The study of the nature of personality, the mechanisms of manifestation of consciousness and awareness, combined with the comprehension of the phenomenon of human identity, is a crucial issue of philosophical research. Having transcended the unconscious animal’s stage, humans acquired thinking and mind, which were subsequently directed toward self-exploration. In all eras, thinkers have sought to comprehend the individual’s nature, putting forward their fundamental teachings. Modern psychosociology was built on the foundations of many of them, while other ideas, sometimes very radical, turned out to be the legacy of ancient times. This paper attempts to classify self, mind, consciousness, and identity from modern science. The work also explores and compares two great philosophers’ views from very different systems of knowledge and eras: Plato and John Locke. The essay is a useful academic contribution, summarizing known theoretical information and comparing it.
The Position of Modern Psychosociology
It is worth acknowledging that modern psychology’s position on self-concept does not recognize uniqueness and instead encourages a plurality of opinions. Thus, according to Carl Rogers, the self-concept is a collective image of an individual’s abilities and own characteristics (Vinney). It is a whole system, which includes the values, ideals, and goals of the individual, inseparable from the self in the future, present, and past. On the other hand, the self can be defined as a set of evaluations, images, and perceptions of a person person, formed by observing others.
The nature of consciousness and its connection with unconscious elements of being is explained much more unambiguously. Thus, consciousness is commonly referred to as the state of an individual’s mental life, expressed in the subjective experience of events in the external world and the life of the individual, in the account of these events (Koch). Consciousness is contrasted with the unconscious in its different variants, including the unconscious and subconscious. One of the determinants of the development of consciousness is the mind, which, according to modern psychology, is the highest type of thinking activity, as opposed to the mind (Worrall). The mind is only the lowest form of thinking associated with the knowledge of the relative, earthly and finite, but the mind has a focus on the study of the supernatural and absolute. For example, a human’s desire to study religious mythology, explore the facets of science, and seek answers to eternal questions characterizes the mind. In contrast, animal instincts manifest a tendency toward survival, and a lack of critical thinking can be classified as a reasoned activity.
The manifestations of an evolved mind, which became the basis for the emergence of self-awareness, can be defined by the questions “Who am I?”, “What am I like?”, “Where do I belong?” and “Whom do I look like?” These constructions represent self-determination, or as it is commonly called in psychology, identity. Consequently, identity can be considered a person’s awareness of their belonging to a social position, role, or group of people. Identity is critical to the individual because it allows them to balance personal and social, integrate their experiences, and ensure that personal sovereignty and independence are maintained. According to Erik Erikson, the mechanism of identity formation lies in the chronological resolution of age crises, each of which symbolizes the discovery of a new side of the individual (Cherry). Successful resolution of the conflict strengthens the subject’s strength, whereas failure leads to self-determination problems.
The nature of the era in which the authors published their work directly impacted the type of thinking of the philosopher. Thus, the Englishman John Locke’s rationality and certitude may not match the spirituality and irrationality of Plato of ancient Greece. However, the two scholars’ legacy is in the hands of contemporaries, which means that it is possible to make a comparative analysis of them.
The Nature of the Self and Identity
The definition of human nature is a central issue in the teachings of Plato and Locke, but the views of the two scholars on this phenomenon are different. According to Plato, the core of the individual’s self-concept consists of two elements, the material and the ideal, the integration of which allows the formation of a coherent personality (Duignan). With all its biological needs, processes, and feelings, the body serves as the material element. The body is the cell where the immortal soul is placed: the soul is the idea or immovable beginning. Whereas a person’s body is mortal, their soul is not doomed to eternal life, and therefore even after death, it can reincarnate in a new body. Plato attributed the lack of memories of the past life to the severe shock of rebirth, which erases the soul’s memory and skills. According to Plato, it is the category of the soul that determines the understanding of human identity. In this case, a human’s true essence appears as something timeless and on the other side of a personal being. Then, the goal of human identity is the search for ways of personal development that bring them closer to the highest divine ideas.
