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Adam Smith Reflection

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The following is a reflection on the work of Adam Smith for an economics course, which ended up being more of a defense of private property to my professor.

Adam Smith is one of the foundational thinkers, not just of modern economics, but of modern thought in general. His work surrounded the issue of wealth, why it is valuable, how it is produced, how it can be increased, and how it ought to be distributed. Wealth, in this sense, is measured mostly by the growth of economies. For Smith, economics is essentially the science and study of increasing the wellbeing of humanity. Though he is often held up by the most conservative economists as a proponent of free markets and trade in a simple sense, Smith’s political economy is actually substantially more complex and egalitarian than many contemporary readings of him would suggest.
The two main causes of wealth, according to Smith, are trade and the division of labor. The division of labor is prior to trade, with trade having a kind of multiplying effect on the wealth produced by the division of labor in the form of accelerated growth. Whereas conservatives like Gregory Mankiw tend to focus on the role of trade in the production of wealth, Smith’s political economy is especially interested in the place of the division of labor in the creation of the wealth of the community. All wealth, according to Smith’s analysis, is created by the division of labor. (Sackrey, 31) The division of labor creates wealth by making it possible to produce goods which could otherwise never be produced. Individuals, in isolation from others, are incapable of producing most of the goods used by society, therefore they have gone about dividing labor to allow the production of a wider and better array of goods. Because the most useful and valuable goods couldn’t be produced in isolation, much of the value available to society is created via the division of labor, and wealth is thus a product of that labor.
Smith’s understanding of wealth is important because it places the laborer in the position of value-creation, and it recognizes the interdependent nature of members of a community. This runs in direct contradistinction to many economists and thinkers who tend to place trade, and by extension capital, above labor in terms of its importance as a mechanism of value-creation. These more conservative attitudes about value have the possibility of being used to roll back the causes of labor and the gains of egalitarians in the political sphere by serving as an economic and philosophical defense of the status quo. That Adam Smith himself stands on the opposite side of the aisle on this issue shows that the entire subject of economics has the potential to provide a critical stance for the analysis of growth, wealth, and their relationship to societal good.
Gregory Mankiw provides a specific example of a conservative view of wealth as a product of trade. “Trade can make everyone better off,” says Mankiw, a position based on the assumption that it is the trade and use of goods produced by the division of labor, and not the division itself, which produces wealth. This is the basic premise of our current system of wealth, and it can easily be seen as a defense of the capitalist mode of production, a system under which property is privately owned by individuals. Because it is trade, and not simply the division of labor, which creates wealth, and private property is an essential component of trade, the promotion of the current property system becomes possible on the basis of its promotion of trade. Economists like Mankiw would suggest that the current system, or even one which has more extreme laissez-faire elements, is the best system for creating wealth. (Mankiw, Chapter 2) The argument would further run that a society with large amounts of wealth will see that wealth reaching all of its members by way of investment.
The difference between these views lies in certain premises underlying their respective arguments. It essentially comes down to a difference about the origin and cause of wealth, that is they disagree about whether wealth comes from the division of labor or from trade. This difference makes for some important broader philosophical differences as well. If, for example, wealth comes from the division of labor, then wealth could never exist without a community. This logic could be used to argue that all wealth, once created, becomes the wealth of the community, never produced or owned in isolation from others. The alternative, trade-focused philosophy would tend to suggest that wealth is created by those who trade and use goods most effectively, therefore that wealth becomes the property of those individuals. The social and economic implications of each of these positions are vastly different from one another, the former being a system of totally collectively owned wealth, and the latter being a system of private wealth akin to our present one.
Adam Smith’s actual position, in relation to these two, appears to be a moderate position lying between them. Smith, living in the period of the decline of mercantilism, is most interested in critiquing that older system. (Sackrey, 35) He advocates a less heavily regulated, less monopolistic system, because he sees those mechanisms as being too heavily influenced by the old mercantile interests to be beneficial to society. This part of his political economy is of most interest to conservatives. Smith’s concern for the working class, however, especially their relationship to the wealthiest members of society, seems to suggest a much more critical understanding of freedom of trade, exchange, and property. (Sackrey, 35) Smith recognizes that there is a certain level of inequality inherent in the system which must be dealt with. Economics, and political economy by extension, serve to answer the question of how these inequalities might be dealt with, and how dealing with them will affect the broader system and its ability to produce wealth in the future.
If Smith is right, and all wealth is due to our shared division of labor, I don’t think it necessarily follows that all wealth must be collective wealth. Clearly Smith, who saw one of the functions of government to be the protection of one individual against another, recognized some kind of private right of property, at least in one’s person. Additionally, the argument that all wealth is collective because it is produced collectively fails to recognize the actual nature of the relationship between labor, capital, and the division of labor in practice. A just accounting of the ownership of wealth must consider who invested the various factors of production allowing that wealth to be produced, and how much each individual actually invested.
The argument that all collectively produced wealth is collectively owned ignores the fact that the labor of individuals, being the property of individuals, can be sold. If it is assumed that man owns himself and the product of his labor, then it is understood that anything he produces independent of anyone else is his alone. If one owns something, it is usually understood that he has the right to exchange that thing with others at will. This means that the labor of the individual, by way of the product of that labor, can be sold. Supposing one man has enough goods to temporarily buy the labor of ten men, he can buy that labor and its product from the men and make it his to use as he pleases. If the man then organizes the ten other men on the basis of the division of labor, knowing that he can multiply the output of the labor he has purchased, then the resulting wealth and goods are in one sense “collectively produced,” but they are justly the property of the single man since he has purchased the labor and product used to produce them. The product of the division of labor in this case is great wealth, but being the property of the single man through a fair and voluntary exchange, it still is not collective wealth.
The investment of capital, too, presents a problem with the collective ownership of wealth. If three men invest some goods they’ve produced, capital, in building a house, but they invest unequally, a fair accounting of the ownership of that house depends on how much each invested. If one man invests 60% of the necessary capital, but the others invest only 20% apiece, it seems just that the house ought to be 60% the property of the first man, and only 40% the property of the other two. The idea that capital, and the thus the portion of the new wealth which it comprises, ceases to be the property of its original owner after it is contributed to the division of labor seems to result in a kind of injustice. In a just world, these men do not equally own the house they built together, and the wealth they produce is not collective.
Adam Smith’s political economy is an important commentary on the way contemporary economists think about wealth, but it also has certain things to say about the justice of inequality. Smith’s ideas run both in line with, and in opposition to, conservative and capitalist economics, which means that he is an essential source of controversy on the issue of the justice of any economic system. It is important to consider that his views, taken to their extreme, may not be completely consistent with justice, but that taken moderately they are important for criticizing and deconstructing the most harmful parts of the present system.

