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Brison on Traumatic Memory

Memory and Personal Identity

Brison embraces a broadly Lockean view of personal identity:

“On this view, person A (at time t1) is identical with person B (at time t 2) if B remembers having the experiences of A.” (41)

Roughly speaking, personal identity over time is “a kind of ongoing narrative of one’s past that is extended with each new experience”.

We have seen some of the problems with Locke’s view, as argued by Schechtman.

Memory is not a one-to-one correspondence between a present experience (the memory) and a past event.

Memory works more holistically to create a sense of a continuing self over time.

Ways of Representing the Past

Traumatic memories represent the past in certain ways.

Brison distinguishes them from narrative memories, memories that represent the past and involve the self very differently.

Both narrative and traumatic memories represent the past: they are ways of bringing the past into the present. But due to circumstantial differences, they do so very differently.

What are the features of traumatic memories?

Traumatic Memories

Traumatic memories are caused by the experience of trauma, such as rape, torture, or genocide.

Trauma causes profound psychological damage to one’s cognitive and emotional capacities, as well as to one’s sense of self.

Post-traumatic psychopathology (PTSD) is a common, though not inevitable, result of trauma.

Whether one develops PTSD or how long one experiences it depends on one’s resilience as well as one’s support system.

Brison emphasizes the importance of the existence of a “trustworthy community of listeners.” Empathic listening is a form of support that is essential to the remaking of the self after trauma.

Features of Traumatic Memory

Experience these memories accompanied by helpless fury and uncontrollable rage. The victim “feels utterly helpless in the face of a force that is perceived to be life-threatening.” (40)

The rage lacks a definite target and corrective aim so is not empowering.

Trauma can affect one’s emotional repertoire in another way as well, by numbing one and rending one unable to feel one’s former emotions.

Traumatic memories are often accompanied by no emotion at all. A kind of dulling of sensation.

Traumatic memories are intrusive. They come at random, unpredictable times. We do not have control over them.

Traumatic memories ”are more tied to the body than are narrative memories” (42).

More Features

Importantly, “traumatic memory is characterized by a destruction of a sense of the self as continuing over time.” (45)

This is understandable if memory is, as Schechtman argues, integral to creating a sense of oneself as being continuous with a past and looking toward a future.

The past still exists for the trauma victim, but it is disconnected from the present and future.

Trauma compromises the victim’s autonomy and traumatic memories perpetuate this loss of autonomy and control.

Remaking the Self

Traumatic memories do not work the way “normal” memories work.

They do not help to create a unified self, a continuing, ongoing self, but rather a disunified, fragmented self.

A traumatized self alters episodic memories that are important to our lives and identity.

“Piecing together a self requires a working through, or remastering of, the traumatic memory that involves going from being the medium or object of someone else’s (the torturer’s) speech to being the subject of one’s own.” (45)

Mastering Traumatic Memory

To master traumatic memories, one must replace them with “narrative memories.”

Narrative memories integrate the trauma into a life with a past and a future. Narrative memories create linkages between the trauma and other events in one’s life.

Narrative memories take control of how one experiences one’s trauma, unlike traumatic memories which are intrusive and subvert one’s control.

On Narratives

Narrative memories construct narratives of one’s past and are narrative in form.

A narrative tells a story, and one normally has control over how you tell the story.

A narrative is different from a chronicle, which is simply a list of happenings in chronological order.

A narrative is also different from an archive, which is simply a collection of materials documenting specific events.

A narrative, by contrast, is “a selective account of the past, structured sequentially in time, that is designed to make sense of it.”(Bernard Williams)

Making Sense of Ourselves

We tell life stories or narratives in order to make sense of ourselves to ourselves.

Traumatic memories do not permit this, that is, they do not construct sense-making narratives.

Traumatic memories illustrate in a particularly graphic way how memories can construct as well as destroy one’s personal identity.

Freud and Repressed Memories

The Importance of Repression

According to Freud, repressed memories are unconscious memories, those that have been consigned to the unconscious due to repression.

Repression operates unconsciously.

Two dimensions along which to assess memories: their availability and their accessibility (their encoding and their retrieval).

Memories may not be available for conscious recall: they are literally lost, leaving no trace.

Memories can be available for recall and highly accessible. These are true of many of our ordinary memories.

