Locke unternimmt in seinem 1689 erschienenen Werk den Versuch einer Kritik der menschlichen Erkenntnisfähigkeiten überhaupt. Der Essay ist zwar damit eines der wichtigsten philosophischen Bücher der Neuzeit, doch allein sein Umfang wirkt einschüchternd. Diese Auswahlausgabe macht den Text jetzt in einer neuen Übersetzung zugänglich (die letzte Übersetzung datiert aus dem Jahre 1911), indem sie ihn um etwa zwei Drittel kürzt, dabei am originalen Wortlaut nichts ändert und ihn auch nicht in thematischer Hinsicht verengt. Ein an modernen Erfordernissen orientierter Kommentar, ein entsprechendes Nachwort sowie ein Begriffsregister runden die Ausgabe ab. E-Book mit Seitenzählung der gedruckten Ausgabe: Buch und E-Book können parallel benutzt werden.
No innate Principles in the Mind
§ 1. It is an established Opinion amongst some Men, That there are in the Understanding certain innate Principles; some primary Notions (????a? ?????a?), Characters, as it were stamped upon the Mind of Man, which the Soul receives in its very first Being; and brings into the World with it. It would be sufficient to convince unprejudiced Readers of the falseness of this Supposition, if I should only shew (as I hope I shall in the following Parts of this Discourse) how Men, barely by the Use of their natural Faculties, may attain to all the Knowledge they have, without the help of any innate Impressions; and may arrive at Certainty, without any such Original Notions or Principles. For I imagine any one will easily grant, That it would be impertinent to suppose, the Ideas of Colours innate in a Creature, to whom God hath given Sight, and a Power to receive them by the Eyes from external Objects: and no less unreasonable would it be to attribute several Truths, to the Impressions of Nature, and innate Characters, when we may observe in our selves Faculties, fit to attain as easy and certain Knowledge of them, as if they were Originally imprinted on the Mind.
But because a Man is not permitted without Censure to follow his own Thoughts in the search of Truth, when they lead him ever so little out of the common Road: I shall set down the Reasons, that made me doubt of the Truth of that Opinion [.].
§ 2. There is nothing more commonly taken for granted, than that there are certain Principles both Speculative and Practical (for they speak of both) universally agreed upon by all Mankind: which therefore they argue, must needs be the constant Impressions, which the Souls of Men receive in their first Beings, and which they bring into the World with them, as necessarily and really as they do any of their inherent Faculties.
§ 3. This Argument, drawn from Universal Consent, has this Misfortune in it, That if it were true in matter of Fact, that there were certain Truths, wherein all Mankind agreed, it would not prove them innate, if there can be any other way shewn, how Men may come to that Universal Agreement, in the things they do consent in; which I presume may be done.
§ 4. But, which is worse, this Argument of Universal Consent, which is made use of, to prove innate Principles, seems to me a Demonstration that there are none such: Because there are none to which all Mankind give an Universal Assent. I shall begin with the Speculative, and instance in those magnified Principles of Demonstration, Whatsoever is, is; and 'Tis impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be, which of all others I think have the most allow'd Title to innate. These have so setled a Reputation of Maxims universally received, that 'twill, no doubt, be thought strange, if any one should seem to question it. But yet I take liberty to say, That these Propositions are so far from having an universal Assent, that there are a great Part of Mankind, to whom they are not so much as known.
