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3.5.3: III

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    Given that these five theses fairly represent Locke's theory of personal identity, and in particular the part that memory plays (and does not play) in it, how are some of the standard criticisms of Locke going to fare against it? I shall consider six such criticisms.

    (a) The Gallant Officer objection. This was first coined by Bishop Berkeley,[13] issued in a revised version by Thomas Reid,[14] and has been kept in circulation ever since.[15] The objection can be put as follows. Suppose that A remembers doing x when a young man, but does not remember doing y when a small boy. But the young man did remember doing y as a small boy. Then, the objection runs, according to Locke's theory A is identical with the young man, the young man is identical with the child, but A is not identical with the child. The transitivity of identity is sacrificed, and Locke's theory is shown to have an absurd consequence. But this is an objection to Locke only if 'can remember' is interpreted as 'can in fact remember'. But of course if it is interpreted like this then there are many other less contrived absurdities, for instance, that a person's identity varies with what he remembers from hour to hour. If he is alert and in a mood for reminiscing then his personal identity extends back further in time than when, an hour later, he is drowsy and can recall very little. But as we have seen, 'can remember' means, for Locke, 'can ideally remember'. If A, the young man and the child are the same person, then A could be made (as Locke would put it (section xxvi)) to remember what the child remembered

    If this is correct it gives us a general approach to the objection of Mackie's that there are no well-defined units of consciousness, though there might conceivably be.[16] For Locke the unit of consciousness is given by the spatio-temporal continuity of an individual consciousness, and forms the boundary of what it is logically possible to remember, though actual memory, at least before the Great Day, never coincides with it, and is not well defined. Yet Locke thinks that this unit of consciousness is at least as well defined as, say, the life history of an individual tree. Further, Locke is able to give a clear sense to what Mackie calls 'potential consciousness'. This avoids circularity because the constituent of personal identity is not memory but continuity of consciousness.

    (b) This leads to a consideration of the dilemma Flew poses for Locke.[17] If we suppose that by 'remember' we mean 'genuinely remember' and not 'apparently remember' then, according to Flew, Locke's account is impaled on the horns of the following dilemma: it either excludes too much (if the 'can remember' is factual) or it is a futile necessary truth.[18] 'For it is mani- festly true, though not an helpful definition of "same person", that X at time two is the same person as Y at time one if and only if X and Y are both persons and X can (logically) remember at time two (his doing) what Y did, or what have you, at time one.' It has been pointed out in a number of places19 that Locke is not committed to this definition but only to saying that X and Y are the same if X remembers doing what Y was conscious of doing. But if this is a correct interpretation of Locke then according to him what an individual is remembering is not a particular person's experience as his own, but only experiencing (where this includes agency) a particular state of affairs. If that individual consciousness can be brought directly to remember the state of affairs in question then the individual has grounds for concluding that he is identical with the individual who witnessed or brought about the state of affairs originally.

    (c) Mackie poses the well-known 'puzzle case' of fission, which he says is also applicable to criteria of personal identity in terms of bodily continuity. 'This difficulty arises for the view that memory is sufficient on its own for personal identity from the possibility that two apparently distinct persons should each remember, from the inside and in the required causally direct way, the experiences of some one earlier person.... So if the continuity of body, or brain, or memory, or of some conjunction of these, is sufficient for personal identity, the possibility of the corresponding case of fission entails that either two apparently distinct persons are identical with one another, or personal identity is either non-symmetrical or non-transitive.'[20] But the objection only arises because Locke's account of identity is not being strictly adhered to. According to Mackie Locke's criterion of identity is that x-occurrences (particular occurrences of a certain kind of thing) at ti and t2 are occurrences of the same x if and only if there is a continuous x-history linking them.[21]' We have already shown that Locke regards the case of personal identity as a particular application of this general theory, the identity of a tree as another, and so on. But a fissioned consciousness, if there could be such a thing,[22] consists of two consciousnesses existing at two different places, and so they are not part of a continuous x-history. Given Locke's criterion of identity no divided consciousness could be identical with the undivided consciousness since there is another consciousness spatio-temporally continuous with the original but distinct from the other consciousness which is likewise spatio- temporally continuous with the original. Locke's criterion of identity seems to require us to say that upon division the original consciousness went out of existence.