The case Freud was interested in: memories that are available for recall but highly inaccessible to conscious recall.

Subconscious vs. Unconscious Memories

What’s the difference? The main difference is in the ease of accessibility.

A memory is subconscious at a given time when it is not being entertained by the agent at that time, but given appropriate and readily available retrieval cues, he would entertain it.

For example, putting unpleasant news out of mind. This is called suppression.

Unconscious memories are retrievable, but since they are repressed they cannot be retrieved on one’s own.

This is why psychoanalysis is needed.

Freud and the Unconscious

Does the unconscious exist? Freud defended it in two ways:

(1) our conscious actions and memories would often be inexplicable and unintelligible if we did not posit the existence the existence of unconscious memories.

(2) The assumption of the unconscious enables us to construct a successful procedure for dealing with emotional and psychological problems.

Avoid reification: compare “some memories are unconscious” with ”some memories exist in the unconscious.”


Transference is the redirection to a substitute – in psychoanalysis it’s the therapist – of emotions that were felt in childhood.

Working through transference is essentially working through repetition.

There are patterns of relating learned in early childhood, which are retained and repeated.

The early patterns are directed at significant others, and therefore, are associated with intense emotions; 

The unpleasant elements in those patterns can result in repression, i.e., pushing out chunks of (possible) experience of consciousness. 

Acting Out

Freud says “the patient does not remember anything of what he has forgotten and repressed, but acts it out. He reproduces it not as memory but as action.” He repeats it, without of course knowing that he is repeating it.

The combined effect of learning and repression is unknowing repetition of the past.

There is a compulsion to repeat.

We unknowingly attract and are attracted to people with whom we repeat early patterns of hurtful relationship;

We unknowingly behave in ways that repeat early patterns of dysfunction, miscommunication, isolation, and pain;

Repressed memories make their way into “inhibitions and unserviceable attitudes and his pathological character-traits.”

We unknowingly (over)react as we did before, not recognizing why a given event feels so distressing. What makes a present event this way is that a past distressing event is resonating and repeating within it. Freud describes this way of “remembering” as enacting the past. The past (tragedy) comes back to life, once again, feeding off the present.

The Aim of Psychoanalysis

To replace enacting the past with bringing it to conscious awareness.

“the initiation of the treatment in itself brings about a change in the patient’s conscious attitude to his illness…. His illness itself must no longer seem to him contemptible, but must become an enemy worthy of his mettle.”

“The main instrument, however, for curbing the compulsion to repeat and for turning it into a motive for remembering lies in the handling of the transference.”

The handling of the transference is an essential task for the analyst. Too intense an amorous transference, or, conversely, a hostile transference toward the analyst, will bolster the resistance, causing the analysis to slide into repetition (as act). 

Do Unconscious Memories Exist?

Unconscious memories for Freud are explained in terms of a particular division of the mind: conscious, subconscious, and unconscious.

One can instead see Freud’s distinctions in practical terms: unconscious memories are memories that are difficult to entertain consciously because of their unpleasant, painful character.

Important to distinguish between unconscious memories and memories that are implanted by suggestion. (Remember Schacter’s discussion of suggestibility.)

Unconsious as Noun, Adjective

To speak about “the unconscious” is to suggest that it is a distinct part of the mind, a distinct agency within every person.

Some may find this very problematic: how do the parts interact? Are there really distinguishable agencies within a single self? How does “the unconscious” operate? Where is it located?

To avoid this, one can use ”unconscious” as an adjective, or modifier of motives, emotions, and memories.

Thus, one can speak of unconscious memories without positing the existence of “an unconscious” mind.

Unconscious without Freud

One can believe in the existence of unconscious memories without explaining them in terms of Freudian repression.

Instead of repression, one can think of a continuum of memories that vary in terms of accessibility.

At one end are unconscious memories: those that are most resistant to conscious awareness, that not responsive to simple or readily available cues.

At the other are occurrent memories that we are conscious of. These are memories I am currently entertaining.

In between are the memories that are subconscious, and among these some are suppressed, some merely brought to consciousness at a more opportune or advantageous time.

One can use the term simply as shorthand to refer to a complex, but familiar, psychological phenomenon. 

CHAP. XXVII.: Of Identity and Diversity.

Wherein identity consists.

