This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.
The contents of this post are entirely the work of Jessica Gordon-Roth.
Locke’s Moral Man is an engaging book that draws interesting connections between what John Locke says in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and what he asserts elsewhere. The depth of Antonia LoLordo’s knowledge of Locke’s corpus is impressive. So too is the way she weaves together many of the claims Locke makes therein. In Locke’s Moral Man, LoLordo sheds new light on a number of long-discussed passages in the Essay and offers a novel description of Lockean moral agency. I am glad to have the opportunity to offer my thoughts on LoLordo’s book here. In this post I will do some to highlight points of agreement between LoLordo and myself, but I will spend most of the time posing questions and raising objections. I will begin by briefly discussing a general concern I have regarding LoLordo’s treatment of Lockean moral agency. Then I will raise objections more specific to LoLordo’s treatment of Locke on persons.
At the beginning of Locke’s Moral Man, LoLordo asserts that “Locke faces a problem few philosophers before him faced:” He denies that there are sharp distinctions in nature, or natural kinds. Yet he also thinks there is a sharp distinction between those who are moral agents and those who are not (1). LoLordo’s fix for this problem is to claim that moral agency consists in a set of capacities, rather than membership in a kind:
What he ultimately offers is a set of capacities that we can understand and agree are the conditions of moral agency even if we don’t agree about what grounds them. To be a moral agent, a creature must meet three conditions: First she must be capable of acting freely, in accordance with her desires; of suspending the prosecution of those desires while she deliberates about the best course of action; and of amending her desires in accordance with the results of deliberation. Second, she must be a person, that is, a being who conceives of herself and is motivated by the prospect of future pleasure and pain. Third, she must be sufficiently rational to be capable of abstracting and of forming lasting ideas of reflection (133).
It is thus being able to suspend desires and deliberate before acting, being able to think of oneself as the same thing over time, and being able to abstract and reflect that makes one a moral agent. In other words, LoLordo contends that Locke thinks one must be free, be a person, and be rational to be a moral agent (2). I contend that just being a person is enough to make one a moral agent, however. If we examine Locke’s definition of “person” and his claims about reward and punishment, we will see why.
Locke claims that “Person stands for…a thinking intelligent Being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places…” (Book II, Ch. XXVII, §9). Based upon this definition we know that persons have the ability to reflect. Given that persons can consider themselves as themselves in different times and places, we also know that persons can form lasting ideas of reflection. Additionally thinking of a past, present and (especially) future self requires the ability to abstract. Persons thus have all of the rational capacities that LoLordo claims are needed for moral agency.
Persons also have the ability to suspend their desires, deliberate and act accordingly. In fact, it is crucial that persons can do these things. If persons could not suspend their desires, deliberate and act freely, then we should not hold them accountable for their actions. Yet, we do—and Locke does too! As LoLordo notes, “Locke tells us that ‘punishment [is] annexed to personality’ (2.27.22); [and] that ‘[i]n personal Identity is founded all the Right and Justice of Reward and Punishment’ (2.27.18).”
Persons are thus both free and rational enough to be moral agents. In other words, persons have all of the capacities required for moral agency that LoLordo outlines. As I see it then, it is not the case that one must be a person who is sufficiently free and rational to be a moral agent, but that once one is a person, the liberty and rationality required for moral agency come as part of the package.
I suspect that LoLordo has resisted this conclusion for several reasons. She might, for instance, worry that if being a person is enough to make one a moral agent, then Locke’s conception of moral agency looks more species or kind-based than it should. Nevertheless, only humans end up having the capacities needed to be moral agents in LoLordo’s reading of Locke. This makes LoLordo’s own reading look rather species or kind-based. I thus do not think that what I have suggested here makes Locke look any more essentialist than LoLordo’s interpretation does.
We should also remember that Locke is open to the possibility of non-human persons. This comes through in the rational parrot passage (Book II, Ch. XXVII, §8) and arguably the moral man passage (Book III, Ch. XI, §16) as well. This makes a person-centered theory of moral agency less essentialist than it at first seems. If parrots or monkeys can be persons, and thus moral agents, then we still get a story about moral agency that does not to rest on the many metaphysical claims that Locke’s adversaries took for granted, as LoLordo contends we should.
Regardless, I think that we have to conclude that being a person is enough to make one a moral agent, because this is what Locke concludes. This is what Locke means when he claims that “…punishment [is] annexed to personality” (Book II, Ch. XXVII, §22), that “…[i]n personal Identity is founded all the Right and Justice of Reward and Punishment” (Book II, Ch. XXVII, §18) and that “Person…is a Forensick Term appropriating Actions and their Merit; and so belongs only to intelligent Agents capable of a Law, and Happiness and Misery” (Book II, Ch. XXVII, §26).
I am not sure how far my understanding of Lockean moral agency is from LoLordo’s. After all, she claims that “…although [she] treat[s] liberty, personality and rationality as distinct conditions…they…turn out to be closely intertwined” (2). LoLordo also says, “I argue that having the capacity to suspend and deliberate is a condition beings must meet in order to be moral agents. (Later I shall argue that any being capable of suspension and deliberation is thereby rational and a person)” (46). Additionally there is a passage in Locke’s Moral Man that seems particularly friendly to the reading I have offered here. This comes on page 38, where LoLordo is discussing active powers.
In this section of the text, LoLordo claims that although animals possess active powers, they are not moral agents. In the accompanying footnote, however, she clarifies her point: Here she says that animals are “not typically moral agents.” She then asserts that, “…an animal that is also a person, such as Prince Maurice’s rational parrot…would presumably be a moral agent” (fn 27). It looks like the only thing that makes LoLordo assert that Prince Maurice’s parrot is a moral agent is that Prince Maurice’s parrot is a person. If we draw a general conclusion from this footnote, we end up with a picture of Lockean moral agency that is pretty far from the one I take LoLordo to paint throughout the rest of her book, but close to the one I have quickly sketched here.
