John Locke.

An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 online

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from which we measure, and to which we thereby consider it as related.

4. Some ideas of Time supposed positive and found to be relative.

There are yet, besides those, other words of time, that ordinarily are
thought to stand for positive ideas, which yet will, when considered, be
found to be relative; such as are, young, old, &c., which include and
intimate the relation anything has to a certain length of duration,
whereof we have the idea in our minds. Thus, having settled in our
thoughts the idea of the ordinary duration of a man to be seventy years,
when we say a man is YOUNG, we mean that his age is yet but a small part
of that which usually men attain to; and when we denominate him OLD, we
mean that his duration is ran out almost to the end of that which men
do not usually exceed. And so it is but comparing the particular age or
duration of this or that man, to the idea of that duration which we have
in our minds, as ordinarily belonging to that sort of animals: which is
plain in the application of these names to other things; for a man is
called young at twenty years, and very young at seven years old: but yet
a horse we call old at twenty, and a dog at seven years, because in each
of these we compare their age to different ideas of duration, which are
settled in our minds as belonging to these several sorts of animals, in
the ordinary course of nature. But the sun and stars, though they have
outlasted several generations of men, we call not old, because we do
not know what period God hath set to that sort of beings. This term
belonging properly to those things which we can observe in the ordinary
course of things, by a natural decay, to come to an end in a certain
period of time; and so have in our minds, as it were, a standard to
which we can compare the several parts of their duration; and, by the
relation they bear thereunto, call them young or old; which we cannot,
therefore, do to a ruby or a diamond, things whose usual periods we know

5. Relations of Place and Extension.

The relation also that things have to one another in their PLACES and
distances is very obvious to observe; as above, below, a mile distant
from Charing-cross, in England, and in London. But as in duration, so
in extension and bulk, there are some ideas that are relative which we
signify by names that are thought positive; as GREAT and LITTLE are
truly relations. For here also, having, by observation, settled in our
minds the ideas of the bigness of several species of things from those
we have been most accustomed to, we make them as it were the standards,
whereby to denominate the bulk of others. Thus we call a great apple,
such a one as is bigger than the ordinary sort of those we have been
used to; and a little horse, such a one as comes not up to the size of
that idea which we have in our minds to belong ordinarily to horses; and
that will be a great horse to a Welchman, which is but a little one to a
Fleming; they two having, from the different breed of their countries,
taken several-sized ideas to which they compare, and in relation to
which they denominate their great and their little.

6. Absolute Terms often stand for Relations.

So likewise weak and strong are but relative denominations of power,
compared to some ideas we have at that time of greater or less power.
Thus, when we say a weak man, we mean one that has not so much strength
or power to move as usually men have, or usually those of his size have;
which is a comparing his strength to the idea we have of the usual
strength of men, or men of such a size. The like when we say the
creatures are all weak things; weak there is but a relative term,
signifying the disproportion there is in the power of God and the
creatures. And so abundance of words, in ordinary speech, stand only for
relations (and perhaps the greatest part) which at first sight seem
to have no such signification: v.g. the ship has necessary stores.
NECESSARY and STORES are both relative words; one having a relation to
the accomplishing the voyage intended, and the other to future use.
All which relations, how they are confined to, and terminate in ideas
derived from sensation or reflection, is too obvious to need any



1. Wherein Identity consists.

ANOTHER occasion the mind often takes of comparing, is the very being of
thereon form the ideas of IDENTITY and DIVERSITY. When we see anything
to be in any place in any instant of time, we are sure (be it what it
will) that it is that very thing, and not another which at that same
time exists in another place, how like and undistinguishable soever it
may be in all other respects: and in this consists IDENTITY, when the
ideas it is attributed to vary not at all from what they were that
moment wherein we consider their former existence, and to which we
compare the present. 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 anywhere at any
time, excludes all of the same kind, and is there itself alone. When
therefore we demand whether anything be the SAME or no, it refers always
to something that existed such a time in such a place, which it was
certain, at that instant, was the same with itself, and no other.
From whence it follows, that one 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. That,
therefore, that had one beginning, is the same thing; and that which had
a different beginning in time and place from that, is not the same, but
diverse. That which has made the difficulty about this relation has been
the little care and attention used in having precise notions of the
things to which it is attributed.

