Locke on Personal Identity

Princeton Monographs in Philosophy

Book 42
Princeton University Press
Free sample

John Locke's theory of personal identity underlies all modern discussion of the nature of persons and selves—yet it is widely thought to be wrong. In this book, Galen Strawson argues that in fact it is Locke’s critics who are wrong, and that the famous objections to his theory are invalid. Indeed, far from refuting Locke, they illustrate his fundamental point.

Strawson argues that the root error is to take Locke’s use of the word "person" as merely a term for a standard persisting thing, like "human being." In actuality, Locke uses "person" primarily as a forensic or legal term geared specifically to questions about praise and blame, punishment and reward. This point is familiar to some philosophers, but its full consequences have not been worked out, partly because of a further error about what Locke means by the word "conscious." When Locke claims that your personal identity is a matter of the actions that you are conscious of, he means the actions that you experience as your own in some fundamental and immediate manner.

Clearly and vigorously argued, this is an important contribution both to the history of philosophy and to the contemporary philosophy of personal identity.

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About the author

Galen Strawson is professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. His many books include Freedom and Belief and Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics.
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Publisher
Princeton University Press
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Published on
Jul 21, 2014
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Pages
280
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ISBN
9781400851843
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Language
English
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Genres
Philosophy / General
Philosophy / History & Surveys / Modern
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Much political thinking today, particularly that influenced by liberalism, assumes a clear distinction between the public and the private, and holds that the correct understanding of this should weigh heavily in our attitude to human goods. It is, for instance, widely held that the state may address human action in the ''public'' realm but not in the ''private.'' In Public Goods, Private Goods Raymond Geuss exposes the profound flaws of such thinking and calls for a more nuanced approach. Drawing on a series of colorful examples from the ancient world, he illustrates some of the many ways in which actions can in fact be understood as public or private.

The first chapter discusses Diogenes the Cynic, who flouted conventions about what should be public and what should be private by, among other things, masturbating in the Athenian marketplace. Next comes an analysis of Julius Caesar's decision to defy the Senate by crossing the Rubicon with his army; in doing so, Caesar asserted his dignity as a private person while acting in a public capacity. The third chapter considers St. Augustine's retreat from public life to contemplate his own, private spiritual condition. In the fourth, Geuss goes on to examine recent liberal views, questioning, in particular, common assumptions about the importance of public dialogue and the purportedly unlimited possibilities humans have for reaching consensus. He suggests that the liberal concern to maintain and protect, even at a very high cost, an inviolable ''private sphere'' for each individual is confused.


Geuss concludes that a view of politics and morality derived from Hobbes and Nietzsche is a more realistic and enlightening way than modern liberalism to think about human goods. Ultimately, he cautions, a simplistic understanding of privacy leads to simplistic ideas about what the state is and is not justified in doing.

An argument against neobehaviorism and for "naturalized Cartesianism," which couples a wholly materialist approach to the mind with a fully realist attitude to the phenomena of conscious experience.

In Mental Reality, Galen Strawson argues that much contemporary philosophy of mind gives undue primacy of place to publicly observable phenomena, nonmental phenomena, and behavioral phenomena (understood as publicly observable phenomena) in its account of the nature of mind. It does so at the expense of the phenomena of conscious experience. Strawson describes an alternative position, "naturalized Cartesianism," which couples the materialist view that mind is entirely natural and wholly physical with a fully realist account of the nature of conscious experience. Naturalized Cartesianism is an adductive (as opposed to reductive) form of materialism. Adductive materialists don't claim that conscious experience is anything less than we ordinarily conceive it to be, in being wholly physical. They claim instead that the physical is something more than we ordinarily conceive it to be, given that many of the wholly physical goings on in the brain constitute—literally are—conscious experiences as we ordinarily conceive them.

Since naturalized Cartesianism downgrades the place of reference to nonmental and publicly observable phenomena in an adequate account of mental phenomena, Strawson considers in detail the question of what part such reference still has to play. He argues that it is a mistake to think that all behavioral phenomena are publicly observable phenomena.This revised and expanded edition of Mental Reality includes a new appendix, which thoroughly revises the account of intentionality given in chapter 7.

Hailed as “lucid and magisterial” by The Observer, this book is universally acclaimed as the outstanding one-volume work on the subject of Western philosophy.

Considered to be one of the most important philosophical works of all time, the History of Western Philosophy is a dazzlingly unique exploration of the ideologies of significant philosophers throughout the ages—from Plato and Aristotle through to Spinoza, Kant and the twentieth century. Written by a man who changed the history of philosophy himself, this is an account that has never been rivaled since its first publication over sixty years ago.

Since its first publication in 1945, Lord Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy is still unparalleled in its comprehensiveness, its clarity, its erudition, its grace, and its wit. In seventy-six chapters he traces philosophy from the rise of Greek civilization to the emergence of logical analysis in the twentieth century.

Among the philosophers considered are: Pythagoras, Heraclitus, Parmenides, Empedocles, Anaxagoras, the Atomists, Protagoras, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, the Cynics, the Sceptics, the Epicureans, the Stoics, Plotinus, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, Benedict, Gregory the Great, John the Scot, Aquinas, Duns Scotus, William of Occam, Machiavelli, Erasmus, More, Bacon, Hobbes, Descartes, Spinoza, Leibniz, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, Rousseau, Kant, Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, the Utilitarians, Marx, Bergson, James, Dewey, and lastly the philosophers with whom Lord Russell himself is most closely associated—Cantor, Frege, and Whitehead, coauthor with Russell of the monumental Principia Mathematica.
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