§ 1. Another occasion the mind often takes of comparing, is the very being of things; when considering any thing as existing at any determined time and place, we compare it with itself existing at another time, and thereon form the ideas of identity and diversity. When we see any thing to be in any place in any instant of time, we are sure (be it what it will) that it is that very thing, and not another, which at that same time exists in another place, how like and undistinguishable soever it may be in all other respects: and in this consists identity, when the ideas it is attributed to vary not at all from what they were that moment wherein we consider their former existence, and to which we compare the present. For we never finding, nor conceiving it possible, that two things of the same kind should exist in the same place at the same time, we rightly conclude, that whatever exists any where at any time, excludes all of the same kind, and is there itself alone. When therefore we demand, whether any thing [326] be the same or no; it refers always to something that existed such a time in such a place, which it was certain at that instant was the same with itself, and no other. From whence it follows, that one thing cannot have two beginnings of existence, nor two things one beginning; it being impossible for two things of the same kind to be or exist in the same instant, in the very same place, or one and the same thing in different places. That therefore that had one beginning, is the same thing; and that which had a different beginning in time and place from that, is not the same, but diverse. That which has made the difficulty about this relation, has been the little care and attention used in having precise notions of the things to which it is attributed.

Identity of substances.Identity of modes.

§ 2. We have the ideas but of three sorts of substances; 1. God. 2. Finite intelligences. 3. Bodies. First, God is without beginning, eternal, unalterable, and every where; and therefore concerning his identity, there can be no doubt. Secondly, finite spirits having had each its determinate time and place of beginning to exist, the relation to that time and place will always determine to each of them its identity, as long as it exists. Thirdly, the same will hold of every particle of matter, to which no addition or subtraction of matter being made, it is the same. For though these three sorts of substances, as we term them, do not exclude one another out of the same place; yet we cannot conceive but that they must necessarily each of them exclude any of the same kind out of the same place: or else the notions and names of identity and diversity would be in vain, and there could be no such distinction of substances, or any thing else one from another. For example: could two bodies be in the same place at the same time, then those two parcels of matter must be one and the same, take them great or little: nay, all bodies must be one and the same. For by the same reason that two particles of matter may be in one place, all bodies may be in one place: which, when it can be supposed, takes away the distinction of identity and diversity of one and more, and renders it ridiculous. But it [327] being a contradiction, that two or more should be one, identity and diversity are relations and ways of comparing well-founded, and of use to the understanding. All other things being but modes or relations ultimately terminated in substances, the identity and diversity of each particular existence of them too will be by the same way determined: only as to things whose existence is in succession, such as are the actions of finite beings, v.g. motion and thought, both which consist in a continued train of succession: concerning their diversity, there can be no question: because each perishing the moment it begins, they cannot exist in different times, or in different places, as permanent beings can at different times exist in distant places; and therefore no motion or thought, considered as at different times, can be the same, each part thereof having a different beginning of existence.

Principium individuationis.

§ 3. From what has been said, it is easy to discover what is so much inquired after, the principium individuationis; and that, it is plain, is existence itself, which determines a being of any sort to a particular time and place, incommunicable to two beings of the same kind. This, though it seems easier to conceive in simple substances or modes, yet when reflected on is not more difficult in compound ones, if care be taken to what it is applied: v. g. let us suppose an atom, i. e. a continued body under one immutable superficies, existing in a determined time and place; it is evident that, considered in any instant of its existence, it is in that instant the same with itself. For being at that instant what it is, and nothing else, it is the same, and so must continue as long as its existence is continued; for so long it will be the same, and no other. In like manner, if two or more atoms be joined together into the same mass, every one of those atoms will be the same, by the foregoing rule: and whilst they exist united together, the mass, consisting of the same atoms, must be the same mass, or the same body, let the parts be ever so differently jumbled. But if one of these atoms be taken away, [328] or one new one added, it is no longer the same mass, or the same body. In the state of living creatures, their identity depends not on a mass of the same particles, but on something else. For in them the variation of great parcels of matters alters not the identity: an oak growing from a plant to a great tree, and then lopped, is still the same oak; and a colt grown up to a horse, sometimes fat, sometimes lean, is all the while the same horse: though in both these cases, there may be a manifest change of the parts; so that truly they are not either of them the same masses of matter, though they be truly one of them the same oak, and the other the same horse. The reason whereof is, that in these two cases, a mass of matter, and a living body, identity is not applied to the same thing.