§ 5. For, first 'tis evident, that all Children, and Ideots, have not the least Apprehension or Thought of them: and the want of that is enough to destroy that universal Assent, which must needs be the necessary concomitant of all innate Truths: it seeming to me near a Contradiction, to say, that there are Truths imprinted on the Soul, which it perceives or understands not; imprinting, if it signify any thing, being nothing else, but the making certain Truths to be perceived. For to imprint any thing on the Mind without the Mind's perceiving it, seems to me hardly intelligible. If therefore Children and Ideots have Souls, have Minds, with those Impressions upon them, they must unavoidably perceive them, and necessarily know and assent to these Truths, which since they do not, it is evident that there are no such Impressions. For if they are not Notions naturally imprinted, How can they be innate? And if they are Notions imprinted, How can they be unknown? To say a Notion is imprinted on the Mind, and yet at the same time to say, that the mind is ignorant of it, and never yet took notice of it, is to make this Impression nothing. No Proposition can be said to be in the Mind, which it never yet knew, which it was never yet conscious of. For if any one may; then, by the same Reason, all Propositions that are true, and the Mind is capable ever of assenting to, may be said to be in the Mind, and to be imprinted: Since if any one can be said to be in the Mind, which it never yet knew, it must be only because it is capable of knowing it; and so the Mind is of all Truths it ever shall know. Nay, thus Truths may be imprinted on the Mind, which it never did, nor ever shall know: for a Man may live long, and die at last in Ignorance of many Truths, which his Mind was capable of knowing, and that with Certainty. So that if the Capacity of knowing be the natural Impression contended for, all the Truths a Man ever comes to know, will, by this Account, be, every one of them, innate; and this great Point will amount to no more, but only to a very improper way of speaking; which whilst it pretends to assert the contrary, says nothing different from those, who deny innate Principles. For no Body, I think, ever denied, that the Mind was capable of knowing several Truths. The Capacity, they say, is innate, the Knowledge acquired. But then to what end such contest for certain innate Maxims? If Truths can be imprinted on the Understanding without being perceived, I can see no difference there can be, between any Truths the Mind is capable of knowing in respect of their Original: They must all be innate, or all adventitious: In vain shall a Man go about to distinguish them. He therefore that talks of innate Notions in the Understanding, cannot (if he intend thereby any distinct sort of Truths) mean such Truths to be in the Understanding, as it never perceived, and is yet wholly ignorant of. For if these Words (to be in the Understanding) have any Propriety, they signify to be understood. So that, to be in the Understanding, and, not to be understood; to be in the Mind, and, never to be perceived, is all one, as to say, any thing is, and is not, in the Mind or Understanding. If therefore these two Propositions, Whatsoever is, is; and, It is impossible for the same thing to be, and not to be, are by Nature imprinted, Children cannot be ignorant of them: Infants, and all that have Souls must necessarily have them in their Understandings, know the Truth of them, and assent to it.
§ 6. To avoid this, 'tis usually answered, that all Men know and assent to them, when they come to the use of Reason, and this is enough to prove them innate [.].
§ 7. [.] to apply this Answer with any tolerable Sence to our present Purpose, it must signify one of these two things; either, That as soon as Men come to the use of Reason, these supposed native Inscriptions come to be known, and observed by them: Or else, that the Use and Exercise of Men's Reason assists them in the Discovery of these Principles, and certainly makes them known to them.
§ 8. If they mean that by the Use of Reason Men may discover these Principles; and that this is sufficient to prove them innate; their way of arguing will stand thus, (viz.) That, whatever Truths Reason can certainly discover to us, and make us firmly assent to, those are all naturally imprinted on the Mind; since that universal Assent, which is made the Mark of them, amounts to no more but this; That by the use of Reason, we are capable to come to a certain Knowledge of, and assent to them; and by this Means there will be no difference between the Maxims of the Mathematicians, and Theorems they deduce from them: All must be equally allow'd innate, they being all Discoveries made by the use of Reason, and Truths that a rational Creature may certainly come to know, if he apply his Thoughts rightly that Way.
§ 9. But how can these Men think the Use of Reason necessary to discover Principles that are supposed innate, when Reason (if we may believe them) is nothing else, but the Faculty of deducing unknown Truths from Principles or Propositions, that are already known? That certainly can never be thought innate, which we have need of Reason to discover, unless as I have said, we will have all the certain Truths, that Reason ever teaches us, to be innate. [.]
§ 10. 'Twill here perhaps be said, That Mathematical Demonstrations, and other Truths, that are not innate, are not assented to, as soon as propos'd, wherein they are distinguish'd from these Maxims, and other innate Truths. I shall have occasion to speak of Assent upon the first proposing, more particularly by and by. I shall here only, and that very readily, allow, That these Maxims, and Mathematical Demonstrations are in this different; That the one has need of Reason using of Proofs, to make them out, and to gain our Assent; but the other, as soon as understood, are, without any the least reasoning, embraced and assented to. But I withal beg leave to observe, That it lays open the Weakness of this Subterfuge, which requires the Use of Reason for the Discovery of these general Truths:...