Cockburn defends Locke’s Essay (in particular his treatment of personal identity) against Burnet’s criticisms. She also provides her own argument in favor of an afterlife.

Primary Texts

Ed. Atherton, Women Philosophers of the Early Modern Period. Hackett 1994. ISBN: 0872202593 (p. 126-146)

Suggested Courses

History of Modern Philosophy

Discussion Questions

  1. How does Cockburn understand Locke’s theory of personal identity (how Locke answers the persistence question) (131-132)? Do you think she has interpreted Locke correctly?

    1. consciousness; yes

  1. Why does Cockburn think that the soul could still be immortal even if the soul doesn’t always think (129 bottom)? Do you think she is correct?

    1. it’s conceivable, thus God could do it

    2. No (good) arguments for the soul’s immortality are based on the claim that the soul always thinks anyway!

  1. What are Burnet’s 4 (or 5) main objections to Locke (1: 129, 1.5: 131, 2: 133, 3: 136-137, 4: 139)?

  2. What are Cockburn’s defenses of Locke against each objection?

    1. Objection 1 (129): If it’s false that the soul always thinks, then the soul is not immortal. Locke says that the soul doesn’t always think (as in a deep sleep), therefore Locke doesn’t think the soul is immortal.

    2. Response: The conditional is false. It’s obviously true that the soul doesn’t always think (unless the soul can think w/o being conscious of it, which is contradictory. But, immortality of the soul doesn’t depend on the soul always thinking! (Good) proofs for the immortality of the soul don’t rely on the soul always thinking. The soul can not think sometimes, but still be immortal.

    3. Objection 1.5 (131): Locke doesn’t think the soul is a permanent substance distinct from the body.

    4. Response: Yes he does. This is evidenced by the fact that he assumes that the same soul (the same permanent substance) is in both the waking and the sleeping man, which causes him to assume that the soul can’t always think. Maybe you are confused because you are mixing the ideas of soul, person, and man. And anyway, who cares? This doesn’t mean it’s not immortal!

    5. Objection 2 (133): If the soul is sometimes without thought, it makes no sense that it could start to think again (“what it is, that produces the first thought again”). If the soul stops thinking and then thinks again, then it’s a new soul.

      1. This objection is connected to a worry about what happens to the soul between death and the afterlife (if there’s a time before resurrection, e.g.).

    6. Response: I don’t understand how, but I know it’s possible. Also, it doesn’t mean the soul is new any more than having new thoughts (or even remembering old thoughts) makes the soul new.

    7. Objection 3 (136-137): I can’t conceive of a  spirit w/o thoughts or life, or a dead soul, since this makes no sense.

    8. Response: There can be life w/o thought (insects). It is true that it is hard to conceive of souls; we have no idea of the soul but by her operations, but this doesn’t mean that when she is not operating, she ceases to be. Maybe the soul is more of a power or disposition.

    9. Objection 4 (last) (139): What security can we have upon the supposition that the soul doesn’t always think (or upon the supposition that the soul may or may not be immaterial), that we could fall into a sleep-like state at death and continue that way?

    10. Response: Always thinking not helpful. Same with immateriality--it doesn’t guarantee the soul is immortal either. And, a material soul could still be immortal.

  1. What does Cockburn think is a good argument for the immortality of the soul (144-146)?

    1. “No other way to reconcile the partial distribution of things here to that order which we know is agreeable to the divine will (145)” Basically, if God exists and is 3-O, then there has to be an afterlife because here on earth, justice is not served (good things happen to bad people and vice/versa).

  1. Why does Cockburn think Locke’s theory of personal identity (including his skepticism about the immateriality of the soul and his claim that the soul doesn’t always think) allows for immortality (142)?

    1. All you need is the same consciousness--the underlying substance doesn’t matter.

Author Information

Liz Goodnick (Metropolitan State University of Denver)