In Book 2 of “An Essay Concerning Human Understanding” by John Locke, Locke talks about how “the variation of great parcels of matter alters not the identity”, and then he goes on to give the example of the oak tree, and how “an oak growing from a plant to a tree… is still the same oak”, and that a “colt grown up to a horse, sometimes fat, sometimes lean, is all the while the same horse”. (Ch. 27, 3) This I completely agree with and understand. However, it appears to me that Locke is being a bit narrow in his argument. Locke is only focusing on the physical aspect identity instead of looking at the spiritual or emotional aspects identity, which I believe, when concerning humans, are the things that play the biggest part in altering one’s identity.
If I applied Locke’s argument about how physical variation does not alter identity to humans, he would be completely correct. Humans go from being an infant to an adult to a person of old age. Throughout this entire physical process, it is true that this person is the same. Their identity is not altered. If they were to take fingerprints when they were eight years old and then when they were eighty-eight years old, the prints would match because they are still the same person. However, from the age of eight to eighty-eight, the person has gone through a lot of spiritual and emotional changes. What they used to do and how they acted and what they believed in as a child changed when they became an adult, and may have even changed some more when they became elderly. And this change is what truly alters a person and causes them to not have the same identity as they did when they were of younger age.
This is the only problem that I have with Locke’s argument. I wish that when he talked about physical traits not altering identity that he would have compared it to spiritual and emotional aspects and how they do alter a person’s identity
3 responses to “Why Only Physical?”