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 Shelley Weinberg
The contents of this post are entirely the work of Antonia LoLordo.
Response to Weinberg, Part 1: On Chapter 2
Shelley raises a number of concerns about my claim that Lockean consciousnesses extend themselves into the past and future by appropriation. She starts out by reiterating a common objection to appropriation interpretations:
[T]he subjective appropriation of actions is not metaphysically robust enough for Locke’s theory of divine rectification, which is that God will make right through eternal reward and punishment all the failures of human justice … if I subjectively constitute myself from a first personal point of view, then there is nothing objective for God to look to when considering whether I am the same self now as the one who committed a past crime. The reason is that I subjectively determine who I am through my appropriations, and I may be unable to appropriate (remember) all that I have done or I may appropriate an action I never did.
Shelley says I deny that this objection is pertinent, “seeing the problem as an inconsistency between the appropriation interpretation and divine rectification”. I don’t think the appropriation interpretation is inconsistent with divine rectification. (I think any interpretation that’s inconsistent with divine rectification is ipso facto a failure!) But Shelley and I do not understand divine rectification in precisely the same way. Shelley says that “the underlying point of divine rectification is that God can make right (rectify) human failures of justice, including those due to wrong appropriations”. I don’t think God needs to rectify the human failures of justice due to mis-appropriations because I don’t think there are any mis-appropriations.
Shelley thinks the fatal error passage shows that Locke accepts the possibility of mis-appropriation:
… why one intellectual Substance may not have represented to it, as done by it self, what it never did, and was perhaps done by some other Agent, why I say such a representation may not possibly be without reality of Matter of Fact … will be difficult to conclude from the Nature of things. And that it never is so, will by us, till we have clearer views of the Nature of thinking Substances, be best resolv’d into the Goodness of God, who as far as the Happiness or Misery of any of his sensible Creatures is concerned in it, will not by a fatal Error of theirs transfer from one to another, that consciousness, which draws Reward or Punishment with it.
Here’s why. Locke must think that ‘representing an action to yourself, as done by yourself’ is appropriating it. (Otherwise it wouldn’t have anything to do with reward and punishment.) If that’s all appropriation is, then it’s natural to think that mis-appropriation is possible. And if transfer of consciousness is appropriation, an error regarding it must be a mis-appropriation.
I admit to having some trouble with this passage. On my interpretation, it’s awfully misleading for Locke to describe appropriation as representing something to yourself as done by yourself: I can represent something to myself as done by myself which never happened, but it’s impossible to appropriate something that never happened.
In the book, I said that in 2.27.13 Locke recognizes that on his theory, one thinking substance can be made miserable as a result of what another thinking substance did. I’m not sure that really works: Locke says that God’s goodness will prevent this, and it’s not obvious why it matters which thinking substances are happy and which miserable. But lots of interpretations have trouble with the fatal error passage, and I think mine still comes out ahead on balance.
Shelley asks how my understanding of appropriation makes the facts about personal identity knowable from God’s perspective:
[I]f there is something God can know from a third personal perspective, then isn’t that what makes me identical to a past self and not my first personal appropriation?
I’m not sure I see the problem. God knows everything there is to know. So, God knows which actions and experiences I appropriate. I persist through time in virtue of appropriating certain actions and experiences. So God knows how I persist through time.
Here’s what I think is the root of our disagreement. Shelley argues that Locke thinks there is a metaphysical (i.e., she says, objective) fact of consciousness. I agree that on Locke’s view there are objective truths of the form ‘consciousness C persists through a certain period of time’. (This seems indisputable.) But I think it’s perfectly consistent with the appropriation interpretation. There are objective truths about what we appropriate. God can know what I appropriate in just the same way he can know what I plan to have for lunch.
In the book, I considered two cases often thought to pose problems for appropriation interpretations. Shelley objects to how I treat both. First, a crime that no later person appropriates:
LoLordo treats [this case] as easy. “Some person performed the crime…and on Judgment Day, that person can be resurrected and punished” (p. 73). How, I ask? Given that on Judgment Day, I identify myself according to my first personal appropriations, how does God know that I am the same person who committed the crime? What objective fact does God appeal to? If I’ve understood Lolordo correctly, her answer comes in her treatment of the second case in which someone appropriates a crime she did not commit.
