Title: Reid on Personal Identity, Freedom and Moral Responsibility: a Comparison with Locke
Other Titles: Reid on Personal Identity, Freedom and Moral Responsibility: a Comparison with Locke
Authors: Kim, Jong Won; S0203158
Issue Date: 28-Apr-2015
Abstract: This
dissertation is about Reid&rsq uo;s theory on personal identity and moral respons ibility. Thomas Reid is the founder of Scottish co mmon sense philosophy. When we think about the ter m ‘common sense’ we might think that c ommon sense means the common opinion of ordinary p eople. Maybe, it is true that the term ‘comm on sense’ means this in a sense, since they are common to humanity after all. However, am ong the reasons why the philosophy of Thomas Reid is called common sense philosophy, I picked o ut two distinctive aspects of his philosophy as th e reasons for the starting points of my disse rtation. The first aspect I choose is the particul aristic approach in his whole philosophy. He belie ves that there are some particular things whi ch we just know without any general criteria¨ of knowledge. And starting from them, he establish es general criteria of knowledge. For him, ev erything that exists and is immediately perceived¨ is particular and something general does not exist ¨and is just an abstraction given from repeat ed particular beliefs and the help of inducti ve method. Even if Reid considers some general pro positions as truths or general capacities in¨ us as something self-evident, they are always formed via repeated particular beliefs or our rep eated particular exercises. The second aspect I ch oose is anti-hypotheticalism. According to Reid, w hen someone has common sense and uses inductive me thod, he does not need any metaphysical hypothesis . Common sense and inductive method replace metaph ysical hypotheses. A human being who has common se nse and inductive method can sufficiently see ¨the truths about reality without introd ucing metaphysical hypotheses.
Of course, co mmon sense is very often in conflict with metaphys ics. We can see this occurring in contem porary philosophy. However, when we consider how t he assumed truths of metaphysics came into being i n the first place, we can notice that they we re originally something inferred from commonsensic al and practical beliefs. I believe the reason why metaphysical hypotheses are in conflict with commonsensical beliefs is that philosophers tend to establish metaphysical hypotheses ind ependently of commonsensical beliefs when there ar e more than two seemingly conflicting commonsensic al beliefs, even though metaphysical truths are or iginally inferred from common sense. As a result,¨ by forgetting the commonsensical origin of metaphy sical hypotheses, many philosophers invent th eir own answers about reality, which runs counter to common sense, and fails to unify their met aphysical views with their common sense. For¨ Reid, to have a separate view between the met aphysics and common sense is unacceptable. Ou r metaphysical knowledge should correspond to ¨our common sense. We can have sufficient kno wledge about reality only with the help of co mmon sense without any metaphysical hypothesi s. If we keep these two aspects of Reid’s co mmon sense philosophy in mind, which is anti-hypotheticalism and particularism, we can pro perly understand his theory of personal identity a nd moral responsibility.
First, with regard to personal identity, if someone asks Reid ab out whether you as a person have personal identity ¨over time or not, he will answer that whenev er I listen such a question, I just know by c ommon sense that the present ‘me’ is t he same ‘me’ who did such and such act ions yesterday and is the same ‘me&rsqu o; who did a certain action in my childhood a nd certainly remembered it later on. If such¨ particular beliefs are repeated and overlapped, th en we can also have a general belief that we¨ as persons have personal identity over time. Of course, even if we have such a general belief, it does not mean that we automatically know a nd agree the concrete nature of personhood. Nevert heless, we can still have sufficient knowledge &ls quo;what the nature of personhood is’ with t he help of common sense, inductive observation and ¨reflection. That is, by perceiving and feeling th e external world, and by performing physical actions, we know that we interact with the externa l world. If so, we as persons should be the hosts of our numerous interactions such as particul ar thoughts, remembrances, perceptions, feelings a nd actions. Therefore a person should consist of t he physical body as well as the mental mind. Other wise, we would not be able to properly explai n our experience about our interaction with e xternal world. However, it is true that commo n sense also tells us that we should not be divide d into parts whereas our body can be divided. ¨How can the person as the unity of indivisible mi nd and divisible body be indivisible? Accordi ng to Reid, when we see the animate things such as ¨plants, animals and human beings, we know that th ey have one, continuous and indivisible life as lo ng as they are alive even if their parts some times are cut off. What numerous observations abou t such phenomena tell us is that the life does not ¨belong to the mind, but to the unity of mind ¨and body. Reid believes that this continuous and¨ indivisible life is a necessary condition of¨ indivisible personhood, since common sense tells u s that both life and personhood are indivisible an d that indivisible personhood can be identical as¨ far as life continues. Therefore, without going ag ainst common sense and our experience, we can say that we are the unity of mind and body, and t hat we have personal identity over time as long as we are alive.
Second, with regard to m oral responsibility, starting from the f act that we actually feel morally guilty when we d id something wrong in a moral sense, and many ¨philosophers believe the claim that we have moral ¨responsibility for our action and deduc e the notion of free will from it. For R eid, the fact that we have freedom of will does no t inferred from the fact that we are morally responsible for our action. Both of them are self-evident truths which common sense immediately tells us. Nevertheless, Reid also mentions t he connection among morally guilty feeling, moral responsibility and free will when he try to protect his libertarian view against the deter ministic view.