N. Gregory. Mankiw. Principles of Microeconomics. South Melbourne, Cengage Learning Australia, 2008. Print.

Sackrey, Charles, Geoffrey Schneider, Janet Knoedler, and Hans Jensen. Introduction to Political Economy 8th ed. Dollars and Sense, 2016. Print.


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Outline of Hylomorphism


The following was written last fall for an introductory philosophy of mind course.

In chapters 10.1 through 10.5 of Philosophy of Mind, William Jaworski works through a summary of the philosophical/psychological position of Hylomorphism. Hylomorphism is the metaphysical theory, stemming from Aristotle, that objects are composites of matter and form. This means that physical objects exist as matter (the material out of which they are arranged) ordered into forms (the order according to which that matter is arranged.) Hylomorphism uses the idea of structure, the form of an object, as the criterion by which things are organized and ordered according to type or kind.

Hylomorphism is based on the idea that a full understanding of an object arises from understanding both its matter and form. According to the Hylomorphic worldview, the qualities of objects are determined by these two features, and they have a direct causal impact on the objects which have them. Hylomorphism describes an understanding of objects according to emergent properties, or properties which an object has because of the organization of its components. These properties are held only by the object, according to its form, not by the components which make that object up. They are also not simply ways of describing the activity of lower-level matter. Hylomorphism and emergentism both posit the existence of features of the universe which exist only in the sense that the constituent parts making them up are ordered in a specific way so as to produce those features.
A property is said to be emergent (as per emergentism) if

  1. A system possesses the property in virtue of its components organization.
  2. The system possesses the property but none of the components possess the property.
  3. The property has causal powers which explain the system’s behavior.
  4. It is not a higher-order property constructed out of lower order properties.

