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Locke's views on personal identity In II.27 of the 'Essay Concerning Human Understanding' Locke presents and defends his criterion of personal identity. According to Locke's view the only possible substances are God, finite spirits, and material atoms. His strategy is as follows:?To present an analysis of what it is for bodies and animals to be identical. To sharply distinguish between men qua animals and men qua persons 'capable of a law', and to present a corresponding analysis of identity. To show the adequacy of his own account (and the inadequacy of other accounts), especially in the context of justice
Criteria for identity Locke presents the following Identity of bodies consists in being made up of the same atoms, organised in the same way. But if one chops a limb off an animal or a tree, it remains the same living thing. So we find Identity of living things consists in its sustaining the same life. It is the same living thing so long as it maintains the organisation of the parts necessary to sustain the same life. Any account trying to say otherwise will struggle to explain how infant, madman and grown man are one and the same person in a way that does not make it possible that that man be the same as Socrates. If the identity of the soul were enough for personal identity, for example, there would be nothing to stop Socrates and Pilate being the same man. We must, therefore, look at the idea that the word stands for, and consider whether it is being applied to man, substance or person. For example, a parrot may be able to talk in an apparently intelligent manner but would not be a man. On the other hand, a man is just an animal in a certain form: even if we see another being looking like us unable to talk or reason less than the parrot, it would nevertheless be a man. We must therefore distinguish carefully between identity conditions for substances, for persons, and for men. A person is a "thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places". It follows that, as consciousness always accompanies thinking, it is that [ambiguous reference - to consciousness or thinking?]
which makes everyone to be what he calls self, and distinguishes him from other beings. Hence:
1 Identity of persons: consists solely in consciousness. So far as a rational being's consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of the person. Hence, as Jolley puts it: A is the same person as B IFF A can be conscious of the actions and experiences of B (where A is a person picked out at t and B is a person picked out at an earlier time t').
Why does Locke provide differing criteria of identity?
William Uzgalis suggests the following reasons for why Locke made the distinction between 'man' and 'person':?
Adopting the distinction from the Cartesians for the purpose of refuting the Cartesian claim that the soul is the bearer of personal identity. Solving the problem of the resurrection of the dead (cf. Boyle's question about the resurrection of people eaten by cannibals). Locke does explicitly tell us the case of the prince and the cobbler shows us the resolution of the problem of the resurrection.
Critiquing other views We cannot take identity of persons to lie in bodily substance. Change of substance does not entail change of person, any more than changing one's clothes does. For example, if one cuts off a limb, one's substance is changed, but one remains the same person. Nor can we take identity of persons to lie in some immaterial substance. For example, if someone had the same immaterial spirit as Nestor at the siege of Troy, but is nonetheless not concerned for Nestor's actions, nor attribute them to himself, then surely he is not the same person as Nestor. Nor can we take identity of persons to lie in thinking substance. It is the case that our perceptions do not deceive us, and that we do no appropriate to ourselves actions we never did. But until we have a clearer idea of the nature of thinking substances, we must resolve this into the goodness of God, who would not allow punishment to be made unjust in this way.
Personal identity and justice Person is a forensic term: it appropriates actions and their merit. As such it belongs only to agents capable of a law, happiness and misery. By extending consciousness one's personality becomes accountable and owns its actions. On the other hand, if we cannot reconcile a certain action in our consciousness, it no more concerns us than if we had not done it. Thus at the resurrection the sentence each person receives shall be justified by his consciousness, independent of whatever substances their body may be made up of. Personal identity tracks justice. If I cut off my little finger and it somehow gains a consciousness, then the actions of that finger are outside of my consciousness and concern, and therefore I am not culpable for them. Similarly, we see this in mitigating the guilt we 2
attach to a mad person's actions when he is sober, and in our language of 'he is not himself' or 'he is beside himself'. We recognise that guilt tracks consciousness. Other ways of bringing this out: if one were one person at night, and another during the day, and each were unconscious of the other, if would surely be unreasonable to punish the dayperson for the night-person's actions. Similarly, if a prince swapped consciousness with a cobbler, the prince (in the cobbler's body) would be the same person and still be culpable for his actions prior to the swap (in the prince's body).
Classic objections: Reid and Butler Reid and Butler both strongly reject Locke's relational view of personal identity in favour of a substance-based view. As David Shoemaker points out, however, they agree with Locke that identity grounds certain moral and prudential 'patterns of concern': it is the foundation of our rights and obligations , for example.
Butler's 'Of Personal Identity' Butler (1692-1752) objects to Locke's account on the grounds that it is circular. He argues that consciousness of personal identity presupposes - and therefore cannot constitute - personal identity. Butler diagnoses Locke's "wonderful mistake" as failing to notice that it is not my memory of an experience that makes it mine; rather I remember it because it's already mine. As David Shoemaker puts it, "memory can reveal my identity with a past experiencer, but it does not make that experiencer me. What I am remembering...are the experiences of a substance, namely, the same substance that constitutes me now".
