Lecture Notes for Class 8 - Part Two

(9) Personal Self
Based on this sortal, we can address the individuation and the identity, that is, the constitution or metaphysics, of persons or selves. (The pattern is: Conceptual analysis individuates a sortal / Metaphysical reflection – drawing on all sorts of sources – enquires into what is to satisfy such sortal and what else follows from such satisfaction.)
Thus: What is the nature, or constitution, of a being that satisfies the sortal: Self or person? Suppose it is a mass of matter, a human being, a thinking substance: what else must it be to qualify as self or person? This is what determines individuation and identity.
This metaphysical pointy comes out in Locke’s claim that the name “person” is rightly ascribed «where-ever a Man finds, what he calls himself». In the claim that the indirect reflexive “as himself”, as it is realized in the first-personal consciousness inseparable from any act of thinking, is the ground of the right to the name “person”. The right to a name is the satisfaction of a sortal concept. The satisfaction of a sortal concept individuates the nature of beings of that sort. Therefore, to be, to have the nature of a person, is to be oneself to oneself (what a Man calls himself).
Now, what constitutes, what is the nature of being oneself to oneself? It is consciousness. Persons are the thinking substances that are selves; and thinking substances are selves in virtue of consciousness. Consciousness realizes the conditions of selfhood, makes it so that one is oneself to oneself. The nature of persons and selves is consciousness.
This leading thought is pervasive in E 2.27. Considering it self as it self is done by consciousness, (a «reflex act of perception», E 27.13). Consciousness, expressed in the relevant mode of self-reflexive consideration, grounds selfhood: «it makes a Man being himself to himself», so that «it is self to it self now» and «will be the same self» (E 2.27.10); «consciousness […] which is that alone which makes what we call self» (E 2.27.21); «So that self is not determined by Identity or Diversity of Substance, which it cannot be sure of, but only by Identity of consciousness» (E 2.27.23; Locke’s collective marginal title for E 2.27.23-25 is «Consciousness alone makes self»).
Consciousness is the constitutive, metaphysical differentia of self or person, in relation to any kind of thinking, living, material substance. Whatever it is that constitute a conscious being, «consciousness removed, that substance is no more it self , or makes no more part of it, than any other substance»; this also holds of immaterial substance, which one might suppose to be more ‘like’ selves or persons: «In like manner it will be in reference to any Immaterial Substance, which is void of that consciousness whereby I am my self to my self» (E 2.27.24). And consciousness or sensibility explain the self-centered character of the practical concerns of a thinking being: «This every intelligent Being, sensible of Happiness or Misery, must grant, that there is something that is himself,that he is concerned for, and would have happy» (E 2.25).
 
