Neo-Lockean and Anti-Lockean Theories of Personal Identity in Analytic Philosophy
Ayers (Michael R.)
Source: Ayers - Locke (Vol. 2 - Ontology), 1991, Chapter 25, pp. 278-292
Paper - Abstract

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Author’s Introduction (Full Text1)

  1. Whether it is a measure of Locke's continuing influence or of what is perennial in philosophy, the main theories of personal identity currently adopted by analytic philosophers cover roughly the same range as those of the early eighteenth century.
    • Among them, the most important distinction by far holds between those who identify the person with the human animal2 and those who see some sort of psychological unity3 and continuity as grounds for separating person and animal.
    • Of the latter, the few surviving dualists seem doomed to respond unsatisfactorily to the questions which must be answered if their theory is to have any precise content.
    • To place spirits outside space is unintelligible since without space individuality, or the distinction between numerical and qualitative identity, does not make sense.
    • To locate spirits in space on the other hand, raises insoluble questions as to how they fill it, what effects their filling a particular place has on surrounding, not to speak of coextensive, objects (i.e. what objective difference is made by a spirit's being here rather than there), and how such causal relations together with purely psychological mechanisms and processes; might be supposed to fit into a general physics or account of nature.
    • Such questions are ex hypothesi insoluble because even to hold that there are answers to them which make sense, but of which we are ignorant, is to imply that 'spirits' are in a broad sense material, material enough at any rate for the same distinction between the self and the body to arise all over again.
    • It is a fashionable deduction from ontological liberalism that dualism is to be rejected on merely empirical or pragmatic grounds i.e. just because there is now a potentially more explanatory and predictive theory in the field. It is overwhelmingly more attractive to suppose that dualism is to be rejected because it does not in the end make sense.
  2. For whatever reason, present-day theories which distinguish between the person and the human being are not in general metaphysically dualist, but simply argue that the counting of persons proceeds on a different principle from the counting of human beings.
    • The argument employs two main kinds of example:
      → cases of multiple personality, in which people seem to outnumber biological individuals; and
      → cases of personal survival of biological death.
    • As an example of the first kind, we can imagine a race4 of two-headed giants: each head of each giant (like Locke's day-man and night-man) has its own discrete consciousness, referring to itself as ‘I’ and to its fellow in the second or third person.
    • A trite example of the second kind is the easily imagined brain-ransplant such that, of the two human beings involved, it is the brain-donor, rather than the brain-recipient, who will look forward to a successful operation as a kind of survival.
    • On the other hand, if the recipient has already suffered 'brain-death', then it may be said that that person has ceased to exist, although the human animal5 remains biologically alive.
  3. The neo-Lockean takes the view that such intuitions as these, concerned as they may seem to be with peripheral and unlikely examples, nevertheless reveal the core of 'our concept' of a person. They demonstrate (it is held) that personal identity is a matter of psychological continuity6', whether that is understood primarily in terms of subjective consciousness and memory (making the person what J. L. Mackie calls a 'system of co-conscious items') or in terms of more general causal and intentional links (involving character, desires, intentions, actions and so forth) such as constitute rational agency. On this basis a number of different accounts of the self have been constructed and, by some writers, conflated.
  4. … [… snip …] …


In-Page Footnotes

Footnote 1: Truncated towards the end of p. 279.

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