Reid's 'Of Mr Locke's Account of Our Personal Identity' Reid affirms Butler's objection and adds a few more of his own. For Reid (1710-1796), Locke conflates memory (immediate knowledge of the past) with consciousness (immediate knowledge of the present). Thus Reid holds that Locke's thesis is that personal identity consists in direct remembrance, not consciousness. Objection 1 ('memory is non-transitive; identity is transitive'): Locke's criterion of identity is non-transitive. Consider the case of a man who is first a boy, then a lieutenant, then a general. As a general he can remember being a lieutenant, but cannot remember being a boy. As a lieutenant he can remember being a boy. So the general is the same person as the lieutenant, who is the same person as the boy; but the general is not the same person as the boy. Objection 2: there is nothing to stop one intelligent being being many persons, or many persons being one intelligent being. If the same consciousness is transferred between a number of intelligent beings, those intelligent beings are the same person. Conversely, if one intelligent being loses consciousness, and regains it again having forgotten all before, that intelligent being is more than one person. Objection 3 (from Butler): Locke conflates the evidence for personal identity with personal identity itself. That I can remember doing an action is evidence I am identical to the person 3
who did it, but it does not make me the person who did it. Consider the analogy of a horse that is stolen, then found and claimed by its owner. The evidence for it being the same horse lies in the similitude of the found horse to the stolen one; but that is not what makes it the same horse. Objection 4: consciousness is transient and continually changing. As such, no man is the same between two moments of his life, and each man cannot be held responsible for his actions. Objection 5: we simply cannot repeat "the idea of a past action, with the same consciousness we had of it at first". At best the consciousness can be similar, or of the same kind. But then, once again, we are not for two moments the same person.
Meeting the circularity objection Butler's 'circularity' objection still remains. As Jolley puts it, Reid "observes that in denying that sameness of person entails sameness of substance, Locke implies that persons are not substances, and thereby embroils himself in contradiction". Reid points out that Locke defines a person as a 'thinking thing' and, according to Reid, Locke's basic meaning for 'substance' is a that of a thing. Weinberg's problem Weinberg considers two attempted solutions. One solution has been to take Locke by combining the ancestral relation with an 'appropriation theory' of personal identity. According to the appropriation theory, my self is constituted solely by the thoughts and actions I can presently attribute to myself. Another solution, taken by Margaret Atherton, has been to take the psychological criterion as the distinct internal experience of the unity of one's thinking. In either case, Weinberg argues that the psychological criterion cannot do the metaphysical work Locke requires. The gaps in our memory make it difficult to link a present self to all our past selves. As such, the theory does not rule out the possibility of false memories, nor the possibility that we are not punished for past actions that are no longer 'appropriated' or related to our consciousness in the required way.
Nicholas Jolley takes the view that Reid is wrong about that it is to be a substance for Locke. He argues that Locke's denial that persons are necessarily substances makes use of a stronger notion of 'thing' than his calling persons things. This defence therefore takes two complementary forms:
1. Invoking Locke's account of the substratum, which is supposed to be an ingredient of our concept of any kind of substance. When Locke denies personal identity over time entails identity of substance, he may be denying that it entails identity of the substratum. On the other hand, to say a person is a thinking thing of some sort is not 4
to say that there is an unobservable substratum or bare particular in which its mental properties inhere.
2. Mount a defence of Locke by invoking the traditional, Aristotelian notion of substance. According to this view, a substance is not just a bearer of properties: it is that which persists uninterruptedly through changes of qualities. Locke drops the requirement of strict temporal continuity for personal identity over time; persons may have 'gappy' histories. Thus, if persons are things, it is mean in a weaker sense that which is implied by the Aristotelian view of substance. Jolley points to an analogy form Jonathan Bennett. For Locke, the person is less like a substance than it is like an institution. A monarchy is not intuitively a substance, but it is in a weak sense a thing. Moreover, a person can be successively realised in different immaterial substances - as with different monarchs - and it can be 'gappy' - for example, through the Interregnum in England.
Meeting the transitivity objection A possible solution: introducing an ancestral relation Weinberg considers and rejects a purely psychological account - of the kind Butler and Reid seem to want to attribute to Locke - on the basis of Butler's and Reid's objections. On this reading, the criterion for personal identity is simply memory. The view is supported by Locke's comments that we are only the same person insofar as we are aware of ourselves as stretching into the past, combined with his assertion that continuity of substance is not enough to establish personhood. This psychological reading can survive Reid's failure-of-transitivity objection by weakening the memory relation to an ancestral relation. According to this view, the old man is identical to the young boy because the intermediate young man preserves an ancestral link between the two. As E.J. Lowe points out, the ancestral of a non-transitive relation is guaranteed to be transitive.
Could Locke accept this solution?
E.J. Lowe argues that Locke would not want to accept this solution. Lowe points out that Locke appears strongly committed to the idea that if you cannot recollect the deeds and thoughts of a certain person, you are simply not the same person. Lowe sees this as coming out of the need for identity to be 'forensic'. Lowe's suspicion is that Locke would just bite the bullet on Reid's example, and admit that the general and the boy are the same man but different persons. Lowe points to Locke's low opinion of the dictates of logicians, and suspects he would have dismissed the failure of transitivity as mere sophistry. In this case, Lowe argues, Locke's theory would simply be mistaken.
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