Defining the Identity

In this section of John Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding, the reader gets a glimpse into the tangled terminology of “identity.”  He introduces the idea of separating one from the other to create said identity when he says “one thing cannot have two beginnings of existence, nor two things one beginning” (II. 27. 1).  Here, Locke uses the approach of dissecting the concept of existence and being, therefore designating any one thing to solely one origin and by later providing examples using the atom and the oak from a tree.

I particularly like Locke’s example of the plant growing within its environment.  In the fourth paragraph he writes, “it continues to be the same plant as long as it partakes of the same life, though that life be communicated to new particles of matter vitally united to the living plant” (II. 27. 4).  I personally saw this as a loose example that could be related to the human identity in the sense that by biological terms, humans are all the same species, living on the same planet Earth, but that each one is significantly unique to the other, representing the “new particles of matter.”  Each human being constitutes a very different identity and I saw the method of describing the plant’s growth as an interesting way to encapsulate the meaning of identity in the text.

Regardless of Locke’s methods to determine the meaning of identity, I feel like such a task is very difficult to achieve and by no means concrete.  Identity is such a complex word and it can have a slightly different meaning from one person to the next, not to mention the fact that the identity itself can be equally defined by everything it is as by all the things that it is not.  The role of the identity of course revolves around the person or object involved but can get altered perceptibly when viewed by other identities as well.

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