John Locke On Personal Identity

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In John Locke’s 1689 paper, “Of Identity and Diversity”, Locke discusses three main questions regarding personal identity. He explores issues regarding “the nature of identity, the nature of persons, and our prospects for immortality” (Jacobsen 49). In section 21 of this passage, Locke claims that it is consciousness that links personal identity to a person. If one does not have consciousness, they are not the same person. Locke demonstrates this idea with a thought experiment regarding Socrates. He argues that when Socrates is awakes, he has a consciousness, also considered to be memory, and when he is sleeping, he should have the same consciousness. He then writes that if Socrates does not “partake in the same consciousness, Socrates waking …show more content…
Other writers on this topic have gone to say that Locke is flawed in this idea of consciousness being the factor that gives one identity. Thomas Reid, a contemporary of Locke, comes up with an example that directly criticises Locke’s standpoint on identity. Reid comes up with a thought experiment that poses a problem for consciousness being a connecting factor. Reid poses the problem that there is an elderly man named Alfred, who used to go by the name of Fred. Alfred clearly remembers an event that took place forty years ago when he was known by the name of Fred. Forty years ago, Fred remembered being flogged as a ten year old boy, when Fred when was known as Freddy. Through transitivity of identity, it is concluded that Alfred must be Freddy, but alas, Alfred does not remember being flogged as a ten year old boy. Through this thought experiment, Reid concludes, that through Locke’s idea of personal identity, we are to believe that Alfred is Fred, Fred is Freddy, yet, Alfred is not Freddy. This goes against the logical rule of transitivity of identity.
While there are criticisms of Locke’s positions theory of identity, there are some valid concepts that come from his writings, and have set up a good basis for the exploration of personal identity in modern