Then how does Reid react to a ¨deterministic worldview that every event is¨ caused by antecedent events under the conditi on of the laws of nature? Does he think¨ that this is also a commonsensical belie f? Although Reid believes it is a commonsensical b elief that ‘whatever begins to exist, must h ave a cause which produced it’, he believes¨ that the cause might not be an event or state of affairs. Rather, Reid believes that due t o the fact that we have moral responsibi lity for our action and the freedom to choose our¨ actions, there are different causes rather th an event-causes, which have real power to produce¨ the effects. This other kind of cause is what Reid¨calls an agent-cause. For him, the causal princip le which explains the event-causation and is self- evident is only applicable in the physical world.¨ He does not believe that the causal principle ¨can also be applied in the mental world. Rather,¨ Reid believes that there are uncaused agents¨ who have active powers and can initiate the c ausal chain of some mental operations.
Then, how do we perform acti ons? According to Reid, when we observe and reflec t on how we perform actions, we find that there ar e three kinds of actions: actions from natural bli nd impulses, actions from will and intention without any judgment, and actions from will a nd intention with judgment. And when we take a clo se look at them and reflect on the process of ¨how we initiate these actions, we can find that e xcept the first kind of action, the latt er two kinds of actions are involved in our voliti on. Then how do we determine our volition? Accordi ng to Reid, there are two kinds of volition: voluntary and involuntary. If a volition is not de termined by our freedom to determine our volition, then the volition is involuntary and we cann ot be responsible for the action from this ki nd of volition. On the contrary, if a volition is determined by our freedom to determine our vo lition, the volition is voluntary and we are¨ responsible for the action from this voluntary vol ition.
In the case of action from involuntar y volition, what determines our volition? Accordin g to Reid, through repeated actions, we can o bserve that there is something in the preceding st ates of the mind that disposes or inclines us to a particular determination. Reid speaks here o f motives. In fact, He believes that habits, insti ncts, appetites, desires, affections, and eve n a few immediate rational judgments are motives w hich are inherently given to us in our constitutio n and influence our volition. If our will is¨ determined by these motives without the inter vention of voluntary volition, the volition i s to be called involuntary. On the contrary, if we ¨determine our will by our own free will, even if¨ there are influences of such motives, then the vol ition is voluntary and will produce responsible ac tion.
Likewise, motives and volition are the ¨existing elements in our mind before we actu ally perform actions, which common sense and our e xperience tell us.
Then, wh at is the concrete nature of motives and voli tion? Can Reid explain what exactly they are? ¨Even though he does not describe their natur e in detail, we can have a sufficient grasp of the ir nature with the help of common sense and the pa rticularistic inductive method. As mentioned earlier, motives are not something we made, but so mething naturally given to us in order to inc ite or influence our volition and action. Therefor e, they are given mental states. Even in the case¨ of rational motives which judge what is overall go od and what is honorable thing to do and give reas ons to do, motives can be mental states. Since the ¨way we find the rational motives are always¨ via particular reflections from particular actions , motives cannot be the general purposes of o ur actions. It is because we cannot have gene ral purpose of our action until we repeatedly¨perform actions and reflect them.
Motives c annot be the particular purposes, either. It is be cause we cannot have any purpose before we de termine our volition. Before we have volition, we¨ only judge from a rational motive that this is the ¨right thing to do about a certain possible action . Therefore, regardless of whether motives are nat ural blind impulses, emotional incitements or ¨immediate judgments, motives are given menta l states, which exist as the preceding states of the mind before volition.
Then how about volition? According to Reid, volition is def initely a mental state: a mental operation to be e xact. If so, does voluntary volition need other me ntal operations in order to exert itself? Reid cle arly does not accept that there are the second-ord er mental operations in the case of some mental op erations like voluntary volition. The regress to t he higher operations in volition opposes to common sense and our experience. What common sense and our reflection tell us is that we as agen ts directly determine our voluntary volition in sp ite of the influence of motives. There are no ¨other mental operations between our volition and¨ us. Besides, for Reid, mental operations are just¨ modifications of the mind. There is no empirical e vidence that there are other mental entities or ob jects, which are distinguished from the mind. Ther efore, we are the direct cause of our volition.
Reid even claims that we are the direct cause¨ of our action, even though there is always vo lition between action and the agent. In fact, even ¨if we as agents are the unities of mind and¨ body, we cannot explain how the mind interact s with the body. What experience tells us is¨ just that whenever we have volition, the correspon ding action follows without exception. Therefore,¨ Reid believes that there is an internal mechanism¨ between our mind and body and, in virtue of this i nternal mechanism, we can be the direct cause of o ur action.
After all, without the help¨ of any metaphysical hypotheses, only with the help ¨of common sense and our particularistic empirical method, we can know the facts that we as age nts are the unity of mind and body, that we have m oral responsibility and we have freedom to choose¨ our actions and that we are the direct cause of our actions.
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: TH
Appears in Collections:European Centre for Ethics

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