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The Early Modern SubjectSelf-Consciousness and Personal Identity from Descartes to Hume$
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Udo Thiel

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780199542499

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199542499.001.0001

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Relating to the soul, pure thought, original sin, and the afterlife

Relating to the soul, pure thought, original sin, and the afterlife

(p.248) 8 Relating to the soul, pure thought, original sin, and the afterlife
The Early Modern Subject

Udo Thiel

Oxford University Press

This chapter continues with British accounts of an immaterialist view of the mind, but it does so with a different focus: 1) Consciousness, 2) the notion of identity. It begins by examining the way in which philosophers such as John Norris, Peter Browne and Berkeley argue, apparently following Malebranche, that we know our own souls only through consciousness, understood as an immediate relating to our own selves, and not through the mediation of ideas. Special consideration is then given to the first extensive early modern treatment of consciousness as such, the Essay on Consciousness, published anonymously in 1728. While the author's ideas of the human soul are for the most part traditional, he does contribute the idea of a mutual dependence and interaction between the consciousness of objects and self-consciousness. Berkeley's account of the person is examined: he accounts for the person as “the concrete will and understanding”, but argues thatr personal identity is provided by the immaterial nature of the soul. The American philosopher Jonathan Edwards links the personal identity issue to the theological issue of original sin. This chapter discusses his contribution along with recent commentary on it in terms of the present-day theory of temporal parts. Joseph Butler, although mostly known for his arguments against Locke, also provides his own account. For Butler the theological issue is the afterlife and the notion of identity. Central to Butler is the old distinction between a strict and a “lose and popular” sense of identity. He also has an intuitive notion of identity whereby identity is held to be unanalysable and thus not definable. Lastly, the anonymous Essay on Personal Identity is examined. It is critical of Locke, but does provide its own positive account in terms of what the author calls “pure thought”. Abraham Tucker's critique of this essay is discussed, noting that Tucker's own contributions are not without problems of their own. Tucker's speculations insist that personal identity consists in the identity of substance.

Keywords:   consciousness, ideas, consciousness of objects, self-consciousness, original sin, afterlife, pure thought, Berkeley, Browne, Norris, Edwards, Butler, Tucker, Essay on Consciousness, Essay on Personal Identity

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