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Motivation (but not on): p 335, Introducing Philosophy for Canadians: A Text with Integrated Readings (2011 1 ed).
Primary Source: Paragraph 14, CHAPTER XXVII, OF IDENTITY AND DIVERSITY; An Essay Concerning Human Understanding BOOK 2; by John Locke.

  1. 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 [2.] cannot [End of 2.] 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.

[ 2007 Paraphrase, p 116 : ] 12. But it is asked: Can it be the same person if the substance changes? and Can it be different persons if the same substance does the thinking throughout? ·Before I address these questions in sections 13 and 14, there’s a preliminary point I want to make. It is that· neither question is alive for those who hold that thought is a property of a purely material animal constitution, with no immaterial substance being involved. Whether or not they are right about that, they obviously conceive personal identity as being preserved in something other than identity of substance; just as animal identity is preserved in identity of life, not of substance. ·This pair of questions does present a challenge to· •those who hold that only immaterial substances can think, ·and that sameness of person requires sameness of immaterial substance. Before •they can confront their materialist opponents, they· have to show why personal identity can’t be preserved through a change of immaterial substances, just as animal identity is preserved through a change of material substances. Unless they say that what makes the same life ·and thus the animal identity· in lower animals is one immaterial spirit, just as (according to them) one immaterial spirit makes the same person in men—and Cartesians at least won’t take that way out, for fear of making the lower animals thinking things too.

In 2, should not the 'cannot' be CAN? It is the materialists (and NOT those who place thinking in an immaterial substance only) who reject any immaterial substance, and a fortiori change of immaterial substances.

  • I think the reading is correct; 2 is CAN. But I would also add that proofs always lie in the assertion, never in the negation. So it is 'can' but the statement is wrong as you cannot prove a negation. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 9 '16 at 8:53
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    @SwamiVishwananda I'm not sure why people claim "you can't prove a negation" -- you absolutely can. Here's one such proof (by modus tollens): 1) It is raining; 2) If the ground is dry it isn't raining; C) It is not the case that the ground is dry. There you go, a perfectly valid proof of a negation. – Dennis Jul 9 '16 at 22:30
  • @dennis Unfortunately I would not call your example a proof of a negation. You started with a positive assertion - it is raining - a hypothesis - and tested it with whether the ground was dry or not as a test of your positive assertion. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 13 '16 at 5:10
  • @SwamiVishwananda Then I'm afraid I don't know how you're using the word "negation". I used a conditional statement, together with the negation of its consequent, to prove the negation of its antecedent -- modus tollens. What do you mean by "negation"? – Dennis Jul 13 '16 at 5:33
  • @dennis I can only 'prove' that electrons exist, I cannot prove that they do not exist - hence the proof lies in the assertion. All scientific theory is based on the assertion of an hypothesis. If one has a belief in ghosts, one must prove the assertion. I cannot 'prove' that they do not exist. – Swami Vishwananda Jul 15 '16 at 5:48
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Locke is discussing the "confutation" of materialism from a dualist point of view, like that of Descartes.

The key-point of D's metaphysics is the mind-body distinction:

[T]here is a great difference between the mind and the body, inasmuch as the body is by its very nature always divisible, while the mind is utterly indivisible.

For a Cartesian, the "identity" of the human person is due to the mind or (indivisible) thinking substance.

For Cartesianism, animals are deprived of mind; thus their (animal) identity is guaranteed in "identity of life", indipendently of the mutability of extended substance or body (obviously, the animal body changes during time).

Thus, Locke comments amounts to challenge a Cartesian, in order to refute the materialist point of vies, to:

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.

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