The Grounds of Moral Agency: Locke's Account of Personal Identity

in Journal of Moral Philosophy
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Abstract

For Locke, the personal identity problem was a moral problem from the beginning, an attempt to pin down the conditions for responsibility and accountability. This article discusses the implications of Locke's consciousness theory of personal identity for thought about the continuity of moral agency, arguing that Locke's treatment of personal identity is best understood in connection with his expanded discussion of liberty in the Essay and with his interest in the proper grounds for assessing responsibility for action. By grounding personal identity in an agent's ability to recognize her actions as her own, Locke presents a picture of moral life compatible with skepticism about substance while not skeptical about morality. I argue that this description highlights some important features of self-awareness and personhood without resorting to any metaphysical suppositions such as soul, essence or spirit.

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