Identity of vegetables.

§ 4. We must therefore consider wherein an oak differs from a mass of matter, and that seems to me to be in this, that the one is only the cohesion of particles of matter any how united, the other such a disposition of them as constitutes the parts of an oak; and such an organization of those parts as is fit to receive and distribute nourishment, so as to continue and frame the wood, bark, and leaves, &c. of an oak, in which consists the vegetable life. That being then one plant which has such an organization of parts in one coherent body partaking of one common life, it continues to be the same plant as long as it partakes of the same life, though that life be communicated to new particles of matter vitally united to the living plant, in a like continued organization conformable to that sort of plants. For this organization being at any one instant in any one collection of matter, is in that particular concrete distinguished from all other, and is that individual life which existing constantly from that moment both forwards and backwards, in the same continuity of insensibly succeeding parts united to the living body of the plant, it has that identity, which makes the same plant, and all the parts of it parts of the same plant, during all the time that they exist united in that continued organization, [329] which is fit to convey that common life to all the parts so united.

Identity of animals.

§ 5. The case is not so much different in brutes, but that any one may hence see what makes an animal, and continues it the same. Something we have like this in machines, and may serve to illustrate it. For example, what is a watch? It is plain it is nothing but a fit organization, or construction of parts to a certain end, which when a sufficient force is added to it, it is capable to attain. If we would suppose this machine one continued body, all whose organized parts were repaired, increased, or diminished by a constant addition or separation of insensible parts, with one common life, we should have something very much like the body of an animal; with this difference, that in an animal the fitness of the organization, and the motion wherein life consists, begin together, the motion coming from within; but in machines, the force coming sensibly from without, is often away when the organ is in order, and well fitted to receive it.

Identity of man.

§ 6. This also shows wherein the identity of the same man consists: viz. in nothing but a participation of the same continued life, by constantly fleeting particles of matter, in succession vitally united to the same organized body. He that shall place the identity of man in any thing else, but like that of other animals in one fitly organized body, taken in any one instant, and from thence continued under one organization of life in several successively fleeting particles of matter united to it, will find it hard to make an embryo, one of years, mad and sober, the same man, by any supposition, that will not make it possible for Seth, Ismael, Socrates, Pilate, St. Austin, and Cæsar Borgia, to be the same man. For if the identity of soul alone makes the same man, and there be nothing in the nature of matter why the same individual spirit may not be united to different bodies, it will be possible that those men living in distant ages, and of different tempers, may have been the same man: which way of speaking must be, from a very strange [330] use of the word man, applied to an idea, out of which body and shape are excluded. And that way of speaking would agree yet worse with the notions of those philosophers who allow of transmigration, and are of opinion that the souls of men may, for their miscarriages, be detruded into the bodies of beasts, as fit habitations, with organs suited to the satisfaction of their brutal inclinations. But yet I think nobody, could he be sure that the soul of Heliogabalus were in one of his hogs, would yet say that hog were a man or Heliogabalus.

Identity suited to the idea.

§ 7. It is not therefore unity of substance that comprehends all sorts of identity, or will determine it in every case: but to conceive and judge of it aright, we must consider what idea the word it is applied to stands for; it being one thing to be the same substance, another the same man, and a third the same person, if person, man, and substance, are three names standing for three different ideas; for such as is the idea belonging to that name, such must be the identity: which, if it had been a little more carefully attended to, would possibly have prevented a great deal of that confusion which often occurs about this matter, with no small seeming difficulties, especially concerning personal identity, which therefore we shall, in the next place, a little consider.

Same man.

§ 8. An animal is a living organized body; and consequently the same animal, as we have observed, is the same continued life communicated to different particles of matter, as they happen successively to be united to that organized living body. And whatever is talked of other definitions, ingenuous observation puts it past doubt, that the idea in our minds, of which the sound man in our mouths is the sign, is nothing else but of an animal of such a certain form: since I think I may be confident, that whoever should see a creature of his own shape and make, though it had no more reason all its life than a cat or a parrot, would call him still a man; or whoever should hear a cat or a parrot discourse, reason and [331] philosophize, would call or think it nothing but a cat or a parrot; and say, the one was a dull, irrational man, and the other a very intelligent rational parrot. A relation we have in an author of great note is sufficient to countenance the supposition of a rational parrot. His words are:*

