Chapter 4 – The Parable of the Sock, AKA, Philosophy for Dummies

At the beginning of chapter 4, we see Eleanor in class.  Chidi is discussing self-identity.  On the chalkboard, there is a list of works.  Two things stood out to me.  The first was a work by David Hume listed as A Treatise of the Self with a date of 1738.  The problem is there is no such work.  I believe the work was supposed to be A Treatise of Human Nature.  This is the actual book Eleanor is given to read during the episode.

The second thing that I found odd was on the chalkboard it lists Locke – Parable of the Sock.  At first, I thought it was bad handwriting and it said soul.  Locke does write about switching souls.  Thanks to modern devices, I was able to stop it and confirm that it did say sock.  I have read Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding.  I do not recall anything about socks and I have taught Locke’s theory of personal identity for years.  If there was something about socks, I should have known it.

I began to wonder, was there something I am forgetting?  Is this just some weird thing someone wrote on their chalkboard?  I started to do some internet research.  It turns out Martin Cohen wrote a version of Philosophy for Dummies.  In that work, he claims that it is “commonly believed” that Locke used to ask people how many repairs one could make to a sock before it ceased to be the original sock.  Cohen clarifies in a free article on the Dummies website that Locke never actually used this example in his writing.  I have never heard of this commonly believed story, nor did I find any mentions of this on the first search pages on the internet.  Maybe if I went to college in the UK I would have heard about it.

The Parable of the Sock, is essentially just Cohen’s version of the Ship of Theseus question.  According to Plutarch, the Athenians preserved Theseus’s ship.  To preserve the ship, as boards began to decay, those boards were replaced.  Eventually, all of the boards would be replaced.  That led to philosophers pondering if it really was Thesueus’s ship at this point?  Moreover, how much of the ship can be replaced before it ceased to be Theseus’s ship?

In any case, it seems that the writing staff had a copy of Philosophy for Dummies around that led to the Parable of Sock being written.