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The Argument of assenting on first hearing, is upon a false supposition of no precedent teaching.       §23. There is I fear this farther weakness in the foregoing
Argument, which would perswade us, That therefore those Maxims
are to be thought innate, which Men admit at first hearing, because
they assent to Propositions, which they are not taught, nor do
receive from the force of any Argument or Demonstration, but a
bare Explication or Understanding of the Terms. Under which,
there seems to me to lie this fallacy; That Men are supposed not to
be taught, nor to learn any thing de novo; when in truth, they are
taught, and do learn something they were ignorant of before. For
first it is evident, they have learned the Terms and their Signifi-
cation: neither of which was born with them. But this is not all the
acquired Knowledge in the case: The Ideas themselves, about which
the Proposition is, are not born with them, no more than their
Names, but got afterwards. So, that in all Propositions that are
assented to, at first hearing; the Terms of the Proposition, their
standing for such Ideas, and the Ideas themselves that they stand for,
being neither of them innate, I would fain know what there is
remaining in such Propositions, that is innate. For I would gladly
have any one name that Proposition, whose Terms or Ideas were
either of them innate. We by degrees get Ideas and Names, and
learn their appropriated connexion one with another; and then to
Propositions, made in such Terms, whose signification we have
learnt, and wherein the Agreement or Disagreement we can
perceive in our Ideas, when put together, is expressed, we at first
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hearing assent; though to other Propositions, in themselves as
certain and evident, but which are concerning Ideas, not so soon or
so easily got, we are at the same time no way capable of assenting.
For though a Child quickly assent to this Proposition, That an
Apple is not Fire; when, by familiar Acquaintance, he has got the
Ideas of those two different things distinctly imprinted on his Mind,
and has learnt that the Names Apple and Fire stand for them: yet, it
will be some years after, perhaps, before the same Child will assent
to this Proposition, That it is impossible for the same thing to be, and not
to be. Because, that though, perhaps, the Words are as easie to be
learnt: yet the signification of them, being more large, compre-
hensive, and abstract, than of the Names annexed to those sensible
things, the Child hath to do with, it is longer before he learns their
precise meaning, and it requires more time plainly to form in his
Mind those general Ideas, they stand for. Till that be done, you will
in vain endeavour to make any Child assent to a Proposition, made
up of such general Terms: but as soon as ever he has got those
Ideas, and learn’d their Names, he forwardly closes with the one, as
well as the other of the forementioned Propositions; and with both
for the same Reason; (viz.) because he finds the Ideas he has in his
Mind, to agree or disagree, according as the Words standing for
them, are affirmed, or denied one of another in the Proposition. But
if Propositions be brought to him in Words, which stand for Ideas
he has not yet in his Mind: to such Propositions, however evidently
true or false in themselves, he affords neither assent nor dissent, but
is ignorant. For Words being but empty sounds, any farther than
they are signs of our Ideas, we cannot but assent to them, as they
correspond to those Ideas we have, but no farther than that. But the
shewing by what Steps and Ways Knowledge comes into our
Minds, and the grounds of several degrees of assent, being the
Business of the following Discourse, it may suffice to have only
touched on it here, as one Reason, that made me doubt of those
innate Principles.
Locke Hum I, 2, §23, pp. 60-61