An Essay Concerning Human Understanding

1923 words - 8 pages

These readings comprise chapters 3 and 4 from Locke’s famous work An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Chapter 3 talks about the impossibility of having innate practical principles. It is important to distinguish that this chapter is very different from the previous one, which was chapter 2. Chapter 2 talked about the impossibility of having innate speculative principles. This refers to speculative reason. Speculative reason is theoretical, certain, and has no real dependence on life. It is the one that gives an individual the universal truths of life and the principles of logic. This chapter, on the other hand, talks about practical reason. This type of reason is active, involved, and depends on the life of a human. It is the one that guides a human and helps him decide what to do with things. So, in a sense, speculative principles are the ones that talk about the theory in general and practical principles, as their denomination states, are the ones that put in practice these principles in life. As Locke has said in the previous chapter, it is completely impossible that we are born with these innate principles in our mind.
Locke gives 27 statements in this chapter to defend his point of view. Reviewing all of them would not be of much use because this presentation would wind up as a small, compressed version of the readings. Instead, the main points of his argumentation will be seen. Locke starts by stating that if speculative principles are not innate and agreed upon by all mankind, then it follows that the moral principles of the world are not agreed upon by all mankind. By this it is then evident that they are not innate to humans. Even further, he explains that speculative maxims do carry some truth in themselves, but these moral practical principles do not. They require our reasoning and mind in order to prove their truth. They are not engraved in our minds and they depend on our reasoning regarding things. So Locke concludes that these moral principles are not the same for everyone and so, it follows that they cannot be innate. Another point of his argumentation is that justice and faith are not principles of all men. He talks about these principles as a convenience for each kind of man. A robber does not think of faith and justice as an innate law of nature that it is within him. He makes them merely rules of convenience according to his necessities. If these practical principles were innate to men, would not faith and justice be practiced the same by each person? How can a robber have these innate practical principles if he kills a person he sees? Another important argument is the one about the proofs of moral rules. A man can justly demand a reason why a moral rule is correct. Innate things do not need proof; they are self-evident to a human and already hold truth. If a man needs proof to acquire the truth of a certain moral rule, how can moral principles and rules be innate to humans? Another argument talks about the virtue of...

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