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Transmigration des âmes en Europe
La question des personnalités multiples chez Locke

Décembre 2010

Alain de Libera, Archéologie du sujet. 1/ Naissance du sujet, Paris, Vrin, 2007, spéc. pp. 199–202.

John Locke, Identité et différence. L'invention de la conscience, Présenté, traduit et commenté par Etienne Balibar,
Bilingue anglais-français,
Paris, Seuil, 1998 (Points Essais), pp. 237–239:

(Balibar) «Le texte de Locke [ci-dessous] nous apparaît ainsi situé au point exact d'un renversement, par lequel, sortant d'un âge théologique et entrant dans un âge psychologique (ou anthropologique), mais conservant toute une partie des instruments intellectuels forgés par le premier au bénéfice du second, on substitue la question moderne des personnalités multiples à celle ancienne des personnes de la Trinité dans l'élaboration de la notion de sujet.

Entre les deux, pour ainsi dire, la transition est assurée par la question de la «transmigration des âmes» à laquelle le Traité lockien fait subir un examen répété pour la soumettre au critère rationnel de l'identité de personne. Cette question, on le sait, passionne les Platoniciens de Cambridge ainsi que Leibniz (qui y fait allusion dans le §II.xxvii.14 des Nouveaux Essais, en citant les opinions de Van Helmont).[…]

[La question des personnalités multiples] constitue en quelque sorte la contrepartie de l'argument de la continuité vécue de la vie (ou de l'expérience), qui permettait à Locke de résoudre la vieille aporie de «l'identité de l'homme à travers le changement des âges»: il faut en effet admettre que cette continuité peut être scindée par un clivage qui n'abolit pas les mécanismes du souvenir et de la reconnaissance de soi, mais les distribue entre des «soi» distincts, dont chacun est le pôle d'identification d'une conscience.»

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding (1689)

eBooks@Adelaide
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/locke/john/l81u/

Livre II, chapitre 27, On Identity and Diversity

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/l/locke/john/l81u/B2.27.html

"Transmigration"

6. The identity of man. This also shows wherein the identity of the same man consists; viz. in nothing but a participation of the same continued life, by constantly fleeting particles of matter, in succession vitally united to the same organized body. He that shall place the identity of man in anything else, but, like that of other animals, in one fitly organized body, taken in any one instant, and from thence continued, under one organization of life, in several successively fleeting particles of matter united to it, will find it hard to make an embryo, one of years, mad and sober, the same man, by any supposition, that will not make it possible for Seth, Ismael, Socrates, Pilate, St. Augustin, and Caesar Borgia, to be the same man. For if the identity of soul alone makes the same man; and there be nothing in the nature of matter why the same individual spirit may not be united to different bodies, it will be possible that those men, living in distant ages, and of different tempers, may have been the same man: which way of speaking must be from a very strange use of the word man, applied to an idea out of which body and shape are excluded. And that way of speaking would agree yet worse with the notions of those philosophers who allow of transmigration, and are of opinion that the souls of men may, for their miscarriages, be detruded into the bodies of beasts, as fit habitations, with organs suited to the satisfaction of their brutal inclinations. But yet I think nobody, could he be sure that the soul of Heliogabalus were in one of his hogs, would yet say that hog were a man or Heliogabalus.

Identité de la conscience

"the same consciousness uniting those distant actions
into the same person, whatever substances contributed
to their production" (Locke, Essay, II, 21, §10)

11. Personal identity in change of substance. That this is so, we have some kind of evidence in our very bodies, all whose particles, whilst vitally united to this same thinking conscious self, so that we feel when they are touched, and are affected by, and conscious of good or harm that happens to them, as a part of ourselves; i.e. of our thinking conscious self. Thus, the limbs of his body are to every one a part of Himself; he sympathizes and is concerned for them. Cut off a hand, and thereby separate it from that consciousness he had of its heat, cold, and other affections, and it is then no longer a part of that which is himself, any more than the remotest part of matter. Thus, we see the substance whereof personal self consisted at one time may be varied at another, without the change of personal identity; there being no question about the same person, though the limbs which but now were a part of it, be cut off.

12. Personality in change of substance. But the question is, Whether if the same substance which thinks be changed, it can be the same person; or, remaining the same, it can be different persons?

And to this I answer: First, This can be no question at all to those who place thought in a purely material animal constitution, void of an immaterial substance. For, whether their supposition be true or no, it is plain they conceive personal identity preserved in something else than identity of substance; as animal identity is preserved in identity of life, and not of substance. And therefore those who place thinking in an immaterial substance only, before they can come to deal with these men, must show why personal identity cannot be preserved in the change of immaterial substances, or variety of particular immaterial substances, as well as animal identity is preserved in the change of material substances, or variety of particular bodies: unless they will say, it is one immaterial spirit that makes the same life in brutes, as it is one immaterial spirit that makes the same person in men; which the Cartesians at least will not admit, for fear of making brutes thinking things too.