In this paper I propose to discuss a surprising convergence between two prima facie very different styles of philosophical elucidation: Jean-Paul Sartre's phenomenological description of the difference between what he calls ‘non-positional’ or ‘non-thetic’ and ‘positional’ or ‘thetic’ self-consciousness, on the one hand; and Wittgenstein's cryptic remarks on two different uses of the word ‘I’: the ‘use of “I” as subject’ and the ‘use of “I” as object’, on the other hand. Sartre's distinction is presented in texts belonging to the first period of his philosophical development—the period commentators have come to describe as that of ‘la première philosophie de Sartre’, ‘Sartre's early philosophy’, which includes texts such as ‘A Fundamental Idea of Husserl's Phenomenology: Intentionality’ (1934), Transcendence of the Ego (1936), and ‘Self-Consciousness and Self-Knowledge’ (1947). The towering accomplishment of this period is of course Being and Nothingness (1943). Wittgenstein's distinction, on the other hand, is offered in the 1933–34 lecture notes gathered in the Blue Book, published only posthumously. It disappears from later notes and is not present in the Philosophical Investigations, where Wittgenstein appears to be saying of every use of ‘I’ what he said, in the Blue Book, of the ‘use of “I” as subject’: ‘I’ is not a referring expression at all. In this paper I will be mostly focusing on the position defended in the Blue Book.1

It's not just the unexpected convergence, on this particular point, between two very different styles of philosophical investigation that I would like to explore. I would moreover like to suggest that the original position is, shortly after its initial elaboration, subjected to a revision which again is of similar inspiration in each of the two cases at hand. In both cases, a kind of self-consciousness (Sartre) or self-reference (Wittgenstein) for which reference to one's own body seemed of no particular relevance, comes to be seen as essentially embodied. The mutation is apparent in Sartre's own view if one compares the 1936 Transcendence of the Ego and the 1943 Being and Nothingness. And it is even more strikingly present in the views of a contemporary of Sartre, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, as expounded in his Phenomenology of Perception (1945). Here I will be focusing on the mutation within Sartre's own view. In Wittgenstein's case, the mutation occurs from Wittgenstein's original view to that of people I would call revisionist post-Wittgensteinians, such as Strawson, Evans, Shoemaker or Cassam. Here I will be mostly focusing on Evans's view. It is a striking fact that not only the original position, but also its revision, displays a striking convergence between those two very different schools of thought. My question is: why? Could it be that this twofold convergence reveals something quite fundamental about the nature of our relation to ourselves, in these two different guises: self-consciousness, self-reference?

In my attempt to answer this question, I shall proceed as follows. First, I shall explain and discuss Sartre's distinction between non-thetic and thetic self-consciousness. Second, I shall explain and discuss Wittgenstein's distinction between ‘use of “I” as subject’ and ‘use of “I” as object’, and justify my claim to a striking convergence between the two views. Third, I shall explain and discuss the revisions each view respectively underwent, and attempt to show again how the revisions converge. Fourth, I shall suggest that the revision, when all is said and done, is more subtle and resourceful in its Sartrian/phenomenological version than in its revisionist Wittgensteinian version. Fifth and finally, I shall outline what remains nevertheless a limit in Sartre's view, which he shares with the Wittgensteinian view. I shall suggest a direction one should take to overcome these limits.

I now start with Sartre's view of self-consciousness.

1. Sartre on Non-Positional and Positional Self-Consciousness

  1. Top of page
  2. 1. Sartre on Non-Positional and Positional Self-Consciousness
  3. 2. Wittgenstein on ‘Use of “I” as Subject’ and ‘Use of “I” as Object’
  4. 3. Self-Consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body
  5. 4. The Resources of Sartre's View
  6. 5. The Limits of Sartre's View, the Limits of Wittgenstein's View. Where to Now?

In a lecture he presented to the Société Française de Philosophie in 1947, Sartre affirmed the indispensability of the Cartesian Cogito as the starting point for any philosophy.2 By this he meant, very roughly, that any philosophy has to start with clarifying the nature of consciousness and the relation between consciousness of the world and self-consciousness. Now this explicit reference to Descartes, on Sartre's part, is at the same time a radical break from Descartes's Cogito as well as from its two most important successors, Kant's ‘Ich denke’, ‘I think’ (with what is perhaps Kant's most famous phrase in the Critique of Pure Reason: ‘The “I think” must be able to accompany all my representations …’); and Husserl's reformulation of both Kant's and Descartes' ‘I think’ in the role he assigns to what he calls ‘the transcendental ego’.3 Against Descartes, Sartre does not think that the certainty of one's own existence as a thinker, even less as a thinking substance or a mind distinct from a body, has any priority over the certainty of the existence of the world outside us. And against both Kant and Husserl, Sartre does not think that ‘pure thought’, whatever that expression may mean, has within itself the resources to think the structure of the world, much less to be the source of the apparent structures of the world it relates to. For Sartre, not only is there no ‘pure thought’, there are, more generally, no strictly mental contents, no representations ‘in us’. Representations taken to be ‘in us’, and about which there is therefore a problem to be solved, that of knowing how they relate to something ‘outside us’, are an invention of philosophers. As early as in ‘Une Idée fondamentale de la phénomenologie de Husserl: l'intentionnalité’ (‘A Fundamental Idea of Husserl's Phenomenology: Intentionality’) (1934), Sartre gave his own interpretation of Husserl's formula: ‘All consciousness is consciousness of something’. What Husserl had in mind when he thus characterized consciousness was the fundamental feature of consciousness, of being directed at something. Husserl did not thereby take a stand on whether this directedness or intentionality of consciousness related to some mental content by way of which the outside world is eventually reached, or whether it reached directly ‘outside’, in the world. For Sartre, most definitely, the ‘something’ consciousness is consciousness of is outside, in the world, not in the interiority of consciousness: ‘Everything is outside, everything, even ourselves: outside, in the world, among others’.4

So this is a first important point of opposition between Sartre and the philosophical tradition he discusses, whether under the names of Descartes, or Kant, or Husserl: the relation of consciousness to its world is direct, unmediated by anything like an ‘internal’ mental content. There is a second equally important point of opposition, which concerns the nature of self-consciousness. For Sartre, this consciousness that exists projected towards a world outside it is always at the same time, at least in the case of human beings, consciousness of itself, or self-consciousness. Being conscious (being in a particular state of awareness directed toward an object) without being at the same time conscious of being in this very state of consciousness, would be, according to Sartre, an oxymoron. However, the self-consciousness (the state or property of being conscious of one's consciousness of an object) that is thus inseparable from consciousness of an object, is quite different from the latter. Sartre characterizes it as ‘non-positional’, as opposed to consciousness of an object, which is ‘positional’.5 And he adds: this non-thetic, or non-positional self-consciousness has no place for ‘I’. This is the second way in which, while claiming to endorse Descartes' starting point, Sartre radically opposes the tradition represented by Descartes, Kant and Husserl. In la Transcendance de l'ego, Sartre writes:

