[In the following passage from Tuveson's The Imagination as a Means of Grace, he explains what he terms the “second point of the Lockian revolution,” the first being that since all information enters the mind from outside, no ideas are intrinsic.— George P. Landow]

Locke's opinion was that "Self is that conscious thinking thing, whatever substance made up of, — (whether spiritual or material, simple or compounded, it matters not) — which is sensible or conscious of pleasure and pain, capable of happiness or misery, and so is concerned for itself, as far as that consciousness extends" (Essay, II, xxvii, 17). The revolutionary force of the phrase in parentheses is evident, as well as the implication that the self "is concerned for itself" as its single nature. The pivot of the self, therefore, is the awareness of easiness or uneasiness, a state of mind rather than a single ego as a self-contained essence. Self, to use a modern expression, is a biological phenomenon. No enduring, unchanging soul is necessary constitute the personality; the self the understanding, the power of apprehending and responding in its dark room, together with the impressions as they group themselves or are grouped into patterns. The ego, therefore, is the sum of the matrix and of the simple ideas that come to it during the course of a lifetime—which is to say that the ego is constantly changing. If Socrates and the "present mayor of Queensborough" agree in identity of consciousness—that is, in the awareness of the same sensations—they are; Locke assures us, the same person. This was disconcerting enough, but, even worse (Essay, II, xxvii, 19):

... if the same Socrates waking and sleeping do not partake of the same consciousness, Socrates waking and sleeping is not the same person. And to punish Socrates waking for what sleeping Socrates thought, and waking Socrates was never conscious of, would be no more of right, than to punish one twin for what his brother-twin did, whereof he knew nothing . . .

The germ of a new attitude toward penology, to mention only one problem of society, is here. Every phase of the traditional attitudes toward sin, immortality, and the nature of the soul would have to be reconsidered. Above all, responsibility would have to be redefined. Before Locke, the soul was considered as engaging in a continuous negotiation with the world. [27-28]


Lee Tuveson, Ernest. The Imagination as a Means of Grace: Locke and the Aesthetics of Romanticism. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1960.

Last updated 31 May 2013