Cudworth’s Conscious Self
John Locke famously argues in An Essay Concerning Human Understanding(1690) that it is consciousness that “makes every one to be what he calls self” (Essay II.xxvii.9) and therefore that the self (or person) is at least conceptually distinct from both the body and the soul. We know that, in offering this account, Locke was influenced by the earlier English philosopher Ralph Cudworth. In particular, Locke borrows the word “consciousness” from Cudworth’s The True Intellectual System of the Universe (1678). It turns out, however, that there is a deeper affinity between Locke and Cudworth. This is because, in some of his unpublished manuscripts (which there is reason to believe that Locke may have read), Cudworth also offers an account of the self in terms of consciousness. My aim is to examine Cudworth’s account of the self and to compare it with Locke’s more well-known account. I will argue that, while both Locke and Cudworth define the self in terms of consciousness, they nonetheless arrive at importantly different ways of thinking about the self, which may reflect a broader disagreement about the structure of our moral lives and the nature of desire.