John Locke was an enlightenment thinker who believed that all that a person knows comes from their experiences. Each individual is consistently adding information to their blank slate through conscious behaviors. John Locke coined one of the several theories of identity that have been developed over time. His premise has been seen as a memory theory because it follows the basic idea that consciousness over time is enough to constitute identity. Therefore, to sum up his theory of identity is to say that “…a person at time t2 is the same person as a person at an earlier time t1 just in case the person at t2 remembers some of the experiences of the person at time t1” (Schechtman 13).The psychological criterion is a subcategory of the memory criterion that was developed because of the belief that Locke’s memory criterion needed some improvement due to how easy it was to prove wrong. Marya Schechtman developed her extended consciousness theory because of that fact that Locke’s memory theory was seen as being “too weak and too strong” (12). The memory theory best describes Locke’s interpretation of identity when in comparison with the Psychological Criterion and the Extended Consciousness theory.
John Locke’s theory of identity involves several main problems that he is looking to answer. The main problem that most people are worried about involves trying to pick out a person and attribute certain actions to them. “Locke’s central contribution to work on personal identity is his insistence that identity must be defined in terms of sameness of consciousness rather than sameness of substance” (Schechtman 10). Locke mentioned it himself and described his view on the sense of self in his personal identity section when he said “…to find wherein personal identity consists, 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, as it seems to me, essential to it: (67). This is John Locke stating that personal identity can only understood through conscious doings rather than sameness of substance. One of John Locke’s examples was “But 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 person” (74-75). Locke explains this by saying that if a person experiences something while awake, and then attempts unsuccessfully to pull out these experiences during a dream stage then there exists two separate people in one body. Sameness of physical substance and immaterial substance are just not enough to prove that an individual is the same person over a period of time. It is just unrealistic to believe that someone can be the same over time if they have only the same substance. Humans are ever changing beings that consist of completely different atoms after only 10 years. Locke would say that a person who has been affected by amnesia is not the same person because they do not have enough direct memory connections. A person who has developed Alzheimer’s at an old age would at some point be considered a different person because they have lost the direct memory connections of when they were at a younger age.
Other theories of identity were created mainly because people were able to prove portions of Locke’s memory based theory wrong. Thomas Reid developed the old soldier problem as a criticism of John Locke’s direct memory connections. Reid created an imaginary situation that involved a child, a private and a general. The child breaks their leg when very young, the private charges the hill while in battle, and the general is on his death bed. The private remembers breaking his leg when younger and the general remembers when he charged the hill during battle. But, the general does not remember breaking his leg at the young age creating a contradiction. The child is the same person as the private, the private is the same person as the general, but the general is not the same person as this child. Mr. Reid believes this goes against the transitive property and is enough to deny the memory criterion because “Mr. Locke attributes to consciousness the conviction we have of our past actions, as if a 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” (Schechtman 12)
The psychological criterion is a modern day version of Locke’s point of view. According to Schechtman, psychological continuity theorists correct Locke’s edition by “requiring not direct memory, but overlapping chains of direct memory to make a person at one time the same as a person at another” (14). These theorists believe that direct memory connections can be presented as several different psychological connections. Memory is the most obvious of these connections but beliefs, values and desires are also sufficient. These theorists believe that “…for a past experience to be attributed to a person, he must not only recall the experience, but the recollection must be properly caused by the original experience” (Schechtman 13). This means that in order for someone to consider an experience their own, they must be able to recall on the memory just by their own doing. With regards to the old soldier problem, someone who believes in this criterion would say that by default the general would acquire the memory of breaking their leg because the private had the memory. As long as a person lives an uninterrupted life with strong connections between each stage it is legitimate to say that a person is the same under the psychological continuity theory. Following this theory a person who suffers from personality disorder would be considered two separate people. A person who has lost all of their memory due to amnesia would still be considered the same person because they still have enough psychological connections to be considered the same individual.
Over time, individuals had problems with the psychological continuity theory because it still left some questions unanswered. Schechtman feels as though the developers of this theory “…concentrate too much on the notion of memory, and not enough on the notion of consciousness” (10). She also believes that some of Locke’s original view is lost in the psychological continuity theorist’s view. This pretty much stands for the fact that “ there are many experiences–and even whole life phases¬–that are counted as mine even though I no longer have any consciousness of them at all” (Schechtman 16). This means that a person is allowed to attribute certain things to themselves even if they were in a unconscious state and have no recollection in anyway of the thing in question ever occurring. Marya Schechtman created the extended consciousness theory as a way to “give a better account of how and when states of which a person is not conscious can be attributed to her” (18).
Schechtman’s alternative Lockean View looks to directly attribute actions to a current person by living in a self conscious way. This view can be hard to understand but Schechtman explains it this way “This does not mean that a person’s life course is entirely under her control, only that she can see connections between how things were, how they are, and how they are likely to be” (18). Galen Strawson and Marya Schechtman hold a similar view because they both believe that it is possible for human beings to see themselves with no sense of identity or self. In this case these people would not be following the idea of extended consciousness. Both of these identity theorists believe that it is up to the person to let their sense of self out during interactions (Strawson) or through self monitoring (Schechtman). Self monitoring can be seen as pretty basic unconscious thinking about our feelings and mainly what is going on in our lives at the time. Schechtman believes that “it is this self-monitroing that gives us our sense of continuation and coherence as a self, and so provides the kind of self-conception and relation to a particular past that constitutes personal identity” (18). This constant process works to represent a psychological continuation that other theorists have forgotten to address. Marya Schechtman believes that the actions we are not conscious of, rest in our psychological lives and affect us when we are in a conscious state. This would ultimately make them part of our personal identity. Marya Schechtman can base her whole theory around one passage of John Locke’s. Locke said “Thus every one finds that, whilst comprehended under consciousness, the little finger is as much a part of himself as what is most so. Upon separation of this little finger, should this consciousness go along with the little finger, and leave the rest of the body, it is evident the little finger would be the person, the same person…” (73). The consciousness has not left and gone with the finger, it continues to remain in the body. Locke would say that the finger no longer belongs to you and therefore is now senseless. Another positive to the extended consciousness theory is that it is possible to appropriate something as your own as long as it is understood to be accurate by other individuals. Schechtman’s basic summary of what a person who pursues and follows the extended consciousness theory would be a person willing to “keep track of the unfolding of one’s life” (20). Schechtman took John Locke’s original view that just required memory and attached psychological elements that help to express what was of confusion.
Locke’s identity theory is a simple memory theory based only on the fact that direct memory connections are the only way to attribute certain actions to an individual. Thomas Reid believed the only way John Locke’s theory was acceptable would be if by consciousness he meant memory. This would mean that John Locke’s theory was strictly based on conscious memories alone. Psychological Continuity theorists attempted to take this idea one step further to include psychological connections with memories in order to make it easier to attach a particular action to an individual. Marya Schechtman developed the extended consciousness theory which was based on Lockean ideals. She found problems in both the direct memory criterion and the psychological continuity theory. Schechtman wanted to account for all of the unconscious life that everyone had failed to take notice of. John Locke did not think into all of these extra additions because he wanted to keep it somewhat simple. The psychological continuity theory and the extended consciousness theory were good attempts to recreate what Locke really meant but they were over thought and led to the creation of two completely different theories of personal identity.