Thus far I have raised some questions about the general theme of LoLordo’s book. I will now offer a more detailed analysis of LoLordo’s discussion of Locke on persons. The main point LoLordo makes in her chapter on personality is that Lockean persons are modes. In what follows, I will say something about the reasons LoLordo gives for this conclusion. Thereafter, I will argue that despite what LoLordo asserts, Locke has to think that persons are substances, given what he says about substance, power and agency. I will begin by saying a bit about Locke’s substance/mode distinction.
When Locke first introduces the terms “substance” and “mode” he claims, “…Modes I call such complex Ideas, which however compounded contain not in them the supposition of subsisting by themselves; but are considered as Dependences on, or Affections of Substances…” (Book II, Ch. XII, §4). On the other hand, “…[t]he Ideas of Substances are such combinations of simple Ideas, as are taken to represent distinct particular things, subsisting by themselves…” (Book II, Ch. XII, §6). Examples of the former include the ideas we call “murder,” “gratitude” and triangle.” Instances of the latter include the ideas we call “gold,” “man,” and “water.”
Locke goes on to claim that when we make ideas of modes, we put scattered and independent ideas together as we see fit. We do not assume there is an entity in the world which we aim to represent and we do not assume there is anything in the world holding the simple ideas we combine together. Our ideas of modes are thus not copies of beings or what Locke calls “patterns” in nature. Rather they are originals:
…Complex Ideas of Modes…are Originals…not Copies, nor made after the pattern of any real existence, to which the Mind intends them to be conformable, and exactly to answer. These being such collections of simple Ideas that the Mind it self puts together, and such Collections, that each of them contains in it precisely all that the Mind intends that it should…(Book II, Ch. XXXI, §14).
Because we put ideas of modes together as we see fit, we turn not to the world, but to other language users to find out if our idea of a mode is correct:
Nor does the Mind, in these of mixed Modes, as in the complex Ideas of Substances, examine them by the real Existence of Things; or verifie them by Patterns, containing such peculiar Compositions in Nature. To know whether his Idea of Adultery, or Incest, be right, will a Man seek it any where amongst Things existing?…No (Book III, Ch. V, §3).
Sometimes we make complex ideas to capture what is in nature, however. We thus notice which simple ideas go constantly together and combine them accordingly. This is what we do when we make ideas of substances. It is for this reason that we adjust our ideas of substances according to what we find in nature. When we make and verify the idea we call “gold,” or any other substance, we are thus up to something that is very different from what we do when we make and verify the idea we call “murder,” or any other mode.
LoLordo begins the chapter on personality by claiming that the category of persons is unlike that of gold or water. LoLordo draws a similar contrast between persons and human beings. She says, “[i]t is in some sense up to us what persons are….And it is in some sense up to us that we are persons….In contrast, it’s not up to us in any relevant sense what human beings are or that we are human beings” (65-66).
I take it that the distinction LoLordo draws between human beings and persons is supposed to map onto some aspects of the distinction Locke draws between our ideas of substances and our ideas of modes: As we have seen, Locke claims our ideas of modes are not copies, but originals. This means we create ideas of modes as we see fit. On the other hand, our ideas of substances are meant to represent beings in the world. Thus if it is up to us what persons are, persons are modes. Since it is not up to us what human beings are, human beings are substances.
Nevertheless, it is important to remember that Locke denies that there are natural kinds. The way we carve up the world is thus largely up to us generally. In addition I contend that whether we are persons is not always up to us. Someone who is in the grips of dementia can fail to be a person despite how much she might want to appropriate past acts, or see a plan to its end. Moreover, I would argue that when we make and name the idea we call “person” we aim to represent actual beings that subsist in the world—like ourselves. This points to the idea we call “person” being an idea of a substance, rather than a mode.
LoLordo claims that if we come to this conclusion we are making a mistake. Further, we are making a mistake that Locke warns against. She says, “…It might initially seem that we do refer our ideas of persons to existing things. In fact, we typically refer them to the living animal bodies that surround us. But one of Locke’s main goals in 2.27 is to show that this is a mistake” (79). I take it we think persons actually persist in the world. Additionally we aim to represent them with our ideas even after we distinguish between persons and human beings. Why else do we mourn the loss of a loved one who is in a persistent vegetative state and claim that “Terri is no longer there”? We see the human body. Yet we think something that was in the world before is now missing. That something is the person. Thus when it comes to the basic distinction Locke draws between our ideas of substances and our ideas of modes, the idea we call “person” seems to fit best as an idea of a substance.
LoLordo goes on to assert that the way we verify the idea we call “person” matches the direction of fit that Locke describes for modes, however. To demonstrate this, LoLordo claims:
Consider how I’d react if it turned out that none of the living animal bodies I interact with possess consciousness. Would I revise my idea of a person to better fit the things it is referred to, thus omitting consciousness from the idea of a person? It seems obvious that I wouldn’t. Rather, I would conclude that there were no persons (except me) and modify my behavior towards the living animal bodies around me accordingly (79).
LoLordo asserts that she would not adjust her idea of a person to better fit what she observed in the world, if it turned out that no human being around her possessed consciousness. That is, she would not excise consciousness from her idea of a person as a result. This is supposed to show that the idea we call “person” is an idea of a mode, not a substance.
The case LoLordo offers here is the wrong sort of case, however. The kind of case we need is not one in which we look into the world and find that there are no persons, but the kind in which we look into the world and learn something new about persons. (This is because if we turn to Book III, Ch. VI, §44–51, where Locke discusses the way Adam makes, names and fine tunes his ideas of modes and substances, it becomes clear that this is what Locke has in mind when he discusses what LoLordo calls “direction of fit.”) If, given that new information, we do not change our conception of persons, then it looks like we have some evidence that the idea we call “person” better aligns with how Locke thinks of modes than substances. LoLordo has not offered such a case, however, and I tend to think the study of consciousness and psychology suggests otherwise.
Although LoLordo claims the way we make and verify the idea we call “person” makes it seem as if persons are modes, I have shown that there is reason to think that the way we make and verify the idea we call “person” aligns better with Locke’s conception of “substance.” Before turning to the strongest reason LoLordo offers for persons being modes, I must say something about the difference between the way we evaluate our ideas of substances and our ideas of modes.