The type of existence of consciousness is to be self-consciousness. It becomes conscious of itself insofar as it is consciousness of a transcendent object. […] The object is presented to it with its fundamental opacity, but it, on the other hand, is purely and simply consciousness of being consciousness of this object, it is the law of its existence. In addition, this consciousness of consciousness—with the exception of the cases of reflected consciousness which we will consider in a moment—is not positional, i.e. this consciousness is not to itself its own object. We will call this consciousness first order consciousness or unreflected consciousness. We ask: is there room for I in such a consciousness? The answer is clear: of course not.6

In Being and Nothingness, which appeared five years after the Transcendence of the Ego, Sartre is not as categorical about the absence of any thought ‘I’ from the non-thetic self-consciousness that accompanies any thetic consciousness (more on this in a moment). Nevertheless, he is just as emphatic about the distinction between the non-thetic consciousness of self (that accompanies any thetic consciousness directed at an object) and the thetic consciousness of oneself and one's own mental states and activities, where one is, to oneself, an object like any other. The classic example here is that of the difference between the non-thetic consciousness I must have of my own counting in order to be able to count at all (and thus direct my thetic consciousness at the number of items I am currently enumerating), and the thetic consciousness of myself I express when I reply: ‘don't you see? I'm counting’ to the idiot who interrupts my act of counting by asking me what I am doing.7 Sartre's example is recounted in the first person:

If I count the cigarettes that are in this cigarette case, I experience the unfolding of an objective property: there are twelve cigarettes. This property appears to my consciousness as a property existing in the world. I may very well have no positional consciousness of counting them. I do not ‘know myself counting’. […] However, while these cigarettes present themselves to me as being twelve cigarettes, I have a non-thetic consciousness of my activity of adding. If I am asked: ‘what are you doing?’ I will reply: ‘I am counting’, and this answer does not only track the instantaneous consciousness which I may reach by reflection, but also those that passed without being reflected, those that are forever unreflected in my immediate past.. […] There is a pre-reflexive Cogito which is the condition of the Cartesian Cogito.8

It is not surprising that the thought ‘I’ and even ‘Cogito’, ‘I think’, should now appear in Sartre's account of non-thetic consciousness. For the example he gives is a classic Kantian example, although Sartre does not acknowledge it as such: his only explicit reference in the vicinity of this passage is to Heidegger.9 But it is from Kant that both Heidegger and Sartre have inherited the idea that counting, or enumerating, rests on the ‘consciousness of the unity of an act of synthesizing a manifold’ (Kant). ‘I’, in Kant's ‘I think’, does not express the reflexive consciousness of an object (myself as the object of my own consciousness), but the (unreflected) consciousness of the unity of the act itself that conditions any consciousness of object.10 Similarly, Sartre's non-thetic self-consciousness or ‘pre-reflexive cogito’ is ‘the unifying theme that presides over a series of syntheses of unification and recognition’.11

Now in distinguishing between non-thetic and thetic consciousness of oneself, Sartre seems very close to a distinction that found prominence in a very different context of analysis, long after the publication of Transcendence of the Ego, Being and Nothingness, or even ‘Self-Consciousness and Self-Knowledge’. Let me now consider this other distinction.

2. Wittgenstein on ‘Use of “I” as Subject’ and ‘Use of “I” as Object’

  1. Top of page
  2. 1. Sartre on Non-Positional and Positional Self-Consciousness
  3. 2. Wittgenstein on ‘Use of “I” as Subject’ and ‘Use of “I” as Object’
  4. 3. Self-Consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body
  5. 4. The Resources of Sartre's View
  6. 5. The Limits of Sartre's View, the Limits of Wittgenstein's View. Where to Now?

As is well known, in the Blue Book Wittgenstein distinguished between what he called ‘the use of “I” as subject’ and ‘the use of “I” as object’.12 As examples of the latter, he gave: ‘My arm is broken’ [or: ‘I have a broken arm’], ‘I have grown six inches’, ‘I have a bump on my forehead’, ‘The wind blows my hair about’. As examples of the former, he gave: ‘I see so and so’, ‘I try to lift my arm’, ‘I think it will rain’, ‘I have tooth-ache’. The difference between the two uses, Wittgenstein said, is that a certain kind of error is possible in the former use which is impossible in the latter. When I say: ‘I have tooth ache’, there is no room for the question: ok, someone has tooth-ache, but am I certain it is me? Whereas such a question certainly makes sense in the case of ‘I have grown six inches’. (I see the mark on the wall that indicates that someone has grown six inches: but am I certain it is me?)

The kind of error that is possible in the one case but impossible in the other is an error of misidentification: I can misidentify which person has, according to the marks on the wall, grown six inches. But I cannot misidentify which person has, as attested by my own unbearable experience, tooth-ache. According to Wittgenstein, this immunity to misidentification comes from the fact that nothing or no one in particular is being referred to by ‘I’ in what he calls its ‘use as subject’. Here, he says, ‘I’ is not used to refer to any one in particular or to answer the question: ‘who is it that feels pain, who is it that thinks, who is it that sees’? Rather, ‘I’ is an inseparable component in a whole phrase that expresses a state or an action or an attempted action, without any issue of identifying the subject of the state or the action or the attempted action as a particular, individual object in the world. ‘I’ is just part of the self-expression of whoever feels the pain or makes the attempt or acts. Saying ‘I feel pain’, says Wittgenstein, has the same function as moaning.

There is a striking resemblance between Wittgenstein's distinction of ‘use of “I” as subject’ and ‘use of “I” as object’, and Sartre's distinction between non-thetic and thetic self-consciousness. Admittedly, there are also obvious differences between the two. First, Sartre maintains, at least in Transcendence of the Ego, that in non-thetic self-consciousness there is no ‘I’ at all, whereas Wittgenstein's distinction in the Blue Book is one between two uses of ‘I’. Second, Wittgenstein's distinction rests on a semantic analysis of the reference, or lack thereof, of the term ‘I’, whereas Sartre's distinction rests on a phenomenological description of the experience of consciousness. Nevertheless, despite these differences, what Sartre and Wittgenstein are trying to capture is a similar phenomenon. Sartre is trying to capture the difference between a self-consciousness that is irreflexive, not directed at oneself; and a self-consciousness that is expressly directed at oneself as an individuated entity among other entities in the world. Wittgenstein is trying to capture the difference between a use of the word ‘I’ which does not, and one which does, refer to a particular entity in the world, individuated as an object of thought. Moreover, their accounts are equally, although differently, problematic. How is it possible to claim, as Wittgenstein does, that any use of ‘I’ at all is non-referential? What could be wrong with saying that in ‘I am in pain’, or ‘I see such and such’, or ‘I try to raise my arm’, ‘I’ refers to just the person uttering the sentence or even thinking the thought? Correspondingly, how is Sartre going to account for the fact that when turning one's attention or intentionality on oneself, the irreflexive consciousness (of) oneself present in perceiving, thinking, or counting, is then expressed by thinking and speaking of oneself as ‘je’ or ‘moi’—‘I’–? How is the connection made between the supposedly radically impersonal consciousness present in perceiving the object, and the consciousness of myself as an object among others, albeit one which has the peculiar property of directing its attention at, and making use of, other objects?

