Notes for Class 7 (today). Complete.

Locke on Personal Identity and the First Person
            The best introduction to the self-constitutive character of personal identity is provided by Locke’s theory of personal identity (second edition, 1694. of the Essay, II, 27).
            Some background.
            (1)
            Personal identity is an important issue for and only for early modern, modern, and contemporary western philosophy.  (Together with self, self-consciousness; but I want to concentrate on personal identity.) Earlier stages of western philosophy (Aristotle) had a different agenda, concerning subjectivity (in a broad sense):
            (i) Making sense of the ontological status and of the nature of human beings: material substances (matter suitable for a living body; a living body); a form defined by biological and psychological functions (sensation, perception, imagination and memory, intellect);
            (ii) Making sense of rational thinking and rational action, their conditions and their limits.
            On this rich conception of subjectivity, the criteria of individuation and identity are all too evident. Notice also that individuation and identity of thinkers and agents/human being is not by self-constitution. It is a perfectly objective matter, continuous with the general metaphysics of material substances (even living beings grown and support themselves, but do not constitute themselves). The breakdown of hylomorphist metaphysics and the shift to a materialist, dualist, or idealistic one, applied to subjects of thought and action, changes the picture.
            Their individuation will now depend on the body, or on the unclear relations between the body and the mind, or on mental entities (like ideas). On all accounts, individuating a thinker and an agent and determining whether it is the same or not becomes a difficult question.
            Something about subjectivity that escapes the objective, real, metaphysical constitution of thinkers and agents, in all these views (and did not escape the earlier one). Something about the unity of the constituting elements and unity of thinking and acting humans.  This has put pressure on the philosophy of the individuation and identity of subjectivity. And this pressure has been in the direction of insulating some sort of pure element of subjectivity; and, ultimately, of self-constitution.
            (More or less from U. Thiel, The Early Modern Subject, 2011.)
 
            (2)
            Why does Locke give a decisive turn to the philosophy of thinking and acting subjects, in the directions of personal identity, of the first person, and of self-constitution? A complex combination of conceptual factors.
            (i) Locke is dissatisfied with all the alternative metaphysical views just mentioned. In particular, he is dissatisfied with Descartes dualism, which combines the contrast between thought and extension with the ascription of substantial status to thought. Basically, Locke thinks that we do not know enough to tell something sensible about substance in general, thinking substance in particular.
            (ii) Locke ascribes a crucial importance to consciousness, “perception”, or subjectivity, in thinking, acting, and cognition. Whatever can bear upon these functions (=the Human Understanding), does so because it is subjectively apprehended or present to awareness.
            (iii) It is this latter consideration, rather than any metaphysical construct, that should have priority in defining the individuation and identity of thinkers and agents. But consciousness, or awareness, seems to have a fleeting character: it essentially changes across time. The central problem of the philosophy of subjectivity then becomes that of identity across time. Locke addresses it in a way that goes in the direction of self-constitution.
 
            (3)
            Now, the basics.
            (i) Locke’s program in the Essay is to enquire into the origin, certainty, and extent of human knowledge, together with the degrees of belief, opinion, and assent. This task, which has the general aim of grounding our cognition of our moral obligations, is performed not by physical enquiry into the causes of mental events or how they depend on matter, but by direct observation of the notions with which the understanding deals and of its activities (E 1.1.2).
            Locke’s epistemological enquiry (mostly in Book 4) is preceded by an enquiry about the «notions», the contents of our minds, their sources and constitution, and how they shape and are shaped by the understanding (mostly in Books 2 and 3).
            (ii) The crucial feature of Locke’s enquiry about mental is that ideas stand in an internal relation with what Locke calls perception - a relation that is realized in episodes of subjective manifestation or coming to awareness. «Having Ideas, and Perception [are] the same thing» (E 2.1.9); «Whatsoever the Mind perceives in it self, or is the immediate object of Perception, Thought, or Understanding, that I call Idea», E 2.8.8).
            Ideas are essentially conscious; consciousness is the way in which ideas bear on mental activity. «Every Man being conscious to himself, That he thinks, and that which his Mind is employ’d about whilst thinking, being the Ideas, that thereare there, ‘tis past doubt that Men have in their Minds several Ideas», like whiteness, motion, elephant, and so on (E 2.1.1).
            (iii) Taxonomy of ideas: simple and complex. «When the Understanding is once stored with these simple Ideas, it has the Power to repeat, compare, and unite them even to an almost infinite Variety, and so can make at Pleasure new complex Ideas» (E 2.2.2). Complex ideas belong to three classes: modes, substances, relations (E 2.12.3).
            Book 2 of the Essay consist in a series of essays in which Locke attempts to explain in terms of simple ideas and of operations of the understanding these three kinds of contents and cognitions (see E 2.12.8 for a programmatic statement).
            The ideas of relations are different from those of the things related. Their «nature» consists «in the referring, or comparing two things, one to another; from which comparison, one or both comes to be denominated» - say, father and son, great and small, cause and effect (E 2.25.5). Ideas of relations are conditional on «respects» or «considerations», which allow to refer one thing to another. They realize an aspectual dimension of thinking and cognition. In this way, one thing thus can «sustain» a plurality of relations.
 