Locke calls only those ideas which represent their archetypes perfectly “adequate.” Importantly, not one of our ideas of substances is adequate. This is for a number of different reasons, but I will say something about just one: Locke claims that our ideas of substances will always fail to be adequate because we can never capture all of the qualities or powers any particular substance has (Book II, Ch. XXXI, §8).
Part of the reason for this failure is that we couldn’t possibly witness all of the changes any particular substance might undergo. The other problem is that while we assume there is a cause of all of the qualities and powers we observe in any particular subsistent thing, Locke thinks this cause or “real essence” is not something we have access to. The internal constitution or real essence of any particular substance lies beyond the scope of human understanding. This is why if we assume we are trying to represent a real essence when we make an idea of any particular substance, we create an idea that is especially inadequate. This is also why Locke thinks those who claim we sort the world into substance kinds based upon real essences are mistaken.
For Locke, the nominal essence of any sort or kind is a general idea that includes the collection of simple ideas or features we take any member of that kind to have. Locke thinks that whatever simple ideas we choose to include when we make the nominal essence of any substance kind is going to be partly determined by real essences. This is because the real essence of any particular substance is the cause of the qualities or powers we observe (and said qualities or powers are the cause of the simple ideas we have). Since we cannot know anything more about real essence than this, however, it cannot be the case that we use the real essences of substances to carve up the world. That is, it cannot be that we use any information about the real essences of substances to create the nominal essences of substance kinds. Locke thus distinguishes between the real and nominal essence of substances or substance kinds. While we know the latter, we cannot possibly know the former. While any member of a substance kind will share the latter, we cannot say the same about the former.
Since our ideas of modes do not intend to represent any archetypes, there is no sense in which they can fail to do so perfectly (Book II, CH. XXXI, §3). In addition there is no distinction between the real and nominal essence of any mode kind. And since we know the nominal essence of every mode kind, this means we know the real essence of every mode kind. This means that every mode idea will be an adequate idea.
Moreover, this means that while there are very few things we can know about substances, such as gold and water, we face little to no limitations when it comes to our ideas of modes. This is what leads Locke to claim that while the best we can achieve is probable opinion within natural philosophy—where our focus is on substances—we can attain demonstrative knowledge in mathematics and ethics—where our focus is on modes: “Upon this ground it is, that I am bold to think, that Morality is capable of Demonstration, as well as Mathematicks: Since the precise real Essence of the Things moral Words stand for, may be perfectly known; and so the Congruity, or Incongruity of the Things themselves, be certainly discovered, in which consists perfect Knowledge…” (In Book III, Ch. XI, §16).
Given what we have learned thus far, it should be clear that Locke thinks we can only get demonstrative knowledge when we have adequate ideas, and we can only have adequate ideas when we know real essences. Moreover we know the real essences of modes, though the real essence of any particular substance is not something we finite beings can penetrate. This makes it seem as if the terms of the demonstrative science of mathematics must stand for ideas of modes and the same goes for ethics, given that Locke says we can have demonstrative knowledge of not only the former, but also the latter.
LoLordo argues that this means persons have to be modes. If we return to the section of the text I just quoted above (Book III, Ch. XI, §16) it is easy to see how one could come to this conclusion. Here Locke claims:
…[W]hen we say that Man is subject to Law: We mean nothing by Man, but a corporeal rational Creature: What the real Essence or other Qualities of that Creature are in this Case, is no way considered. And therefore, whether a Child or Changeling be a Man in a physical Sense, may amongst the Naturalists be as disputable as it will, it concerns not at all the moral Man, as I may call him, which is this immoveable unchangeable Idea, a corporeal rational Being. For were there a Monkey, or any other Creature to be found, that had the use of Reason, to such a degree, as to be able to understand general Signs, and to deduce Consequences about general Ideas, he would no doubt be subject to Law, and, in that Sense, be a Man, how much soever he differ’d in Shape from others of that Name.
Since it is usually the case that our ideas of particular substances are affected by what the naturalists discover in the world, though our ideas of modes are not affected by such discoveries, LoLordo takes Locke to imply that the idea we call “moral man” is an idea of a mode when he claims that the “moral man” is an immoveable, unchangeable idea, that is unaffected by what the naturalists uncover or claim.
This passage can only support the thesis that persons are modes if we take “moral man” to mean “person,” however. It is not clear that these terms are co-referential. Moreover, even if we assume they are, I contend that if we read on, we will see that there is no evidence for the claim that Lockean persons are modes included therein:
…Nor let any one object, that the names of Substances are often to be made use of in Morality, as well as those of Modes, from which will arise Obscurity. For as to Substances, when concerned in moral Discourses, their divers Natures are not so much enquir’d into, as supposed; v.g. when we say that Man is subject to Law: We mean nothing by Man, but a corporeal rational Creature: What the real Essence or other Qualities of that Creature are in this Case, is no way considered. And therefore, whether a Child or Changeling be a Man in a physical Sense, may amongst the Naturalists be as disputable as it will, it concerns not at all the moral Man, as I may call him, which is this immoveable unchangeable Idea, a corporeal rational Being. For were there a Monkey, or any other Creature to be found, that had the use of Reason, to such a degree, as to be able to understand general Signs, and to deduce Consequences about general Ideas, he would no doubt be subject to Law, and, in that Sense, be a Man, how much soever he differ’d in Shape from others of that Name. The Names of Substances, if they be used in them, as they should, can no more disturb Moral, than they do Mathematical Discourses: Where, if the Mathematicians speak of a Cube or Globe of Gold, or any other Body, he has his clear settled Idea, which varies not, though it may, by mistake, be applied to a particular Body, to which it belongs not (Book III, Ch. XI, §16).
