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John Locke – Mind Essay

Hume and Locke’s conflicting views on the existence of personal identity stem from a fundamental disagreement in regard to memory. According to Hume we have an impermanent personal identity as a result of our constantly changing stream of perceptions. These mental experiences are usually triggered by impressions, or perceptions that involve a sense experience. These constantly changing streams of perception form the false identity.
On the other hand John Locke proposes this concept that says X has identity if the ideas of X cause an observer to have of x are the same at different times. The best capable observer is X themself, as they are there for every moment. For Locke all that is needed for personal identity is mental identity. Both these ideas of personal identity are intertwined with each respected philosopher’s views on memory. According to Hume, memory is unreliable. He believes projectivism tricks us into forming memories. This is true because Hume also says we can’t remember everything, but we project as if we do.

The reason he imposes this is because he believes it causes us to assume we are the same in our memories as we are now. Hume says our memories are triggered by ideas, or perceptions caused by thinking about an impression, instead of actually experiencing it. These memories at best resemble one another, which means we confuse similar but different impressions of ourselves for an impression of a single unchanging self. Moreover, Hume says we do not have the same ideas as we do now and do in the past. As a result memory gives us false

identity with what it remembers. With this, the nature of the human self is derived from these mental experiences. Although Hume maintains that personal identity is falsely assumed by humans, the ideas that arise from our memories are what forms one’s identity. The end result of personal identity is that individuals have a false sense of identity, but that this false sense of identity is what gives them their individuality. This whole process is reliant upon memory; hence memory is crucial in the development of the false self and individuality.

Contrary to Hume, Locke believes memory is reliable. He insists that we are able to genuinely recall the same memories. Similarly to Hume, Locke agrees we don’t remember everything. Although he shares this belief, he feels what we do remember is enough. He continues this assertion as he points out we don’t remember everything accurately but we remember enough accurately. In doing this, we are able to accurately recall past ideas and compare them with present ones. This is how he reaches his point that memory is reliable.

Since our memories are reliable, our ideas in the past and the present can genuinely be the same. For Locke, the nature of the human self is formed through this process of linking old memories to new memories to create similarities. Like Hume, individuality is obtained when this process is complete and with it comes awareness of one’s self through time. While Hume and Locke have very differentiating opinions on the conception of personal identity relative to memory, they both agree that the end result will be a unique individual.

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