respect to other
parts of our Knowledge, and examine more particularly to what
Purposes they serve, and to what not.
      1. It is evident from what has been already said, that they are of
no use to prove or confirm less general self-evident Propositions.
      2. ’Tis as plain that they are not, nor have been the Foundations
whereon any Science hath been built. There is, I know, a great deal
of Talk, propagated from Scholastick Men, of Sciences and the
Maxims on which they are built: But it has been my ill luck, never
to meet with any such Sciences; much less any one built upon these
two Maxims, What is, is; and It is impossible for the same to be and not to be.
And I would be glad to be shewn where any such Science erected
upon these, or any other general Axioms is to be found: and should
be obliged to any one who would lay before me the Frame and
System of any Science so built on these, or any such like Maxims,
that could not be shewn to stand as firm without any Consideration
of them. I ask, Whether these general Maxims have not the same use
in the Study of Divinity, and in Theological Questions, that they
have in the other Sciences? They serve here too, to silence Wranglers,
and put an end to dispute. But I think that no body will therefore
say, that the Christian Religion is built on these Maxims, or that the
Knowledge we have of it, is derived from these Principles. ’Tis
from Revelation we have received it, and without Revelation these
Maxims had never been able to help us to it. When we find out an
Idea, by whose Intervention we discover the Connexion of two
others, this is a Revelation from God to us, by the 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 by
the Voice of his Spirit, and we are advanced in our Knowledge.
But in neither of these do we receive our Light or Knowledge from
Maxims. But in the one the things themselves afford it, and we see
the Truth in them by perceiving their Agreement or Disagree-
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ment. In the other, God himself affords it immediately to us, and
we see the Truth of what he says in his unerring Veracity.
      3. They are not of use to help Men forwards in the Advancement
of Sciences, or new Discoveries of yet unknown Truths. Mr. Newton,
in his never enough to be admired Book, has demonstrated several
Propositions, which are so many new Truths, before unknown to
the World, and are farther Advances in Mathematical Knowledge:
But for the Discovery of these, it was not the general Maxims, What
is, is; or The whole is bigger than a part, or the like, that help’d him.
These were not the Clues that lead him into the Discovery of the
Truth and Certainty of those Propositions. Nor was it by them that
he got the Knowledge of those Demonstrations; but by finding out
intermediate Ideas, that shew’d the Agreement or Disagreement of
the Ideas, as expressed in the Propositions he demonstrated. This
is the great Exercise and Improvement of Humane Understanding
in the enlarging of Knowledge, and advancing the Sciences; wherein
they are far enough from receiving any Help from the Contem-
plation of these, or the like magnified Maxims. Would those who
have this Traditional Admiration of these Propositions, that they
think no Step can be made in Knowledge without the support of an
Axiom, no Stone laid in the building of the Sciences without a
general Maxim, but distinguish between the Method of acquiring
Knowledge, and of communicating it; between the Method of rais-
ing any Science, and that of teaching it to others as far as it is
advanced, they would see that those general Maxims were not the
Foundations on which the first Discoverers raised their admirable
Structures, nor the Keys that unlocked and opened those Secrets of
Knowledge. Though afterwards, when Schools were erected, and
Sciences had their Professors to teach what others had found out,
they often made use of Maxims, i.e. laid down certain Propositions
which were self-evident, or to be received for true, which being
setled in the Minds of their Scholars as unquestionable Verities,
they on occasion made use of, to convince them of Truths in particu-
lar Instances, that were not so familiar to their Minds as those
general Axioms which had before been inculcated to them and care-
fully setled in their Minds. Though these particular Instances,
when well reflected on, are no less self-evident to the Understanding
than the general Maxims brought to confirm them: And it was in
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those particular Instances, that the first Discoverer found the Truth,
without the help of the general Maxims: And so may any one else
do, who with Attention considers them.
To come therefore to the use that is made of Maxims.
      1. They are of use, as has been observed, in the ordinary Methods
of teaching Sciences as far as they are advanced: But of little or
none in advancing them farther.
      2. They are of use in Disputes, for the silencing of obstinate
Wranglers, and bringing those Contests to some Conclusion.
Whether a need of them to that end, came not in, in the manner
following, I crave leave to enquire. The Schools having made Dis-
putation the Touchstone of Mens Abilities, and the Criterion of
Knowledge, adjudg’d Victory to him that kept the Field: and he
that had the last Word was concluded to have the better of the
Argument, if not of the Cause. But because by this means there
was like to be no Decision between skilful Combatants, whilst one
never fai’ld of a medius terminus to prove any Proposition; and the
other could as constantly, without, or with a Distinction, deny the
Major or Minor; To prevent, as much as could be, the running out
of Disputes into an endless train of Syllogisms, certain general
Propositions, most of them indeed self-evident, were introduced
into the Schools, which being such as all Men allowed and agreed
in, were look’d on as general Measures of Truth, and serv’d instead
of Principles, (where the Disputants had not laid down any other
between them) beyond which there was no going, and which must
not be receded from by either side. And thus these Maxims getting
the name of Principles, beyond which Men in dispute could not re-
treat, were by mistake taken to be the Originals and Sources, from
whence all Knowledge began, and the Foundations whereon the
Sciences were built. Because when in their Disputes they came to
any of these, they stopped there, and went no farther, the Matter
was determined. But how much this is a mistake hath been already
shewn.
Locke Hum IV, 7, §11, pp. 598-599-600