Locke, Butler and the Stream of Consciousness: and Men as a Natural Kind

David Wigginsa1

a1 Bedford College, London

Locke defined a person as ‘a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing, in different times and places” (Essay, II, xxvii, 2). To many who have been excited by the same thought as Locke, continuity of consciousness has seemed to be an integral part of what we mean by a person. The intuitive appeal of the idea that to secure the continuing identity of a person one experience must flow into the next experience in some ‘stream of consciousoness” is evidenced by the number of attempts in the so-called constructionalist tradition to explain continuity of consciousness in terms of memory, and then build or reconstruct the idea of a person with these materials. The philosophical difficulty of the idea is plain from the failure of these attempts. Hindsight suggests this was as inevitable as the failure of the attempt (if anyone ever made it) to make bricks from straw alone—and as a failure just as uninteresting. Which is not to deny that the memory theorist might get from it a sense that some of the difficulties in his programme have arisen from his leaving flesh and bones, the stuff of persons, out of his construction.