    So the fission puzzle case is not really a problem since it is not true that for Locke memory is alone sufficient for personal identity.

    (d) M. W. Hughes has argued[23] that Locke's doctrine of personal identity treats memory or consciousness as a causal notion, and that the logic of identity is not specially relevant to problems of personal identity.[24] There is some truth in both these points. If by 'the logic of identity' is meant the principle of the indiscernibility of identicals then it is clear that this does not figure in Locke's account of personal identity over time. Nor does the much disputed principle of the identity of indiscernibles. Indeed we might say that for Locke personal identity over time, and the identity of other things over time, was a case of the identity of discernibles. Hughes is right to point out that Locke treats memory as a causal notion, and that memory provides corrigible evidence for personal identity. This expresses the role that Locke thinks that memory at present plays in enabling us to decide questions of personal identity. But it is not the whole story. It does not do justice to Locke's conviction that what he calls 'fatal mistakes' cannot (logically) be made in any question of personal identity. The corrigibility of memory applies only to the 'interim' period, coupled as it with human ignorance and fallibility. Although it is important to stress that for Locke memory provides corrigible evidence for personal identity, though the best evidence presently available, it is nevertheless also true that with respect to any action he thinks that there is a right and a wrong answer to the question 'Did A do it?', even though to get that answer we may in some cases have to await the eschaton

    (e) Mackie thinks that perhaps the most damaging objection is that 'Since a man at t2 commonly remembers only some of his experiences and actions at t1, whereas what constituted a person at tI was all the experi- ences and actions that were then co-conscious, Locke's view fails to equate a person identified at t2 with any person identifiable at t1'.[25] But this objection, like all those that stress the limitations and fallibilities of memory, is not going to be at all decisive against Locke, for whom memory is at best grounds for continued personal identity, not what that identity consists in. But perhaps Mackie's objection is to be taken not as an objection against the logical necessity of memory for personal identity, but against its logical sufficiency. Memory could not be logically sufficient for continued personal identity because memory is only ever partial, what is remembered is only ever a subset of what the individual was actually conscious of at the time that is remembered. But this objection seems to commit Mackie to an extreme, perhaps Leibnizian, form of essentialism, for according to it what constitutes a person at a time is all the experiences and actions then co-conscious. This implies that if a different experience or fewer experiences were had the person in question would not have been the person he was. If Mackie does not mean this Leibnizian view his objection can hardly be an objection to the idea of memory being logically sufficient for personal identity, for all that is needed for memory to be logically sufficient for continued personal identity in that case is that the memory is of some experience which it is impossible for two individuals to have had, or of some action which it is impossible for two individuals to have performed. Provided that what is remembered individuates only one person then memory is going to be logically sufficient for continued personal identity even though the memory is, perhaps necessarily, incomplete.

    (f) Finally, it might be said that our account of Locke leaves open the possibility of there being what we might call pre-incarnate existence (and also disembodied existence, though we shall not take up this particular case here). But why is this to be regarded as a criticism of Locke's theory? In arguing against the idea that sense can be made of a particular personality solely in terms of consciousness and memory Bernard Williams invokes the principle that not everything that one seems to remember is something that one really remembers.[26] This is no doubt correct, but Mackie is surely right in claiming that it is logically possible that a person should have memory impressions of such detail and accuracy that we (and he) would have to take seriously the claim that he was remembering doing things at a time when he had a body discontinuous with his present body, or perhaps when he had no body at all.[27]

    [14] Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man, 111.6.

    [15] See e.g. Flew, op. cit., i6i-i62; Mackie, op. cit., 179. 

    [16] Mackie, op. cit., 178-I79.

    [17] Flew, op. cit., i6i f.

    [18] Flew, op. cit., i6i f.

    [19] Brody, op. cit., 332 (footnote II)

    [20] Mackie, op. cit., i88.

    [21] Mackie, op. cit., I142.

    [22] Cf. R. M. Chisholm, Person and Object (London, I976), who denies this (P. III).

    [23] Op. Cit., i84.

    [24] Op. Cit., I8

    [25] Mackie, op. cit., 183.

    [26] Williams, op. cit., 3.

    [27] Mackie, op. cit., i86.

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