Wittgenstein himself seems not to have been satisfied with the distinction he was trying out in the Blue Book, since it does not appear any longer in later texts. In his ‘Notes for Lectures on “Private Experience” and “Sense-Data”‘, he defends the more radical view that ‘The word “I” does not refer to a person’.13 And in the Philosophical Investigations, he devotes several sections to elucidating the differences between ‘I’ and other personal pronouns as well as personal names and definite descriptions, and then states: ‘“I” is not a name of a person’.14

Discomfort with the apparent instability of Wittgenstein's view has led commentators to opposite places in the spectrum of possible explanations of the role of ‘I’. In a paper that has quickly become a classic, Elizabeth Anscombe defended the view that ‘I’ does not refer at all, in any of its uses. At the other end of the spectrum, Gareth Evans defended the view that even in what Wittgenstein called its ‘use as subject’, ‘I’ does refer. Indeed (Evans claimed) it refers to the very same entity it refers to in its ‘use as object’, namely a person—a physical, living, sensing, thinking body. Nevertheless, unlike what happens in its ‘use as object’, in its ‘use as subject’‘I’ refers to this body in a particular way which is immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun.15

More recently, in their attempt to elucidate the motivations of both versions of Wittgenstein's view (the version of the Blue Book on the one hand, with its distinction between two uses of ‘I’; the more radical version of the later notes on the other hand, with its claim that in no instance of its uses does ‘I’ refer to a person), Hans-Johann Glock and Peter Hacker have suggested that the difference between these views is due to the fact that in each case Wittgenstein is drawing attention to a specific way in which ‘I’ differs from usual referring expressions, such as proper names or definite descriptions. They suggest for their part that in all of its uses, ‘I’ is a referring term, albeit a degenerate one, very much in the way tautologies are for Wittgenstein degenerate propositions: just as tautologies cannot be false, ‘I’ cannot fail to refer. But there is no more reason to deny on this ground that ‘I’ is a referring term than there is to deny that tautologies are propositions.16

In this paper I would like to defend a version of Wittgenstein's original Blue Book position. And I would like to defend it in light of Sartre's own distinction between non-positional and positional self-consciousness. In doing so, I find myself in partial agreement and partial disagreement with most of the positions I just listed. By way of anticipation, let me name just a few of those agreements and disagreements. I shall suggest that the non-referring use of ‘I’ according to the Blue Book is best related to Sartre's non-thetic self-consciousness as described in the example given at the beginning of Being and Nothingness, cited above: consciousness of the unity of one's own activity of counting. But I shall suggest that even in this example, although no account is taken, in using ‘I’, of the particular spatio-temporal position or empirically determined properties of the referent of ‘I’, ‘I’ does refer, in accordance with the simple rule: ‘I’ refers to whoever thinks or says ‘I’. I shall suggest that on the other hand, Evans's presentation of the ‘use of “I” as subject’ as a use in which ‘I’ refers to a spatially located, living, sensing, thinking body, is related to Sartre's presentation, in Part III of Being and Nothingness, of non-thetic self-consciousness as an embodied self-consciousness. And finally, I shall suggest that Wittgenstein's presentation of the ‘use of “I” as object’ is related to the thetic or positional self-consciousness of the Transcendance of the Ego as well as of Being and Nothingness, namely to what Sartre describes as consciousness of oneself as an object among other physical objects in the world. However, I will also suggest that Sartre's view of the connection between the two kinds of self-consciousness—non-thetic, thetic—is more subtle and flexible than any of the views I have cited concerning the distinction between ‘use of “I” as subject’ and ‘use of “I” as object’. I would thus like to suggest that the distinctions proposed by Sartre serve as a revelator of what needs to be done to adjudicate among those views and perhaps to improve them, just as in turn they help to improve our understanding of the virtues and limits of Sartre's own view.

With this in mind, in the next sections of this paper I will proceed in the following way. I will first discuss Evans' amended version of Wittgenstein's distinction, and its relation to Sartre's view of embodied self-consciousness (section 3). I will then argue that Sartre's view is actually more subtle than Evans' and solves problems Evans cannot solve (section 4). I will, however, also point out limitations in Sartre's view, and argue that they are due to a lack of recognition of an aspect of our use of ‘I’ which Glock and Hacker have recognized, but in my view, not sufficiently elucidated: what they call its relation to ‘psychological unity’ (section 5).

I start with “use of ‘I’ as subject” and its relation to embodiment.

3. Self-Consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body

  1. Top of page
  2. 1. Sartre on Non-Positional and Positional Self-Consciousness
  3. 2. Wittgenstein on ‘Use of “I” as Subject’ and ‘Use of “I” as Object’
  4. 3. Self-Consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body
  5. 4. The Resources of Sartre's View
  6. 5. The Limits of Sartre's View, the Limits of Wittgenstein's View. Where to Now?

Contrary to Wittgenstein, Evans maintained that ‘I’-thoughts are always thoughts about a particular object. To make sense of ‘I am F’ is to have the capacity to make sense of ‘a is F’ as well as of ‘I am a’, where ‘a’ refers to a particular entity, individuated by its spatio-temporal location in the world. Wittgenstein ignored this point, says Evans, because he mistakenly concluded from the fact that no criterion of identification is needed in many cases of self-ascription of mental or physical predicates, to the claim that in those cases there is no identification at all, and thus no referent. But this is a mistake, Evans maintains. No criterion of identification does not mean no identification at all. Immunity to error through misidentification does not single out a kind of proposition per se (e.g. a proposition in which there is predication without reference to a particular entity of which the predicate is asserted). Rather, it singles out a specific kind of knowledge on the basis of which a proposition is asserted, and on the basis of which, more particularly, one knows, without possibility of misidentification, of which object the predicate is asserted to be true. This kind of criterionless identification is possible not only with respect to mental predicates—as one might gather from Wittgenstein's favored examples—but also with respect to bodily predicates. Evans goes on to explore cases of bodily self-ascription in which the kind of knowledge on which the judgment is based warrants the claim that the judgment is immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun.

