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[国学论道] The Bearer of the personal identity: Soul or Consciousness? by Guoting Guo

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发表于 2/18/2017 01:45:00 | 显示全部楼层 |阅读模式
The Bearer of the personal identity: Soul or Consciousness?


Guoting Guo     


  
Locke in his of Identity and Diversity creates a theory of personal identity, which focuses on human soul and consciousness; after discussing the vegetable, animal, human identity, he argued that the soul alone is not but the consciousness solely as the bearer of personal identity. While Locke’s theory sounds persuasive and acceptable, there are some unclear points such as what distinguished between soul and consciousness? Does soul or consciousness separate from the body? In this short essay I try to make clear what is the main argument of Locke’s then analysis its merits and shortcoming and suggest my argument.


Definition of person and man
Locke defines person as an intelligent thinking being that has reason and reflection, can know itself as itself the same thinking thing in different times and places;(sec 9)  He proposed that “ if it be possible for the same man to have distinct incommunicable consciousness at different times, it is past doubt the same man would at different times make different persons”;(sec 20)


According to Locke, different person at different time and place could be the same man;Aristotle observed that men, in essence, are political animal, Marx claimed that labour create men, a philosophy professor declared that men are symbol animal, announced that“I think, therefore I am”, Descartes declared man as a thinking being, Locke asserted that men are intelligent thinking being, in summary, human are the animal that has language, with reason and abstract creativity thinking power. For labor, body language (as the symbol), intelligent, thinking, some animals such as bee and dolphins also have, although quite limited.


Locke rejects the soul as the bearer of personal identity
Christian claims that the soul is the bearer of personal identity. Locke in his Of Identity and Diversity clearly rejects the same soul as either a necessary or a sufficient condition for personal identity;He claims that “the same soul does not alone make the same man”;(sec 16) and “at any given time there must be a soul, but over time there is no necessity that one have the same soul to preserve personal identity”. For in reincarnation man's soul reborn in the body of an animal, call the animal a man would be ridiculed; (sec 6)and the same soul in different bodies be the same man then an infant can be an old man. (sec 6) Thus, Locke rejects having the same soul as a sufficient condition for personal identity.


Locke doubts our ability to re-identify the same soul over time; He argued that if one was always awake, one could be certain that one had the same soul. But consciousness has natural gaps, such as periods falling sound asleep; there is no way to tell one soul has not been substituted for another during this period of absence of consciousness. Thus if having the same soul is necessary for personal identity, we could never be sure that we were the same person as the day before; thus “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”.(sec 6) From above quota of Locke’s remarks, it is clearly that he reject the idea of the soul as the bearer of the personal identity.


Locke argued that the consciousness alone is the bearer of personal identity
Locke firmly and repeatedly confirms that the consciousness alone as the bearer of personal identity; he makes a distinction between consciousness and the soul,He holds that consciousness can be transferred from one soul to another, and that personal identity goes with consciousness; he said that “it is impossible to make personal identity to consist in anything but consciousness”, and confirms that “personal identity can by us be placed in nothing but consciousness” (sec 21); then point out that “self is not determined by identity or diversity of substance, but only by identity of consciousness”;(sec23)and further observed that “it is consciousness which is crucial to the reward and punishment which is to be meted out at the Last Judgment”; holds that “consciousness is essential for justice”, and claims that “In this personal identity is founded all the right and justice of reward and punishment”;(sec 18) because of“ personal identity consists not in the identity of substance, but in the identity of consciousness”(sec 19).


