Essay Sample on John Locke's Theory Of Personal Identity

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  5
Wordcount:  1124 Words
Date:  2023-01-27


A large number of philosophers have various ideas as they try to explain and define "what is a personal identity?" John Locke was a philosopher who played a vital role in explaining the concept using a theory. Locke tries to explain how identity can be categorized based on psychology instead of physical factors of life. However, there are a lot of arguments regarding Locke's claim. Most of them insist that the argument separates a person based on their time. The essay reviews and explains Locke's argument, its relation to self, consciousness, and punishment. Additionally, it evaluates Reid's criticism of Locke's theory and the objectives.

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Locke's Argument

John Locke believed that all people are not a substance or mere souls. In his explanation, Locke emphases that there is vital variation between a "man" and a "person" (221). According to Locke, a man is a living body that is homogenous to other living creature and is well explained due to their natural shape. On the other hand, a person is a sensible being who understands everything action and behaviors they engage. 'To find wherein personal identity consists, we must consider what a person stands for ..." (BonJour & Baker, 2008). As such, Locke argued that if an individual persists to be the same person, there are several units in their body as well as soul composite which change as time goes. According to him, these units are matter, organism (people), person (coherent consciousness and memory), and soul (immaterial perception component). Therefore, Locke thought that the identity of a person can be allocated to consciousness. As such, an individual can be constant as long as their cognizance does not change throughout their life. In this case, he argued that consciousness always goes together with reasoning, and this makes what each individual to be called "self". This is a critical aspect which is used to differentiate a person from all other units and this brings personal identity (the likeness of a rational being) Locke also insist that a person body and their personality are not associated with any concept which explains their identity (Shoemaker & Tobia, 2018). However, a person can know an individual is the same by reviewing and examining their consciousness trend over their lifetime. Lock states, "What makes a man be himself to himself is sameness of consciousness, so personal identity depends entirely on that-whether the consciousness is tied to one substance throughout or rather is continued in a series of different..."(Shoemaker & Tobia, 2018). The integration and continuity of consciousness explain that an individual is the same.

Locke's Concept of Personal Identity and Its Relation to Self, Consciousness and Punishment

Based on Locke, personal identity there is a close relationship between self, consciousness, and punishment. Each factor tries to explain bring the concept of personal identity. The difference among individuals is brought by the unique "self". Due to this concept, a person tends to reason and view differently. Intelligent thinking is the base factor which brings the same reasoning thing in different environment and time. The unique traits of consciousness are what differentiate individual identity. Locke explains, "Consciousness is both a necessary and a sufficient condition for a morally vital sense of personal identity" (BonJour & Baker, 2008). In this statement, Locke explains that soul of self as being their consciousness, which helps to differentiate something based on the mode of thinking. Due to this unique in consciousness traits, an individual is able to maintain personal identity which helps to retrieve past action. In this case, when Locke was referring to conscious memory, he was trying to represent the consciousness of previous experience which helps to perceive and view action based on what is happening. Additionally, Locke states that consciousness is a critical aspect which influences reward and punishment (Shoemaker & Tobia, 2018). As such, consciousness influence how a person judges a certain action and it is influenced by personal identity. Normally, reward and punishment are grounded on personal identity, and no person is reliable for their behavior. Moral roles may be justified either as a punishment or reward.

Reid's Criticism of Locke's Theory of Personal Identity

Thomas Reid has a lot of interest in the concept of memory as he wanted to understand how it is related to personal identity. As such, he criticized Locke's theory of personal identity as it interfering with the metaphysical hypothesis which explains the linkage between mind and personal identity. According to the metaphysical hypothesis, personal identity is metaphysically important and enough for the sameness of an individual. Reid explain that memory is not important or enough to explain the concept of personal identity. As such, it is impossible to justify for personal identity in any concept which does not relate to "itself" (BonJour & Baker, 2008). As such, personal identity is meek and unanalyzable. However, Reid claims that memory is an essential aspect of personal identity as it offers first personal information. Additionally, Reid criticizes Locke's theory for being unable to disconnect from metaphor when he stated that the brain paints concept on its own. In regards, Reid insisted that the brain paints news based on past perception, where the mind must recall to understand how to develop a concept (Shoemaker & Tobia, 2018). As such, Locke's theory can only be true in only the rule of transitivity can be broken.

Is Reid's Objection a Good One?

Due to this criticism, Reid added some objections on personal identity based on his perception. As such, he claimed that identity is fixed and hence, a person does not have the ability to change it. This makes personal identity to be stable and continuing (Shoemaker & Tobia, 2018). Additionally, consciousness is temporary, momentary, and keep changing as time goes. These objections are seen as effective as they deploy various principles to explain the concept of personal identity. As compared to Locke, these objections do not rely on the idea of mind alone, instead, they use the mind to improve the understanding of personal identity (BonJour & Baker, 2008). For instance, Reid explains that memory is proof of personal identity as it offers the main source of information, but not a key concept.


In conclusion, Locke developed a theory which he used to explain the concept of personal identity. In explaining, Lock states that personal identity is influenced by rational thinking. The difference among individuals is brought by the unique "self". Due to this concept, a person tends to reason and view differently. However, Reid criticized Locke's theory by explaining that that concept only focuses on memory which merely forms the background of personal identity. Reid's objections focus on various factors to explain his concept of personal identity.


BonJour, L., & Baker, A. (2008). Philosophical Problems: An Annotated Anthology. Pearson/Longman.

Shoemaker, D., & Tobia, K. P. (2018). Personal Identity.

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