Cases of knowledge of our own physical states giving rise to propositions that are so immune include proprioception, sense of balance, sensation of heat and cold, sense of pressure. Corresponding propositions might be: ‘my legs are crossed’, ‘I feel hot and sticky’, ‘I'm being pushed’. If these propositions are based on the appropriate kind of knowledge, there is no room for the following questions: ‘Someone's legs are crossed, but is it me? Someone is feeling hot and sticky, but is it me? Someone is being pushed, but is it me?’ In all these cases, the answer to the question: ‘of which entity is the predicate true?’ does not require the application of criteria for the identification of that entity. The same can be said of propositions expressing knowledge of our own position in the world. They do not depend on criteria for the identification of the particular entity the assignment of position, if true, is true of. All of these cases, says Evans, warrant a firmly anti-Cartesian view of ‘I’: in all these cases our ‘I’ ideas, albeit used in judgments that are immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun, are ideas of bearers of physical no less than mental properties.17

Moreover, self-ascription of mental properties (such as: ‘I believe that p’, ‘I perceive a tree’, ‘I am in pain’) obey the same generality principle that self-ascription of bodily properties does: understanding a proposition ‘I am F’, where F is a mental property, involves understanding both what it would take for ‘a is F’, ‘b is F’, ‘c is F’, and so on, to be true, where a, b, c, and so on, are individuated as spatio-temporally located things; and what it would take for ‘I am G’, ‘I am H’, and so on, to be true. In other words, according to Evans any self-ascription is conditioned on the subject of the self-ascription's being capable of thinking of himself as an element in the objective order of things.18

When he argues, at the beginning of the chapter, for the relevance of the generality principle to all judgments of the form ‘I am F’, Evans remarks in a footnote:

The idea that I can identify myself with a person objectively conceived is often mis-expressed, e.g. in terms of the idea that I realize that I am an object to others (also an object of outer sense, as Kant says: Critique of pure Reason, B415). This misleadingly imports an ideal verificationist construal of the point.19

Beyond the explicit reference to Kant's idealism, there is an implicit reference to Sartre in the cautionary dismissal of the ‘verificationist’ view according to which acknowledging myself as an element in the objective order is acknowledging myself as an object to others. This implicit reference is confirmed if one looks at Evans' personal notes, which McDowell included at the end of the chapter when he edited the book. In these notes, Evans cites the beginning of Part III, Chapter 2 of Being and Nothingness. The title of Part III is ‘Being for others’. The title of Chapter 2 is ‘the Body’. The chapter starts with a dismissal of the classical duality between the ‘interiority’ of consciousness and the ‘exteriority’ of the body. Sartre writes (I cite from Evans, the reference is to Hazel Barnes' translation of Being and Nothingness):

If, after grasping ‘my’ consciousness in its absolute interiority and by a series of reflective acts, I then seek to unite it with a certain living object composed of a nervous system, a brain, glands, digestive, respiratory and circulatory organs whose very matter is capable of being analyzed chemically into atoms of hydrogen, carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc., then I am going to encounter insurmountable difficulties. But these difficulties all stem from the fact that I try to unite my consciousness not with my body but with the body of others. In fact the body which I have just described is not my body as it is for me… So far as the physicians have had any experience with my body, it was with my body in the midst of the world and as it is for others. My body as it is for me does not appear to me in the midst of the world.20

In his notes, Evans cites this text in full. Then he remarks, in reply to Sartre, that of course it is true that I can identify myself with a bit of matter only if I know this matter ‘from the inside’ (this is Sartre's ‘body for me’). This knowledge ‘from the inside’, Evans adds, is the groundwork for the identification that goes on in my ordinary self-ascriptive statements. But, he notes, ‘what this constitutes a groundwork for is an ability to identify myself with an element of the objective order—a body of others, if you like—unreservedly’.21 In other words, Sartre's new duality, between body ‘for itself’ and body ‘for others’ is just as unacceptable as the old duality Sartre rejects, that between the interiority of consciousness and the exteriority of the body. When all is said and done, says Evans, the body I know ‘from the inside’ just is the body ‘for others’ and the body ‘of others’.

But actually, the standpoint Sartre defends in the rest of the chapter is itself a challenge to the rigid dichotomy between ‘body for me’ and ‘body of others’ or ‘for others’. True, immediately after the passage cited by Evans, Sartre goes on to insist that ‘my body as it is for me does not appear to me in the midst of the world’ and that ‘either [the body] is a thing among things, or it is that by which things are revealed to me. But it cannot be both at the same time’.22 But I think these formulations are partly misleading because they seem to present as a numerical difference of entities (‘either a thing among things … or that by which things are revealed to me’) what is really, for Sartre, a difference in the way we relate to, and thus the Gestalt of, one and the same entity, the body. In fact, I shall suggest that Sartre could endorse the ‘unreserved identification of myself with a piece of the world’ propounded by Evans. I shall even suggest he would endorse it with more resources for describing the complexities of the experience we have of ourselves as ‘pieces of the world’ than Evans does. Or so I shall argue in the next part of this paper.

4. The Resources of Sartre's View

  1. Top of page
  2. 1. Sartre on Non-Positional and Positional Self-Consciousness
  3. 2. Wittgenstein on ‘Use of “I” as Subject’ and ‘Use of “I” as Object’
  4. 3. Self-Consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body
  5. 4. The Resources of Sartre's View
  6. 5. The Limits of Sartre's View, the Limits of Wittgenstein's View. Where to Now?

Sartre describes what he calls three ‘ontological dimensions’ of the body (‘dimensions d’être du corps’), namely three fundamental modes of being of the body. First, what he calls ‘the body as being for itself, or facticity’. Second, what he calls ‘the body for others’. And third, what he calls without further specification ‘the third ontological dimension of the body’.23 This is a combination of the first two, seemingly on the model of Descartes’‘third substance’, the substantial union of the two ‘really distinct’ substances, mind and body.24 Sartre was certainly aware of the analogy between his formulations and Descartes' formulations and he deliberately invited the comparison. It is therefore all too tempting to accuse him of ‘a new kind of dualism’: just as Descartes was a dualist about mind and body and then attempted to provide an ad hoc solution to the difficulties of his dualism by inventing the ‘third kind of substance’ that is the ‘substantial union’ of the first two, in the same way, one is tempted to say, Sartre introduces a radical dualism of ‘body for itself’ and ‘body for others/of others’ and then tries to resolve the difficulties that might arise from such a dualism—how can one and the same entity, the body, be in two incommunicable ontological dimensions?—by introducing his ‘third ontological dimension’: the ‘for the other for itself’.

But Sartre's position is actually quite subtle. To see it, it will be useful to look a little bit more closely at each of the three ‘ontological dimensions’ of the body.

First, in characterizing the ‘body for itself’, Sartre is telling us that the ‘non-thetic’ self-consciousness he has been talking about since the beginning of the book is an embodied self-consciousness. As such, it is not a property one might attribute to an entity—a physical body—alongside other properties that do not include consciousness; rather, it is the very mode of being of that entity, the body. In other words, the body is not an ‘in itself’ (a thing) that would in some way ‘carry’ or ‘bear’ the ‘for itself’. It is as bodies that we are for itself. And as such, it is in relation to ourselves as bodies, that is to say, ín relation to the non-thetic consciousness (conscious beings) that we are as bodies (this is Sartre's expression), that things in the world acquire their apparent shape and structure.25 In this way, says Sartre, human beings and the order of the world are mutually determining. The ‘non-thetic project that we are’ emerges from the world and the world receives its shape from the project that we are. And this includes not only the natural world but the social world: ‘my body’ means not only the active material entity I am as a biological entity, but also my social being. ‘My birth …, my race …, my social class …, my physiological structure …, my character …, my past … : all of this is my body’.26

When he explained, in the introductory sections of Being and Nothingness, non-thetic consciousness (of) self, Sartre used parentheses around (of) to indicate the non-positional, irreflexive character of this kind of self-consciousness. He now uses the same device to talk about non-thetic consciousness (of) the body. To say that non-thetic self-consciousness just is consciousness (of) the body is to say that in this context, the body is not an object, or an identifiable and re-identifiable entity. Rather, being non-thetically present to itself is one way in which it is capable of projecting its own patterns of movements and actions into the world that surrounds it. The presence to itself of the body so considered is different from the positional, analytical consciousness of the body as an object.

