Reconsidering the Sources of the Self in the Ancient, Medieval, and Early Modern Periods

The Faculties of Man in Locke and His Predecessors
Patrick Connolly – Lehigh University

Explorations of Lockean selfhood tend to focus, almost exclusively, on the influential account of personal identity developed in Book II, Chapter 27 of the Essay. This paper articulates an alternative vision of the self that can be found in Locke’s work: the self as the human understanding. On this view, the Essay’s taxonomy and description of our various mental faculties and their contribution to our cognition should be understood as an outline of the architecture of the human self. Like previous accounts, this focus on the understanding encapsulates the inwardness and moral import of selfhood. For Locke, a first-personal investigation of the understanding’s faculties and operations was an essential propaedeutic to our efforts at self-cultivation, moral responsibility, and good citizenship. But seeing the Lockean understanding as constitutive of the self offers two advantages over approaches based on the discussion of personal identity. First, it offers us a much richer account of the self. Second, it allows us to see connections between Locke and many of his contemporaries and predecessors. While Locke’s account of personal identity was innovative and original; his analysis of the human understanding can be situated within a pre-existing genre.



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