1. mutual knowledge 1681 (rare)
2. knowledge as to which one has the testimony within oneself 16323.
3. the state or fact of being c of 17464.
4. Philos The state or faculty of being conscious, as a concomitant of all thought, feeling and volition 1678
C is the perception of what passes in a man’s own mind LOCKE
Shorter OED 1973
Book 2 Chap 27
Person stands for 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. 2.27.11
Locke’s theory of selfhood must be understood by placing it in the context of its time.
Before Locke, selfhood is held to reside in substance, the body.
Previous to Locke, anxieties about selfhood are largely motivated by the burning problem of what body will be resurrected on Judgment Day
There are numerous possibilities:
The body you were born in?
The body you died in?
The body of your prime?
The body you sinned in?
The body you repented in?
Locke’s suggestion that selfhood resides in consciousness not body is an attempt to solve this problem.
If selfhood does not reside in the body, but in something else, then the problem of which body is resurrected becomes moot.
The word ‘consciousness’ dates from 1632.
In 1678 Cudworth publishes his attack on atheism: The True Intellectual System of the Universe, which includes an investigation into the meaning of this new word.
Locke’s theory of selfhood has 5 elements: substance; the concept of man, or species membership; soul; the concept of person; and consciousness.
Selfhood does not reside in substance alone.
Locke begins with a Principium Individuationis, stating that identity in substances is to be determined by a specific location in time and place.
It is not possible for something to occupy the same time and place as any other thing.
It is not possible for an object to occupy more than one place or time.
An object can only have one beginning.
No two objects can have the same beginning.
Identity of substance thus consists in existence in a discrete time and place, with only one beginning, which cannot be shared with other existences.
For those against whom Locke is arguing, this appears to define selfhood because it bypasses the problem of change in substances.
Their thinking goes like this:
A man at 90 is not the same substance materially as he is at 9 if one considers that substances change.
But if one considers that identity of substance consists in a discrete existence which cannot be shared and having only one beginning, then the question of change becomes unproblematic.
Hence, selfhood is seen as residing in substance, regardless of changes to it.
4. Man, or Species Membership
Selfhood does not reside in the fact that a man is a man.
‘A man’ cannot only be defined as ‘a rational animal’, because a talking parrot may be said to be more rational than a man who never speaks, or is an idiot.
So selfhood cannot only reside in the concept of ‘man’.
Selfhood is not a species concept.
Selfhood does not reside in the concept of soul.
Suppose the soul able to move and inhabit different bodies.
The soul of a prince enters the soul of a cobbler and carries out actions.
Do those actions belong to the cobbler or the prince?
They belong to the prince.
The soul is the same – the actor- but not the man.
For Locke, this concept is a forensic one.
Which means that in law, it is the ‘person’ who is punished or rewarded, not the ‘substance’, or the ‘man’ or the ‘soul’.
‘Person’ therefore includes something that has consciousness of past actions.
If you have consciousness of past actions, then it is the same person who has done those actions.
Memory of actions and consciousness of actions then becomes a much more stable notion of selfhood than either body, which is changeable, or species membership, which is insufficient.
Consciousness is the concept which unites and ties all these elements together.
Consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which makes every one to be what he calls self. 2.27.11
It being the same consciousness that makes a man himself to himself. 2.27.12
Self is not determined by identity or diversity of substance, which it cannot be sure of, but only by identity of consciousness 2.27.25
Objections to this:
Consciousness is not continuous.
It is interrupted by sleep, and forgetfulness.
These periods of interrupted consciousness raise possible doubts about the consistency of consciousness.
Are we the same thinking being when consciousness is restored, that we were before it was interrupted?
How can we be sure?
These objections do not affect selfhood because while consciousness can be interrupted, it still belongs to the same man.
But, total loss of memory does indeed involve total loss of personhood.
Law and language admit the possibility of selfhood changing due to loss of consciousness and memory.
The sane man cannot be tried for what the insane man did, and vice versa.
I am not myself. I am beside myself.
Locke’s theory of selfhood, specifically, that it resides in consciousness, not substance, soul or species membership, is highly controversial for his contemporaries, and is rejected by Berkely, Leibnitz, and others.
This rejection seems amazing to moderns, who take it so for granted that selfhood resides in consciousness.
This marks one of the key differences between the pre-modern and the modern.
Locke’s theory of selfhood is thus a key stage in the evolution of modern consciousness, complemented and supported by his investigation into the nature and workings of the mind and the extent and limitations of knowledge.
Locke in all aspects of the Essay, foregrounds consciousness and its workings.
This every intelligent being, sensible of happiness or misery, must grant- that there is something that is himself, that he is concerned for, and would have happy; that this self has existed in a continued duration more than one instant, and therefore it is possible may exist, as it has done, months and years to come, without any certain bounds to be set to its duration; and may be the same self, by the same consciousness continued on for the future.2.27.25