“I had a mind to know from prince Maurice’s own mouth the account of a common, but much credited story, that I heard so often from many others, of an old parrot he had in Brazil during his government there, that spoke, and asked, and answered common questions like a reasonable creature: so that those of his train there generally concluded it to be witchery or possession; and one of his chaplains, who lived long afterwards in Holland, would never from that time endure a parrot, but said, they all had a devil in them. I had heard many particulars of this story, and assevered by people hard to be discredited, which made me ask prince Maurice what there was of it. He said, with his usual plainness and dryness in talk, there was something true, but a great deal false of what had been reported. I desired to know of him what there was of the first? He told me short and coldly, that he had heard of such an old parrot when he had been at Brazil; and though he believed nothing of it, and it was a good way off, yet he had so much curiosity as to send for it: that it was a very great and a very old one, and when it came first into the room where the prince was, with a great many Dutchmen about him, it said presently, What a company of white men are here! They asked it what it thought that man was, pointing to the prince? It answered, some general or other; when they brought it close to him, he asked it, D’ou venez [332] vous? It answered, De Marinnan. The prince, A qui estes vous? The parrot, A un Portugais. Prince, Que fais tu la? Parrot, Je garde les poulles. The prince laughed, and said, Vous gardez les poulles? The parrot answered, Oui, moi; et je sçai bien faire; and made the chuck four or five times that people use to make to chickens when they call them. I set down the words of this worthy dialogue in French, just as prince Maurice said them to me. I asked him in what language the parrot spoke, and he said, in Brasilian; I asked whether he understood Brasilian; he said, no, but he had taken care to have two interpreters by him, the one a Dutchman that spoke Brasilian, and the other a Brasilian that spoke Dutch; that he asked them separately and privately, and both of them agreed in telling him just the same thing that the parrot had said. I could not but tell this odd story, because it is so much out of the way, and from the first hand, and what may pass for a good one; for I dare say this prince at least believed himself in all he told me, having ever passed for a very honest and pious man. I leave it to naturalists to reason, and to other men to believe, as they please upon it: however, it is not, perhaps, amiss to relieve or enliven a busy scene sometimes with such digressions, whether to the purpose or no.”

Same man.

I have taken care that the reader should have the story at large in the author’s own words, because he seems to me not to have thought it incredible; for it cannot be imagined that so able a man as he, who had sufficiency enough to warrant all the testimonies he gives of himself, should take so much pains, in a place where it had nothing to do, to pin so close not only on a man whom he mentions as his friend, but on a prince in whom he acknowledges very great honesty and piety, a story, which if he himself thought incredible, he could not but also think ridiculous. The prince, it is plain, who vouches this story, and our author, who relates it from him, both of them call this talker a parrot: and I ask any one else, who thinks such a story fit to be told, whether if [333] this parrot, and all of its kind, had always talked, as we have a prince’s word for it this one did, whether, I say, they would not have passed for a race of rational animals: but yet whether for all that they would have been allowed to be men, and not parrots? For I presume, it is not the idea of a thinking or rational being alone that makes the idea of a man in most people’s sense, but of a body, so and so shaped, joined to it: and if that be the idea of a man, the same successive body not shifted all at once, must, as well as the same immaterial spirit, go to the making of the same man.

Personal identity.

§ 9. This being premised, to find wherein personal identity consists, we must consider what person stands for; which, I think, is a thinking intelligent being, that has reason and reflection, and can consider itself as itself, the same thinking thing in different times and places; which it does only by that consciousness which is inseparable from thinking, and, as it seems to me, essential to it: it being impossible for any one to perceive, without perceiving that he does perceive. When we see, hear, smell, taste, feel, meditate, or will any thing, we know that we do so. Thus it is always as to our present sensations and perceptions: and by this every one is to himself that which he calls self; it not being considered in this case whether the same self be continued in the same or divers substances. For since consciousness always accompanies thinking, and it is that which makes every one to be what he calls self, and thereby distinguishes himself from all other thinking things; in this alone consists personal identity, i. e. the sameness of a rational being: and as far as this consciousness can be extended backwards to any past action or thought, so far reaches the identity of that person; it is the same self now it was then; and it is by the same self with this present one that now reflects on it, that that action was done.