The Briton John Locke took a radically different position, they asserted human nature as a tabula rasa. According to Locke, the “soul” initially has no memories or skills, and therefore every person born is a clean white sheet (Rogers). In many of his writings, Locke refuted the teachings of Plato and other idealists, proving that there is no evidence for the existence of an eternal soul. At the same time, however, the man believed that concepts such as morality are hereditary and that there are people who are “morally blind,” that is, who do not understand any moral foundations and therefore are alien to human society. It is worth understanding that the core of such ideas lies not in the spiritual force that transmits knowledge and experience between people but in upbringing. Thus, Locke was a proponent of a pedagogical approach of strictly educating, setting firm expectations for the child from birth. Simultaneously, the man characterizes personal identity as the individual’s ability to recognize a particular sequence of mental states as their own. For example, if a person consciously goes back to yesterday’s events and analyzes them, they identify themselves as a person.
The Nature of Consciousness
Two philosophers similarly interpret the phenomenon of consciousness. According to Plato, consciousness is a set of signals coming from the senses: its task is to compare these signals, establish a differentiation between them, and search for the individual and the common to bring them to the same form (Duignan). In other words, in his interpretation, Plato focused only on the physiological side of consciousness, independent of the subject’s will. A similar view was advanced by John Locke, who postulated that consciousness itself characterizes only the human brain’s feature to display, remember, and explain existing reality (Rogers). In its manifestation, consciousness relies on sensory images obtained through the senses. The images are subsequently generalized, processed, and systematized, ordering the thinking of the individual. Thus, it is easy to see that both researchers pointed to the dependence of consciousness on the environment, but not subject to the individual’s will.
The Nature of Mind
In his writings, Plato was inclined to gradate human cognitive capacities into four steps, the top of which was reserved for the state of mind. Although no meaningful notes on the nature of the mind remain from the ancient Greek philosopher’s life, it can be deduced from the rest of his teachings that it is the highest property of the soul that allows dialectical cognition of the world. Thus, every soul that enters the human body already has a mind of its own. Plato qualitatively distinguished between human and animals’ thinking activity, referring to the latter as inferior representatives possessing only the rudiments of mind (Duignan). Like Socrates, Plato argued that the difference lies in the human soul’s ability to comprehend ethical categories: good and evil, morality and justice.
Locke’s philosophy on the nature of the mind operates with similar ideas. The central instrument of human cognition, according to Locke, is the mind, which exalts the individual above all non-human beings (Rogers). The basis of thinking is the idea, which means that the individual’s cognitive experience is replete with countless ideas. Ideas arise from personal lived experience and sensory cognition of objective reality, but Locke had many questions for the second category. In other words, no human mind can independently synthesize ideas, but instead, they are formed through interaction with the environment. It is interesting to note that the mind is that element of cognitive awareness that can be lost. Thus, the researcher believed that criminals and troublemakers are prone to a loss of mind, and therefore capable of violent, animalistic murders and actions.
Summarizing the above, it is worth saying that Locke’s and Plato’s interpretations of the mind are similar to a certain extent. Thus, both men tended to differentiate between humans and animals, endowing the former with the ability to think. However, Plato ascribed to the soul its mind, which is absolute, while Locke questioned the eternal soul’s existence as such.
To summarize, it must be recognized that in the era of ancient Greece, eighteenth-century Britain, and the modern world, philosophers are concerned with the same questions. This concerns the definition of personality, the mechanisms of consciousness, mind, and identity. However, it is worth recognizing that the nature of the times strongly influences the formation of ideas: while Plato appealed to idealistic models of the soul and extraterrestrial power in his teachings, the rational Locke was inclined to formulate clear and thorough theories. Plato embraced the concept of the soul and endowed humans with duality, while John Locke defined the mind as a response to sensory knowledge of the world. As a member of modern society, I can choose which ideas I am more inclined toward. Indeed, I trust Locke’s rationality more since an academic approach dictates it to knowledge. Nevertheless, I like the concept of the eternal soul and the idea of reincarnation. Perhaps my inner desire is to be something more than a mortal human being that speaks to me, so I tend to refer to Plato’s idea. Ultimately, I cannot choose just one of the two theories, but instead, be willing to believe both Locke and Plato’s premises.
Cherry, Kendra. “Identity Crisis.” VeryWell Mind, 2019. Web.
Duignan, Brian. “Plato and Aristotle: How Do They Differ?” Britannica. n.d. Web.
Koch, Christof. “What Is Consciousness?” Scientific American, 2018. Web.
Rogers, Graham. “John Locke.” Britannica, 2021. Web.
Vinney, Cynthia. “What Is Self-Concept in Psychology?” ThoughtCo, 2018. Web.
Worrall, Simon. “Why the Brain-Body Connection Is More Important Than We Think.” National Geographic, 2018. Web.