Personal Identity

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To understand Locke’s concept of personal identity it is necessary to understand what he means by identity and what he means specifically by personal identity. Locke states there are three substances that we have ideas of and that have identities. He defines idea in Essay concerning Human Understanding as “whatsoever is the object of the understanding when a man thinks” (Essay, chapter 1, section 8). That is to say that an idea, to Locke, is the basic unit of human thought. Identity is based off of comparison of these ideas in different times and places. Locke first splits substances of which we have ideas into three groups; God, finite intelligences, and bodies. Locke writes that identity is ascertained by a comparison between the idea of an object at one moment in one place, and the idea of the object at another time and place. If these two ideas match up, that is to say that they are exactly the same, then the object itself is the same. God’s identity is indubitable, as he is eternal and unchanging. Finite intelligences and Bodies each have an exact beginning, and when you compare the current finite intelligence or body to its beginning you can understand its identity. An object cannot have two distinct beginnings in time and space, and two objects cannot share in one beginning. As such, finite intelligences and bodies each have unique beginnings which identify them. Locke’s idea of personal identity is based on the same principal of continued comparison as the identities of the three substances. Personal identity or the identity of self is defined as the conditions under which a person can be considered to be the same at two different times. Locke bases personal identity or the idea of self squarely on consciousness... ... middle of paper ... ...ribe to. It is about being conscious in a continuous way, and having that consciousness be attached to a specifically identified body. . This does raise the question of what exactly makes a consciousness the same from moment to moment. What is guaranteeing that the consciousness I am experiencing right now is the same one, and I am therefore the same person, as the consciousness at any other moment? When someone goes to sleep and wakes again in the morning, isn’t it possible that the consciousness could have been swapped out with one from a completely different person during the night? Each person shares in being able to perceive that they are thinking or perceiving, but what distinguishes one person’s perception of perceiving from any other? Locke, I think, gives the answer of a consciousness being defined by the finite body or mind it is connected to.

In this essay, the author

  • Opines that consciousness is what makes us human, as opposed to rationality. consciousness is the only reason that we have a concept of self.
  • Explains that one can only judge personal identity if it is truly based in consciousness and nowhere else. locke uses the example of a prince's soul and his past consciousness with it in an essay on human understanding.
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