Consciousness makes personal identity.

§ 10. But it is farther inquired, whether it be the same identical substance? This few would think they had reason to doubt of, if these perceptions, with their [334] consciousness, always remained present in the mind, whereby the same thinking thing would be always consciously present, and, as would be thought, evidently the same to itself. But that which seems to make the difficulty is this, that this consciousness being interrupted always by forgetfulness, there being no moment of our lives wherein we have the whole train of all our past actions before our eyes in one view, but even the best memories losing the sight of one part whilst they are viewing another; and we sometimes, and that the greatest part of our lives, not reflecting on our past selves, being intent on our present thoughts, and in sound sleep having no thoughts at all, or at least none with that consciousness which remarks our waking thoughts: I say, in all these cases, our consciousness being interrupted, and we losing the sight of our past selves, doubts are raised whether we are the same thinking thing, i. e. the same substance or no. Which however reasonable or unreasonable, concerns not personal identity at all: the question being, what makes the same person, and not whether it be the same identical substance, which always thinks in the same person; which in this case matters not at all: different substances, by the same consciousness (where they do partake in it), being united into one person, as well as different bodies by the same life are united into one animal, whose identity is preserved, in that change of substances, by the unity of one continued life. For it being the same consciousness that makes a man be himself to himself, personal identity depends on that only, whether it be annexed solely to one individual substance, or can be continued in a succession of several substances. For as far as any intelligent being can repeat the idea of any past action with the same consciousness it had of it at first, and with the same consciousness it has of any present action; so far it is the same personal self. For it is by the consciousness it has of its present thoughts and actions, that it is self to itself now, and so will be the same self, as far as the same consciousness can extend to actions past or to come; and would be by distance of time, or change of substance, no more two [335] persons, than a man be two men by wearing other clothes to-day than he did yesterday, with a long or a short sleep between: the same consciousness uniting those distant actions into the same person, whatever substances contributed to their production.

Personal identity in change of substances.

§ 11. That this is so, we have some kind of evidence in our very bodies, all whose particles, whilst vitally united to this same thinking conscious self, so that we feel when they are touched, and are affected by, and conscious of good or harm that happens to them, are a part of ourselves; i. e. of our thinking conscious self. Thus the limbs of his body are to every one a part of himself; he sympathizes and is concerned for them. Cut off a hand, and thereby separate it from that consciousness he had of its heat, cold, and other affections, and it is then no longer a part of that which is himself, any more than the remotest part of matter. Thus we see the substance, whereof personal self consisted at one time, may be varied at another, without the change of personal identity; there being no question about the same person, though the limbs which but now were a part of it, be cut off.

§ 12. But the question is, “whether if the same substance which thinks, be changed, it can be the same person; or, remaining the same, it can be different persons?”

Whether in the change of thinking substances.

And to this I answer, first, This can be no question at all to those who place thought in a purely material animal constitution, void of an immaterial substance. For whether their supposition be true or no, it is plain they conceive personal identity preserved in something else than identity of substance; as animal identity is preserved in identity of life, and not of substance. And therefore those who place thinking in an immaterial substance only, before they can come to deal with these men, must show why personal identity cannot be preserved in the change of immaterial substances, or variety of particular immaterial substances, as well as animal identity is preserved in the change of material [336] substances, or variety of particular bodies: unless they will say, it is one immaterial spirit that makes the same life in brutes, as it is one immaterial spirit that makes the same person in men; which the Cartesians at least will not admit, for fear of making brutes thinking things too.

