John Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity

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He believed that you are the same person for whatever time span your memories could go back. Without analyzation the theory may appear to seem plausible, but I will dismiss this by exploiting his lacking thoughts by using Thomas Reid’s … to support my claim.

Before determining what criteria would be used to answer if an individual was the same over time, Locke explored other choices. He initially hoped to check whether sameness of body could be a good criterion but then realize it was not, next he investigated sameness of soul but then concluded neither one could explain how an individual remained the same over time. This is when he came up with the criteria that sameness of consciousness explained sameness of a person.

Locke’s theory has been under examination and objected by his peers and current philosophers, who have tried to understand why consciousness is the necessary criteria for identity. Thomas Reid wrote an argumentum ad absurdum because he believed identity relied upon coherence of presence. Thomas Reid creates a good argument against the theory of identity by using the definition of transitivity of identity. He uses an example about a man, a solider, at three distinct phases of his life. As a young boy he steels apples and is punished for it, this will be called A. He then grows up to become a soldier who captures a flag, this will be called B. The solider, at this point, remembers the memories of him steeling the apple at a young age. Presently this solider is now an old general in the military, this will be C. This general now has no memory of being the kid who stole the apples. C is identical to B and B is identical to A. Transitivity of identity states that if C=B and B=A therefore C must be identical to Am therefor the general is identical to the young boy. Given the definition of transitivity of identity which implies in fact that C=A, which Locke does not deny, a conflict arises. Transitivity of identity states that if C=B and B=A therefore C must be identical to A. Therefor the general is identical to the young boy. If personal identity depended on transitivity of identity then the consciousness hypothesis produced by John Locke exhibited an inconsistency. Reid’s example creates a problem in John Locke’s theory of personal identity. This example examined the different stages of the general life, from childhood to adulthood to show that since he had no remembrance of his childhood his consciousness was lost which creates the memory/consciousness of identity violates transitivity of identity. As the genera progressed from a child, to a young adult to an older adult he lost consciousness of the young boy who stole the apple. Though the general memory does not reach far sufficiently back, he can still remember being a soldier and make certain that the little boy who stole the apples was in reality his equivalent self. In this manner it isn't consciousness that demonstrates character, it is memory.

In the event that consciousness/memory is the one criterium necessary to identify identity then that means I would to recall that priors’ individual memories. However, If I can’t recall the individual’s memories then I am two individuals rather than one. For example, let’s consider what I did yesterday, what did I eat? It is possible that I could forget what I had yesterday and in actuality I do and can't successfully refresh my memory to remember. According to Locke because sameness of memory was an essential criterion for personal identity then that would mean I am not the same individual who ate yesterday, which is unusual for most and raises many questions. Locke endeavors to clarify what he meant by illustrating this refinement between human being and person. He said on the grounds that I don't recall what I had to eat then I am not the same person but nevertheless I am the same human being. It is beyond the realm of imagination that since I can’t recall what I had to eat that another individual emerged.

Reid then goes on to discuss a man who has his horse stolen, the horse is then found. Presently how might you tell if this is the equivalent careful horse that was stolen to begin with. What criteria do you use to decide whether you have the correct one? “The only evidence he can have, or that a judge or witnesses can have is that the very identical horse, which was his property, is similitude” Reid accepts by saying the “identity of the horse is consist in similitude only”(. ) is insane. It is in fact possible that there were various horses with comparable highlights and traits. To state that personal identity is based off memory or consciousness alone he believes is incorrect and he used the case of the horse to clarify why. Reid then comes up what he believes the criteria should be to determine if a person is the same over time. He considered that it is inconceivable answerable for identity in any terms other than itself. He believes memory/consciousness is not a good enough answer to if a person remains the same over time. Personal identity has not criterium because it is straightforward and cannot be determined. Although he says memory cannot be explain personal identity, he believes it is the first existence of evidence to what personal identity is. Memories do not make me the same person over time, but rather allows me to remember my past.

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John Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity. (2020, Jun 26). Retrieved May 18, 2024 , from

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