Sidebilder
PDF
ePub

thought; all however, equally clear and intelligible, but susceptible of being embarrassed by a disputatious and frivolous philosophy. When we talk of the sameness of an unorganised bulk or congeries of matter, we mean that it possesses all the particles which enter into its composition, the sameness of a plant implies that it is the identical organized substance endowed with the principle of vegetable life, and which at one time may be a scion, at another the largest tree of the forest; when we speak of the identity of man, we mean the same bodily form and features added to a rational soul, with all its properties and powers. Mr. Locke, I think, without any ground in reason, makes a distinction between the identity of the man, and the person, considering the last, as the sameness of a rational being as exhibited to itself. This distinction is certainly not a just one; since the identity of the man and the person, is precisely the same object of contemplation to the mind, but is only viewed through different media, as it were, when beheld by ourselves or others. We can judge of the identity of other things and other men only by the appearances they exhibit to us, and by the properties of their nature, with which from experience we become acquainted; we can judge of the identity of ourselves, only by sensation and by consciousness, with the aid of memory, by sensation deriving our knowledge of our external form and features, by reflection our knowledge of the rational soul within, with all its powers, affections, desires, hopes, remembrances, anticipations, &c. with which the heart of the indi. vidual himself alone can be acquainted. “In like manner, says Mr. Locke, “if two or more atoms be joined together in the same mass, every one of those atoms will be the same, by the foregoing rule; and whilst they exist united together, the mass consisting of the same atoms, must be the same mass, or the same body, let the parts be never so differently jumbled; but if one of those atoms be taken away, or one new one added, it is no longer the same mass or the same

Nn

[ocr errors]

body. In the state of living creatures, their identity depends not on a mass of the same particles, but on something else; for in them the variations of great parcels of matter alter not the identity. An oak growing from a plant to a great tree, and then lopped, is still the same oak; and a colt grown up to a horse, sometimes fat and sometimes lean, is all the while the same horse; though in both these cases there may be a manifest change of the parts; so that truly they are not either of them the same masses of matter, though they be truly one the same oak, and the other the same horse; the reason whereof is, that in these two cases of a mass of matter and a living body, identity is not applied to the same thing. Again, he says, “ the identity of the same man consists, in nothing but a participation of the same continued life, by constantly fleeting particles of matter, in succession, vitally united to the same organized body.”

After stating the subject with so much accuracy and justness of conception, it seems singular that he should have fallen into so glaring an error as to make personal identity consist in consciousness. His own language in several places is utterly inconsistent with the doctrine he espouses.

«То find wherein personal identity consists,” says Mr. Lücke,

we must consider what person stands for, which, I think, is 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 seems to be essential to it.” Here we find the very opinion of Bishop Butler distinctly stated, a person is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places, by means of consciousness. It is unaccountable that Mr. Locke should after this, have maintained that our personal identity consists in consciousness, when he here considers consciousness, and very justly, as that act of the mind by which we become acquainted with our own persons, or that thinking principle within, and with its sameness at one moment and another, or at different periods of life. He might as well, in any other case, have confounded our perception of an object with the object of perception. Consciousness with the aid of memory, becomes the mirror in which those beings called ourselves are successively disclosed to us, and invariably accompanies thought and other operations of the mind; but can no more be regarded as including the person, than a part can include the whole. “ Self,” repeats Mr. Locke, “is that conscious thinking thing (whatever substance made up of, whether spiritual or material, simple or compounded, it matters not) which is sensible or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends." Here one of the attributes of that thinking thing called self, is said to be consciousness, how then, could consciousness be the very thinking thing itself? It will be perceived, therefore, that while Mr. Locke makes this point perfectly clear to his readers, by an unaccountable oscitancy of understand. ing, he lost sight of the truth himself.

Mr. Locke perceived that it would be objected to his doctrine of personal identity consisting in consciousness, that if so, as soon as we lose the memory of any actions, we are no longer the persons who perpetrated them. He has stated this objection in full, and attempted, though I think very unsuccessfully, its refutation. The fact is, that if by personal identity, be meant the sameness of a rational being, composed of a material and im naterial part, to itself, the appearance which our bodies display to our senses is included in the idea, as well as the sameness of our minds.

The person, is a creature composed of body and mind, and which, whether contemplated by others, and denominated the man, or by ourselves, and constituting what we call self, is invariably the same thing, although exhibited to the different observers under different aspects. Could the soul of Percy, together with its consciousness, have passed by a miraculous transmigration into the body of Johu Falstaff, and the case is possible, would he have been the same person?

I shall conclude this article with noticing briefly the strictures of Dr. Reid, upon the doctrine of Mr. Locke. " First,” says he, “ Mr. Locke attributes to consciousness, the conviction which we have of our past actions, as if any man may now be conscious of what he did twenty years ago. It is impossible to understand the meaning of this, unless by consciousness be meant memory, the only faculty by which we have an immediate knowledge of our past actions.” It is certain that without the agency of memory we could have no information of our past actions, but that they would be forever buried in oblivion; and it will be found that Mr. Locke recognizes the operation of that power, in order to disclose to us our past consciousnesses; and when he speaks of our consciousness of past actions, he only indulges himself in a very ordinary phraseology, a phraseology which although not technically correct, from the frequency of its use it is almost impossible to lay aside; and which, moreover when it is recollected, that with the memory of our past actions is inseparably connected the remembrance of a consciousness that we ourselves performed them, is not so unphilosophical a mode of expression as might at first be imagined. So difficult is it for philosophers completely to rid their disquisitions of the customary modes of expression, that we find Dr. Reid himself, when treating of this subject, unconsciously adopting the language which he animadverts upon in Mr. Locke. “Suppose,” says he,“ a brave officer to have been flogged at school for robbing an orchard, to have taken a standard from the enemy in his first campaign, and to have been made a general in advanced life. Suppose also, which must be admitted to be possible, that when he took the standard, he was conscious of his having been flogged at school, and that when made a general he was conscious of

his taking the standard, but had absolutely lost the consciousness of his flogging. It follows from Mr. Locke's doctrine that he, who was flogged at school, is the same person who took the standard, and that he who took the standard is the same person as he who was made a general, but that he who was flogged at school is not the person who was made a general, Therefore the general is, and at the same time is not, the same person who was flogged at school.” It needed not such a syllogism as this to detect the error of Mr. Locke's principle, as Bishop Butler had already done this, to the entire satisfaction of the philosophick world. But it will be remarked, that the General is here said to be conscious of having taken the standard, and when he took the standard to have been conscious that some time before he was flogged at school, that is, he was conscious of his past actions; adopting the very inaccurate mode of expression, for which the Dr, reprehends Mr. Locke. The fact is, that setting aside a frivolous propensity to cavil at the doctrines of preceding philosophers, so very prevalent in the Scottish school of metaphysicks, by which the science of the human mind, instead of being advanced, has been involved in a cloud of subtilty and trifling disquisition; inasmuch as the memory enables us at any moment to place before the contemplation of the mind all the material actions of our past lives, and to bring along with them the consciousnesses of our having perpetrated them; (for it is one thing to recollect, that such actions were performed, and quite another, to remember that they were performed by us) it is no great stretch of that liberty allowed us in conveying our ideas, to say that we are conscious of our past actions. By no extravagance of figure we might say, that memory presents all the past events of our lives, as so many objects in that little interior world called our spirits, which are the objects of immediate vision or perception to the mind.

« ForrigeFortsett »