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John Locke’s Personal Identity

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Philosophy 100

Ryan Doran

October 19, 2017

John Locke: Personal Identity


        In the work of John Locke’s “Personal Identity” he tries to explain what personal identity is. He goes through what existence is for every living thing, and discovers that for humans, personal identity has nothing to do with a person’s physical body. He gives an argument in which explains that our memories are evidence that we are the same person as we were before, and even if someone gets put into anther body, they will continue to be the same person. Examining Locke’s theory of being the same person whether or not you are in the same body will provide a better insight into what personal identity truly is.

Locke’s Argument

        John Lock believes that our bodies have nothing to do with our personal identity because he says that our consciousness makes a person a “thinking intelligent beings that has reason and reflection”. Meaning, that if person A’s consciousness was put into person B’s body, that body would belong to person A. This reasoning comes from when Locke says that if you cut off your hand, you are still the same person, so that body part had nothing to do with your identity. You may have changed physically because you lost your hand, but you have not changed when it comes to being who you are. This would apply with switching bodies with someone else. If you were put into another person’s body, you may have changed physically because you lost your old body, but again, you are still the same person.          

        The consciousness has to do with your memories. The reasons you know you are the same person is because you can remember your past. You have made new memories, but you share those memories with the old ones. If you were placed in a new body you would still have those same memories of your past. Those memories would consist of your old body, but since you possess the memories in the new body, it must have been you who experienced those times in the past.

        Our bodies constantly change throughout our lives, so if we were to say that our bodies make up our personal identity, we would constantly be a different person. Locke also says that man only cares for himself. He provides evidence that we are the same person whether or not we’re in the body we are originally given by saying that once you are out of your old body and into the new body, you will not care what happens to the old body. If personal identity stems from our physical being we would care more about what happens to our body even if we were in a separate body.

My Argument

        I believe that John Locke has a point in his argument and I do think that many of the things he is saying make senses. But, I also believe that he is ignoring many of the factors that our bodies play in creating our personal identity. So although I agree that our personal identity does not stem from our physical being, I do believe that our bodies play a large role in creating who we are as a person. So, in relation to the question “If your memories were implanted into the body of another person, which person would that body be?” I would say that that body would belong to the person whose memories are getting implanted.



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