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Home A Skeptical View on Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity

A Skeptical View on Locke’s Theory of Personal Identity

Xinghua WANG*

Abstract: Locke‘s theory of personal identity has long been held to be the memory theory, or what is called the standard interpretation, i.e., a person a at t1 is identical to a person b at t2 if and only if a at 1 remembers any of b‘s actions or thoughts at t2. Many commentators agree at least half of the standard interpretation. However, the standard interpretation faces the ―Memory Dilemma‖, according to which, if memory is pseudo memory, Locke‘s theory of personal identity faces several counterexamples; if memory is genuine memory, Locke‘s theory of personal identity is either inconsistent or circular. In response to the dilemma, commentators provide at least three approaches: (1) to argue that our intuition in those counterexamples is illusory; (2) to argue that there is an interpretation of genuine memory that does not make Locke‘s theory of personal identity circular or inconsistent; (3) to argue that there is a new understanding of consciousness, which is not memory, that explains away the ―Memory Dilemma‖. I first defend the standard interpretation of Locke‘s theory of personal identity, and then argue that the three approaches that try to resolve the dilemma fail.

Keywords: person, personal identity, consciousness, memory

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