The Role of Appropriation in Locke's Account of Persons and Personal Identity

Locke Studies 16:3–39 (2016)
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According to Locke, appropriation is a precondition for moral responsibility and thus we can expect that it plays a distinctive role in his theory. Yet it is rare to find an interpretation of Locke’s account of appropriation that does not associate it with serious problems. To make room for a more satisfying understanding of Locke’s account of appropriation we have to analyse why it was so widely misunderstood. The aim of this paper is fourfold: First, I will show that Mackie’s and Winkler’s interpretations that have shaped the subsequent discussion contain serious flaws. Second, I will argue that the so-called appropriation interpretation —that is the view that appropriation is meant to provide alternative persistence conditions for persons—lacks support. Third, I will re-examine Locke’s texts and argue that we can come to a better understanding of his notion of appropriation in the Essay if we interpret it in analogy to his account of appropriation in Two Treatises. Fourth, I will offer a more fine-grained interpretation of the role of appropriation in relation to persistence conditions for persons. I conclude by showing that the advantage of this proposal is that it reconciles interpretations that have commonly been thought to be inconsistent.
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