(10) The Reality of Persons
Consciousness is the nature of self or person, since it is crucial to the satisfaction of the corresponding sortal. Persons or selves are, constitutively, consciousness. Fine. But what is to exist or be real as consciousness? To begin discussing this, we must take a step back from metaphysics to ontology, from the study of the nature of things to that of their being.
The crucial point is that by constitutively explaining person or self by consciousness of oneself as oneself we do not add any new kind of substance to reality. What is substantial, in persons and selves, are matter (without which, nothing), individual life (without which, no thinking activity), thinking substance (without which, no perception and reflection). Consciousness, like thinking in general, is neither a substance on its own nor a constituent of a substance: it is a mode, action, or operation of a substance (material, human, thinking).
Now, this raises an ontological, and implicitly metaphysical, puzzle. Modes are and are recognized by Locke to be dependent beings. In this case, thinking and consciousness and thereby self and persons depend on thinking substance. Then, why is not the reality of self and person, and their individuation and identity, simply that of the thinking substance they depend on, which does the thinking and has the consciousness?
The crucial point is that of the modal relations between thinking substance and self or person. The individuation and the identity of two entities can be different even if they do not belong to the same ontological class and one could not exist without the other. Ontological asymmetry is consistent with distinct individuation; distinct individuation comes out in modal terms. It is not required that a actually exist without b; only that it is possible for a to exist grounded on c rather than b. (Being a Swiss Guard is dependent on being human; but there is no individual human who is necessary in order for anything to be a Swiss Guard.)
This comes out in a very complicated text, about identity of consciousness and thus personal identity. «But the Question is, whether if the same Substance, which thinks, be changed, it can be the same Person; or remaining the same, it can be different Persons?» (E 2.27.12). (Locke is putting forward his theory of Resurrection). «I grant, were the same Consciousness the same individual Action, it could not: [be the same across change of thinking substance] But it being but a present representation of a past Action, why it may not be possible, that that may be represented to the Mind to have been, which really never was, will remain to be shewn. […] But that which we call the same consciousness, not being the same individual act, why one intellectual Substance may not have represented to it, as done by itself, what it never did, and was perhaps done by some other Agent, why, I say, such a representation may not possibly be without reality of Matter of Fact, as well as several representations in Dreams are, which yet whilst dreaming, we take for true, will be difficult to conclude from the Nature of things» (E, 2.27.13).
The crucial point is that consciousness (=representation) might be in a thinking substance (in some thinking substance it must be) which is not the same with that which performed the actions it is the consciousness of. In this way, while individual actions cannot be even modally separated from the thinking substance that does them, consciousness (of them) can: it can be in a thinking substance as false consciousness but still consciousness and the same consciousness. Since consciousness is the nature or constitution of self and person, the same self or person can be in/can have different thinking substances.
«But yet to return to the Question before us, it must be allowed, That if the same consciousness (which, as has been shown, is quite a different thing from the same numerical Figure or Motion in Body) can be transferr’d from one thinking Substance to another, it will be possible, that two thinking Substances may make but one Person».
Now this entails: consciousness A is the same with consciousness B, but they are different individual actions. This neatly explains Locke’s text: individual actions cannot be separated from their agent, they cannot float free. Actions are fleeting, instantly perish and have reality only in that they terminate in substances (thinking substances, in this case). Thus, it is only if consciousness can be the same without being the same individual action that it might be in a thinking substance different from its actual one.
Consciousness, like life, belongs to the ontological category of modes, just as actions and motions do. But, within that category, a deep ontological distinction can be drawn between modes that persist, that is, exist across time or succession, like duration itself and life and consciousness; and purely successive, momentary ones, like actions and motions (E 2.27.2).
This however opens the problem of how consciousness can be the same without being the same individual action. Or, equivalently, of what constitutes the individuation and identity of consciousness/self/person, in positive and without being grounded in that of thinking substance.
 
