- Term Papers, Book Reports, Research Papers and College Essays

Why Is Personal Identity Important in Locke's View?

Essay by   •  December 13, 2010  •  Essay  •  1,555 Words (7 Pages)  •  2,188 Views

Essay Preview: Why Is Personal Identity Important in Locke's View?

Report this essay
Page 1 of 7

In his essay Of Identity and Diversity, Locke talks about the importance of personal identity. The title of his essay gives an idea of his view. Identity, according to Locke, is the memory and self consciousness, and diversity is the faculty to transfer memories across bodies and souls. In order to make his point more understandable, Locke defines man and person. Locke identifies a man as an animal of a certain form and a person as a thinking intelligent being. Furthermore, to Locke, a person has reasons and reflections and can consider itself as being itself in different times and places; and he/she does it with his/her consciousness (429). Basically, personal self is a particular body and personal identity is consciousness. In this essay, one will only focus on personal identity since it is the one that is most important to Locke. First, one will discuss the reasons why personal identity is important to Locke. Then, one will highlight the strengths of he's position; in addition to that, one will draw attention to the weaknesses and limits of Locke's view to show that his theory about memory being the only element of personal identity is not that strong.

Personal identity is the unity of consciousness and the unity of consciousness defines the person. Locke says "personal identity, the identity of the self overtime, depends on one's recalling of past experience and actions as one's own" (428). So if one remembers one's past memories, one is the same person. However, if one does not remember, one is the same man but a different person. In this case, the 85 years hold man (John Doe) does not remember the war crimes he committed when he was 20 years old, Locke would say that John is a different person now since he lost his memory; however, he is the same man. One of the reasons why personal identity is important to Locke is that he is concerned about the past and the future. He clearly states that all rights and justice of punishment and reward are founded in personal identity (432). In other words, Locke is concerned about one's past actions and its consequences in the future and one's responsibility for those actions. On the one hand, if in the past one lived by acting in a

good way one hopes to be rewarded in the future. And on the other hand, if one lived by acting in a bad way one fears to be punished in the future. For instance, John acted in a bad way when he was 20, he committed war crimes; hence, he should expect to be punished for his actions. But Locke's analysis is not that simple; according to his definition of personal identity, people should be held responsible for their actions only if they remember doing those actions. Consequently, based on Locke's view, John should not be punished for the war crimes he committed since he does not remember what he did at 20. In this example, Locke does not punish John, who committed terrible war crimes, just because he does not remember. Is Locke's judgment fair to people who committed the same crimes but remember what they did? Or, is his judgment fair to the victim's families? Locke's judgment is only based on whether or not the wrong doer remembers his actions; it does not take into account other important elements; that is one of the reasons why Locke's theory about personal identity has been criticized.

Locke's view on personal identity has strengths but it also has several weaknesses or limitations. One important strength is when Locke states that a person should be held responsible for his/her actions if he/she recalls doing those actions. In this case, the person acknowledges his/her actions and takes responsibility for his/her acts. For example, if John remembers what he did at 20 and recognizes the war crimes as being his actions then, he should be punished. It seems moral for a person to denounce him/herself, but is everybody willing to do that? It is a very important claim to base judgments on personal identity and personal identity on memory. The fact that Locke states that memory is the foundation of personal identity is found to be a mistake by people like Reid.

There are many weaknesses related to Locke's theory and the important ones were raised by Reid. One objection is related to the fact that Locke talks about consciousness and memory as if it was the same thing. Another objection is raised when Locke states that if a person loses his/her memory, he/she should not be responsible for his/her actions even though they are bad

actions. For example, there are good evidence that John committed war crimes, Locke says that he still should no be punished just because he does not remember. However, Reid objects to that by explaining that memory loss should not be an excuse to free people who committed important crimes like John Doe. Furthermore, Locke says that when one's consciousness is interrupted, one is not the same person (430). This does not make sense since continuity of consciousness depends on the mind, and the mind is the thinking tool of human beings (that is what makes us persons) so if the mind is the same how can the person be different? In addition, Locke does not consider many things that constitute personality including skills, styles and humor. Another weakness in Locke's theory is that he does not take into account false memories. What



Download as:   txt (8.7 Kb)   pdf (108.7 Kb)   docx (11.4 Kb)  
Continue for 6 more pages »
Only available on
Citation Generator

(2010, 12). Why Is Personal Identity Important in Locke's View?. Retrieved 12, 2010, from's-View/21915.html

"Why Is Personal Identity Important in Locke's View?" 12 2010. 2010. 12 2010 <'s-View/21915.html>.

"Why Is Personal Identity Important in Locke's View?.", 12 2010. Web. 12 2010. <'s-View/21915.html>.

"Why Is Personal Identity Important in Locke's View?." 12, 2010. Accessed 12, 2010.'s-View/21915.html.