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Hume Studies Volume 29, Number 2, November 2003, pp. 363-373 "So Great a Question": A Critical Study of Raymond Martin and John Barresi, Naturalization of the Soul: Self and Personal Identity in the Eighteenth Century JANE L. McINTYRE Introduction In the chapter on personal identity in Book I of A Treatise of Human Nature, Hume wrote, "We now proceed to explain the nature of personal identity, which has become so great a question in philosophy, especially of late years in England, where all the abstruser sciences are study'd with a peculiar ardour and application."1 Most contemporary philosophers have little idea of the extent of the debate to which Hume obliquely refers. Who were the philosophers who applied themselves with ardor to the question of personal identity, and what, if anything, can we learn from their arguments? In Naturalization of the Soul Raymond Martin and John Barresi chart the changing views on the nature of the self and personal identity in eighteenth century England. "Newton had shown," they argue "that there could be a natural philosophy of the external world. Progressive eighteenth century thinkers were intent on showing that there could also be a natural philosophy of the internal Jane L. McIntyre is Professor of Philosophy, Cleveland State University, RT 1933, 1860 East 22nd Street, Cleveland, OH 44114, USA. e-mail: j.mcintyre@csuohio.edu 364 Jane L. McIntyre world."2 Their chronicle not only fills a gap in our knowledge of the early modern period, but also shows that many elements of philosophical debates about personal identity in the latter part of the twentieth century recapitulate (often unknowingly) well-worn debates of an earlier period. In the history of philosophy, as in history more generally, opportunities to learn from the past are often missed. Martin and Barresi's Argument It is, of course, impossible to describe here more than the broad strokes of Martin and Barresi's argument. Until the late seventeenth century the self was primarily understood as a soul—an indivisible, immaterial substance that served as the substratum of thought and survived the death of the body. Philosophers assumed that the identity of the self throughout a person's life and in the afterlife was based on the identity of this immaterial substance. Locke opened the modern debate over the nature of the self and personal identity by arguing explicitly that the concept of a person is quite different from the concept of a soul. According to Locke, consciousness was essential to the concept of a person, and therefore the identity of a person had to be tied to the continuity of consciousness—a view that Martin and Barresi accurately describe as relational. On Locke's view, the identity of an immaterial substratum is neither necessary nor sufficient for the identity of a person. For the same reasons, Locke also concluded that personal identity does not depend on the identity of a human body. Persons, according to Locke, are not substances.3 Most notoriously, Locke also suggested that God might have given to matter the power to think. Although this was not explicitly a part of his account of personal identity, it was not unrelated to his relational view. For, if divisible material substances might be the substratum of thought, thinking selves have no essential underlying unity. Locke's account of personal identity prompted a storm of responses, including the immensely influential debates, read throughout the eighteenth century, between the rationalist Newtonian Samuel Clarke, a defender of the simplicity and immateriality of the soul, and the materialist and free thinker Anthony Collins. Clarke argued that consciousness could not reside in any divisible substance, and therefore the conscious self was necessarily simple and immaterial. Further, Clarke was the first to argue that a relational account of personal identity could not explain why a person is concerned with her past or her future. Similarly, according to Clarke, moral responsibility requires the existence of a simple, indivisible, and therefore immaterial, self. Collins, on the other hand, argued against Clarke that conscious experience Hume Studies So Great a Question 365 did not require the support of a simple self. The self, according to Collins, was constituted by a succession...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 363-373
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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