Second Treatise of Government

Individual Identity: Locke on the "Sameness of a Being"

In defining "sameness of a being", Locke distinguishes between the idea of the "same man" and the "same person". Although he acknowledges that the words are often used interchangeably, he states that "person" is in fact representative of personal identity, which is defined by consciousness alone, and is completely separate from the material body. Each individual has a personal identity defined by his unique motions or thoughts; although two people may make the "same" motion, or have the "same" thought, each thought or motion is actually distinct because it occurs at a different time and/or in a different place. Each person distinguished from another by his diversity of experience; as such, one can identify a person based on the experiences about which he is conscious. Locke's account of personal identity is open to several criticisms: one, that it violates transitivity, and two, that it is a circular argument.

Each person, according to Locke, 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" (Ariew & Watkins 321). Each person is able to do this...

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