My treatment of the second case involves the claim (borrowed from Garrett) that for Locke, to remember an experience is to have the ideas involved in it again. This implies that memories must be causally connected with the original events. But I’m not relying on that to deal with the first case, which still seems easy to me. Here’s another way to put my answer.
Only persons commit crimes, so some person committed this crime. If there’s no later time at which someone appropriates the crime, this means that the person who committed the crime has died (ceased to exist, if you prefer) immediately after commiting it. But God can resurrect that person and punish her for the crime, just as he resurrects other persons.
The second case is someone who appropriates a crime that was never actually committed. I think this is impossible. You can only appropriate those past experiences that are available to you. Which past experiences are available to you depends on what you remember. You cannot remember something that never actually happened. So you cannot appropriate past actions that never actually occurred. (Similarly, you cannot acquire ownership of a non-existent piece of land by working it, even if you believe you have cultivated those imaginary fields.)
Shelley worries that this makes my interpretation collapses into the memory interpretation:
LoLordo seems to be saying that only I can have my memories, since those ideas of sensation occurring at the time of the commission of the crime are the same as those ideas I revive on Judgment Day … if I don’t consciously experience an idea as mine (appropriate it through consciousness – my experience of felt ownership), then there isn’t the right kind of relation between me and the memory to hold me responsible for it. Thus, if I’ve got it right, the causal relationship between the idea as held in memory and the idea as revived ensures that I will remember only those things that I actually did. But what makes the memory mine is that when I remember it, I have the experience of felt ownership: I appropriate it.
The causal requirement would cause problems if it were meant to ensure that I can only remember things I actually did. But that’s not what it’s supposed to do. It’s supposed to ensure that I can only remember things that someone actually did. What ensures that I’m the person who did them is that I appropriate them.
Here’s a way to clarify the difference between the memory interpretation and the appropriation interpretation. I think that, in fact, we appropriate almost everything we remember. I’m pretty sure I do. But in his Locke on Personal Identity, which has been on my mind lately, Galen Strawson says that he remembers actions and experiences he doesn’t appropriate. (He doesn’t use the term.) So perhaps I’m the psychologically peculiar one. Or, if Strawson is self-deceived, still it’s possible to remember something without appropriating it. So the memory interpretation makes memory necessary and sufficient for persistence, while my interpretation makes memory necessary but not sufficient. It’s just a background condition.
LoLordo refers to … causal relations between an idea of an action sensed at some time in the past and then stored in the brain and that same idea revived in the present. It is the relation between a stored genuine memory and its revival in the mind at some later time. So, what God knows from a third personal point of view are these causal traces. That is, there is an objective fact of what I did that God can restore to me at the time of Judgment, namely those ideas corresponding to those causal traces. But then it seems that something other than my “felt-ownership” is the criterion for determining my identity. It seems that what’s doing the work insofar as we can identify a continuing self are the facts about memory, and so I’m not sure I understand exactly why the appropriation theory does not reduce to a memory theory.
On my view, God does know these causal traces, but that’s not what gives him knowledge of continuing persons. What gives God knowledge of continuing persons is his knowledge of what persons appropriate.
But maybe I’m missing something. Maybe Shelley is worried about why some actions and experiences rather than others are available to me when I’m resurrected. On what basis, she might ask, does God decide which actions and experiences to make available to me?
Fully explaining why certain experiences are available after resurrection would require understanding how the Resurrection works a lot better than I do. But I imagine that what God does when he resurrects me is brings me back into existence exactly as I was at the moment of my death. Thus, he makes available to me whatever actions and experiences were available to me at the moment of my death. I’m curious what Shelley (and others) think of this.
Response to Weinberg, Part 2: On Chapter 3
I started thinking about the relationship between consciousness and reflection because I wondered why it was abstraction alone that makes a perfect distinction between man and beast. Why doesn’t reflection, for instance, distinguish us from other animals? After all, Locke appeals to reflection in his definition of a person. In the end, I concluded that in one sense, all animals have ideas of reflection, and in another sense, only we do. For all animals are conscious, but only we form lasting ideas of reflection.