A careful reading of Book III, Ch. XI, §16 shows that what Locke is really claiming is that every term in a demonstrative science of ethics need not mark an idea of a mode, just as every term in a demonstrative science of mathematics need not mark an idea of a mode. Moral laws can contain names of substances, just like mathematical ones can, and even though this is the case, it does not mean that demonstration is rendered impossible. This is because when we use the name of any substance in what is supposed to be a demonstrative science, we do not focus on the fact that we do not know the real essence of the thing to which that named idea refers, or even a good number of its qualities. This is because the thing to which that named idea refers is not the focus of our science.
In other words, we are not concerned with ideas of particular substances or particular substances themselves, and what we do and do not know about them in any demonstrative science—whether it be ethics or mathematics. This is what Locke means when he says, “The Names of Substances, if they be used in them, as they should, can no more disturb Moral, than they do Mathematical Discourses: Where, if the Mathematicians speak of a Cube or Globe of Gold, or any other Body, he has his clear settled Idea, which varies not, though it may, by mistake, be applied to a particular Body, to which it belongs not” (Book III, Ch. XI, §16). While gold is the substance to which Locke turns to make this point when it comes to mathematics, the moral man is the substance to which Locke turns to make the analogous point about ethics.
Therefore, although this kind of claim at first looks as if it is evidential for moral men—and perhaps persons—being modes, when we read this claim in context, as we have just done, we see that this is not the case. What we get out of this passage then is direct evidence that Locke thinks the idea we call “moral man” marks an idea of a substance. We also get indirect evidence that Locke thinks the idea we call “person” marks an idea of a substance, if we take “moral man” and “person” to be co-referential.
LoLordo argues that there is a passage that provides direct evidence for persons being modes, however. This passage is Book IV, Ch. III, §18. In this section of the text LoLordo claims we get evidence that the term “person” is at the center of a demonstrative science of ethics. She contends that this means persons are modes, as a result. Here Locke claims:
The Idea of a supreme Being, infinite in Power, Goodness, and Wisdom, whose Workmanship we are, and on whom we depend; and the Idea of our selves, as understanding, rational Beings, being such as are clear in us, would, I suppose, if duly considered, and pursued, afford such Foundations of our Duty and Rules of Action, as might place Morality amongst the Sciences capable of Demonstration: wherein I doubt not, but from self-evident Propositions, by necessary Consequences, as incontestable as those in Mathematicks, the measures of right and wrong be made out, to any one that will apply himself with the same Indifferency and Attention to the one, as he does to the other of these Sciences. The Relation of other Modes may be certainly perceived, as well as those of Number and Extension: and I cannot see, why they should not also be capable of Demonstration, if due Methods were thought on to examine, or pursue their Agreement or Disagreement. Where there is no Property, there is no Injustice, is a Proposition as certain as any Demonstration in Euclid: For the Idea of Property, being a right to any thing; and the Idea to which the name Injustice is given, being the invasion or Violation of that right; it is evident, that these Ideas being thus established, and these Names annexed to them, I can as certainly know this Proposition to be true, as that a Triangle has three Angles equal to two right ones. Again, No Government allows absolute Liberty: The Idea of Government being the establishment of Society upon certain Rules or Laws, which require Conformity to them and the Idea of absolute Liberty being for any one to do whatever he pleases; I am as capable of being certain of the Truth of this Proposition, as of any in Mathematicks.
After quoting this passage LoLordo claims, “The idea of ourselves ‘as understanding, rational creatures’: this is the idea of a person…” (Locke’s Moral Man, 84). LoLordo is exactly right about that. Locke is talking about persons, and the idea that each person has of her self. It is also the case that Locke is once again talking about the possibility of a demonstrative science of ethics here. Locke clearly thinks we can be as certain of the relation between any two ideas of modes in ethics, as we can of the relation between any two ideas of modes in mathematics. But the thing LoLordo takes this passage to also express is that “person” is a moral term that is “central to the demonstrative science of morality.”
It is not clear what makes a term a moral term for Locke, or what would make some moral terms “central to the demonstrative science of morality” and others not. Locke never uses this kind of language. It is clear, however, that while some terms in any given moral law are the terms the law aims to clarify or say something substantive about, others are not. Moreover, I would think that for a term to be “central” to a science, it need not only be featured in a good number of the laws of that science; it should also be the case that said term is one of the key points of investigation or inquiry of that science. I would therefore think that if the term “person” is “central” to a demonstrative science of ethics, it would not only be the case that the term “person” is featured in a good number of moral laws; it would also be the case that part of what the demonstrative science of ethics attempts to do is get clear on what the term “person” means and where the boundaries of the species we call “person” lies.
Importantly, none of the moral rules that Locke discusses above even include the idea we call “person.” In addition, it is not in his discussion of ethics, morality or politics, but in his discussion of epistemology and metaphysics, that Locke gets clear on what persons are and where the boundary of the species we call “person” lies, and this is significant. It is thus hard to see how what Locke says here commits him to the claim that the term “person” is central to the demonstrative science of morality.
It also looks as if LoLordo is claiming that because Locke calls the idea we have of ourselves “clear,” then that means that the idea we call “person” is an idea of mode. Our ideas of particular substances can be clear insofar as the simple ideas that comprise them are clear, however. In addition Locke makes plain that some mode ideas fail to be clear. Moreover, if it is the case that the idea we call “person” is an idea of a mode, because it is clear, then it appears we have evidence in the passage above for the idea we call “God” being an idea of a mode as well. This would give us a less than sympathetic reading of Locke, for Locke claims God is a substance on more than one occasion.
What Locke is really saying in Book IV, Ch. III, §18 is that given that we know we (persons) are the kinds of things to which moral rules apply, and we know there is a God, who will dole out eternal punishment and reward on Judgment Day, we have good reason to develop a theory of morality. It also looks as if Locke thinks that we can come just as far with morality as we can with something like mathematics, and this is because the thing that makes mathematics capable of demonstration is a feature of moral rules as well: they are couched mostly in mode terms. What we get here, then, is one more push for the possibility of a demonstrative science of ethics, in addition to a story about why we ought to develop this science in the first place. What we do not get, however, is evidence for the claim that “person” is a term that is central to a demonstrative science of ethics. This means that we do not get evidence for persons being modes, either. Thus, while it is important to consider what Locke says about our conceptions of “substance” and “mode,” and Locke’s claims about the possibility of a demonstrative science of ethics, what we learn as result of this examination does not point us in the direction of a mode reading of Locke on persons.