This way of conceiving of properties in objects is distinct from Aristotelian Hylomorphism in terms of its understanding of causation, which in Hylomorphism is based on a “functional analysis” of the object to see the relationships between its parts. The parts of an object are the things which contribute to its overall activities.
The argument for Hylomorphism follows

  1. Structure is a real and irreducible explanatory principle. (Premise)
  2. If structure is real and irreducible as an explanatory principle, then the best explanation for structure being real is that Hylomorphism is true. (Premise)
  3. If the best explanation is that Hylomorphism is true, then it is true. (Premise)
  4. The best explanation is that Hylomorphism is true. (— E, 1,3)
  5. Hylomorphism is true. (— E, 2,4)

This way of conceiving of the objects in a system appears to be valid by modus ponens. I think Hylomorphism seems to be a sound explanation of the relationship between lower and higher-order components and their structures, though I question whether perhaps premise 2 is not overly generous toward a Hylomorphic understanding of matter and form. I think the potential for the premises to be flawed is the biggest issue with the argument, as presented in the text. Assuming Jaworski’s argument is sound, I would generally agree with his ultimate conclusion about the relationship between the material components of a whole and the whole itself, as well as how that relationship relates to seeing objects as composites of matter and form.

Jaworski, William. Philosophy of Mind: A Comprehensive Introduction. Chichester, UK: Wiley Blackwell, 2011. print.

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Outline of Humean Ethical Non-Rationalism

david hume

Another outline for my ethics course.

In chapter 1 of his “On the Influencing Motives of the Will,” David Hume makes an argument for ethical non-rationalism on the basis that decisions are not primarily derived from rational ideas but from passions and components of the will not fully under our control. In Hume’s view, the Will, a result of pain, pleasure, and other passions, is the driving force of decision making. This means that decisions are not made rationally, and ethics is not based in reason alone, but in the non-rational drives of passion which guide the will.

Hume argues that morality, which is based in reason as a part of “practical philosophy,” informs moral decision-making, thereby connecting moral decision-making and reason, but that it can never totally eclipse the passions as the driving force behind decisions. The direct cause of an action is never reasoning based in practical moral reason, rather that kind of reasoning informs the decisions made on the basis of the passions and other drives of the will. Decisions are based more directly in our perception of whether we will experience pleasure or pain as a result of the action being performed.

The argument essentially runs along the lines of rational moral decisions being based in causal relationship. If A causes B then rational moral decisions are based on whether A should cause B to produce the best decision from a rational point of view. This basic pattern of thought doesn’t reflect the way decisions are actually made because the additional factor of pleasure or pain as a result of the action A changes the way decisions may be made in response to A. Because these passion-based factors have a greater influence over the decision than simply the rational following of A to B, the decision itself is not a primarily rational one, but a passionate decision informed by reason.

This argument seems to make logical sense and is valid by modus tollens from the premises. It also appears to be sound in the sense that the relationship between the premises and their truth is solid. Moral decisions, viewed as Hume views them, are not primarily reasoned decisions. They are based, instead, on the passions and the drive toward pleasure and away from pain. This drive, informed by certain rational decisions, results in morality as it is between people.

Hume’s arguments, which is followed by an assertion that passions are, in fact, amenable to reason and related to reason, is important because it points to a certain flaw in the way prior philosophers described moral decision-making. Rather than a reasonable, thoughtful decision, most decisions are based in simpler more immediate causes which can only be analyzed in terms of reason after the fact. I agree with his argument generally, and I see its role in relationship to morality because it changes the way individual decisions are seen in terms of their relationship to rational, practical morality.

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Outline of J.S. Mill’s Argument for Utilitarianism

js mill

This is a brief outline prepared for my Ethics course.

In chapter 1 of his Utilitarianism, John Stuart Mill puts fourth an argument in favor of the “Greatest Happiness Principle” or GHP. That is, he argues that a thing is good insofar as it produces the greatest happiness for the largest number of people. While his ideas may seem at first to be an intuitive extension of the Hedonistic Value Theory, when examined carefully through logical analysis, it can be shown to be not only unsound, but actually totally invalid as an argument.

