"Mad-Folk Psychology: Locke on Personal Identity and the Conduct of the Understanding"

Wed, 05/04/2016 - 4:31pm -- ngroll
Kathryn Tabb
Columbia University

Abstract: John Locke is famous for establishing the philosophical thought experiment as an appropriate method for analyses of personal identity. In this paper I argue that rather than pumping the reader’s intuitions in support of a novel metaphysical account of persons, some of Locke’s examples serve to demonstrate the psychological processes that cause us to have the intuitions about persons that we do. One example that Locke employs is that of the madman who, intuition tells us, cannot be morally culpable for his actions. Why might this be? The madman, Locke explains elsewhere, though still fundamentally a rational being, is unable to perform certain kinds of intellectual labor upon his ideas — and, as such, is more patient than agent. As I read him, Locke believes that insofar as we are all a little mad, the struggle to maintain the continuity of consciousness constitutive of personal identity is universal, and has moral and theological implications. The thought experiments Locke presents serve to reveal how these psychological processes shape our assessments of agency, and how they can explain some common forensic intuitions.


Friday, February 24, 2017 -
4:00pm to 6:00pm
Bowl 2, Robertson Hall, WWS