2. Identity of Substances.

We have the ideas but of three sorts of substances: 1. GOD. 2. FINITE

First, GOD is without beginning, eternal, unalterable, and everywhere,
and therefore concerning his identity there can be no doubt.

Secondly, FINITE SPIRITS having had each its determinated time and place
of beginning to exist, the relation to that time and place will always
determine to each of them its identity, as long as it exists.

Thirdly, The same will hold of every PARTICLE OF MATTER, to which no
addition or subtraction of matter being made, it is the same. For,
though these three sorts of substances, as we term them, do not exclude
one another out of the same place, yet we cannot conceive but that they
must necessarily each of them exclude any of the same kind out of the
same place: or else the notions and names of identity and diversity
would be in vain, and there could be no such distinctions of substances,
or anything else one from another. For example: could two bodies be in
the same place at the same time; then those two parcels of matter must
be one and the same, take them great or little; nay, all bodies must be
one and the same. For, by the same reason that two particles of matter
may be in one place, all bodies may be in one place: which, when it can
be supposed, takes away the distinction of identity and diversity of one
and more, and renders it ridiculous. But it being a contradiction that
two or more should be one, identity and diversity are relations and ways
of comparing well founded, and of use to the understanding.

3. Identity of modes and relations.

All other things being but modes or relations ultimately terminated in
substances, the identity and diversity of each particular existence of
them too will be by the same way determined: only as to things whose
existence is in succession, such as are the actions of finite beings,
v. g. MOTION and THOUGHT, both which consist in a continued train of
succession, concerning THEIR diversity there can be no question: because
each perishing the moment it begins, they cannot exist in different
times, or in different places, as permanent beings can at different
times exist in distant places; and therefore no motion or thought,
considered as at different times, can be the same, each part thereof
having a different beginning of existence.

4. Principium Individuationis.

From what has been said, it is easy to discover what is so much inquired
after, the PRINCIPIUM INDIVIDUATIONIS; and that, it is plain, is
existence itself; which determines a being of any sort to a particular
time and place, incommunicable to two beings of the same kind. This,
though it seems easier to conceive in simple substances or modes; yet,
when reflected on, is not more difficult in compound ones, if care
be taken to what it is applied: v.g. let us suppose an atom, i.e. a
continued body under one immutable superficies, existing in a determined
time and place; it is evident, that, considered in any instant of its
existence, it is in that instant the same with itself. 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. 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. 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 tree, and then lopped, is still the same
oak; and a colt grown up to a horse, sometimes fat, sometimes lean, is
all the while the same horse: though, in both these cases, there may be
a manifest change of the parts; so that truly they are not either of
them the same masses of matter, though they be truly one of them the
same oak, and the other the same horse. The reason whereof is, that, in
these two cases - a MASS OF MATTER and a LIVING BODY - identity is not
applied to the same thing.

5. Identity of Vegetables.

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 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, &c., of an oak, in which consists
the vegetable life. That being then one plant which has such an
organization of parts in one coherent body, partaking of one common
life, it 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
conformable to that sort of plants. 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, which is fit
to convey that common life to all the parts so united.

6. Identity of Animals.

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? It is plain it is 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. If we would suppose this
machine one continued body, all whose organized parts were repaired,
increased, or diminished by a constant addition or separation of
insensible parts, with one common life, we should have something very
much like the body of an animal; with this difference, That, in an
animal the fitness of the organization, and the motion wherein life
consists, begin together, the motion coming from within; but in machines
the force coming sensibly from without, is often away when the organ is
in order, and well fitted to receive it.

