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Essay on Personal Identity: Views of John Locke and David Hume

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There are very distinct opinions between philosophers John Locke, an English philosopher, and David Hume, a Scottish empiricist and skeptic philosopher when it comes down to the topic of personal identity. Both, Locke and Hume, give many reasons for their beliefs, which help support their positions. While both provide their reasonings for their beliefs, one does seem to be a bit more convincing in their argument than the other. It is important to understand both philosophers’ points of view regarding the personal identity to be able to determine who has the most convincing argument.

To begin with, Locke starts off by saying that personal identity consists in having “the same consciousness.” What Locke means in saying this is that one’s consciousness is what determines their personal identity. In other words, one is considered to be the same person as long as they can consciously recall their past actions and thoughts; as well as being conscious of their current actions and thoughts (Locke, p.388, para. 2). For example, if I can remember when I learned how to ride a bike at age 9 and I am now 21, I can confirm that I am the same person. Being able to consciously remember past memories is vital when it comes down to personal identity, according to Locke. Since Locke wholeheartedly believes that one technically only exists via the mind, he determines that the physical body does not have a very much important role in personal identity. To Locke, the body’s role in personal identity is simply a location in which the consciousness occupies (Locke, p.388, para. 1). Technically saying that the body is just where the consciousness of one lives. The body does not play a huge role in determining personal identity due to it automatically changing over time while the consciousness stays the same. It also doesn’t play a huge role in determining personal identity because, to Locke, if personal identity depended on the sameness of the body, there would be an issue. This is because one’s body changes over time and there is no telling if one will be the same or even physically look the same as they did in the past; making the body worthless in personal identity. As for Hume, he does not agree with the idea that Locke came up with regarding personal identity consisting in having the same consciousness.

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Hume believes that the concept of personal identity, or what he calls “self”, is just an illusion. In more detail, Hume basically means that one is consciously changing by day, so how can one be the same person over time? He argues that one’s mind fools them into believing that one is the same self since their consciousness is in the same body from birth to death. Now, even though the body is constant, consciousness is not; which gives reason as to why one cannot be the same person they were from one time to the next. But, to Hume, it is with consciousness in one’s perception in one can identify oneself, whether they are the same person or not (Hume, p.392, para. 3). Hume uses the case of the ship undergoing repairs to support his argument. He does so by showing how even through various repairs, which changed the ship physically, it is still considered the same through the relations of one’s conscious perceptions. While both philosophers have valid points in their perspectives, one does seem to be a bit more convincing.

In my opinion, when comparing Locke and Hume, Locke does seem to be most compelling in his view on personal identity. He is more convincing because he gives a very detailed explanation as to why our consciousness is our identity. Locke gives a detailed explanation by adding that one is the same person if they can consciously remember their past actions and thoughts; and if one cannot remember their past, they’re a different person. Even though one is a different person, they still have a personal identity. Another reason Locke is more convincing than Hume is that he also looks at personal identity from another perspective. He looks at personal identity from another perspective by identifying why it doesn’t consist in the sameness of the body. Locke does so by expressing the idea that the body isn’t consistent throughout time, this is because it changes physically (Locke, p.387, para. 3). To conclude, while both did have many good points to back up their concepts, John Locke did seem more convincing.

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Essay on Personal Identity: Views of John Locke and David Hume. (2022, December 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved September 30, 2023, from
“Essay on Personal Identity: Views of John Locke and David Hume.” Edubirdie, 27 Dec. 2022,
Essay on Personal Identity: Views of John Locke and David Hume. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 30 Sept. 2023].
Essay on Personal Identity: Views of John Locke and David Hume [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2022 Dec 27 [cited 2023 Sept 30]. Available from:
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