An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Knowledge and by John Locke

By John Locke

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We shall discover that not only the small number of so-called ‘maxims’ are self-evident, but a virtually infinite number of other propositions are so as well. 4. The immediate perception of the agreement or disagreement of identity is based simply on the mind’s having different ideas, so this provides us with as many self-evident propositions as we have different ideas. Everyone that has any knowledge at all has as its foundation various different ideas; and it is the first act of the mind (without which it can never be capable of any knowledge) to know each of its ideas by itself, and to distinguish it from others.

But he wasn’t helped to discover these by such general maxims as What is, is or The whole is bigger than a part these weren’t the clues that led him into the discovery of the truth and certainty of those propositions. Nor did they give him the knowledge of his demonstrations: he achieved that by finding out intermediate ideas that showed the agreement or disagreement of the ideas expressed in the propositions he demonstrated. This is the greatest way in which human understanding enlarges its knowledge and advances the sciences; and the contemplation of the vaunted maxims doesn’t come into it.

I think it is beyond question that man has a clear idea of his own existence; he knows certainly he exists, and that he is something. If you can doubt whether you are anything or not, I have nothing to say to you, any more than I would argue with pure nothing, or try to convince non-entity that it is something. If anyone Ÿclaims to be so sceptical as to deny his own existence (for Ÿreally to doubt this is manifestly impossible), I am willing to let him luxuriate in his beloved state of being nothing, until hunger or some other pain convinces him of the contrary!

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