Concept of Self According to Rene Descartes and John Locke

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Rene Descartes developed the concept that our identity has entirely to do with thought. Descartes was a fierce rationalist which made him stand out among all the other philosophers because most philosophers stood on the appeals of God, where he trusted in the power of logic. Descartes states, “Cogito, ergo sum or I think therefore I am.” (Descartes). He began this theory by directly going against those who believed that one cannot know anything with certainty. Rene Descartes found that basic beliefs must be irrefutable truths and provide a foundation for more beliefs to then be formed. In Descartes’s eyes, our entire existence is connected to this thought. The idea of “self” to Descartes is related to the knowledge of thinking and believing that you do indeed exist. He also developed an idea that our physical body could possibly be impacted or swayed by its connection to the thinking mind.

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Descartes believed that the problem with the world is the “misuse of minds” (Descartes, Meditation 1, 9), which is a confusion that caused major turmoil in the world. He operated all life’s questions and problems by using the “Methods of Doubts” (PHILOSOPHY- Rene Descartes, 1:11-1:21), which is a system that took big ideas and questions and broke them down into smaller and easier to comprehend pieces. This approach helped him to explain how our ideas must be grounded in experience and reason rather than traditions. Another idea that he also developed was the Book of Passions, which explained that often every emotion generally stemmed from one of these six fundamental passions: wonder, love, hatred, desire, joy, and sadness. Descartes was a very firm believer that to solve profound problems you need to look within yourself. Descartes also believed that human senses are not reliable, but that thinking was the proof of being. Overall, Rene Descartes believed entirely in the concept of the power of thought.

On another note, John Locke believes in a concept entirely different from Descartes. Locke believes that personal identity cannot be deciphered until the “person” is first understood. He describes this “person” by what they stand for and believe in. Self-identity is established through space and time but depending on the criteria in which the object is classified, because not all objects can be put into categories of the same standard. He also believes that we are entirely composed of all our memories. Locke believes that memories have a significant connection to our lives and one another and to our inner self. In Locke’s perspective, if you cannot remember your actions, then you are literally a different person than before you forgot them. To Locke a man that commits a crime but forgets it, that man cannot be held responsible for his actions. Locke states that, “We have the ideas but of three sorts of substances: God, finite intelligences, and bodies.” (Locke, Chapter XXVII, 2. Locke does not doubt the existence of God because he is eternal and everywhere. Locke states that, “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.” (Locke, Chapter XXVII, 2).

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