In this paper, I will refute John Locke’s psychological theory, which argues that the persistence of an individual from one time to another is connected with the person’s psychological state. In my argument, I will prove that Locke’s argument is ambiguous and unfounded on world realities. In John Locke psychological theory, he argues that for there to be interconnectedness, there must be a connection of memory in one singular person identity over some long period.
Simply, psychological theory as presented by Locke requires an individual to have a continuity of memory and personality from one period to the next. In this case, in order for person A when old, to be identical with person A when young, there must be a continuity of memory and personality between these two persons. The psychological connectedness theory, which is closely related to memory connectedness theory that was developed by Locke, required individuals to have a psychological connectedness in order for them to be identical (Teichert, 175-191). To be more specific, Parfits develops the following psychological criterions of personal identity.
X today is one and the same person as Y at some past time if and only if (1) X is psychologically continuous with Y, (2) this continuity has the right kind of cause, and
(3) it has not taken a ‘branching’ form. Personal Identity over time just consists in the holding of facts like (1) to (3) (Parfit, 1984, p. 207).
While presentations of various scholars show the need for a connection of the mind, the overarching question is whether the lack of this connection terminates the identity between these two persons. In order to illustrate the weaknesses of Locke’s argument, I will use Thomas Reid paradox of the “Brave Officer” (Speaks 1-6). In this example, a question arises of whether if an elderly “Brave Officer” cannot recall his childhood, it can be said that he is a different person from the person he was as a child. According to Locke psychological theory, the “Brave Officer” can only be connected with his identity as a child if he only has sufficient memory of his childhood. In light of this, he is a different person with the identity he was as a child. If the elderly officer has memory of his earlier days when he was a junior officer, then according to Locke’s psychological theory, he is one and the same person.
A contradiction then arises in the link between the junior officer and the child, as well as the child and the elderly officer. Suppose that at the time when the “Brave Officer” was a junior officer he could recall his childhood. Therefore, as presented by Locke, the identity of the junior officer is similar with that of the child. If this is the case, the psychological theory contradicts itself. Markedly, how can the junior officer be related to the identity of the child, and the elderly officer be related to that of the junior officer, while the elderly officer is not related to that of the child? This example shows the contradiction of the psychological theory. Insofar as the identity of the child is related to that of the junior officer, and that of the junior officer is related to that of the elderly officer, the identity of the child must be related to that of the elderly officer regardless of whether the latter has memory of his childhood.
In yet another example, suppose it is possible for a person to understand and duplicate the identity of another person. In fact, this can be mimicked through acts of identity theft where the thief understands and duplicates the identity of his/ her victim. Accordingly, there emerge, two individuals, who look almost the same but who have a similar recollection of their childhood. An almost similar example is given in the Parfit’s transplant experiment, in which he presents a case of where a facial replica is created through transplant. In both of these two cases, there will be more than one person who shares a similar childhood. The psychological theory would argue that these two different people are the same person. Obviously, this is untrue and impossible.
Suppose that you knew both Williams and me, and you visit the resulting person in the post-operative recovery room. You see my head on the pillow, and have a long conversation with someone whom you assume to be me. If some nurse then lifted the blankets on the bed, and you saw the rest of what you knew to be Williams’s body, you wouldn’t conclude that you weren’t, as you assumed, talking to me. You would believe that the person with my head would be me. As many Animalists concede, this widely held belief, which some call the Transplant Intuition, provides a strong objection to their view. (Parfit, 2012, p 9).
While it is important for individuals to have a memory of their different persons over time, the description and identification of a human being is more complex and cannot be purely dependent on memory. In fact, such an assumption overlooks certain changes that naturally occur in the world, such as a situation where a person goes into a coma and cannot recall of about his previous life occurrences. In addition, this theory assumes that the person who is being examined is the only determinant of his/ her identity. While this may be the case in most scenarios, in some situations, third parties may decide the identity of a person. For instance, third parties identify a person who is in a coma, dead, or mentally challenged. In light of this, psychological theory as presented by Locke fails to identify the overarching issues that determine a person’s identity.
Parfit, Derek. Reasons and Persons. Oxford University Press. 1984
Parfit, Derek. “We Are Not Human Beings,” Philosophy, vol. 87, no. 1, 2012.
Speaks, Jeff. “Thomas Reid on Personal Identity.” Phil, vol. 20208, 2006, pp. 1-6.
Teichert, Dieter. “Narrative, Identity and the Self.” Journal of Consciousness Studies, Vol. 11, no. 10–11, 2004, pp. 175–191.