(11) Self-constituting, First-personal Self or Person
Consciousness is first-personal and thus makes for a constitutive first-personal, de se dimension in all operations of the understanding and of the will. It is precisely this feature of consciousness that comes to expression in the consideration of one self as one self and in the notions of self and person: «When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate or will any thing, we know that we do so. Thus it is always as to our present Sensations and Perceptions: And by this every one is to himself, what he calls self» (E 2.27.9).
If we only consider the internal reflexivity of individual states or acts of thinking and willing, we certainly do not find any principle of individuation that is distinct from their unity in a thinking substance (soul, mind). But this is not all or the essential of what Locke has to say about consciousness, in this context. Locke’s conception of consciousness, in this context is as a de se, indirect-reflexive, first-personal mode of thinking, such that being conscious of an intellectual state or act is being conscious of oneself as its subject. It is under this guise that consciousness individuates something as a self and person, rather than a thinking substances and human being.
The analogy between the individuation of living beings and the individuation of selves and persons helps to see this. Individual life is a principle that excludes from a location in space and time every living being but one and thereby individuates as a certain living being the particles of a mass of matter. De se, first-personal consciousness is a principle that excludes from a location in space and time every other self and person but one and thereby individuate as a certain self and person a thinking being, through it plurality of thought and actions. (The living being and the self and person are composed of the masses of matter and of the thinking being, but not the same with them.)
The burden of exclusion and individuation is borne, in the case of living beings, by metabolic structural-functional organization. Only one such organization can be implemented by the same masses of matter at a time. Consciousness, in its turn, individuates and re-identifies because no two distinct first personal perspectives can be engaged by one thinking substance at the same time.
This is a logical, rather than a physical exclusion: the excluding fact is the non-communicability of the first person, which is implied by being oneself to oneself. Locke explicitly points to this: «That with which the consciousness of this present thinking thing can join itself, makes the same Person, and is one self  with it, and with nothing else» ( 2.27.17; see also E 2.27.9: «and ‘tis that, [consciousness] that makes every one to be, what he calls self; and thereby distinguishes himself from all other thinking things»).
Not surprisingly, because of this close correspondence, Locke combines, for the human case, individuation and unity by vital union and by de se consciousness, with the first intervening as a mediating factor between matter and consciousness. «In all which account of self, the same numerical Substance is not considered, as making the same self: But the same continued consciousness, in which several Substances may have been united, and again separated from it, which, whilst they continued in a vital union with that, wherein this consciousness then resided, made a part of that same self. Thus any part of our Bodies vitally united to that, which is conscious in us, makes a part of our selves: But upon separation from the vital union, by which that consciousness is communicated, that, which a moment since was part of our selves, is now no more so, than a part of another Man’s self is a part of me» (E 2.27.25).
The «several Substances», here, are masses of matter, which vital union turns into parts of «our Bodies» and, by acting as the vehicle of de se consciousness, «that, which is conscious in us», turns into «a part of our selves».  Persons, on Locke’s account, in our actual case, are human beings, rational and thinking living beings with bodies shaped in certain ways, individuated as selves by their consciousness that they are themselves perceiving and thinking and doing whatever they are perceiving and thinking and doing. The indirect reflexivity of de se consciousness, just like the individuality of metabolic organization, unifies in one self a plurality of mental episodes, in a way that is distinct from whatever unity they achieve by the agency and subjectivity of a thinking substance or soul or mind. A thinking thing comes to be an «inseparable Self» by being determined or bounded to «that with which the consciousness of this present thinking thing can join itself» (E 2.27.17).
Locke’s consciousness determines in this synchronic boundaries of persons, which are those of an inseparable self. A self is a self-individuating thinking being; self-individuation is by consciousness or thinking in the first person; and the self counts as a person precisely on this account. Self-individuation, as an act of indirect-reflexive thought, does not require the idea of an object but a mode of consideration.
First-personal, de se consciousness is also the principle of identity for selves and persons. The identity of persons is grounded on the identity of consciousness. «For it being the same consciousnesses that makes a Man be himself to himself, personal Identity depends on that only, whether it be annexed only to one individual Substance, or can be continued in a succession of several Substances. For as far as any intelligent Being can repeat the Idea of any past Action with the same consciousness it has of any present Action; so far it is the same personal self» (E 2.27.10) The same self is constituted by the same consciousness and constitutes the same person: personal self. To make clear that sameness of consciousness is not simply memory, Locke adds that the criterion applies «to Actions past or to come».
This is the core of Locke’s non-reductionist account of personal identity: something which is essential to personhood, consciousness and thereby self, or being «himself to himself», is the same; this is the ground of the identity of a person across time. «This may shew us wherein personal Identity consists, not in the Identity of Substance, but, as I have said, in the Identity of consciousness, wherein, if Socrates and the present Mayor of Quinborough agree, they are the same person» (E 2.27.19).
«For it is by the consciousness it [an «intelligent Being»] has of its present Thoughts and Actions, that it is self to it self  now, and so will be the same self as far as the same consciousness can extend to Actions past or to come; and would be by distance of Time, or change of Substance, no more two Persons than a Man to be two Men, by wearing other Cloaths to Day than he did Yesterday, with a long or short sleep between» (E 2.27.10; see also E 2.27.14, lines 28-34; E 2.27.16, lines 2-8; E 2.27.24, lines 15-18; E 2.27.25 lines 2-6, 15-20; E 2.27.26, lines 8-12).
Locke’s most important contribution to the philosophy of personal identity and to our understanding of subjectivity in general his is discovery that the first-person perspective, realized in consciousness and thereby in thinking and will, is the ground of the constitution, individuation, and re-identification of self and person. The notion of personal self unveils aspects of the mind and of the human being, that is, of the world as we have it, that are not captured by other notions, precisely in virtue of its subjective, first-personal constitution.

Data inizio: 
Mercoledì, 3 Novembre, 2021
Data fine: 
Giovedì, 3 Novembre, 2022

© Università degli Studi di Roma "La Sapienza" - Piazzale Aldo Moro 5, 00185 Roma