The body as an object is the ‘second ontological dimension of the body’: the for the other. I perceive the body of the other as a thing among other things, with the important difference that it is a thing that is capable of utilizing other things. So if I perceive my own body in that light, I will consider it too, like any other body, as a thing among other things, an instrument capable of ordering other instruments around itself. This is how the myths of mind and body arise: because I have these two different takes on my body, and because in light of the second attitude, I take my body to be a mere instrument among other instrument, albeit one capable of utilizing other instruments, then I take myself to be, in the first attitude, a mind, utilizing the ‘body for other’, as instrument.

Nevertheless, ‘body for other’ is a perfectly legitimate way my own body appears to me, as well as a perfectly legitimate way in which the body of another human being appears to me. Sartre characterizes the latter—the body of others—as ‘transcendence transcended’. This means that it is characterized, in the way it appears to me, by a pattern of possible actions (as we just saw: it is an entity capable of utilizing things around it or of ordering the world around the goals of its own actions). This is what it is, in Sartre's vocabulary, to be a ‘transcendence’: an entity that goes beyond itself, projecting its own goal-directed actions into the world. But the body of the other is for me such a transcendence only as ‘transcended’, namely only as a thing among things, among which it occupies its place according to an order which is that of my actions. In being aware of the body of others in this way, I am also aware that my body has this same mode of being. I am only one among many other entities having the capacity of transcendence, and I am as much instrument for others as they are instruments for me. I can thus relate to my own body as an instrument: I adopt with respect to it the attitude that others can have with respect to it.

Here's where the third ‘ontological mode of being’ comes in. The idea is this. It's not just that I am, on the one hand, ‘body for itself’ (existing as being-in the world, projecting into the world a pattern of possible actions and having non-thetic consciousness (of) self in doing so) and on the other hand, ‘body for the other’: presented to myself as well as to others as a thing among things, albeit a thing having the peculiar property of organizing other things around the patterns of my objectively available possible actions. It is also, thirdly, that as body for itself my non-thetic consciousness (of) self, namely of my own body, comes to be informed by the ‘body for others’. Or in Sartre's words, I exist for myself as known by others. This occurs as a consequence of applying to my own body the knowledge I have of other people's body and eventually thus living my body differently. An example we might give of this is the child's learning to swim by watching the swimming teacher and eventually acquiring a swimming body, a body which in its (non-thetic) consciousness (of) itself is a body for which water is a familiar, supporting element rather than a threatening, drowning element. An important point here is that internalizing to my non-thetic consciousness (of) my own body the lessons I derive from the body for others, which is first and foremost the body of others, occurs through language. We learn our being, says Sartre, through the revelations of language. He gives the striking example of learning to identify stomach pain. The pain that is eventually identified as pain in the stomach, first exists as ‘pure quality of pain’. It is distinguished, without any operation of discrimination, from any other pain. ‘It is only this suffered figure (“cette forme soufferte”) which delineates itself against the background of the body existed’.27 The objectifying knowledge which now transcends the suffered pain toward the stomach that it names, is knowledge of a certain objective nature of the stomach. But it thereby also leads to a differentiation of the pain itself, as the lived pain. ‘Let us understand that pain “in the stomach” is the stomach itself as lived painfully’.28

Sartre made similar remarks concerning the senses. When we distinguish the five senses, it is not by discriminating, at the purely subjective level, different sensory experiences. The five senses are discriminated by learning—with the medium of language—to distinguish a part of the body from others parts of the body—the eye, the ears, the nose, and so on. From then on the discriminated quality of the sensory experience becomes part of the patterns of discrimination and action of the whole body. The body for others now becomes body for others for me, or becomes a discriminated pattern of my own non-thetic consciousness (of) myself, or of my own body.

In this context, what should we make of Wittgenstein's example: ‘I have tooth-ache’? I would say we have precisely an example of ‘for another for itself’. What is expressed is a lived pain. In Wittgenstein's terms, it grounds propositions in which ‘I’ is used ‘as subject’. In Sartre's terms, it is non-thetic consciousness (of) oneself. But this non-thetic consciousness, or body for itself, is informed by the body for others learnt through language, and in this way at least, it is different from what is expressed in a mere groan of pain. This is a point the Wittgenstein of the Philosophical Investigations would surely accept. For the point would be in agreement with his claim that our most seemingly ‘internal’ experiences are informed by our belonging to a world shaped by others and in the context of which we discriminate our own states by way of publicly learnt language.29

I do not mean to imply that Sartre got everything right. It would be silly, and in fact I think the contrary. I think his view of ‘I’, and of the function of ‘I’-thoughts is limited. I think this limitation has to do with his lack of interest for the structures of mental states and mental contents. But this limit is again something he shares with the Wittgensteinian and neo-Wittgensteinian views with which I have been comparing his own. In this way too the comparison of the two schools is mutually illuminating. In the final part of this paper, I would like to say something about these common limits.

5. The Limits of Sartre's View, the Limits of Wittgenstein's View. Where to Now?

  1. Top of page
  2. 1. Sartre on Non-Positional and Positional Self-Consciousness
  3. 2. Wittgenstein on ‘Use of “I” as Subject’ and ‘Use of “I” as Object’
  4. 3. Self-Consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body
  5. 4. The Resources of Sartre's View
  6. 5. The Limits of Sartre's View, the Limits of Wittgenstein's View. Where to Now?

We have seen that Sartre's non-thetic consciousness (of) self becomes, in Part III of Being and Nothingness, non-thetic consciousness (of) the body. I have argued that this development puts Sartre's view of non-thetic consciousness quite close to Evans' revisionist interpretation of Wittgenstein's ‘use of “I” as subject’, with additional resources coming from the fact that Sartre takes the ‘body for itself’ to be informed, precisely in its non-thetic consciousness (of) self, by the ‘body for others’ or ‘body of others’. However, I should add that Sartre introduces an important restriction to this identification of non-thetic consciousness (of) self with a consciousness (of) the body. He writes:

The body thus belongs to the structures of the non-thetic consciousness (of) self. Can we, however, identify it purely and simply to this non-thetic consciousness? It is not possible because this non-thetic consciousness is consciousness (of) self as a free project toward a possibility which is its own[…]. Non-positional consciousness is consciousness (of the) body as being […] something which consciousness is without having to be it. […] And yet the body is what this consciousness is.30

At this point, one is tempted to scream: so in the end, what is the view? Is, or is not, non-thetic consciousness (of) self the same as non-thetic consciousness (of) the body, i.e. ‘body for itself’?