The argument follows like this:

1. If everyone desires his own happiness, then individual happiness is desirable. (Premise.)
2. Everyone desires his own happiness. (Premise.)
3. If everyone’s individual happiness is desirable, then the happiness of everyone is desirable. (Premise.)
4. Every individual’s happiness is desirable. (By conditional elimination from 1 and 2)
5. Therefore the happiness of everyone is desirable. (By conditional elimination from 3 and 4)
6. If the happiness of everyone is desirable, then an action is right, if and only if it produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. (Premise.)
7. Therefore, an action is right, if and only if is produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. (By conditional elimination from 5 and 6.)

While this argument seems to flow logically, it encounters a problem in the fact that the argument itself is actually invalid. Assuming this is the argument made by Mill, the argument is invalid because it relies on the Fallacy of Equivocation. Mill falsely conflates two different variations on the meaning of desirable, making appear as if something being “capable of being desired” also means it should be desired. The use of the world desirable to refer to the former in the first several premises of the argument, followed by the use of the latter in the conclusion, makes the argument inconsistent, and by consequence, invalid.

In order to make this argument function, one would need to eliminate the false equivocation of the two forms of “desired” by the addition of a premise. Changing the word “desirable” to “capable of being desired” and “ought to be desired” to draw distinction between the two variations would clarify the meaning of the argument, and the addition of the premise “If something is capable of being desired, then it ought to be desired” would add to the validity of the argument. This argument would still be unsound, however, due to the fact that this additional premise is not necessarily true. It seems the problems with the premises and the reliance on fallacies are difficult to overcome in this argument.

Mill’s argument, taken in this way, is both unsound and invalid, and it is difficult to make an argument along the same lines which doesn’t fall into the same issues. The basis of the GHP as a useful ethical principle is quite flawed, and its use in practice is not philosophically viable. This doesn’t necessarily eliminate Utilitarianism as a potentially valid ethical theory, it only draws into question the value of J.S. Mill’s Utilitarianism and his argument for it.

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Campaign Finance and American Democracy

athenian democracy

The Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971, or FECA, was established with the express purpose of protecting the sanctity of American Democracy through careful regulation. Requiring and regulating the disclosure of campaign donations at the federal level and detailing the legal limits of campaign contributions served as the basis of a body of campaign finance law intended to protect the equality of influence of the individual American over the political system against the power of wealthy individuals and corporate groups. The FECA has since been challenged and weakened through a series of legal cases dealing with its relationship to the First Amendment and the nature of campaign contributions as a kind of political speech. The relationship between sensible campaign finance law and the freedom of speech of individuals donating to federal campaigns is a long and complex one. In terms of its practical application, the FECA has been largely neutered by the alteration of a variety of its provisions as a result of the cases surrounding it. In order to restore the power of the FECA to function effectively as the cornerstone of US campaign finance law, these altered provisions must be returned to their original state or altered in some way, allowing them to better function as limits on campaign spending.

The arguments which have been put forward in disarming parts of the FECA have been primarily based in an appeal to the First Amendment right to freedom of speech. The implication here is that campaign donations act as a variety of political speech by donors, and are therefore protected by the Constitution. Because the Constitution protects “the rights of ‘life,’ ‘liberty,’ ‘property,’ and ‘equal protection’” for persons, (Clements, 70) the Constitutional question hinges on two important factors, the nature of the “personhood” of donors and whether the kind of influence campaign contributions can have represents a substantial detriment to the public good. The question of personhood deals with the rights of corporations to contribute fund in the same manner as individuals; and more importantly, the issue of harm to the public good draws into question the entire Constitutional argument of campaign contributions as protected speech. If, for example, the courts were to interpret the dangers of the influence of money in politics as sufficient to warrant a prudent legislative response, such donations would no longer be considered constitutionally protected, rather they would be a regulated variety of finance. The complexity of interpretation here has made the FECA an important part of the history of Supreme Court rulings in the 20th and 21st centuries. Both of these factors have been dealt with by the Supreme Court in relation to this issue, but it remains clear that the rulings handed down have weakened the FECA and fundamentally changed the structure of American campaign finance, as well as the electoral system by extension. A reexamination and alteration of the FECA and the rulings which have contributed to its current structure is essential to strengthening US campaign finance law.

Some of the most important alterations to the FECA must surround the limits placed on campaign contributions. Originally, these limits were introduced as part of the 1974 amendment to the FECA, but they have been heavily altered recently, allowing for a much greater degree of flexibility in the volume of money being donated to campaigns by individuals. Supreme Court cases like McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission have effectively removed the capacity for the Commission to act on the FECA’s provisions about limiting the number of contributions made by individuals. (Clements, 126) In this case, while the limitations on spending directly to candidates and committees remain the same, limits on total spending on the campaigns of all federal candidates have been lifted. By eliminating these limits, the Court has allowed individuals to contribute an unlimited total amount of money toward the election of federal candidates. The result of this change is an unnecessary expansion of the ability of individual donors to influence elections outside their own states. Overturning McCutcheon v. FEC would restore a certain standard limitation to this kind of spending, and it would restrict the spending of individuals to primarily the campaigns within their states. Individual donations, under a system structured in this way, would primarily serve to support the work of campaigns limited to certain areas of local interest, preventing wealthy donors from attempting to influence elections in a wide number of distant states. In order to make these kinds of localized contributions effective, overturning McCutcheon v FEC, which would limit total spending by individuals on federal campaigns, would have to be paired with a tightening of the limits on the total spending by the campaigns themselves.

The FECA currently allows for unlimited spending by campaigns on activities to increase voter turnout and spread the message of parties and candidates nationally. This is a part of the later Supreme Court case Buckley v. Valeo, which challenged the Constitutionality of contribution and expenditure limits found in certain 1974 provisions of the act. The court eventually upheld contribution limits, but expenditure limits were overturned as restrictions of the quality of campaign speech. (FEC) The issue with this provision, as it stands in light of Buckley v. Valeo, is that it incentivizes massive spending by campaigns, and it indirectly promotes the kind of large-scale “money-races” and “money-elections” which can be seen in modern elections by making a large budget an essential component of a successful campaign. Altering the FECA to limit all spending by individual campaigns would allow campaigns to focus their spending on targeted work, and it would equalize the field of competition in terms of the availability of money. Campaigns would, under these conditions, be forced to compete equally on the issues rather than campaign for money from other interests.

Further, cases like Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission have fundamentally changed the way corporations are viewed in terms of their personhood and their ability to participate in campaign contributions. In this decision, the Supreme Court upheld the right of nonprofit corporations, like Citizens United, and individuals to unlimited political expenditures, but this decision also extended that right to labor unions and for-profit corporations. In terms of the Constitution, this case deals with the question of the nature of personhood as regards corporations. The question of what constitutes legal personhood is important in regards to the legal rights of corporate entities to contribute to campaigns nationally. Corporate legal personhood, a principle dating back to the 19th century, has been used to claim Constitutional protection of corporate speech, and by extension, donations. While the concept of this personhood is relatively old, the way it was upheld in the Citizens United decision represents a shift in that understanding and a strengthening of the value of corporate personhood in the 21st century. The relationship between corporations as “persons” and the Constitution has been strengthened by making individual people and corporate “persons” equal before the First Amendment.

Overturning Citizens United is essential to any kind of reform of the FECA. This alteration is not only practically important, in the sense that it will give the FEC greater power in regulating total political expenditures and the influence of corporations in politics, but also legally important because of the precedent set by the Citizens United decision. This decision establishes the relative equality of corporate legal personhood and the personhood of individuals. Whereas corporations previously acted as bodies of individuals acting with a single will, “persons,” now they are viewed in a similar light as individuals with full Constitutional rights and protections. By establishing this role for corporations, the court has fundamentally reshaped the way future legal decisions must view corporations and corporate money. This decision affects the way large corporate interests can interact with the political world, but it also affects all other cases in which those interests appeal to the first amendment for their protection. Beyond the world of campaign finance, this decision has the capacity to change legal interpretation surrounding advertising, financial and other regulation, and any other federal relationship with corporations. Giving corporations this level of personhood actually undermines the ability of individuals to govern themselves by subordinating the political power of the individual to that of larger groups and corporations. Justice Stevens’ dissent in the Citizens United decision pressed this point and argued for a distinction between human-beings and “persons” which would allow for federal regulation of corporations regardless of the First Amendment. (Clements, 14) Stevens saw the decision, and the resulting influx of corporate money into politics, as threats to an already imperfect American democracy. According to this thinking, making corporations “people” gives them a kind of power which they were previously denied outright, the power to shoot down federal regulation using the First Amendment.

The result of previous decades of challenges and alterations to the FECA has been its weakening, and with it a weakened system of campaign finance law. Beyond the restoration of previously removed portions of the act and the overturning of important decisions surrounding it, certain provisions could be added to strengthen the campaign finance system moving forward. The power of Super-PACs in light of Citizens United is huge, and they must be regulated and controlled in a more effective way. These organizations allow large donations of money which effectively go directly to campaigns. In this sense, the presence of Super-PACs totally negates any other limits on total campaign contributions by creating a method for donating unlimited amounts of funds. The volume of funding coming into campaigns through this method has the added effect of making it nearly impossible to stage a grassroots resistance to corporate power. Democracy with Super-PACs is effectively controlled by corporate interests with very little potential federal oversight or popular resistance. Categorizing Super-PACs as a separate kind of organization under the FECA, a kind which can be regulated by the FEC, would make it feasible to place contribution limits directly on the Super-PACs themselves. This alteration could be one way of undoing some of the damage of Citizens United by providing substantial regulations for Super-PACs and equalizing corporate donors and extremely wealthy donors with the donations of small, individual citizens.

The danger of a weakened FEC and campaign finance system is that American democracy will be weakened along with it. The capacity for corporations and wealthy donors to influence the outcome of elections totally reshapes the way our democracy functions by placing final decision-making power in the hands of a relatively small number of Americans. Functional democracy requires broad participation in order to prevent a decay into a plutocratic oligarchy. Fundamental changes must be made to both the FECA and to the broader legal decisions surrounding it. With these changes, the FEC will be able to more effectively regulate the behavior of campaigns, major donors, and corporations as they relate to American electoral politics. In total, the freedom of speech and Constitutional rights of individuals can be effectively maintained while also reasonably limiting the spending of federal campaigns and the power of corporations and large interests to control the outcome of major elections.

Works Cited
Clements, Jeffrey. Corporations Are Not People. Berrett Koehler, 2014. Print.
Federal Election Commission. “The Federal Election Campaign Laws: A Short History.” FEC. N.d. Web.
Foltz, Philipp. The Age of Pericles. 1853. Image.
McChesney, Robert. Dollarocracy. Nation Books, 2013. Print.
Schweizer, Peter. Extortion. HMH, 2013. Print.

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Analysis of Locke’s “On Identity and Diversity”

A presentation I delivered for my “Philosophy of Human Nature” course.

John Locke was a seventeenth century British philosopher of the empiricist school; though he is perhaps most famous for his work in political philosophy and his influence on American political thought in the eighteenth century, Locke also made some important contributions to metaphysics and the philosophy of mind in regards to the nature of personhood and personal identity. In book 2, chapter 27 of his Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke attempts to address the philosophical problem of personal identity, that is, the question of what is necessary and sufficient to constitute a common personal identity over time despite changes enacted upon a person. In other words, what are the necessary and sufficient features of a thing that give it an identity over time?

