This post is part of the Mod Squad’s Author Meets Critics on Antonia LoLordo’s “Locke’s Moral Man”.
This post makes reference to the preceding post by Jessica Gordon-Roth
The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.
I argue that to be a Lockean moral agent is to be free, rational, and a person. Jessica argues that really all that’s needed is to be a person: “once one is a person, the liberty and rationality required for moral agency come as part of the package”. I agree. I said that “although I treat liberty, personality, and rationality as distinct conditions … they’ll turn out to be closely intertwined” (2). I said that being free implies being rational and being a person (46, 63). I said that anyone who meets the rationality condition will be free and a person (104). I said that if you are a person you must reach the relevant threshold of rationality (84). Looking back at the book, I didn’t say that anyone who’s a person will be free, but I should have. As Jessica points out, Locke’s claim that punishment is annexed to personality implies that all persons are moral agents, hence that all persons are free as well as rational. (This is why the idea of a person is the idea of the ‘moral Man’.) So, as Sam said, “the three conditions on Lockean moral agency … are really, at bottom, just one”.
Jessica talks about non-human animals being persons or moral agents. I think it’s an obvious consequence of Locke’s view that non-human animals could be persons, and perhaps that some actually are. (It’s also an obvious consequence of Locke’s view that some human beings – people in irreversible comas, the severely cognitively disabled, infants and very young children – aren’t persons.) However, I don’t know any evidence that Locke actually thought that non-human animals could be moral agents. Jessica might reply as follows. It’s pretty obvious that something could be a Lockean moral agent without being a person, and Locke was a smart guy, so he must have recognized this. If he didn’t say it, it must be because he thought it wouldn’t go over well with his audience. I’m a bit reluctant to take this line, though. Cultural blind spots and the force of habit can prevent even the smartest people from making obvious inferences. Locke owned shares in a corporation that traded in slaves.
Jessica argues that Lockean persons are substances, not modes. In doing so, she points out a problem with the way I’ve characterized the distinction between ideas of substances and ideas of modes. I’ve made it sound as though ideas of substances are ideas of natural kinds – but Locke denies that there are any natural kinds. This is something I’ve worried about a lot over the last few years. I think there is good textual evidence that Locke’s contrast between substance ideas and mode ideas does involve thinking of substances as natural kinds. (He’s not contrasting ideas of particular substances with ideas of particular modes.) This is just one of several problems I see in Locke’s division of things into substances, qualities, modes, and relations. The more I think about the contrast between substances and modes, the less I believe that it can really do the work Locke needs it to do.
Now, I don’t think the problems I have making sense of the substance-mode ontology depend on the way I read Locke on personal identity. I think they’re problems for everyone. But I guess I should admit that they’re a bigger problem for me than for someone who doesn’t take Locke’s remarks about demonstrative knowledge of morality all that seriously.
Jessica has a number of arguments for her claim that persons are substances and against my claim that persons are modes. I’m not going to be able to talk about all of them. The main thing I want to talk about is her claim that given what Locke says about substances, power, and agency, he must think persons are substances. But first I want to say something about our disagreement on how to read 3.11.16 and 4.3.18.
Jessica agrees with me that demonstrative knowledge requires adequate ideas, hence knowledge of real essences, and that we know the real essences of modes but not of substances. I think this implies that persons must be modes. And I think 3.11.16 supports this:
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 (3.11.16).
Jessica points out that this is only evidence that persons are modes if the terms ‘person’ and ‘moral man’ are co-extensive. I agree. Now, both of us think the terms ‘person’ and ‘moral agent’ are co-extensive. And since a monkey can be a moral man, ‘moral man’ clearly doesn’t mean ‘moral agent and human being’. So I think it must just mean ‘moral agent’. But the reference to corporeality does bother me, since it seems like there could be incorporeal moral agents.
Jessica argues that 3.11.16 is actually evidence that persons are substances:
[W]hen 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 … 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.
Here’s how I read the passage. Locke is explaining that the names of substances can be used in moral discourse without causing problems as long as the reference to the substance is merely incidental. It doesn’t cause problems for mathematicians to talk about gold cubes, because their science is not about the properties of gold (a substance) but the properties of cubes (modes). Similarly, it doesn’t cause problems for ethicists to talk about moral men, because their science is not about the properties of men or living human organisms (substances), but the properties of moral agents (modes).