The difficulty Sartre is struggling with here, I would like to suggest, is not far from the difficulty Anscombe is struggling with when she makes the ‘extraordinary statement’ (Evans' expression) that ‘I am Elizabeth Anscombe’ is not an identity proposition, any more than ‘I am this body’ is an identity proposition, although, she says, a proposition in the vicinity of both, namely ‘this body is Elizabeth Anscombe’ or ‘this person is Elizabeth Anscombe’ is an identity proposition.31 I will now try to explain why I take Anscombe's view to be interestingly related to Sartre's view in this latest formulation (non-thetic consciousness (of) self is and is not the ‘body for itself’). This will help me clarify what I take to be the limits of both Sartre's view and Wittgenstein's view as well as the limits of the various successor-versions of Wittgenstein's view.

To defend her view that ‘I’ is not a referring expression, and thus does not function as a name, Anscombe imagines a population which would have the use of two kinds of names. ‘A’ is a name, the same for all, stamped on the wrist of each individual and used by him to report on his own actions on the basis of observation, testimony, inference, and other usual means of knowledge. ‘B’, ‘C’, ‘D’, … are names stamped on the back and forehead of each individual, thus publicly accessible and used to report on other people's actions. Is ‘A’ another word for ‘I’, i.e. does it function in the same way? No, says Anscombe. Propositions predicating states or properties of ‘A’ are grounded on knowledge each individual has in the ordinary ways about someone who is, in fact, herself. ‘A’ is a name, albeit one with unusual rules for its use. In contrast, ‘I’ is not a name at all. Rather,

‘I’-thoughts are examples of reflective consciousness of states, actions, motions, etc.—not of an object I mean by ‘I’—but of this body. These ‘I’- thoughts … are unmediated conceptions (knowledge or belief, true or false) of states, motions, etc., of this object here, about which I can find out (if I don't know it) that it is E.A., about which I did learn that it is a human being.32

Thus although it is true to say that when X says ‘I am F’ the proposition is true just in case X is F, this does not mean that ‘I’ is a name for the individual X. It only means that ‘I am F’ is the expression of X's reflexive consciousness of the state F of this body. There is no more need to suppose that ‘I’ refers to a person in such a case than there is any need to suppose that ‘it’ refers to a thing in ‘it rains’. That's why ‘I am E.A.’ is not an identity proposition although when said or thought by E.A., ‘I am E.A.’ is true. In contrast, if E.A. were a member of our imaginary population, when spoken by Elizabeth Anscombe ‘A is E.A.’ would be true and an identity proposition.

Now, to say that neither ‘I am E.A.’ nor ‘I am this body’ is an identity proposition is strikingly reminiscent of Sartre's admittedly more dramatic statements cited above: ‘Non-positional consciousness is consciousness (of the) body … as something which consciousness is without having to be it… And yet the body is what this consciousness is. It is not even anything except body’. Sung to Anscombe's tune, this would sound: when said or thought by this body, ‘I am this body’ is true, and yet ‘I am this body’ is not an identity proposition.33

But why wouldn't it have been satisfactory for Sartre to just stick to his earlier statement: there are two quite distinct ontological dimensions of the body: the body for itself and the body for others, without adding this ‘empty’, ‘silent’, ‘nihilating’ consciousness which is supposed to go beyond even non-thetic consciousness (of) the body? And similarly, why can't Anscombe even remotely consider the possibility that the difference between the name ‘A’ used by individuals belonging to her fictitious population, on the one hand, and our first person pronoun ‘I’, on the other hand, is not that one refers to a person and the other not, but that they refer to a person in a different way, i.e. on the basis of different kinds of knowledge (as was of course Evans's solution, at least in the case of uses of ‘I’ that are ‘immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun’)?

I suggest that Anscombe's preferred examples—'I’-thoughts expressing the reflective consciousness of bodily postures, movements and states—are in fact best handled in terms of Evans' analysis of the use of ‘I’ as subject, according to which ‘I’ refers to the body, albeit in a way that is immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun. But other examples, which Anscombe describes as ‘Cartesian’ examples, are less easily analyzed in Evans' terms. Paradoxically, however, these Cartesian examples, which might seem more congenial to Anscombe's view, are those she least favors. Let me explain.

At the end of her paper, Anscombe notes that the examples she gave of ‘I’- thoughts (other than ‘I am E.A.’) were all examples of ‘postures, movements, actions’. The examples were: ‘I am sitting’, ‘I twitched’, ‘I am writing’, ‘I am going to stay still’.34 She contrasts these examples with Cartesian-type examples which might include: ‘I perceive’, ‘I imagine’, ‘I feel’, all of which are, for Descartes, instances of ‘I think’. Her own examples, she remarks, provide easier cases for her argument that ‘I am F’ expresses the reflexive knowledge of states of this body. For about these cases it is possible to provide an answer to the question: in happenings concerning what objects are those thoughts verified or falsified? The answer is: in happenings concerning, not an object to which ‘I’ might refer, but rather in happenings concerning this body. Of course, she adds, the same kind of answer could in principle be given with respect to Descartes’‘I’-thoughts. But in these cases the thoughts would be less easily verifiable, because the description of the events that would verify the thoughts is quite different from the description contained in the thoughts themselves:

The Cartesian preferred thoughts all have this same character, of being far removed in their description from the descriptions of the proceedings, etc., of a person in which they might be verified. And also, there might not be any. And also, even when there are any, the thoughts are not thoughts of such proceedings, as the thought of standing is the thought of a posture.35

Nevertheless, for her the ‘I’-thoughts are in all cases of the same kind. Neither in her own examples, which concerned postures, movements, actions, namely bodily events, nor in ‘Cartesian’ examples, which concern mental events and states, does ‘I’, according to her, refer to a person (a thing that has physical and mental states and properties) or for that matter, does ‘I’ have any referring role at all.

But I would like to suggest that the examples are not of the same kind. I am not using ‘I’ in the same way when I say: ‘I am standing here’, ‘I have tooth-ache’, ‘I think the proof is valid’, ‘I want to do this but really I shouldn't’. In the first two cases, ‘I’ refers to a particular person located in space and having sensory experience, albeit in what Wittgenstein called ‘the use of “I” as subject’, namely in a way that, at least in normal circumstances, is immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun, because it is based on what Sartre called non-thetic consciousness (of) one's own body, or on the ‘body for itself’. In contrast, in the last two examples (‘I think the proof is valid’, ‘I want to do this but really I shouldn't’) ‘I’ refers only by virtue of the simple rule: ‘I refers to whoever thinks or says “I”‘. And in being used according to this simple rule of reference, ‘I’ serves to express, as well as to push forward and to endorse, the unity of the thought process that has led to the proof or to the projected action—however conflicted its motivations the action in question may be. Because, in these cases, the referent is fixed only by the minimal rule, without any consideration being given, in applying the rule, to the spatio-temporal location or empirical features of the person picked out as the referent, it is all too tempting to suppose that in these cases, ‘I’ does not refer at all. I submit, then, that these cases, which Anscombe takes to be less easily manageable for her account than cases of reflective ascription of bodily movements, states or postures, are actually just the cases in which her view that ‘I’ does not refer might seem more plausible. Nevertheless, as we just saw, even in these cases the supposition is unwarranted: the simple rule suffices to fix the referent of ‘I’.

