Front Page Titles (by Subject) Locke\'s Concept of Persons - Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3
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Locke's Concept of Persons - Leonard P. Liggio, Literature of Liberty, Autumn 1980, vol. 3, No. 3 
Literature of Liberty: A Review of Contemporary Liberal Thought was published first by the Cato Institute (1978-1979) and later by the Institute for Humane Studies (1980-1982) under the editorial direction of Leonard P. Liggio.
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Locke's Concept of Persons
“Moral Science and the Concept of Persons in Locke.” Philosophical Review 89(January 1980):24–45.
Locke's early writings emphasize the idea that general moral truths rest on universal truths about human nature. In his later writings, Locke denies that universal truths such as “all men are rational” can be both certain and instructive; only mere verbal truths can be certain. Locke further argues that for us to be certain of a universal proposition which is not true by definition we would need either direct experience of all the members of a kind (which is possible only if the kind is restricted) or experience which assures us of things beyond our experience.
Despite this, Locke asserts that the concept of “moral man” may help us ground universal truths. He makes this argument by way of an analogy with mathematical knowledge which he thought capable of universal certain truths. Locke held the conceptualist view that our own ideas are the archetypes and essences of the mathematical sort. Since mathematics is concerned with conventional kinds (called modes) not natural kinds (called substance kinds) we can know all there is to know about the essences of mathematics, since the real and nominal essence are the same. Mathematical propositions are universal because they are propositions about ideas (not things), and certain because they are merely about the relation of ideas. Furthermore, mathematical propositions are instructive as well because their predicate ideas are not contained in the subject and mathematical propositions contain information about real particulars. Locke thought ethics would provide truths similar to those found in mathematics. Moral ideas give us adequate notions of moral kinds, and moral essences have necessary connections with other real essences. Still, in order for there to be moral knowledge of the kind Locke was seeking, an additional premise was needed: that it be humanly possible to demonstrate the necessary connections among moral ideas. This premise was one Locke later grew to be skeptical of; his separation of the concept “moral man” from “human” shows where his thought was heading. The idea was that “moral man” would not apply to all biological humans but to any creature which was a corporeal, rational being.
In the fourth book of the Essay, Locke's attention shifted to that of “rational selves.” He considers this a “clear” idea, i.e. a representation of a real essence (which refers to particulars) in the mode kind. The concept of rational selves is even more specialized than that of moral man since it does not involve reference to corporeality.
The author concludes by saying that Locke has a genuine insight here: that the notion of a person is relevant to ethics, that it is different from the natural kinds concept of humans, and that the extension of this concept does not depend on the inner structure of individuals. And it also goes without saying that Locke's concept of a person was crucial to his often discussed concept of personal identity.