§ 13. But next, as to the first part of the question, “whether if the same thinking substance (supposing immaterial substances only to think) be changed, it can be the same person?” I answer, that cannot be resolved, but by those who know what kind of substances they are that do think, and whether the consciousness of past actions can be transferred from one thinking substance to another. I grant, were the same consciousness the same individual action, it could not: but it being a present representation of a past action, why it may not be possible, that that may be represented to the mind to have been, which really never was, will remain to be shown. And therefore how far the consciousness of past actions is annexed to any individual agent, so that another cannot possibly have it, will be hard for us to determine, till we know what kind of action it is that cannot be done without a reflex act of perception accompanying it, and how performed by thinking substances, who cannot think without being conscious of it. But that which we call the same consciousness, not being the same individual act, why one intellectual substance may not have represented to it, as done by itself, what it never did, and was perhaps done by some other agent; why, I say, such a representation may not possibly be without reality of matter of fact, as well as several representations in dreams are, which yet whilst dreaming we take for true, will be difficult to conclude from the nature of things. And that it never is so, will by us, till we have clearer views of the nature of thinking substances, be best resolved into the goodness of God, who as far as the happiness or misery of any of his sensible creatures is concerned in it, will not by a fatal errour of theirs transfer from one to another that consciousness which draws reward or punishment with it. How far this may be an argument [337] against those who would place thinking in a system of fleeting animal spirits, I leave to be considered. But yet to return to the question before us, it must be allowed, that if the same consciousness (which, as has been shown, is quite a different thing from the same numerical figure or motion in body) can be transferred from one thinking substance to another, it will be possible that two thinking substances may make but one person. For the same consciousness being preserved, whether in the same or different substances, the personal identity is preserved.

§ 14. As to the second part of the question, “whether the same immaterial substance remaining, there may be two distinct persons?” which question seems to me to be built on this, whether the same immaterial being, being conscious of the action of its past duration, may be wholly stripped of all the consciousness of its past existence, and lose it beyond the power of ever retrieving again; and so as it were beginning a new account from a new period, have a consciousness that cannot reach beyond this new state. All those who hold pre-existence are evidently of this mind, since they allow the soul to have no remaining consciousness of what it did in that pre-existent state, either wholly separate from body, or informing any other body; and if they should not, it is plain, experience would be against them. So that personal identity reaching no farther than consciousness reaches, a preexistent spirit not having continued so many ages in a state of silence, must needs make different persons. Suppose a Christian, Platonist, or Pythagorean should, upon God’s having ended all his works of creation the seventh day, think his soul hath existed ever since; and would imagine it has revolved in several human bodies, as I once met with one, who was persuaded his had been the soul of Socrates; (how reasonably I will not dispute; this I know, that in the post he filled, which was no inconsiderable one, he passed for a very rational man, and the press has shown that he wanted not parts or learning) would any one say, that he being not conscious of any of Socrates’s actions or thoughts, [338] could be the same person with Socrates? Let any one reflect upon himself, and conclude that he has in himself an immaterial spirit, which is that which thinks in him, and in the constant change of his body keeps him the same; and is that which he calls himself: Let him also suppose it to be the same soul that was in Nestor or Thersites, at the siege of Troy (for souls being, as far as we know any thing of them in their nature, indifferent to any parcel of matter, the supposition has no apparent absurdity in it), which it may have been, as well as it is now the soul of any other man: but he now having no consciousness of any of the actions either of Nestor or Thersites, does or can he conceive himself the same person with either of them? can he be concerned in either of their actions? attribute them to himself, or think them his own more than the actions of any other men that ever existed? So that this consciousness not reaching to any of the actions of either of those men, he is no more one self with either of them, than if the soul or immaterial spirit that now informs him, had been created, and began to exist, when it began to inform his present body; though it were ever so true, that the same spirit that informed Nestor’s or Thersites’s body, were numerically the same that now informs his. For this would no more make him the same person with Nestor, than if some of the particles of matter that were once a part of Nestor, were now a part of this man; the same immaterial substance, without the same consciousness, no more making the same person by being united to any body, than the same particle of matter, without consciousness united to any body, makes the same person. But let him once find himself conscious of any of the actions of Nestor, he then finds himself the same person with Nestor.

§ 15. And thus we may be able, without any difficulty, to conceive the same person at the resurrection, though in a body not exactly in make or parts the same which he had here, the same consciousness going along with the soul that inhabits it. But yet the soul alone, in the change of bodies, would scarce to any one, but to him that makes the soul the man, be enough to [339] make the same man. For should the soul of a prince, carrying with it the consciousness of the prince’s past life, enter and inform the body of a cobler, as soon as deserted by his own soul, every one sees he would be the same person with the prince, accountable only for the prince’s actions: but who would say it was the same man? The body too goes to the making the man, and would, I guess, to every body determine the man in this case; wherein the soul, with all its princely thoughts about it, would not make another man: but he would be the same cobler to every one besides himself. I know that, in the ordinary way of speaking, the same person, and the same man, stand for one and the same thing. And indeed every one will always have a liberty to speak as …

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