In fact, if we examine what Locke says about substance, power and agency, we get compelling evidence that Locke thinks persons are substances. As we have seen, I think that Lockean persons are—amongst other things—moral agents. Although I am still a bit unclear about how different my picture of Lockean moral agency is from LoLordo’s, she seems to suggest this too. (See especially page 85, where LoLordo claims “Moral agents are persons, not immaterial souls or living human organisms.) This is important because in Book II, Ch. XXI, §16, Locke claims that only substances can be agents:
Tis plain then, That the Will is nothing but one Power or Ability, and Freedom another Power or Ability: So that to ask, whether the Will has Freedom, is to ask whether one Power has another Power, one Ability another Ability; a Question at first sight too grossly absurd to make a Dispute, or need an Answer. For who is it that sees not, that Powers belong only to Agents, and are Attributes only of Substances…So that this way of putting the Question, viz. whether the Will be free, is in effect to ask, whether the Will be a Substance, an Agent, or at least to suppose it, since Freedom can properly be attributed to nothing else (Book II, Ch. XXI,§16).
If persons are agents and only substances can be agents then persons have to be substances. This is the first argument for persons being substances.
A second argument for persons being substances can be extracted from what Locke says about substance and power in that same area of the text. As we know, Locke claims “Person stands for…a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider it self as it self, the same thinking thing in different times and places…” (Book II, Ch. XXVII, §9). If a thing has the ability to think, to reason and to reflect or self-reflect, that thing has powers. We know this because of Locke’s treatment of powers, in general. Locke also explicitly claims that thinking is a power (and reasoning, reflecting and the like are all just kinds of thinking) (Book II, Ch. XXI, §6). Moreover, in a nearby passage, Locke explicitly claims that persons have powers (Book II, Ch. XXI, §10). Finally, Locke claims that only substances have powers. He says, “For who is it that sees not, that Powers…are Attributes only of Substances…” (Book II, Ch. XXI, §16). We can thus say that persons have powers and only substances have powers. So persons have to be substances.
LoLordo claims that in this section of the text, Locke is just arguing that powers cannot be reified. This leaves open that persons can have powers, even though they are modes and not substances: Modes always depend on substances for their existence and inherit some of their properties from substances. These properties include powers. Thus, persons can have powers and still be modes.
In response I will start by saying that it is true that Locke claims modes depend on particular substances for their subsistence. We saw this in the initial definition of “mode,” as quoted earlier (Book II, Ch. XII, §4). Nevertheless, it is also true that it is not clear what Locke means by this. He does not spell it out. Here is what I think he means, however: We can have and name the ideas we call “gratitude” and “murder” without meaning to represent anything in the world. Nevertheless, if we are ever to see that which looks like it matches up with the ideas we call “gratitude” and “murder,”—in the world—it would be because a thinking substance expressed thankfulness, or one thinking substance killed an innocent one. In other words, there is no gratitude without a substance doing the thanking, and there is no murder, without a substance doing the murdering. Likewise, no matter how clear our idea of a triangle is, most of us take it that triangles do not actually exist, unless substances are configured in a triangular way.
Locke does not claim that modes inherit some of their properties from the substances on which they depend. Nor does he claim that this sharing can include powers. What he does claim is the following: Substances have powers. We get our ideas of active and passive powers from substances in the world (Book II, Ch. XXI, §2) and, thus, powers make up a great part of our ideas of substances (Book II, Ch XXI, §2).
Locke says no such thing about modes or ideas of modes. In addition, as we have seen, Locke claims powers belong only to substances ((Book II, Ch. XXI, §16). If modes had powers, then Locke could not claim that powers are attributes only of substances. We thus have no reason to think that modes inherit powers from the substances upon which they depend.
It is also worth noting that LoLordo thinks persons just are consciousnesses. Locke does not say anything about the ontological status of consciousness. We know Locke claims that thinking is a power, however. It thus seems safe to conclude that consciousness, or self-reflective thinking, is a power. Nevertheless, as LoLordo points out, Locke claims powers cannot be reified. In other words, no power can have a power: He says, “…Liberty, which is but a power…cannot be an attribute or modification of the Will, which is also but a power.” (Book II, Ch. XXI, §14). So, if persons just are consciousnesses, and consciousness is a power, then persons cannot have powers. We know that persons have powers, however. Persons have the power to plan, to will, to act, to forbear acting… etc. If they did not, we would not, or should not, hold persons morally responsible for their actions. So, we should conclude that persons are not mere consciousnesses—but things with consciousnesses—or substances.
Even with this in mind, LoLordo would likely claim that because Locke is not explicit about the ontological status of consciousness, it could well be that consciousness is a mode. She may even press on and say that persons are modes who get their powers through the substances upon which they depend. I think I have given ample evidence against this, but here is one further thing to consider: If persons are modes who get their powers through the substances upon which they depend, we would have to think that if a person has a power, so does that substance. Yet, we think persons have powers that men do not. The same goes for souls. Moreover, we think that the powers of persons and the substances to which they are intimately related can come apart. Locke does too. This is why we do not hold the human being responsible for something she did while in the midst of a fugue state, for example. This is also why it is the person, and not the soul (alone) that is judged on Judgment Day, according to Locke. Persons therefore cannot be modes who get their powers through the substances upon which they depend. Persons must be substances instead. 
Thus although LoLordo claims that a mode interpretation “eliminates the apparent tension between 2.21, where Locke argues that only substances have powers…and 2.27—where Locke makes clear that it’s persons, not substances, who are appropriately awarded and punished” (66) we can see that the apparent tension LoLordo refers to only arises if one asserts that persons are modes, rather than substances. In other words, the question ought not be: why does Locke claim persons, rather than substances, are held accountable for their actions?—as LoLordo asks, but: How can persons be modes, if persons are agents who have powers, when only substances can be agents and only substances can have powers? My answer is they can’t! Persons cannot be modes. They must be substances instead.
