John Locke’s theory of personal identity underlies all modern discussion of the nature of persons and selves—yet it is widely thought to be wrong. In this book, Galen Strawson argues that in fact it is Locke’s critics who are wrong, and that the famous objections to his theory are invalid. Indeed, far from refuting Locke, they illustrate his fundamental point.
Strawson argues that the root error is to take Locke’s use of the word “person” as merely a term for a standard persisting thing, like “human being.” In actuality, Locke uses “person” primarily as a forensic or legal term geared specifically to questions about praise and blame, punishment and reward. This point is familiar to some philosophers, but its full consequences have not been worked out, partly because of a further error about what Locke means by the word “conscious.” When Locke claims that your personal identity is a matter of the actions that you are conscious of, he means the actions that you experience as your own in some fundamental and immediate manner.
Clearly and vigorously argued, this is an important contribution both to the history of philosophy and to the contemporary philosophy of personal identity.
Galen Strawson is professor of philosophy at the University of Texas at Austin. His many books include Freedom and Belief and Selves: An Essay in Revisionary Metaphysics.
"[E]legant and provocative. . . . There is no denying that the case he makes in this short but compelling book is a powerful one."--Barry Dainton, Times Literary Supplement
"This book will appeal to Locke scholars and those interested in Locke's account of personal identity."--Choice
"Clearly and vigorously argued, this is an important contribution both to the history of philosophy and to the contemporary philosophy of personal identity."--World Book Industry
"This book is a pleasure to read. It is written in Strawson’s characteristically brilliant style, and it is brimming with interesting ideas about Locke and about responsibility. It can be safely said that anyone thinking about Locke should read it."--Paul F Snowdon, Mind
"Galen Strawson proposes an original and provocative interpretation of Locke's treatment of personal identity. Strawson makes his case with characteristic depth, insight, ingenuity, and clarity. This engagingly written work should be of great interest to historians of modern philosophy and to all philosophers working on personal identity."--Don Garrett, New York University
"This is an important book and a very fine piece of work. It is bound to attract a great deal of attention."--Gideon Yaffe, University of Southern California
Table of Contents
Another Princeton book authored or coauthored by Galen Strawson: