Loading Events

Back to All Events

In this lecture, I examine Elizabeth Anscombe’s analysis of our use of the first-person pronoun ‘I’ and its relation to self-consciousness. I argue that Anscombe’s account receives unexpected support from a philosophical approach which is very different from hers: Jean-Paul Sartre’s phenomenological description of consciousness, self-consciousness, and their expression in our use of ‘I.’ Anscombe’s characterization of self-consciousness as the non-observational, non-inferential, “unmediated conception of actions, happenings and states” is close to Sartre’s characterization of what he calls “non-thetic” or “non-positional” self-consciousness.

However, pace Anscombe, Sartre gives us tools to understand ‘I’ as referring, in any of its uses, to a person (something Anscombe denies). When premised on non-thetic self-consciousness, our use of ‘I,’ for Sartre, is not premised on our consciousness of an object in the world (a particular person). Nevertheless, ‘I’ refers to an existing entity of which we can also be conscious, in a different type of self-consciousness Sartre calls “reflective consciousness,” as an object in the world. In terms closer to those of Anscombe’s analysis, we could say that ‘I,’ in non-thetic self-consciousness, refers to an entity without a mode of presentation of that entity. But the very entity to which ‘I’ refers without a mode of presentation can also be referred to under a mode of presentation, e.g., the concept of a person. Anscombe, at least in “The First Person,” refused to consider that option. I submit it’s a loss for her analysis. I argue that Sartre’s phenomenological description offers tools for a friendly amendment to Anscombe’s semantic analysis. But conversely, Anscombe’s semantic analysis offers tools for a clarification of Sartre’s view.

Date & Time

November 8, 2023
4:10pm - 6:15pm


Alumni House, Toll Room
Berkeley, 94704 United States
View Venue Website