As Shelley points out, a well-known passage makes it sound as though young children and animals have ideas of reflection:
In this Part [the reception of simple ideas of sensation and reflection], the Understanding is merely passive; and whether or no, it will have these Beginnings, and as it were materials of Knowledge, is not in its own Power. For the Objects of the Senses, do, many of them, obtrude their particular Ideas upon our minds, whether we will or no: And the Operations of our minds, will not let us be without, at least some obscure Notions of them. No man can be wholly ignorant of what he does, when he thinks. These simple Ideas, when offered to the mind, the Understanding can no more refuse to have, nor alter, when they are imprinted, nor blot them out, and make new ones in it self, than a mirror can refuse, alter, or obliterate the Images or Ideas, which, the Objects set before it, do therein produce (2.1.25).
A second well-known passage is often thought to be in tension with this one:
And hence we see the Reason, why ‘tis pretty late, before most Children get Ideas of the Operations of their own Minds; and some have not very clear, or perfect Ideas of the greatest part of them all their Lives. Because, though they pass there continually; yet like floating Visions, they make not deep impressions enough, to leave in the Mind clear and distinct lasting Ideas, till the Understanding turns inward upon it self, reflects on its own Operations, and makes them the Object of its own Contemplation (2.1.8).
On one hand, this passage says that children get ideas of reflection pretty late. (Hence the tension with 2.1.25.) On the other hand, the ‘they’ at the beginning of the second sentence must refer back to “Ideas of the Operations of their own Minds”, so this passage also says that ideas of reflection pass through children’s minds continually, like floating visions. So this passage alone suggests that we should distinguish two different senses in which you can have an idea of reflection.
On my view, ‘consciousness’ and ‘reflection’ refer to the same thing, but the two terms aren’t synonymous: Locke tends to use the term ‘reflection’ only when he’s talking about lasting ideas. I say that consciousness/reflection only produces lasting ideas if it’s attended to and hence retained. So attention plays the role of distinguishing momentary ideas from lasting ones.
Shelley points out that attention plays another theoretical role for Locke as well:
A sufficient impulse there may be on the Organ; but it not reaching the observation of the Mind, there follows no perception: And though the motion, that uses to produce the Idea of Sound, be made in the Ear, yet no sound is heard. Want of Sensation in this case, is not through any defect in the Organ, or that the Man’s Ears are less affected, than at other times, when he does hear: but that which uses to produce the Idea, though conveyed in by the usual Organ, not being taken notice of in the Understanding, and so imprinting no Idea on the Mind, there follows no Sensation (2.9.4).
I hadn’t noticed this role, but I think Shelley is right. (I am not sure how this fits in with Locke’s claim that we are entirely passive in acquiring simple ideas.) She continues,
[I]f attention is … required to have non-lasting ideas of sensation, namely for there to be an awareness of our sensations at all, then it seems that attention can’t be the difference between having ideas and having lasting ideas. And if attention is not the difference between having non-lasting and lasting ideas, then it seems that the distinction between what makes an operation the source of an idea breaks down. If I’ve got it right, then LoLordo’s interpretation has not avoided the problem of accounting for the content of consciousness that other interpretations have turned to technical distinctions to overcome.
Here’s my reply. Shelley says that if attention is required for having an idea in the first place, then it cannot also be required for making an idea last. I’m not sure about this: presumably attention, like lastingness, comes in degrees. Moreover, I worry that Locke calls on attention to do too much. But I think this is a problem for Locke, not for my interpretation of him. Like lots of 17th and 18th century philosophers, he relies on attention without having any real account of it.
Thanks again, Shelley! And thank you too, Sam, and you too, Jessica. This has been both helpful and fun for me. I hope it’s been the same for you, even if I haven’t managed to persuade you of anything.
This concludes our Author Meets Critics on “Locke’s Moral Man”. I’d like to extend my thanks to all the participants, as well as to everyone who has been reading along. Proposals for future AMC post series should be communicated to Lewis Powell (email@example.com).