In John Locke’s Essay concerning Human Understanding, Locke’s discussion of consciousness, while integral to his larger projects concerning personal identity, proceeds without a clear definition of what he takes consciousness to be. In this paper, I identify this apparent ambiguity and evaluate several prominent theories for what Locke means by ‘consciousness’. I first consider two variations of a higher order of perception (HOP) theory whereby consciousness is identified with reflection or where it is still a HOP process distinct from reflection. I dismiss both of these possibilities as this thesis, held in conjunction with Locke’s explicit commitment to the consciousness of all mental states yields an infinite regress of mental states. I then proceed to argue that Locke’s description of consciousness is best interpreted as a single order theory of perception (SOP), specifically where consciousness is a reflexive and immediate constituent of perception. In the final section of the paper, I present textual evidence, appeal to the principle of charitable interpretation, and indicate the fit of this reading within Locke’s larger philosophical commitments to support my claim that my reading of Locke is not only the most sound reading of the Essay, but also that it is the interpretation actually intended by Locke.
Ockham Society Convenor: Sean Costello | Ockham Society Webpage