            (4)
            Identity and ideas. Identity is an idea of relation and is therefore relative to the ideas of relata. Locke’s general conception of individuation and identity is articulated in terms of ontological categories, captured by categories of ideas (primarily substances and modes). Within each category, different abstract ideas individuate different sorts and allow framing criteria of sameness and difference for individuals.  
            Identity is a fundamental ontological relation. The object of comparison in the relation of identity is the «very Being of things», the existence of things in time: the content of this idea one thing existing at a certain time and the same thing existing at a different time (E 2.27.1).
            Since identity is a relation between things, an account of the content of the idea of identity must include an account of the individuation of things presented by the ideas under comparison. We need the idea of what is one thing in order to consider whether one thing exists at different times.
            This is Locke’s conception of individuation. «From what has been said, ‘tis easy to discover, what is so much inquired after, the principium individuationis; and that, ‘tis plain, is Existence it self, which determines a being of any sort to a particular time and place incommunicable to two Beings of the same kind» (E 2.27.3). Existence individuates things because existence is necessarily individual: to exist is to exist at a certain place and time and as belonging to a certain sort or kind.  Everything exists as a Lewisian «lonely object», belonging to certain sorts or kinds.
            The principle of individuation is a priori, being based on considerations of conceivability. «For we never finding, nor conceiving it possible, that two things of the same kind should exist in the same place at the same time, we rightly conclude, that whatever exists any where at any time, excludes all of the same kind, and is there it self alone» (E 2.27.1).
            Notice that this conception of individuation is tacitly and broadly materialist. It only applies to entities located in space and time. The principle of beginnings also applies, in a somewhat obscure way, to God, who is without beginning and is everywhere; to finite spirits, who have all a «determinate time and place of beginning to exist». And to modes ad relations, which either begin to exist with their substances (and are susceptible to persistence) or have momentary existence (and cease to be in the moment they begin to exist (so that they can be individuated but do not persist) (E 2.27.2). Notice also that it is minimalist: whatever else we can say about beings and their individuation depends on the ideas of their sorts.
 
            (5)
            The relation of identity, based on the principle of individuation (same beginnings in space and time) is then defined for the different kinds of beings on the basis of their ideas. Kinds are crucial. «[O]ne thing cannot have two beginnings of Existence, nor two things one beginning, it being impossible for two things of the same kind, to be or exist in the same instant, in the very same place; or one and the same thing in different places» (E 2.27.1).
            On the simple, initial taxonomy of substances, it seems a priori that immaterial and material substances occupy space and time in different ways, corresponding to different causes and ways of exclusion; and thus do not exclude each other from a given place and time. This is also true of the more complex, fine-grained taxonomy of material substances (which potentially includes thinking substances and persons) that defines different principles of spatial-temporal exclusion based on differences of kind. It is not existence per se that individuates and identifies, but existence as a such and such.
            To sum up. «For whatever be the composition whereof the complex Idea is made, [a collection of qualities] whenever Existence makes it one particular thing [individuation by existence at a time and place] under any denomination, [individuation as being of a certain kind] the same Existence continued, [no interruption and no variation relatively to the kind] preserves it the same individual under the same denomination [identity as persistence in a kind]» (E 2.27.29).
            Locke’s programmatic claim. «Identity suited to the idea». «To conceive, and judge of it [identity] alright, we must consider what Idea the Word it is applied to stands for». Had this «been a little more carefully attended to, would possibly have prevented a great deal of that Confusion, which often occur about this Matter» (E 2.277; see also E 2.27.1).
Existence is in every case existence in space and time; but the grounds or conditions of loneliness differ according to the kinds. Such conditions can be nested: what is extensionally the same entity can fall under different sortals. In this case, their difference comes out in modal terms.
For instance, a mass of matter (an idea of kind) could constitute or fail to constitute an oak (a different idea of kind), while actually being one and the same mass of matter.  There is a non-eliminable modal and intensional dimensions in individuations and re-identifications, which are not substitutable salva veritate.
 
