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What Use these General Maxims have.
      This Method of the Schools, which have been thought the
Fountains of Knowledge, introduced as I suppose the like use of
these Maxims, into a great part of Conversation out of the Schools,
to stop the Mouths of Cavillers, whom any one is excused from
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arguing any longer with, when they deny these general self-
evident Principles received by all reasonable Men, who have once
thought of them: But yet their use herein, is but to put an end to
wrangling. They in truth, when urged in such cases, teach nothing:
That is already done by the intermediate Ideas made use of in the
Debate, whose Connexion may be seen without the help of those
Maxims, and so the truth known before the Maxim is produced,
and the Argument brought to a first Principle. Men would give off
a wrong Argument before it came to that, if in their Disputes they
proposed to themselves the finding and imbracing of Truth, and not
a Contest for Victory. And thus Maxims have their use to put a
stop to their perverseness, whose Ingenuity should have yielded
sooner. But the Method of the Schools, having allowed and en-
couraged Men to oppose and resist evident Truth, till they are
baffled, i.e. till they are reduced to contradict themselves, or some
established Principle;’tis no wonder that they should not in civil
Conversation be ashamed of that, which in the Schools is counted
a Vertue and a Glory; viz. obstinately to maintain that side of
the Question they have chosen, whether true or false, to the last
extremity; even after Conviction. A strange way to attain Truth
and Knowledge: And that which I think the rational part of Mankind
not corrupted by Education, could scarce believe should ever be
admitted amongst the Lovers of Truth, and Students of Religion
or Nature; or introduced into the Seminaries of those who are
to propagate the Truths of Religion or Philosophy, amongst the
Ignorant and Unconvinced. How much such a way of Learning is
likely to turn young Men’s Minds from the sincere Search and Love
of Truth; nay, and to make them doubt whether there is any such
thing, or at least worth the adhering to, I shall not now enquire.
This, I think, that bating those places, which brought the Peripa-
tetick Philosophy into their Schools, where it continued many Ages,
without teaching the World any thing but the Art of Wrangling; these
Maxims were no where thought the Foundations on which the Sciences
were built, nor the great helps to the Advancement of Knowledge.
      As to these General Maxims therefore, they are as I have said of
great Use in Disputes, to stop the Mouths of Wranglers; but not of
much Use to the Discovery of unknown Truths, or to help the Mind
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forwards, in its Search after Knowledge. For whoever began to
build his Knowledge on this General Proposition, What is, is: or,
It is impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be: and from either of
these, as from a Principle of Science, deduced a System of Useful
Knowledge? Wrong Opinions often involving Contradictions, one
of these Maxims, as a Touch-stone, may serve well to shew whither
they lead. But yet, however fit, to lay open the Absurdity or
Mistake of a Man’s Reasoning or Opinion, they are of very little
Use for enlightning the Understanding: And it will not be found,
that the Mind receives much help from them in its Progress in
Knowledge; which would be neither less, nor less certain, were these
two General Propositions never thought on. ’Tis true, as I have said,
they sometimes serve in Argumentation to stop a Wrangler’s Mouth,
by shewing the Absurdity of what he saith, and by exposing him
to the shame of contradicting what all the World knows, and he
himself cannot but own to be true. But it is one thing, to shew a
Man that he is in an Error; and another, to put him in possession of
Truth: and I would fain know what Truths these two Propositions
are able to teach, and by their Influence make us know, which we
did not know before, or could not know without them. Let us
reason from them, as well as we can, they are only about Identical
Predications, and Influence, if any at all, none but such. Each par-
ticular Proposition concerning Identity or Diversity, is as clearly
and certainly known in it self, if attended to, as either of these
general ones: Only these general ones, as serving in all cases, are
therefore more inculcated and insisted on. As to other less general
Maxims, many of them are no more than bare verbal Propositions,
and teach us nothing but the Respect and Import of Names one to
another. The Whole is equal to all its Parts; What real Truth, I be-
seech you, does it teach us? What more is contained in that Maxim,
than what the Signification of the word Totum, or the Whole, does
of it self import? And he that knows that the word Whole, stands
for what is made up of all its Parts, knows very little less, than that
the Whole is equal to all its Parts. And upon the same ground, I
think that this Proposition, A Hill is higher than a Valley, and several
— 603 —
the like, may also pass for Maxims. But yet Masters of Mathematicks,
when they would, as Teachers of what they know, initiate others
in that Science, do not without Reason place this, and some other
such Maxims, at the entrance of their Systems; that their Scholars,
having in the beginning perfectly acquainted their Thoughts with
these Propositions, made in such general Terms, may be used to
make such Reflections, and have these more general Propositions,
as formed Rules and Sayings, ready to apply to all particular Cases.
Not that if they be equally weighed, they are more clear and evident
than the particular Instances they are brought to confirm; but that
being more familiar to the Mind, the very naming them, is enough
to satisfy the Understanding. But this, I say, is more from our
Custom of using them, and the establishment they have got in our
Minds, by our often thinking of them, than from the different Evi-
dence of the Things. But before Custom has settled Methods of
Thinking and Reasoning in our Minds, I am apt to imagine it is
quite otherwise; and that the Child, when a part of his Apple is
taken away, knows it better in that particular Instance, than by this
General Proposition, The Whole is equal to all its Parts; and that if
one of these have need to be confirmed to him by the other, the
general has more need to be let into his Mind by the particular,
than the particular by the general. For in particulars, our Know-
ledge begins, and so spreads it self, by degrees, to generals. Though
afterwards, the Mind takes the quite contrary course, and having
drawn its Knowledge into as general Propositions as it can, makes
those familiar to its Thoughts, and accustoms it self to have recourse
to them, as to the Standards of Truth and Falshood. By which
familiar Use of them, as Rules to measure the Truth of other Propo-
sitions, it comes in time to be thought, that more particular Propo-
sitions have their Truth and Evidence from their Conformity to
these more general ones, which in Discourse and Argumentation,
are so frequently urged, and constantly admitted. And this, I
think, to be the Reason why amongst so many Self-evident Proposi-
tions, the most general only have had the Title of Maxims.
Locke Hum IV, 7, §11, pp. 600-601-602-603