Now compare again with Sartre. In the first part of this paper, I cited Sartre's example of non-thetic consciousness (of) self in the introductory sections of Being and Nothingness. On this example—the non-thetic consciousness (of) one's counting that is the necessary condition of the very act of counting—Sartre described the non-thetic consciousness (of) self or ‘pre-reflective cogito’ as ‘the unifying theme that presides over a series of syntheses of unification and recognition’. I argued that this example was inspired by Kant's ‘unity of the act of synthesis’, a unity that according to Kant is necessary to all objective representation. This is certainly quite different from the non-thetic consciousness (of) body that we encountered in Sartre's subsequent chapter on the body. In other words, although at the beginning of Transcendence of the Ego Sartre categorically rejected what he called Kant's ‘formal self-consciousness’, it seems that there is room for it in at least some instances of his non-thetic consciousness (of) self. I now want to suggest that when Sartre adds to his non-thetic consciousness (of) the body what he calls an ‘empty’ consciousness (of) self, it is this kind of psychological unity he must have been thinking about, at work in both the normative process that generates the unity of thoughts and the normative process that generates the (however conflicted) unity of determinations of action. In other words, Sartre's descriptions did point to two quite different kinds of non-thetic self-consciousness: on the one hand the ‘body for itself’ as opposed to ‘the body for others’. On the other hand the non-thetic consciousness of the unity of one's own mental activity. And to each of these non-thetic self-consciousness, we now see, corresponds a different ‘use of “I” as subject’.

Anscombe, of course, would not agree with this account in any way. For according to her, no use of ‘I’ is a referring use at all, whereas what has been proposed here is an account according to which not only in its use ‘as object’, but also in both its uses ‘as subject’, ‘I’ is a referring expression. Second, on the account proposed here, ‘I am Elizabeth Anscombe’ is an identity proposition, which is true when thought or said by Elizabeth Anscombe. Even more, in this proposition, ‘I’ is used ‘as object’. For it is quite possible that I be justified in thinking that someone is Elizabeth Anscombe, but mistaken in believing Elizabeth Anscombe to be me. For instance, I might have worked so hard on E.A.'s paper that I have lost my mind and started identifying with her. I will thus think or even mutter to myself: ‘I am Elizabeth Anscombe’—which of course, when said or thought by me, would rest on a grievous error of misidentification relative to the first person pronoun. However, it is also true that presupposed in this ‘use of “I” as object’ lies a ‘use of “I” as subject’. Indeed, in every use of ‘I’ there is either the presupposition of the unity of a mental activity, or the non-thetic consciousness of a body, or both.36 This is precisely what Sartre means when he says that every thetic consciousness of object is also a non-thetic consciousness (of) self, which means also that every thetic consciousness of self (consciousness of oneself as an object) is also a non-thetic consciousness (of) self, in one or both of its guises. But the distinction between the two kinds of uses of ‘I’ as subject (one in which empirical features and self-location of the body are taken into account in our use of ‘I’, albeit in a way that is immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person, à la Evans; the other in which only the simple rule is in view) illuminates in return Sartre's strange formulations, according to which non-thetic self-consciousness is and is not the body for itself. For the body for itself is only one of the guises of non-thetic self-consciousness, just as Evans' interpretation of the ‘use of “I” as subject’ as a use in which ‘I’ refers to the body, albeit in judgments that are immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun, is only one of two main cases of ‘use of “I” as subject’.

In short: I propose that the use of ‘I’ as subject is either a use in which we refer to ourselves as bodies (albeit in a way that is immune to error through misidentification relative to the first person pronoun) or a use in which we refer to ourselves by virtue of the simple rule (‘“I” refers to whoever thinks or says “I”‘), where using ‘I’ in this way serves to express and promote the unity of the mental activity by reference to which we make ourselves accountable for our own thoughts and actions. Or of course, ‘use of “I” as subject’ can have, and in most instances probably does have, both features at the same time. This proposal is somewhat similar to the proposal made by Glock and Hacker in the final remarks of their paper, ‘Reference and the First person Pronoun’. What underlies the peculiarities of our use of ‘I’, they say, is that ‘I’ refers to persons: rational creatures with a body. This being so,

The peculiar features of ‘I’ are due to two factors, which, in quasi-Kantian jargon, one might call respectively the embodiment of the speaker and the psychological unity of the speaker.37

However, from this point they do not draw the same conclusions I do. For they take the very distinction between ‘use of “I” as subject’ and ‘use of “I” as object’ to be unnecessary. Since in all cases ‘I’ refers, albeit in a degenerate way (there's no possible failure of reference) what we need to do is identify the variety of ways in which this ‘degenerate’ reference is achieved, rather than trying to support the simple dichotomy Wittgenstein offers in the Blue Book. I submit, on the contrary, that the dichotomy is an important and meaningful one, even if it needs further differentiations among uses of ‘I’ as subject, and even if one does not endorse Wittgenstein's claim that in these uses, ‘I’ does not refer.

I suggested at the beginning of this paper that the comparison between Wittgenstein's semantic analysis of the uses of ‘I’ and Sartre's phenomenological description of the varieties of self-consciousness might serve as a revelator of the virtues and limits of each view. I hope to have succeeded where the virtues are concerned: the various cases of ‘use of “I” as subject’ and ‘use of “I” as object’ are illuminated, I suggested, by sifting them through the different aspects of Sartre's analysis of thetic and non-thetic self-consciousness. But I would also like to have succeeded in suggesting where the fundamental limit of both approaches might lie. We still have no answer to the question: what is the psychological unity that is expressed and promoted by the thought and the word ‘I’? How does it work, what are its forms and functions? This question takes us back to the Kantian heritage that both Wittgenstein's ordinary language analysis and Sartre's phenomenological description resist without being able completely to escape it.38 Expounding the Kantian heritage was not the purpose of this paper. Giving us a renewed awareness of what is to be gained from it and what reasons we may have to pick up this ball again and run further with it, most certainly was. Whether I succeeded in raising this awareness is for you, not for me, to judge.39

  1. 1Sartre 2003b. Sartre 1957, esp. pp. l-liv. Wittgenstein 1960, esp. pp. 66–67. Wittgenstein 1958, esp. §§ 398–411.

  2. 2Sartre 2003c: 135–165.

  3. 3Kant 1998, B131–32. Husserl 1977: §11, pp. 25–26.

  4. 4Sartre 2003a, p. 89: ‘Tout est dehors, tout, jusqu’à nous-mêmes: dehors, dans le monde, parmi les autres'. Coorebyter is right to note that in this article, just as in la Transcendance de l'ego, Sartre credits Husserl with the discovery of intentionality as orientation to the external world (Sartre 2003: 22). In Being and Nothingness, Sartre is more severe to Husserl, whom he takes to be the prisoner of a Cartesian conception of the interiority of consciousness.