Before concluding I want to make clear that although LoLordo claims we can make better sense of Locke’s use of thought experiments in Book II, Ch. XXVII if persons are modes, and a mode interpretation avoids a violation of Locke’s place-time-kind principle, I have responses to both of these points. About the former, LoLordo claims, “Another reason to think that the idea of a person is a mode idea is that doing so helps us make sense of the methodology of 2.27. Compare it with the methodology of the rest of the Essay—the ‘historical plain method’ (Epistle) Locke claims to embrace—and the methodology of the Boylean science with which he was associated. In 2.27 Locke relies on fanciful examples…” (94). Locke’s discussion of personal identity is chock full of thought experiments. LoLordo is exactly right about that. We get the prince and the cobbler thought experiment, the waking and sleeping Socrates case, and the Nestor and Thersites passage to name just a few. This does mark a difference between the methodology Locke uses in his discussion of personal identity and the methodology Locke uses elsewhere. This does not mean that persons must be modes, or that persons cannot be substances, however.
I contend that since our finite understandings leave us in a state of ignorance about substances, Locke’s use of thought experiments suggests that persons are substances. Let me explain why: As we have seen, we do not know what any particular substance’s substratum is like. We also do not know whether the substratum that supports material qualities also supports immaterial qualities, and we do not know what any particular substance’s real essence is like. Perhaps it is because of this that Locke has to come up with so many scenarios to make clear that the identity of the body, man and soul does not determine the identity of any person. In other words, there are so many different scenarios that could cause the same man to act like a different person (change in consciousness alone, change in consciousness due to a change in soul, etc.). Further, we cannot know which one is in play in “real life” cases, given how little we know about substances. Locke thus has to stipulate—as one only can through a thought experiment.
Moreover, although LoLordo insists that the thought experiments Locke uses in his discussion of personal identity are supposed to lead to genuine knowledge, and this points to persons being modes, we should remember that in Locke’s treatment of persons, he repeatedly appeals to God: He tells us that despite our shortcomings, God will have it figured out in the end. So although our penal system may sometimes fail, or we can be fooled into thinking someone is different from he who committed a crime, God knows who did what. He will punish and reward accordingly. If Locke thought we could have demonstrative or genuine knowledge about the persistence of persons, he would not make said appeals to God. Thus it appears that Locke is striving for something closer to probable opinion, rather than genuine knowledge, when he uses the thought experiments he does in Book II, Ch. XVII. This points to persons being substances, rather than modes.
Let us now turn to the second point: LoLordo thinks a mode interpretation avoids the type of coincidence that Locke’s theory of identity rules out. Here LoLordo is referring to Locke’s place-time-kind principle, which claims no two things of the same kind can be in the same place at the same time. She also contends that if persons are substances, as I have argued, there is a problem. This is because souls are substances for Locke. Moreover, persons and souls are both thinking substances. Persons and souls are thus of the same kind, and it appears we get a violation of Locke’s place-time-kind principle as a result.
It is worth noting that it is difficult to discern what Locke means when he posits the place-time-kind principle. Those who hold mode interpretations take Locke to mean that no two substances of the same kind can be in the same place at the same time. But, when Locke gives us the place-time-kind principle he claims that no two things of the same kind can be in the same place at the same time. This could leave open as to whether the place-time-kind principle applies just to substances or to modes as well.
I will assume, for argument’s sake, that when Locke claims no two things of the same kind can be in the same place at the same time, he is talking about substances. Even if we do this, however, it remains difficult to determine what Locke means when he makes this claim. This is, at least in part, because Locke is agnostic when it comes to substance dualism. Clearly what Locke has in mind is not what a Cartesian would mean when making this assertion.
I contend that when Locke claims that no two things of the same kind can be in the same place at the same time, he uses “kind” as he does elsewhere—to stand for species. In other words, Locke means that no two horses can be in the same place at the same time. No two persons can be in the same place at the same time. And no two souls can be in the same place at the same time.
In all of the thought experiments Locke uses, we never find him claiming that the same person could be in two different places at the same time, or that there are two persons in the same place at the same time. But this leaves open that a person and a soul could be in the same place at the same time. Claiming that persons are substances need not leave Locke vulnerable when it comes to his place-time-kind principle as a result.
In this post I have highlighted some of the overarching concerns I have with LoLordo’s project. I have also raised some objections specific to LoLordo’s treatment of Locke on persons, which compliment the objections I raise elsewhere. I have even tried to show why Lockean persons have to be substances, despite the reasons LoLordo gives to the contrary. I hope that what I have said here provides LoLordo with some food for thought—or at least the opportunity for clarification. I look forward to her response.
Tomorrow: LoLordo’s Replies to Gordon-Roth
Chappell, Vere: “Locke on the ontology of matter, living things and persons. Philos. Stud. 60:19–32, 1990.
Law, Edmund: A Defence of Mr. Locke’s Opinion Concerning Personal Identity; in Answer to the First Part of a Late Essay on that Subject. Cambridge, T. & J. Merrill, 1769.
Locke, John: An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, ed. Peter Nidditch. Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1975.
Locke, John: The Works of John Locke in Ten Volumes. London, Thomas Tegg, 1823. Reprint. Darmstadt, Germany, Scientia Verlag Aalen, 1963.
LoLordo, Antonia. Locke’s Moral Man. Oxford University Press, 2012.
LoLordo, Antonia. “Person, Substance, Mode and the ‘Moral Man’ in Locke’s Philosophy, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 40., No. 4 (December 2010).
Mattern, Ruth: Moral science and the concept of persons in Locke. Philos. Rev. 89(1):24–45, 1980.
Winkler, Kenneth: Locke on personal identity. J. Hist. Philos. 29(2): 201–226, 1991.
Woolhouse, R.S.: Locke’s Philosophy of Science and Knowledge: A Consideration of Some Aspects of An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Oxford, Blackwell, 1971.
