What About Pseudonymity? III

What follows is the conclusion of the famous essay “The First Person”, by G.E.M. Anscombe. “Famous” in philosophy departments, anyway. I know Henri is a fan, and I think it was something along these lines that led me to consider (read: rationalize) the value of pseudonymity in the first place. That, and of course wanting to imitate Kierkegaard. That, and being a coward. Anyway …

Suppose — as is possible — that there were no distinct first-person expression, no pronoun “I”, not even any first-person inflection of verbs. Everyone uses his own name as we use “I”. (Children sometimes do this.) Thus a man’s own name takes the place of “I” in this supposed language. What then? Won’t his own name still be a name? Surely it will! He will be using what is syntactically and semantically a name. That is, it is semantically a name in other people’s mouths. But it will not be so in his mouth, it will not signify like a name in his utterances.

If I used “E.A.” like that, and had no first-person inflections of verbs and no such word as “I”, I should be in a difficulty to frame the proposition corresponding to my present proposition: “I am E.A.” The nearest I could get would be, for example, “E.A. is the object E.A.” That is, “E.A. is the object referred to by people who identify something as E.A.”

There is a mistake that it is very easy to make here. It is that of supposing that the difference of self-consciousness, the difference I have tried to bring before your minds as that between “I”-users and “A”-users, is a private experience. That there is this asymmetry about “I”: for the hearer or reader it is in principle no different from “A”; for the speaker or thinker, the “I”-saying subject, it is different. Now this is not so: the difference between “I”-users and “A”-users would be perceptible to observers. To bring this out, consider the following story from William James. James, who insisted (rightly, if I am right) that consciousness is quite distinct from self-consciousness, reproduces an instructive letter from a friend: “We were driving in a wagonette; the door flew open and X, alias ‘Baldy’, fell out on the road. We pulled up at once, and then he said ‘Did anyone fall out?’ or ‘Who fell out?’ — I don’t exactly remember the words. When told that Baldy fell out he said ‘Did Baldy fall out? Poor Baldy!’ “

lf we met people who were A-users and had no other way of speaking of themselves, we would notice it quite quickly, just as his companions noticed what was wrong with Baldy. It was not that he used his own name. That came afterwards. What instigated someone to give information to him in the form “Baldy fell out” was, I suppose, that his behaviour already showed the lapse of self-consciousness, as James called it. He had just fallen out of the carriage, he was conscious, and he had the idea that someone had fallen out of the carriage — or he knew that someone had, but wondered who! That was the indication of how things were with him.

Even if they had spoken a language without the word “I”, even if they had had one without any first-person inflexion, [1] but everybody used his own name in his expressions of self-consciousness, even so, Baldy’s conduct would have had just the same significance. It wasn’t that he used ‘Baldy’ and not “I” in what he said. It was that his thought of the happening, falling out of the carriage, was one for which he looked for a subject, his grasp of it one which required a subject. And that could be explained even if we didn’t have “I” or distinct first-person inflexions. He did not have what I will call ‘unmediated agent-or-patient conceptions of actions, happenings, and states’. These conceptions are subjectless. That is, they do not involve the connection of what is understood by a predicate with a distinctly conceived subject. The (deeply rooted) grammatical illusion of a subject is what generates all the errors which we have been considering.

Well, yes, I am inclined to say, this might be the case in a certain conative sense of things. But let us also admit that even if there is some truth to this sense of things, it can be used to provide cover for all sorts of bullshit. And more to the point, chickenshit.

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