  5. 6Ibid.: ‘Le type d'existence de la conscience c'est d'être conscience de soi. Et elle prend conscience de soi en tant qu'elle est conscience d'un objet transcendant. […] l’objet est en face d'elle avec son opacité fondamentale, mais elle, elle est purement et simplement conscience d'être conscience de cet objet, c'est la loi de son existence. Il faut ajouter que cette conscience de conscience—en dehors des cas de conscience réfléchie sur lesquels nous insisterons tout à l'heure—n'est pas positionnelle, c'est-à-dire que la conscience n'est pas à elle-même son objet. […] Nous appellerons cette conscience de conscience de premier degré ou irréfléchie. Nous demandons : y a-t-il place pour un Je dans une pareille conscience ? La réponse est claire: évidemment non.'

  6. 7Sartre 1957: p.liii.

  7. 8Ibid., p. liv.

  8. 9Ibid., p. lv.

  9. 10Kant 1998: A103–104, A117n, B132-36.

  10. 11Sartre 1957: p. liii.

  11. 12Wittgenstein 1960, esp. pp. 66–67.

  12. 13Wittgenstein 1993. I owe this reference to Glock and Hacker 1996: 95.

  13. 16Glock and Hacker 1996: 99 and 101–103. De Gaynesford (2006) maintains that ‘I’ is a deictic just like ‘he/she’ or ‘you’, with the sole difference that unlike the latter it is a pure deictic, with no anaphoric role. But being a deictic, it certainly refers. De Gaynesford's analysis is supported by an extensive discussion of the positions currently on the table concerning the role and meaning of ‘I’. Although he does discuss some of the positions I will be examining in this paper, his discussion goes far beyond the context of a discussion of Wittgenstein's view. I will not be able to consider it in this paper.

  14. 17See Evans 1996: 220–224.

  15. 18Evans 1996: 224–235, esp. p. 232.

  16. 19Evans 1996: 210.

  17. 20Sartre 1957: 303. Cited in Evans 1996 (in the notes assembled by John McDowell), p. 266.

  18. 21Evans cited by McDowell, loc.cit.

  19. 22Sartre 1957: 303–304. Cassam cites this passage and concludes that Sartre is guilty of a new form of dualism, replacing the old dualism of mind and body by a new dualism of in itself (or ‘for others’) and for itself. See Cassam 1999: 56.

  20. 23Sartre 1957: 303–361.

  21. 24Descartes 1984: Sixth Meditation, pp. 59–61.

  22. 25Sartre 1957: 307.

  23. 26Sartre 1957: 328.

  24. 27Sartre 1957: 355.

  25. 28‘Comprenons bien que la douleur d'estomac est l'estomac lui-même en tant que vécu douloureusement’ Cf. Sartre 1957: 355.

  26. 29Wittgenstein 1958: §§ 291–302.

  27. 30Sartre 1957: 330.

  28. 32Ibid., p. 156.

  29. 33Of course there are innumerable reasons for taking Sartre's view and Anscombe's statement to be light-years apart. Sartre means to offer an ontological characterization of the nature of (human, non-thetic) conscious being. Anscombe makes a strictly semantic point about the use of ‘I’. Nevertheless, what I am suggesting is that Anscombe's semantic point and Sartre's phenomenological description are close to capturing one and the same point, which concerns the relation between reflexivity and consciousness of (Sartre), or reference to (Anscombe) the body. My suggestion is that Sartre's dramatic statement gains in clarification (at the cost, admittedly, of being cut to size), by being related to Anscombe's more sober effort. Ultimately, as should become clear from what follows, I take neither of them to have offered a satisfactory account of the tension between the two modes of non-thetic self-consciousness (Sartre) or the relation between uses of ‘I’ and reference to the body (Anscombe).

  30. 34Anscombe 1994: 155, 157.

  31. 35Ibid., p. 158

  32. 36On this point, see my ‘I, Self, Subject’, seminar Presentation to the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin (2007, unpublished typescript), Part 4.

  33. 39I am grateful to Robert Stern and to the editorial committee of the European Journal of Philosophy, at whose invitation I presented an earlier version of this paper for the annual public lecture of the Journal. On that occasion and in the seminar that followed, I especially benefited from the comments of Robert Adams, David Bell, Quassim Cassam, Naomi Eilan, Katherine Harris, Rolf-Peter Horstmann, Stephen Mulhall, Lucy O'Brien, Sarah Richmond, Mark Sacks, and Christopher Shields. I also benefited from discussions of the paper in a colloquium presentation for the department of philosophy at UCLA. I am grateful to all participants for a very helpful discussion. My special thanks to Tyler Burge, Barbara Herman and David Kaplan for their incisive criticisms and suggestions.


  1. Top of page
  2. 1. Sartre on Non-Positional and Positional Self-Consciousness
  3. 2. Wittgenstein on ‘Use of “I” as Subject’ and ‘Use of “I” as Object’
  4. 3. Self-Consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body
  5. 4. The Resources of Sartre's View
  6. 5. The Limits of Sartre's View, the Limits of Wittgenstein's View. Where to Now?
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  • Cassam, Q. (1999), Self and World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • De Gaynesford, M. (2006), I: The Meaning of the First Person Term. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Descartes, R. (1984), Meditations on First Philosophy, trans. John Cottingham, in The Philosophical Writings of Descartes. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, vol. II, 163.
  • Evans, G. (1996), ‘Self-identification’, in the Varieties of Reference, ed. J.McDowell. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
  • Glock, H-J. and Hacker, P. M. S. (1996), ‘Reference and the First Person Pronoun’, Language and Communication, 16: 95105.
  • Husserl, E. (1977), Cartesian Meditations: An Introduction to Phenomenology, trans. D. Cairns. The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff.
  • Kant, I. (1998), Critique of Pure Reason, trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood, The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. References to the Critique of Pure Reason are given according to the usual convention: A for the pagination in the first original edition (1781); B for the pagination in the second original edition (1787).
  • Longuenesse, B. (2005, forthcoming), ‘Self-consciousness and Consciousness of One's Own Body’, Philosophical Topics, 33.
  • Longuenesse, B. (forthcoming) ‘Kant's “I Think” versus Descartes’“I am a Thing that Thinks”’, in Kant and the Early Moderns. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  • Longuenesse, B. (2007, unpublished), ‘I, Self, Subject’.
  • Sartre, J-P. (1957), Being and Nothingness: A Phenomenological Essay on Ontology, trans. H. Barnes. London: Methuen.
  • Sartre, J-P. (2003), La Transcendance de l'ego et autres textes phénoménologiques, Textes introduits et annotés par V. de Coorebyter. Paris: Librairie philosophique J.Vrin.
  • Sartre, J-P. (2003a), ‘Une Idée fondamentale de la Phénoménologie de Husserl: l'intentionnalité’, in Sartre 2003: 87–9.
  • Sartre, J-P. (2003b), ‘La Transcendance de l'ego. Esquisse d'une description phénoménologique’, in Sartre 2003: 93131.
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