Locke's Theory of Knowledge and Its Historical Relations

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CHAPTER II
THE POLEMIC AGAINST INNATE PRINCIPLES

§ 1 . There existed a wide-spread tendency, among writers upon philosophical subjects in the seventeenth century, to rest the validity of what they regarded as the fundamental principles of knowledge and conduct upon a vague and often unexplained appeal to Nature. By 'Nature' they generally understood the universe of reality, material and immaterial, in its orderly and universal modes of activity; and from it they commonly distinguished the arbitrary and occasional exercise of human powers which, depending upon an undetermined faculty of freewill, could not be brought within this ordered system. Thus the objective and universal validity of the principles. of knowledge and morality was identified with their naturalness. The evidence of reason was the 'light of Nature'; and those who held that moral principles could be established without appealing to revelation, maintained the existence of a 'law of Nature' binding upon all. From this identification of objective and universal validity with naturalness a further step was commonly taken, by which our recognition of the truth of propositions possessing these characteristics was referred in some way to the operation of Nature, or of God acting through Nature, upon our minds. There thus came to be widely accepted, in various forms, a theory of natural and innate principles, upon which those

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