Before dealing directly with the question of human personal identity, it is important to understand Locke’s distinction between things or objects and people. In his work, Locke explains the origin of identity for “vegetables,” “animals,” and the person. Objects of substance such as plants, animals, inanimate objects and human beings maintain their identity in a fundamentally different way from “the self” that constitutes the core of a person’s being. The identity of “vegetables” is maintained by the organization of the matter making them up. Objects of substance are, according to Locke, ultimately made up of “masses of matter.” These masses are made up of the substance out of which objects are formed. The objects themselves can be said to have identity in the sense that they maintain an organized structure over time. A rock, for instance, maintains its identity regardless of the substance because, even if all the matter comprising the rock were to be replaced, the rock would maintain its organization and structure, thereby maintaining its identity as that rock over time. This way of maintaining identity over time is common to all objects of substance, according to Locke, including human beings. The physical component of a man, the body, maintains its identity in the manner of an object, a plant, or an animal. The distinction, according to Locke, between these objects and a person is that a person is ultimately a thinking consciousness capable memory and of reflecting on itself and recognizing “the self” as continuous over time. This “thinking consciousness,” similar to Descartes’ “thinking thing,” is the necessary and sufficient feature which gives a person his individual identity. Regardless of the nature of the body or the soul, consciousness and the ability to reflect on the self are essential to personal identity. The ability to reflect and the ability to remember past experiences are necessary and sufficient features to show a common personal identity of the person.

The question of personal identity has been answered with three main suggestions about the nature of identity: the sameness of soul, the sameness of body, and the sameness of consciousness. The sameness of soul theory postulates that the soul is the feature which gives a person personal identity, the sameness of body says that the body serves this purpose. Locke’s argument about consciousness and the ability to reflect on the self point to the third idea about personal identity, the sameness of consciousness. On this issue, Locke walks the line between those who believe the body to be the feature supplying personal identity and those who believe it to be the soul. Locke’s argument for the importance of consciousness in this regard is based on the idea that the other two possibilities are fundamentally flawed in some way. Whereas consciousness is an essential feature of how the individual relates to himself and understands the “self” and personhood as abstract concepts, the body and the soul are less consistent components of the person. The body, for instance, without the ability to remember past events without the aid of the consciousness, could be inhabited by another consciousness with different memories and experiences, and the person would cease to have the same identity. The human being itself, that is the body, would remain the same, but the person would be fundamentally changed under these circumstances. If my consciousness were switched with that of Fr. McShane, the McShane body with my consciousness couldn’t be considered identical to him, and in the same way my body with his consciousness wouldn’t be identical to me. The person, Locke argues, is determined by the thinking component, regardless of body. A similar argument defeats the theory of sameness of the soul. Locke suggests that the soul, without a consciousness, could be transplanted into another body, and without a common consciousness to carry over the identity of the person, there could be no personal identity. This premise can be demonstrated in light of the idea of reincarnation. If a human being dies and its soul migrates into a cow, the soul serves to give the cow life, but it doesn’t retain the memories, experience, or distinct self-awareness of the original person. The cow is clearly not identical to the original person.

Locke essentially argues from the premise that there is a principle which is necessary and sufficient to provide personal identity. This principle must be common to the thing being examined over time, demonstrating that that thing is the same in one moment as in another. He then demonstrates what it is that is common to physical objects of substance, and what is common to the human being that gives those things their identity. Because, he argues, this identity fails to account for the thinking self, there must be another component that unites the identity of that aspect of man. Since the soul and the body fail, in this view, to account for continuing personal identity in memory, Locke points to consciousness as the source of identity for the person. Because memory and reflection on the self remain common to the person, these features, the consciousness, meet the criteria of that which is necessary and sufficient for identity, pointing to a separate personal identity in consciousness from the body. Locke’s argument appears to be valid, and it makes some reasonable criticisms of both those who believe in strict substance dualism and see the soul as the source of personal identity, and those who believe the body alone to be the source.

Ultimately, the question of personal identity is important to Locke because it involves a deeper moral and legal question, that is what actions are human beings accountable for based on changing personal identity? If, for instance, I am not the same person one moment as the next, then I could rob a bank and claim that the person who did it was not, in fact, fundamentally identical to me. Locke’s idea of the sameness of consciousness serves to tie me irrevocably to my past self and to make me responsible for my actions in the past. In its most basic sense, Locke’s argument is sound, and it achieves its intent of linking the person of the present to his past self and past actions.