(6) Taxonomy of identities. Therefore, there is no one ontological category which can subsume all sorts of identity (not in any conceptually significant way). «’Tis not therefore Unity of Substance that comprehends all sorts of Identity, or will determine it in every Case: But to conceive, and judge of it alright, we must consider what Idea the Word it is applied to stands for: It being one thing to be the same Substance, another the same Man, and a third the same Person, if Person, Man, and Substance, are three Names standing for different Ideas; for such as is the Idea belonging to that Name, such must be the Identity» (E 2.27.7). This subversive idea of identity is the basis for an important taxonomy of ideas of identity.
Atoms and masses of matter
«Let us suppose an Atom, i.e. a continued body under one immutable Superficies, existing in a determined time and place; ‘tis evident, that, considered in any instant of its Existence, it is, in that instant the same with it self. For being, at that instant, what it is, and nothing else, it is the same, and so must continue, as long as its existence is continued; for so long it will be the same, and no other» (E 2.27.3).
. «In like manner, if two or more Atoms be joined together into the same Mass, every one of those Atoms will be the same, by the foregoing rule: And whilst they exist united together, the Mass, consisting of the same Atoms, must be the same Mass, or the same Body, let the parts be ever so differently jumbled: But if one of these Atoms be taken away, or one new one added, it is no longer the same Mass, or the same body» (E 2.27.3).
The individuation and identity of the mass are mereologically reducible to those of the component atoms.
Plants, brutes, and machines
Living bodies: plants and animals, as well as machines, all fall under the broad category of material substances.
«In the state of living creatures, their Identity depends not on a Mass of the same Particles; but on something else. For in them the variation of great parcels of Matter alters not the identity: An Oak, growing from a Plant to a great three, and then lopp’d, is still the same Oak» (E 2.27.3). The change of the parts does not imply a change in its individuality – being an oak and that oak – and therefore in its identity – being the same oak; although it does imply a change in the individuality and identity of the masses of matter that constitute it.
«The reason whereof is, that in these two cases of a Mass of Matter, and a living Body, Identity is not applied to the same thing» (E 2.27.3). The criterion of individuation and identity: not mereological but structural-functional. «We must therefore consider wherein an Oak differs from a Mass of Matter, and that seems to me to be in this; that the one is only the Cohesion of Particles of Matter any how united, the other is such a disposition of them as constitutes the parts of an Oak; and such an Organization of those parts, as is fit to receive, and distribute nourishment, so as to continue, and frame the Wood, Bark, and leaves, etc., in which consists the vegetable Life.» (E 2.27.4).
The material substance that is a plant could cease to be while the plant goes on existing; and the plant could cease to be while the material substance remains the same.
The same holds of animals and machines. «The Case is not so much different in Brutes, but that any one may hence see what makes an Animal, and continues it the same. Something we have like this in Machines, and may serve to illustrate it. For Example, what is a Watch? ‘Tis plain ‘tis nothing but a fit Organization, or Construction of Parts, to a certain end, which, when a sufficient force is added to it, it is capable to attain» (E 2.27.5).
Individual life
It is important to understand what is the idea grounding the individuation and identity of living beings. It is the idea of individual life.
«That being then one Plant, which has such an Organization of Parts in one coherent Body, partaking of one Common Life». Organization and coherent parts as the life that is common to the material elements of the plant/animal, and makes its individuality. What makes of something one plant is the common life its material parts have from this individual vital organization. The individuality of a plant, brute, or machine, simply consists in its « individual Life » (E 2.27.4).
This postulates than life can be individual. We can think in terms of biological individuality, in particular (in the light of how Locke characterizes vital organization) of metabolic individuality. Of course, Individual life, no matter how particularly specified, can provide only a necessary and not a sufficient condition for the individuation of a living being. The principle of individuation is existence in space and time and qualitatively identical instances of vital union, located in different places at the same time, would count as numerically different living beings. «For this Organization being at any one instant in any one Collection of Matter, is in that particular concrete distinguished from all other» (E 2.27.4).
The identity of a living substance across time and change consists in the persistence of an individual life across a multiplicity of masses of matter. A being «continues to be the same Plant, as long as it partakes of the same Life, though that Life be communicated to new Particles of Matter vitally united to the living Plant, in a like continued Organization» (E 2.27.4). The identity of living beings is the identity of individual life, is its being the «same Life».
«For this Organization being at any one instant in any one Collection of Matter, is in that particular concrete distinguished from all other, and is that individual Life, which existing constantly from that moment both forwards and backwards in the same continuity of insensibly succeeding parts united to the living Body of the plant, it has that Identity, which makes the same plant, and all the parts of it, parts of the same plant, during all the time that they exist united in that continued organization» (E 2.27.4). And conceiving identity of living beings in terms of sameness of life is, of course, alternative to conceiving of it in terms of substance (living or whatever):  «Animal identity is preserved in Identity of Life, not of Substance» (here substance stands for the animal-composing matter, which  is substantial as well (E 2.27.12).

Data inizio: 
Giovedì, 28 Ottobre, 2021
Data fine: 
Venerdì, 28 Ottobre, 2022

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