Locke believes that the consciousness can be separate from body, he asserts that consciousness can be transferred from one soul to another, and men have no mechanism to re-identify souls over time; Then it must be allowed a man born of different women, and in distant times, may be the same man; must allow the same man to be two distinct persons;(sec 21) he suggests that if the same consciousness can be transferred from one man (thinking substance) to another, it will be possible that two men  may make but one person;(sec 13) and confirms that “personal identity, reaching no further than consciousness reaches, a pre-existent spirit not having continued so many ages in a state of silence, must needs make different persons”.(sec 14)Locke explains that “Since consciousness always accompanies thinking,  which makes everyone to be what he calls self,  distinguishes himself from all other, in this alone consists personal identity”.(sec 9) Locke points out that“ the same consciousness that makes a man be himself, personal identity depends on that only”.(sec 10)so  “ it is one immaterial spirit that makes the same person in men”;(sec 12) he argues that “the same immaterial substance, without the same consciousness, no more making the same person… without consciousness, united to anybody, makes the same person”.(sec14) , for “it is the consciousness that goes along with the substance, which makes the same person, and constitutes this inseparable self, for Self is that conscious thinking thing, which is sensible or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery”.(sec 17)Locke explains that “consciousness can be lost as in utter forgetfulness while the soul or thinking substance remains the same”.  And “the consciousness of present and past actions, is the same person to whom they both belong.(sec 16) Locke confirms that “Nothing but consciousness can unite remote existences into the same person: the identity of substance will not do it; for whatever substance there is, without consciousness there is no person.”(sec 23) Thus Locke confirms thatConsciousness can be transferred from one soul to another, and while the soul is changed, consciousness remains the same and personal identity is preserved through the change.


The nature of soul and consciousness
In Collins Advanced Learner’s English Dictionary defines Soul as “the part of you that consists of your mind, character, thoughts, and feelings;” while defines consciousness as “your mind and thought”. Both including ‘mind’ and ‘thought’, but the soul is broad than consciousness;  Since Consciousness base on the brain, without a brain or the brain die or become vegetable, the consciousness cannot exist at all.


Locke believes human beings have a soul; the problem is then can soul or consciousness separate from the body? If they can, then, after man die whether the soul or consciousness can continue to survive?  If they do, the doctrine of reincarnation must be correct.


Never die the soul depend on its nature or essence. Since in universal exist the law of material substance and energy never elimination; they are transferable, the former only transfer from one matter to another; the later also only change from one form to another, such as from solar energy to light or biological or chemical or physical energy; the total material substance and energy in the universal keep balance eternally, that is, no eliminate, no increase.  If the soul has the same nature as material substance and energy in the universal, then Locke’s theory of personal identity has some shortcoming. Since consciousness proved to rely on human brain, then it is impossible for  the consciousness separate from the brain, and the brain will die when one old enough, for it consist of material substance,and when brain die the consciousness could not exist alone, then it is impossible for consciousness transfer from one thinking being to another; But the souls consist of immaterial substance which is a spirit not rely on material substance and in history many philosophers and theorists believed that the human souls will survive after human body die. Then it seems the soul as the bearer of personal identity should be more reasonable.


As to soul might transfer among living beings, if this claim is correct, at least must be meet some preconditions, such as the soul not only transferable among human being, but also among all other animals, otherwise, it could not explain why population increase million times, where so many souls come from? Provided that the soul cannot divide, that is, one being one soul, then it might be those disappeared animals in the world all turn into the human soul. Presume that soul can be divided, for instance, one human soul equal two big animal, or ten smaller animals, it also can explain why so many animals in wild natural world totally disappeared.


If the soul will not die, it must have the same nature as the material substance and energy in the natural world, there must have been fixed number of souls all the time. They must have been through reincarnation transferable among all mankind and other living animals, even among plants, such as trees, then those animals or plants that have a human soul, in theory, should be as intelligence as a human being; unless during the soul enter into the body of animals or plants stop work temporary.


Furthermore, for genius in art and science, such as great writers, poets, painters, scientists, their offspring should have been the genius too. However, in reality, it seems not the case, which proves that the soul seems not always keep the same level of quality and feature, otherwise, the genius children must be a genius too.  Another explanation could be that when one die one’s soul not necessary transfer limited to one’s own family but among all human being and those brute and cruel men’s soul reborn to animal and those evil men’s soul have to reborn into a plan or even stone.


Conclusion
Locke rejects the traditional Christian idea of the soul as the bearer of personal identity; He claims that the consciousness is the sole element determine the personal identity, he also claims that consciousness can be separate from body enter into different men’s body in different time and place, which show he believe the doctrine of reincarnation.  Since both soul and consciousness means mind and thought, it is suggested that soul as spirit can separate from body and not rely on material substance, while consciousness cannot separate from body, for it rely on brain, when one die one’s brain also die, then the consciousness will disappear at the same time;   therefore, reject the soul as the bearer of the personal identity seems lacking sound reason, if not soul alone, at least both soul and consciousness should be the bearer of the personal identity.


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