Locke Personal Identity Essay

Locke Personal Identity Essay-27
The idea of a living organism is of a living system, not of a mass of matter, and therefore it is only the living system that must remain intact for the identity to remain the same.Locke chooses the word "man" to refer to that aspect of the human being that denotes him as a type of animal.By observing the similarities and differences, the mind derives further ideas, ideas of relation.

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Or else, we might compare our ideas of two people and get the ideas of father and son.

Our ideas of cause and effect, which Locke examines at length in chapter xxvi, are produced by noticing that qualities and substances begin to exist and that they receive their existence from the operation of some other being.

This is true not only for parts of the body but for the whole body as well, Locke insists.

If the consciousness of one man were somehow transferred into another body so that the second body now contained all the memories of thoughts and actions that the first man once contained (but does no more), the person would now inhabit the second body and not the first.

This notion of identity stems from the basic principle that no two things of the same kind can exist in the same place at the same time, as well as the extension of this principle that, therefore, no two things can have the same beginning and neither can any thing have two beginnings.

Things retain their identity, then, as long as they do not become essentially altered because once something is essentially altered, it has a new beginning as a new thing.Locke's treatment of personal identity might seem counterintuitive to a lot of people, especially his claim that consciousness, and therefore personal identity, are independent of all substances.Notice, however, that the claim is not that consciousness can exist independent of a body or a mind, only that there is no reason to assume that consciousness is tied to any particular body or mind.Locke separates the idea of a substance, the idea of an organism, and the idea of a person.The identity of these three types of idea is determined by different criteria.It is Locke's third and final category of relational ideas, ideas of identity and diversity, that is of great importance to the history of philosophy. It is in the context of this discussion that Locke presents his theory of personal identity, that is, his theory of what makes us the same person over time.According to Locke, remaining the same person has nothing to do with remaining the same substance, either physical or mental.Still, there is no reason to assume, on this view, that consciousness cannot be transferred from one body or mind to another (think of a science fiction example where all of one's thoughts are transferred to a computer chip, so that consciousness moves from the mind to the computer).That consciousness exists independent of material substance (i.e. Locke gives an example to illustrate just how intuitive this notion is: When a finger is cut off from a man's hand, it is clearly no longer a part of his consciousness; he is no more conscious of any effects on this finger than he is conscious of effects on any other man's finger.In addition to being somewhat counterintuitive, the claim that consciousness is independent of any mind raises some thorny problems.As a really existing thing, consciousness must either be a substance or a quality of a substance.


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