7. The Identity of Man.

This also shows wherein the identity of the same MAN consists; viz. in
nothing but a participation of the same continued life, by constantly
fleeting particles of matter, in succession vitally united to the same
organized body. He that shall place the identity of man in anything
else, but, like that of other animals, in one fitly organized body,
taken in any one instant, and from thence continued, under one
organization of life, in several successively fleeting particles of
matter united to it, will find it hard to make an embryo, one of years,
mad and sober, the SAME man, by any supposition, that will not make it
possible for Seth, Ismael, Socrates, Pilate, St. Austin, and Caesar
Borgia, to be the same man. For if the identity of SOUL ALONE makes the
same MAN; and there be nothing in the nature of matter why the same
individual spirit may not be united to different bodies, it will be
possible that those men, living in distant ages, and of different
tempers, may have been the same man: which way of speaking must be from
a very strange use of the word man, applied to an idea out of which body
and shape are excluded. And that way of speaking would agree yet worse
with the notions of those philosophers who allow of transmigration, and
are of opinion that the souls of men may, for their miscarriages, be
detruded into the bodies of beasts, as fit habitations, with organs
suited to the satisfaction of their brutal inclinations. But yet I think
nobody, could he be sure that the SOUL of Heliogabalus were in one of
his hogs, would yet say that hog were a MAN or Heliogabalus.

8. Idea of Identity suited to the Idea it is applied to.

It is 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 aright, 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 three different ideas; - for such as is the
idea belonging to that name, such must be the identity; which, if it had
been a little more carefully attended to, would possibly have prevented
a great deal of that confusion which often occurs about this matter,
with no small seeming difficulties, especially concerning PERSONAL
identity, which therefore we shall in the next place a little consider.

9. Same man.

An animal is a living organized body; and consequently the same animal,
as we have observed, is the same continued LIFE communicated to
different particles of matter, as they happen successively to be
united to that organized living body. And whatever is talked of other
definitions, ingenious observation puts it past doubt, that the idea in
our minds, of which the sound man in our mouths is the sign, is nothing
else but of an animal of such a certain form. Since I think I may be
confident, that, whoever should see a creature of his own shape or make,
though it had no more reason all its life than a cat or a parrot,
would call him still a MAN; or whoever should hear a cat or a parrot
discourse, reason, and philosophize, would call or think it nothing but
a CAT or a PARROT; and say, the one was a dull irrational man, and the
other a very intelligent rational parrot.

10. Same man.

For I presume it is not the idea of a thinking or rational being alone
that makes the IDEA OF A MAN in most people's sense: but of a body, so
and so shaped, joined to it; and if that be the idea of a man, the
same successive body not shifted all at once, must, as well as the same
immaterial spirit, go to the making of the same man.

11. Personal Identity.

This being premised, to find wherein personal identity consists, we
must consider what PERSON stands for; - which, I think, is a thinking
intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider
itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and
places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable
from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it: it being
impossible for any one to perceive without PERCEIVING that he does
perceive. When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will
anything, 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 that
which he calls SELF: - it not being considered, in this case, whether
the same self be continued in the same or divers substances. For, since
consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which makes
every one to be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself
from all other thinking things, in this alone consists personal
identity, i.e. the sameness of a rational being: and as far as this
consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought,
so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it
was then; and it is by the same self with this present one that now
reflects on it, that that action was done.