While the argument remains valid and essentially sound, some questions about the exact nature of consciousness and identity in Locke’s view could easily be raised. The issue of memory in his conception of consciousness raises some questions about the relationship between a person in two stages of life when he cannot remember what occurred during an event in the past. If memory and the ability to reflect on the self are necessary and sufficient to show common identity between myself now and myself yesterday at lunch, what is the nature of that identity if I cannot remember what I ate for lunch yesterday? While intuitively it would seem I am clearly identical to myself yesterday, and I share a common personal identity with that person, because I don’t remember what I ate for lunch, my consciousness is fundamentally different and it seems I am a different person today than yesterday. This raises problems for Locke’s moral considerations because it brings into question the nature of moral and legal culpability in cases where the criminal can’t remember committing the crime. Locke answers this question, at least in regards to drunkenness, by drawing a distinction between the legal and moral responsibility of the individual. While he makes it clear that the individual should be legally responsible, because of the problem of the relationship between the drunken self and the sober self, ultimate moral responsibility is more questionable. In this sense, while Locke resolves the legal question, he fails to end this criticism of his theory. Memory, of the lack thereof, prevents me from being identical to myself during past events, and it calls into question the common personal identity between those selves.

Even in light of this criticism, Locke’s answer to the question of the persistence of personal identity provides an important insight into one possible unifying factor in identity. He essentially accomplishes his goal in demonstrating moral responsibility over time as part of identity over time. By proposing this theory about identity, he was one of the first to suggest what is now called the psychological answer to this philosophical question, which along with he biological answer, is one of the main positions taken by modern philosophers on the issue. Locke’s empirical view of the world led to this important contribution to philosophy.

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The 99 Names of God

An essential feature of the Islamic religion is its all encompassing radical monotheism. The reverence for God as the greatest supreme being, an incomparable creator force and guide, is exemplified in the recognition of God’s many facets and roles in the universe. The “ninety-nine names of God” are a collection of names that describe the purpose and power of God in the universe and in the lives of human-beings.

One of the most essential examples of a “name of God” is “The Creator.” God’s role in the universe is primarily and ultimately as the creator and source of everything. He is the divine origin point of all creation in Islam, and He serves a very similar role as in the Genesis account of creation. He is the architect of the heavens and the earth, and He creates humanity in the form of Adam and Eve. This shared creation myth demonstrates the deep connections between the Judeo-Christian and Islamic traditions in regards to God, and it is one of the more significant overlap points between the two traditions.

Another name of God that plays an important role in Muslim tradition is “The Just.” This name, along with “The Judge,” “The Merciful,” and “The Accepter of Repentance” shows God’s role as an even-handed judge for the universe. Both just and merciful, He gives out judgements to each human-being based on what they deserve, and on what they can handle. God passes judgement on sinners, but is never willing to fully turn away from them. The nature of sin in Islam tends to differ slightly from the Christian sense in that God is even more willing to accept the repentant sinner than in most faiths. On of the essential facets of His personality is the acceptance of this repentance.

As a counterpoint to His mercy, God’s role as “The Abaser,” “The Harming,” “The Degrading,” “The Life-Taker,” and “The Vanquisher” represents the ultimately challenging and humbling nature of the universe and of God. God’s purpose is not just to guide his creation gently along the way, but to place obstacles in the way of men in order to humble them and eventually bring order and tranquility. God vanquishes evil, but he also abases and degrades righteous men in order to put them in their places. Islam does not deny the essential nature of suffering, and they see it as part of the grand plan of God. Predestination is present in Islam in full recognition of the difficulties of life and the problems of suffering and evil.

The most fascinating of the names of God is “The Real.” It emphasizes the ultimate truth of not just God’s existence, but of His law, His creation, and His other names and facets. God is seen as being the ultimate expression of what is real because He is the creator and sustainer of those things. God is not just real in a transcendent sense, independent of His creation; but also as an immanent force that penetrates and surround creation. That is why this name of God is so essential: without it, the others would cease to have purpose.

God is a complex figure in Islam. This complexity highlights the monotheism of the Islamic faith, and it sustains it as a workable model for the world. The ninety-nine names of God are human expressions of the complexity of the universe and of the human mind. These are really only ideas of what God truly is within a Muslim understanding, but they serve to guide the work with the Qur’an and the other texts in understanding God’s will for both the individual and for mankind.

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