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OF PERSONAL IDENTITY.
WHETHER we are to live in a future state, as it is the most important question which can possibly be asked, so it is the most intelligible one which can be expressed in language. Yet strange perplexities have been raised about the meaning of that identity, or sameness of person, which is implied in the notion of our living now and hereafter, or in any two successive moments. And the solution of these difficulties hath been stranger than the difficulties themselves. For, personal identity has been explained so by some, as to render the inquiry concerning a future life of no consequence at all to us, the persons who are making it. And though few men can be misled by such subtleties, yet it
be proper a little to consider them. Now, when it is asked wherein personal identity consists, the answer should be the same as asked, wherein consists similitude or equality; that all attempts to define, would but perplex it. Yet there is no difficulty at all in ascertaining the idea. For, as upon two triangles being compared or viewed together, there arises to the mind the idea of similitude; or upon twice two and four, the idea of equality ; so likewise, upon comparing the consciousnesses of one's self, or one's own existence in any two moments, there as immediately arises to the mind the idea of personal iden
tity. And as the two former comparisons not only give us the ideas of similitude and equality, but also shew us, that two triangles are alike, and twice two and four are equal; so the latter comparison not only gives us the idea of personal identity, but also shews us the identity of ourselves in those two moments; the present suppose, and that immediately past.; or the present, and that a month, a year, or twenty years past. Or, in other words, by reflecting upon that, which is myself now, and that which was myself twenty years ago, I discern they are not two, but one and the
But though consciousness of what is past does thus ascertain our personal identity to ourselves, yet, to say that it makes personal identity, or is necessary to our being the same persons, is to say, that a person has not existed a single moment, nor done one action, but what he can remember; indeed none but what he re
And one should really think it self-evident, that consciousness of personal identity presupposes, and therefore cannot constitute -personal identity, any more than knowledge, in
other case, can constitute truth, which it presupposes.
This wonderful mistake may possibly have arisen from hence, that to be endued with consciousness, is inseparable from the idea of a person, or intelligent being. For this might be expressed inaecurately thus,
-that consciousness makes personality; and from hence it might be concluded to make personal identity. But though present consciousness of what we at present do and feel, is necessary to our being the persons we now are ; yet present consciousness of past actions, or feelings, is not necessary to our being the same persons who performed those actions, or had those feelings.
The inquiry, -what makes vegetables the same in the common acceptation of the word, does not appear to have any relation to this of personal identity ; because the word same, when applied to them and to pergon, is not only applied to different subjects, but it is
also used in different senses. For when a man swears to the same tree, as having stood fifty years in the same place, he means only the same as to all the purposes of property and uses of common life, and not that the tree has been all that time the same in the strict philosophical sense of the word. For he does not know, whether any one particle of the present tree, be the same with any one particle of the tree which stood in the same place fifty years ago. And if they have not one common particle of matter, they cannot be the same tree in the proper. philosophic sense of the word same : it being evidently a contradiction in terms, to say they are, when no part of their substance, and one of their properties, is the same i no part of their substance by the supposition ; no one of their properties, because it is allowed, that the same property cannot be transferred from one substance to another. And therefore, when we say the identity, or sameness, of a plant consists in a continuation of the same life, communicated under the same organization, to a number of particles of matter, whether the same or not, the word same, when applied to life and to organization, cannot possibly be understood to signify, what it signifies in this very sentence, when applied to matter. In a loose and popular sense then, the life, and the organization, and the plant, are justly said to be the same, notwithstanding the perpetual change of the parts. But in a strict and philosophical manner of speech, no man, no being, no mode of being, no any-thing, can be the same with that, with which it hath indeed nothing the same.
Now, sameness is used in this latter sense when applied to persons. The identity of these, therefore, cannot subsist with diversity of substance.
The thing here considered, and, demonstratively, as I think, determined, is proposed by Mr Locke in these words, Whether it, i. e. the same self or person, be the same identical substance? And he has suggested what is a much better answer to the question, than that which he gives it in form.
For he defines person, a thinking intelligent being, &c. and personal identity,