Ideas from 'Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory' by Thomas Reid [1785], by Theme Structure

[found in 'Inquiry and Essays' by Reid,Thomas (ed/tr Beanblossom /K.Lehrer) [Hackett 1983,0-915145-85-5]].

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9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 1. Objects over Time
Continuity is needed for existence, otherwise we would say a thing existed after it ceased to exist
                        Full Idea: Identity supposes an uninterrupted continuance of existence….Otherwise we must suppose a being to exist after it has ceased to exist, and to have existed before it was produced, which are manifest contradictions.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: I take the point to be that if something is supposed to survive a gap in its existence, that must imply that it somehow exists during the gap. If a light flashes on and off, is it really a new entity each time?
9. Objects / E. Objects over Time / 13. No Identity over Time
We treat slowly changing things as identical for the sake of economy in language
                        Full Idea: All bodies, as they consist of innumerable parts, are subject to continual changes of their substance. When such changes are gradual, because language could not afford a different name for each state, it retains the same name and is considered the same.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: This is hard to deny. We could hardly rename a child each morning. Simlarly, we can't have a unique name for each leaf on a tree. Economy of language explains a huge amount in philosophy.
9. Objects / F. Identity among Objects / 1. Concept of Identity
Identity is familiar to common sense, but very hard to define
                        Full Idea: Every man of common sense has a clear and distinct notion of identity. If you ask for a definition of identity, I confess I can give none. It is too simple a notion.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: 'Identical' seems to be a two-place predicate, but the only strict way two things can be identical is if there is actually just one thing. In which case just drop the word 'identity' (instead of defining it), and say there is just one thing here.
Identity can only be affirmed of things which have a continued existence
                        Full Idea: Identity can only be affirmed of things which have a continued existence.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
                        A reaction: This doesn't mean that Reid thinks there is nothing more to the identity than their similitude. But he, like Hume, denies that there is personal identity at any given instant. Reid is better at criticism than at formulating his own theory.
15. Nature of Minds / A. Nature of Mind / 5. Unity of Mind
A person is a unity, and doesn't come in degrees
                        Full Idea: The identity of a person is a perfect identity: wherever it is real, it admits of no degrees; and it is impossible that a person should be in part the same, and in part different; because a person is a 'monad', and is not divisible into parts.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: I don't accept this, because I don't accept the metaphysics needed to underpin it. To watch a person with Alzheimer's disease fade out of existence before they die seems sufficient counter-evidence. I believe in personal identity, but it isn't 'perfect'.
16. Persons / A. Concept of a Person / 2. Persons as Responsible
Personal identity is the basis of all rights, obligations and responsibility
                        Full Idea: Identity, when applied to persons, has no ambiguity, and admits of no degrees. It is the foundation of all rights and obligations, and of all accountableness.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: This seems to me to be one of the key mistakes in all of philosophy - thinking that items must always be all-or-nothing. If a person deteriorates through Alzheimer's, there seem to be obvious degrees of personhood. Responsibility comes in degrees, too.
16. Persons / A. Concept of a Person / 3. Persons as Reasoners
I can hardly care about rational consequence if it wasn't me conceiving the antecedent
                        Full Idea: The conviction of personal identity is indispensably necessary to all exercise of reason. Reasoning is made up of successive parts. Without the conviction that the antecedent have been seen by me, I could have no reason to proceed to the consequent.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: Society needs philosophers precisely to point such things out. It isn't conclusive, but populist waffle about the self not existing undermines the very concept of a 'train of thought', which everybody is signed up to. Trains of thought can take years.
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 2. Mental Continuity / a. Memory is Self
The identity of a thief is only known by similarity, but memory gives certainty in our own case
                        Full Idea: A man challenges a thief in possession of his horse only on similarity. The testimony of witnesses to the identity of a person is commonly grounded on no other evidence. ...Evidence of our own identity is grounded in memory, and gives undoubted certainty.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: With other people the best we can hope for is type-identity, hoping that each individual being is a unique type, but with otherselves we are always confident of establishing token identity. Could I have been someone different yesterday, without realising?
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 2. Mental Continuity / c. Inadequacy of mental continuity
Memory reveals my past identity - but so does testimony of other witnesses
                        Full Idea: Although memory gives the most irresistible evidence of my being the identical person that did such a thing, I may have other good evidence of things which befell me. I know who bare me and suckled me, but I do not remember those events.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: A splendidly accurate and simple observation. Reid's criticisms of Locke are greatly superior to those of Butler. We now have vast collections of photographs showing our past identities.
Boy same as young man, young man same as old man, old man not boy, if forgotten!
                        Full Idea: Suppose a brave officer, flogged as a boy for robbing an orchard, to have captured a standard in his first campaign, and become a general in advanced life. [If the general forgets the flogging] he is and at the same time is not the same as the boy.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
                        A reaction: The point is that strict identity has to be transitive, and if the general forgets his boyhood that breaks the transitivity. If identity is less strict there is no problem. The general may only have memories related to some part of his boyhood.
If consciousness is transferable 20 persons can be 1; forgetting implies 1 can be 20
                        Full Idea: If the same consciousness can be transferred from one intelligent being to another, then two or twenty beings may be the same person. If he may lose the consciousness of actions done by him, one intelligent being may be two or twenty different persons.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
                        A reaction: Reid says Locke was aware of these two implications of his theory of personal identity (based on consciousness). The first example is me replicated like software. The second is if I forget that I turned the light off, then who did turn the light off?
If a stolen horse is identified by similitude, its identity is not therefore merely similitude
                        Full Idea: When a stolen horse is claimed, the only evidence that this is the same horse is similitude. But would it not be ridiculous from this to infer that the identity of a horse consists in similitude only?
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
                        A reaction: Actually that is exactly Hume's view of the matter (Idea 21292). For a strict empiricist there is nothing else be close resemblance over time. I prefer Reid's account to Hume's. - but then I am not a 'strict' empiricist.
If consciousness is personal identity, it is continually changing
                        Full Idea: Is it not strange that the identity of a person should consist in a thing (consciousness) which is continually changing?
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 6)
                        A reaction: This is the panicky slippery slope view of Locke, that sees his doctrine as the first step to the destruction of religion. The fact is, though, that parts of my consciousness changes continually, but other parts stay the same for years on end.
16. Persons / D. Continuity of the Self / 7. Self and Thinking
Thoughts change continually, but the self doesn't
                        Full Idea: My thoughts, and actions, and feelings, change every moment: they have no continued, but a successive, existence: but that self, or I, to which they belong, is permanent.
                        From: Thomas Reid (Essays on Intellectual Powers: Memory [1785], III.Ch 4)
                        A reaction: The word 'permanent' may be excessive, but one could hardly say there is nothing more to personal identity than the contents of consciousnes, given how much and how quickly those continually fluctuate.