 This is the case despite the fact that LoLordo notes that Locke makes no stark distinction between human beings and other animals, and that Locke resists the urge to tie moral agency to humanity.
 In fact, while Locke claims that human beings are animals, and LoLordo notes this at various points in the text, it often sounds like she is making a distinction between human beings and animals. Here are some examples: “…[T]hese are abilities that humans typically have and animals typically lack…” (2); “But what does the active power of animals inhere in? The same two possibilities apply in the case of animals as in the case of human minds” (39); “The ability to suspend and deliberate, then, is of crucial importance for Locke. And it’s one of the most salient ways in which normal human adults differ from animals” (43). While Locke thinks that there are of course differences between human beings and oysters, this does not mean that Locke thinks oysters are animals and human beings are not. This is important to keep in mind. I want to suggest that perhaps many of the distinctions Locke goes on to make between human beings and brutes arise because the majority of human beings are also persons and most (if not all) persons that we encounter are human beings. This may leave us wondering why there is a rather consistent tie between human beings and persons. That is, we might wonder why human beings end up being persons (most of the time) and oysters do not. But this is likely one of the metaphysical facts that Locke thinks we cannot know.
 This of course does not mean that I think Locke thinks the class of animals we call “parrots” and the class of animals we call “monkeys” are persons. He does not. And this explains why we do not generally hold parrots and monkeys morally accountable for their actions. It is just that if we met a parrot or monkey that seemed to be a person, we ought not rule that possibility out. And if that parrot or monkey proved to be a person (because it could act freely, consider itself over time, and reflect on its actions, etc.) we should hold it morally accountable for its actions.
 Moreover, any hesitancy LoLordo might have about this conclusion likely regards whether the parrot actually counts as a person.
 Personality is the term LoLordo uses for “person.”
 All quotations from Locke’s Essay come from Locke, John. An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. Ed. Peter Nidditch. Oxford: 1975.
 Book II, Ch. XXXII, §17, Book III, Ch. IX, §7, Book III, Ch. VI, §9.
 See also Book III, Ch. IX, §7 and Book III, Ch. VI, §44-45.
 See Book III, Ch. V, §3 and especially Book III, Ch. VI, §46-47—where Locke discusses how Adam would alter the idea he calls “gold” after observing different changes in it through experimentation.
 …though admittedly, we have more freedom when it comes to ideas of modes than ideas of substances.
 Also, while it’s certainly true that we wouldn’t alter an idea of a mode just because we looked into the world and didn’t find anything that corresponds to it, we don’t always alter our ideas of substance in light of this information either. In other words, we don’t always alter or get rid of fantastical substance ideas when we realize there is no corresponding entity in the world. (Think of our ideas of unicorns and Santa Clause, for instance.) This is rare, as our intention when we make any idea of a substance is to map onto what’s in the world, but I think it’s at worth noting that the situation is not as clear cut as LoLordo makes it. It’s also worth pointing out that what seems to matter most regarding direction of fit is where we look, and I contend it’s quite clear that we look to the world, rather than other language users, when it comes to the idea we call “person”—given the study of consciousness, psychology and the like. This points to persons being substances, rather than modes.
 I say we have some indication because the direction of fit doesn’t give us certainty with regard to whether an idea is an idea of a substance or mode. In addition, it’s worth noting that if scientists found out some new feature of gold, it may be the case that my idea of “gold” (or the nominal essence I have created for the kind we call “gold”) could remain unchanged. Perhaps that new detail wouldn’t matter to me, given my purposes. This is something to keep in mind.
 See Book III, Ch. VI, §6, for instance.
 (or inadequate for a reason beyond those described above). See Book III, Ch. VI.
 See Book III, Ch. III and VI. (It is also worth noting that the species or kinds of substances were named before the philosophers came up with the notion of “real essence” and Locke makes this point in Book III, Ch. VI, §24.)
 Locke claims, “The ideas, therefore, of modes…cannot but be adequate” (Book II, Ch. XXI, §14). We should note, however, that Locke later asserts that our ideas of modes can fail to be adequate is if we take another man’s idea as the archetype for our own, and fail to copy or represent it perfectly. Our ideas of modes are adequate otherwise (Book II, Ch. XXXI, §3-4).
 See Book III, Ch. III, §17 and 18. Also see Book III, Ch. X, §19.
 Though this is not unique to modes. We always know the nominal essence of any kind, for it just is the general idea we have created.
 Book II, Ch. XXIII, §29, Book IV, Ch. III, §10-15.
 Book IV, Ch. III, §26, Book IV, Ch. XII, §9-10.
 In addition to Book III, Ch. XI, §16, see Book IV, Ch. III, §18-19, Book IV, Ch. IV, §6-8, Book IV, Ch. XII, §8 and Book IV, Ch. XII, §11.
 Margaret Atherton has expressed a worry about this (in conversation). This is both because of Locke’s claim that the moral man is “corporeal” and because she takes it that there is more to being a person than being a moral man.
 I think we get further evidence that this is what Locke means if we look to Book IV, Ch. VI, §4 and Book IV, Ch. XII, §9.
 Kenneth Winkler looks at this same passage—Book III, Ch. XI, §16—and claims that it shows that the moral man is a substance for Locke. LoLordo notes this.
Another way of putting this point is: LoLordo and others seem to think that ethics or morality is a science of persons, but I deny this.
 That being said, the idea of substratum always fails to be clear, under Locke’s view.
 Locke claims that the ideas we call “infinity” and “eternity” fail to be clear, and both of these are ideas of modes (Book II, Ch. XXIX, §15 and 16).
