Problems for Locke Notes for November 10

Main ideas

As John pointed out, today was Freaky Friday (the one with Jodie Foster, not the one with Lindsay Lohan, of course).

That is, the main topic was the possibility of body-switching. To be specific, the question was whether being the same man as A is a necessary and sufficient condition for being the same person as A.

Locke says no. The Cobbler-man who wakes up is the same man as the Cobbler-man who went to bed last night. But the person who went to sleep in the Cobbler-man’s nightshirt is not the same as the person who woke up in the Cobbler-man’s nightshirt. The person who was there at night was the Cobbler-person and the one who was there in the morning was the Prince-person.

If it’s possible for one man to have two people “in” him in this way, then being the same man as A can’t be sufficient for being the same person as A.

The necessary condition falls when we ask whether the Cobbler-person is still in the Cobbler-man after the Prince-person takes up residence there. It’s possible, of course. But there’s an easy way of determining whether the Cobbler-person is still there. It’s so easy, I won’t bore you with it.

Cases galore

Locke sets the bar for personal identity pretty high. Here are some obvious seeming cases that don’t clear the bar.

  1. If I can’t remember anyone’s experiences at, say, 2 am last night, then I’m not the same person as anyone who existed at that time.
  2. If I can’t remember thoughts or experiences had on the 3rd of February 1998, then I’m not the same person as anyone who existed at that time.
  3. If I can’t remember the rude thing the drunk person with my name and body said last night, then I didn’t say anything rude last night. That is, Michael Green, the person, said nothing rude. Michael Green, the man, is a different case.

We can play around with these cases even more, making me blink in and out of existence. As Ellie asked, “where did I go?” Good question!

Locke bit the bullet. He insisted that while I may be the same man in these cases, I am not identical with the person.

Still, what are we going to do about the apparent plausibility of Locke’s position? Doesn’t consciousness separate one person from another? By “consciousness” I mean having a particular person’s thoughts or feeling that person’s experiences. This is the great lesson of our experiments with poking Patrick and Micah. I didn’t feel it, after all.

If that’s so, why think that consciousness is necessarily tied to a body or a soul? Consciousness is what makes a person who she is, not the stuff that makes consciousness possible. That’s why it seems so darn plausible to suppose that the Cobbler and Prince persons could switch men.

Or is it. Next week, we’ll take a hard look at those examples.

This page was written by Michael Green for Problems of Philosophy, Philosophy 1, Fall 2006.
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