An Essay Concerning Human Understanding by John Locke

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In his “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” John Locke discusses personal identity where he tries to show that personal identity depends on our memories. Locke also discuses some of the changes that are possible in our constitution that still result in the same personal identity. However, I think that Locke fails to account for certain aspects of memory that effect personal identity which leads me to think personal identity may not be what Locke proposes it to be. Locke distinguishes between three types of substances: God, finite intelligences and bodies. God is infinite and his identity cannot be doubted, whereas finite intelligences have their own beginning of existence as their identity, for example souls. (Essay II.xxvii.2) By identity Locke means being able to tell the difference between things, however similar, that exist at the same time. (Essay II.xxvii.1) Bodies have the same identity as long as there is no addition or subtraction of any particles of matter. (Essay II.xxvii.3) Organisms such as animals, can be identified through the continued existence of the same life with changing particles of matter that are organized to meet the needs of that life. (Essay II.xxvii.5) Locke thinks this is where identity of man also resides, he states, “… identity of the same man consists in the continuation of the same continued life … vitally organized to the same organized body”. (Essay II.xxvii.6) Locke then differentiates between what a person is and what a man is. A person for Locke is a being that can think, is intelligent and knows it can think, “…a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as self…” (Essay II.xxvii.9) Personal identity, moreover, depends on consciousness of pas... ... middle of paper ... ...personal identity is also not real. This leads me to think that Locke’s theory does not account for the possibility of false memories. Furthermore, we know today our memories are not perfect, the way I think Locke perceived them to be. For example, eyewitnesses have been known to misremember events. Since our memories are not always perfect, maybe personal identity depends on something else. Locke proposed great ideas concerning the understanding of personal identity. The notion of man and how it is different from what a person is helps to understand many scenarios such as: two persons switching bodies or a person switching his body with an animal. Locke’s ideas regarding two souls being able to be the same person or one soul being able to be different persons are also very interesting. However, I do not fully agree with some aspects of Locke’s theory of memory.

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