 For evidence that Locke claims God is a substance see Book II, Ch. XXI, §2, Book II, Ch. XXIII, §35 and Book II, Ch. XXVII, §2. In response to this LoLordo would claim that she agrees Locke thinks God is a substance, but this does not disturb the demonstrative science of ethics because we know the real essence of God. LoLordo uses Book IV, Ch. X, § 12 as evidence: “Locke tells us that God’s omniscience, power, and providence will be established, and all his other attributes follow’ from ‘the necessary existence of an eternal mind’” (See fn 33, p. 83). She says, “I do not claim to understand how one derives providence from necessary existence. Thus, although Locke does not put it in these words, we have at least partial knowledge of the real essence of God. This explains why the idea of God can enter into demonstrative science while our ideas of created substances cannot” (ibid). It is important to note that Locke does not “put it in these words.” He does not claim that we have even partial knowledge of the real essence of God, and all it seems he says in the section of the text LoLordo quotes is that all of God’s attributes flow from his real essence (just like with any other substance). Finally, given that Locke thinks we cannot know the real essence of finite substances, I find it difficult to believe we would have access to the real essence of God, and Locke says as much: “For it is Infinity, which joined to our Ideas of Existence, Power, Knowledge, etc. makes that complex Idea, whereby we represent to our selves the best we can, the supreme Being…[H]is own Essence (which certainly we do not know, not knowing the real Essence of a Peble, or a Fly, or our own selves,)…” (Book II, Ch. XXIII, §35). There is implicit reference to a similar point here: “I do not pretend to say how these Attributes are in GOD, who is infinitely beyond the reach of our narrow capacities” (Book II, Ch. XVII, §1).
 I take it what Locke says here commits him to the claim that in order for an entity to be an agent, it must be a substance, though this does not entail that all substances are agents.
 “So that Liberty is not an Idea belonging to Volition, or preferring; but to the Person having the Power of doing, or forbearing to do…” (Book II, Ch. XXI, §10).
 There are scattered claims throughout the chapter in which Locke refers to the power of substances and collectively this becomes compelling. See especially the end of Book II, Ch. XXI.
 Vere Chappell makes a similar argument in “The Ontology of Matter, Living Things and Persons” Philosophical Studies: An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition, Vol. 60, No. 1/2, Papers from the 1990 Pacific Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (Sep. – Oct., 1990), pp. 19-32. Chappell does not make the point that Locke explicitly claims persons have powers, or the point that powers cannot be reified, however (and these are two very important bits of evidence in favor of a substance reading/against any mode interpretation). It should also be noted that Chappell takes Locke to think that persons are compounded substances. I argue elsewhere that Locke is agnostic when it comes to this issue. This is all to say that what I am arguing here is compatible with the basic contours of Chappell’s view, though our positive readings end up looking quite different.
 For evidence for these two claims see also: Book II, Ch. XXI, §3, Book II, Ch. XXI, §16, Book II, Ch. XXI, §72, Book II, Ch. XXII, §11, Book II, Ch. XXIII, §7, Book II, Ch. XXIII, §8, Book II, Ch. XXIII, §10, Book II, Ch. XXIII, §37, Book III, Ch. IX, §1, Book III, Ch. IX §17, Book III, Ch. XI, §21, Book IV, Ch. III, §7, Book IV, Ch. III, §9, and Book IV, Ch. VII, §15.
 In response to the arguments I have given here, Ruth Mattern claims that I have conflated between Locke’s two distinctions between substance and mode. There is the first: substances are things and modes are dependences on such things. But there is also a second, which Woolhouse points out: All that has a real essence is a substance and all that lacks a real essence (in any real sense) is a mode. Under this kind of interpretation we know the real essences of modes because they do not have any. It seems to me that we must have evidence that we know the real essence of persons to conclude that persons lack real essences and to further conclude that persons are modes. As far as I am concerned, this brings us back to the arguments I offered here: there is no evidence that we know the real essence of persons and additional evidence to the contrary. So even if we pull in this further distinction of Woolhouse’s this does not change the direction of my argument or my considered conclusion.
I am a bit worried that LoLordo will draw an analogy between modes and relations in response to what I have said here however. She will likely point out that the ideas we call “father” and “king” are ideas of relations. Surely we would not want to deny that fathers and kings have powers and that these powers come from substances. Moreover, fathers and kings might have powers that said substances do not. It is important to remember that Locke marks a distinction between modes and relations, however. As I see it then, relations are not just a kind of mode. What is said about relations thus cannot automatically be assumed about modes. Moreover, Locke makes clear that the relation we call “father” is a relation between two substances: a man and his child. Likewise the relation we call “king” is a relation between a substance and the state. I would argue that that substance is not just a man but a person. Finally, while I think it is plain that persons have powers that men and souls do not, I am hesitant to claim that a father has a power that he as a man does not. I have to think about this more, however.
 The discussion of the persistence of other kinds of particular substances does not present this challenge because there are fewer unknown factors in play. This is why Locke relies on actual cases for those entities.
 Although LoLordo is right to point out that the grounds of probability are usually observation, experience and others’ testimonies, there is good reason for Locke to use thought experiments and not merely our own observations or the observations of others when discussing persons. This is because there are just so many things we can’t discern about persons, and as I suggest above, this points to persons being substances, rather than modes.
 LoLordo highlights this issue: 85-94.
 This is something I have been thinking about for a while, but which has become clearer to me through conversation with Kenneth Winkler.
 LoLordo also claims that if persons are modes then the apparent tension between Locke’s non-conventionalist persistence conditions of 2.27 and the conventionalist persistence conditions implied by Locke’s anti-essentialism is eliminated. I have already said something about how I think LoLordo’s own interpretation of Lockean moral agency ends up being rather essentialist sounding. I thus will not say much more about this here—except that if the persistence conditions Locke gives in 2.27 end up looking non-conventionalist, then this is the case not only for persons, but also for plants, animals, etc. Moreover, although LoLordo contends that if persons are modes, then this eliminates the problem because modes are always conventional, we should remember that plants, animals, etc. are substances. So even if LoLordo thinks she has come up with a fix for this particular problem, a more general tension between Locke’s non-conventionalist persistence conditions in 2.27 and the conventionalist persistence conditions implied by Locke’s anti-essentialism would remain in her reading.
 “Locke on the Ontology of Persons” and Locke on Substance, Mode and Personal Identity