Locke Answers: Basic arguments

This page refers to the ‘Basic arguments’ exercise on the excerpt by Locke.

Basic arguments


1. Explain why, according to the view of Locke’s opponents, ‘Whatever is, is’ must be an innate idea?

It must be innate because everybody agrees to its truth. It is assumed that if all people agree on something, that fact could only be accounted for if the proposition was not learned from experience, but planted in us from birth.

2. What principal assumption of his opponents’ argument does Locke attack? How?
Locke attacks the assumption that there are any propositions that enjoy universal consent. He offers two counter-examples – children and ‘idiots’, (mentally handicapped) who may not consent to the truth of any candidate universal proposition, such as ‘Whatever is, is’.

3. What rebuttal does Locke offer on behalf of his opponents to the point about children and ‘idiots’?
Locke answers on behalf of his opponents that innate propositions need not be assented to at all times or any time, but must merely be propositions that we eventually come to know through the use of reason.

4. Explain how Locke’s reference to mathematical truths answers the rebuttal offered in Q3.
Locke points out that if innate truths are those that we come to know through the use of reason, then all mathematical truths are innate. It means that there would be no epistemological distinction between axioms and theorems, a point he takes to be self-evident nonsense.

5. What is Locke’s argument that innate propositions are not discovered by reason?
Locke argues that using reason involves the notion of searching or ‘casting about’ for an answer, of deducing unknown truths from known ones. But the examples of innate ideas do not require the use of reason, but are readily assented to whenever they are understood.



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