12. Consciousness makes personal Identity.

But it is further inquired, whether it be the same identical substance.
This few would think they had reason to doubt of, if these perceptions,
with their consciousness, always remained present in the mind, whereby
the same thinking thing would be always consciously present, and, as
would be thought, evidently the same to itself. But that which seems to
make the difficulty is this, that this consciousness being interrupted
always by forgetfulness, there being no moment of our lives wherein we
have the whole train of all our past actions before our eyes in one
view, but even the best memories losing the sight of one part whilst
they are viewing another; and we sometimes, and that the greatest part
of our lives, not reflecting on our past selves, being intent on our
present thoughts, and in sound sleep having no thoughts at all, or at
least none with that consciousness which remarks our waking thoughts, - I
say, in all these cases, our consciousness being interrupted, and we
losing the sight of our past selves, doubts are raised whether we are
the same thinking thing, i.e. the same SUBSTANCE or no. Which, however
reasonable or unreasonable, concerns not PERSONAL identity at all. The
question being what makes the same person; and not whether it be the
same identical substance, which always thinks in the same person, which,
in this case, matters not at all: different substances, by the same
consciousness (where they do partake in it) being united into one
person, as well as different bodies by the same life are united into one
animal, whose identity is preserved in that change of substances by the
unity of one continued life. For, it being the same consciousness that
makes a man be himself to himself, personal identity depends on that
only, whether it be annexed solely 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 had of it at first, and with the same consciousness it
has of any present action; so far it is the same personal self. For it
is by the consciousness it has of its present thoughts and actions, that
it is SELF TO ITSELF 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 be two men by wearing other clothes to-day than he did yesterday,
with a long or a short sleep between: the same consciousness uniting
those distant actions into the same person, whatever substances
contributed to their production.

13. Personal Identity in Change of Substance.

That this is so, we have some kind of evidence in our very bodies, all
whose particles, whilst vitally united to this same thinking conscious
self, so that WE FEEL when they are touched, and are affected by, and
conscious of good or harm that happens to them, are a part of ourselves;
i.e. of our thinking conscious self. Thus, the limbs of his body are to
every one a part of himself; he sympathizes and is concerned for them.
Cut off a hand, and thereby separate it from that consciousness he had
of its heat, cold, and other affections, and it is then no longer a part
of that which is himself, any more than the remotest part of matter.
Thus, we see the SUBSTANCE whereof personal self consisted at one time
may be varied at another, without the change of personal identity; there
being no question about the same person, though the limbs which but now
were a part of it, be cut off.

14. Personality in Change of Substance.

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?

And to this I answer: First, This can be no question at all to those
who place thought in a purely material animal constitution, void of an
immaterial substance. For, whether their supposition be true or no, it
is plain they conceive personal identity preserved in something else
than identity of substance; as animal identity is preserved in identity
of life, and not of substance. And therefore those who place thinking in
an immaterial substance only, before they can come to deal with these
men, must show why personal identity cannot be preserved in the
change of immaterial substances, or variety of particular immaterial
substances, as well as animal identity is preserved in the change of
material substances, or variety of particular bodies: unless they will
say, it is one immaterial spirit that makes the same life in brutes, as
it is one immaterial spirit that makes the same person in men; which the
Cartesians at least will not admit, for fear of making brutes thinking
things too.

15. Whether in Change of thinking Substances there can be one Person.

But next, as to the first part of the question, Whether, if the same
thinking substance (supposing immaterial substances only to think) be
changed, it can be the same person? I answer, that cannot be resolved
but by those who know there can what kind of substances they are that do
think; and whether the consciousness of past actions can be transferred
from one thinking substance to another. I grant were the same
consciousness the same individual action it could not: but it being 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 shown. And therefore how far the consciousness of
past actions is annexed to any individual agent, so that another cannot
possibly have it, will be hard for us to determine, till we know what
kind of action it is that cannot be done without a reflex act of
perception accompanying it, and how performed by thinking substances,
who cannot think without being conscious of it. 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. And that it never is so, will by us,
till we have clearer views of the nature of thinking substances, be
best resolved into the goodness of God; who, as far as the happiness or
misery of any of his sensible creatures is concerned in it, will not, by

Online LibraryJohn LockeAn Essay Concerning Humane Understanding, Volume 1 MDCXC, Based on the 2nd Edition, Books 1 and 2 → online text (page 28 of 34)