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By John Locke

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Example text

But he doesn’t increase his own knowledge through this procedure, any more than someone increases his riches by taking a bag of counters and calling one ‘a pound’, another ‘a shilling’, a third ‘a penny’. This latter person can undoubtedly add correctly and reach a large sum on the bottom line, without being any richer - indeed, without even knowing how much a pound, a shilling, or a penny is, except that a pound contains twenty shillings and a shilling twelve pennies. One can do ·something analogous to· that with the meanings of words, by making them more or less comprehensive than one another.

For he will find each time that his assent comes from the agreement (or disagreement) which his mind, by bringing the ideas together in a single thought, immediately finds in them corresponding to the affirmation (or negation) in the proposition. 3. Is this self-evidence special to the propositions that commonly pass under the name of ‘maxims’ and have the title of ‘axioms’ conferred on them? Plainly it is not: various other truths that are not counted as axioms are equally self-evident. To see this, let us go over the sorts of agreement or disagreement of ideas that I discussed earlier, namely Ÿidentity, Ÿco-existence, Ÿrelation, and Ÿreal existence.

It is evident from what I have already said that maxims are of no use to prove or confirm less general self-evident propositions. 2. It is equally clear that they have never been the foundations on which any science [= ‘branch of knowledge’] has been built. [Locke goes on to pour scorn on the view that a branch of knowledge could be based on What is, is or its like. He concedes that in theological disputes maxims can ‘serve to silence wranglers’, but continues:] I think that nobody will infer from this that the Christian religion is built on these maxims, or that our knowledge of it is derived from these principles.

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