On first looking at Jessica’s comments, I thought her reading of 3.11.16 was obviously wrong because it implies something she can’t possibly accept, namely that ethics is not concerned with ideas of moral agents or with particular moral agents themselves. But then I read on.
I said that the term ‘person’ is “central to the demonstrative science of morality” (84). (I wish I’d said that the idea of a person is central to the demonstrative science of morality.) I didn’t have anything terribly precise in mind, just that it would be really hard, even impossible, to do moral science without using the idea of a person. None of the examples of moral truths in 4.3.18 use the ‘term’ person, but the relevant beliefs all involve the idea of a person. Understanding what injustice is requires the idea of a person because rights can only be possessed or violated by persons. Understanding what government is requires the idea of a person because a society must be composed of persons. And so on.
In response, Jessica says – in note 25 – that she doesn’t think that ethics is the science of persons. I do think that ethics is about people, in more or less the same way that geometry is about figures and geology about rocks. And I think this disagreement is the fundamental one: if we sorted it out, we would also sort out our disagreement about how to read 3.11.16 and 4.3.18. So, Jessica, why isn’t ethics the science of persons, and what is it the science of?
Now for substance, power, and agency. I agree with Jessica that Lockean persons are moral agents. I admit that Locke says 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 (2.21.16).
But I don’t think this is conclusive. The point of this passage is just that we shouldn’t reify the will. Jessica – like Vere Chappell – is overreading it.
This is basically what I said in the book. I went on to say two things that Ken Winkler pointed out (at the Pacific APA AMC session) are just false:
When we attribute a power to a person—just as when we attribute any power or property to a mode—we thereby attribute it to the substance it modifies … If a thinking substance exercises one of the powers relevant to moral agency, namely will, liberty, or suspension, then a person exercises the power as well (100-01).
Ken suggested that I should have said that modes have properties in virtue of substances having properties, but that the properties need not be the same. I agree. As Jessica says, we attribute powers to persons that we do not attribute to men or souls. But thinking about some examples of modes with powers different from the powers of the relevant substances helps me shore up my reading of 2.21.16. Fathers, constables, and dictators aren’t substances, according to Locke, but surely we can attribute powers to constables. Nations aren’t substances, according to anybody, but surely we can attribute powers to nations. So we can attribute powers to things that aren’t substances. So 2.21.16 is no reason to think that we can’t attribute powers to modes.
Finally, I want to say something about how Jessica explains Locke’s methodology in 2.27 and how she explains the way persons avoid violating the place-time-kind principle on her view. I have two reasons for doing this. One is that her proposed solutions are interesting. The other is that I think you cannot fully assess the mode interpretation without also assessing its competitors. The mode interpretation has problems because Locke’s notion of a mode has problems. But it still works better than the competition
First, thought experiments. I’m glad someone agrees there’s a big difference between Locke’s methodology in 2.27 and elsewhere. Jessica suggests that Locke uses those thought experiments because we “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”. I need Jessica to spell out how this works a bit more. She also argues:
[I]n 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.
I don’t think this works. On my view, we have demonstrative knowledge of the conditions under which persons persist. But we don’t have knowledge of whether any beings other than ourselves meet those conditions. That’s where God, who knows everything, comes in.
Second, the place-time-kind principle. Jessica points out that it’s not obvious what the kinds are. It seems to me that two modes could be in the same place at the same time – Hafez Assad was both a dictator and a father – but all I need is that a mode can be in the same place as the substance it modifies, hence, that modes and substances are of different kinds. Jessica argues that Locke means ‘species’: no two horses, or persons, or souls can be in the same place at the same time. This strikes me as implausibly narrow. Why would Locke want to rule out two horses being in the same place at the same time and not a horse and a cow being in the same place at the same time? But I don’t think the mode interpretation is the only way to avoid problems with the place-time-kind principle. Sortal relativity and 4D interpretations do so as well. Thus – if that’s the kind of interpretation Jessica is offering – she can deal with this problem as well as I do.
Tomorrow: Shelley Weinberg’s Criticism of LoLordo