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Re-reading Anscombe on ‘I’

  • Robert J. Stainton (a1)


According to a ‘Straight’ reading of Elizabeth Anscombe’s (1975) ‘The First Person’, she holds a radically non-referring view of ‘I’. Specifically, ‘I’ is analogous to the expletive ‘it’ in ‘It’s raining’. I argue that this is not her conclusion. Her substantive view, rather is that if what you mean by ‘reference’ is a certain rich and recherché notion tracing to Frege, then ‘I’ is not a referring term. Her methodological point is that one shouldn’t be ‘bewitched by language’ into thinking that ‘I’, because of its syntax, must exhibit ‘reference’ in this sense.

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Corresponding author

CONTACT Robert J. Stainton Department of Philosophy, University of Western Ontario, London, Ontario, Canada


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A first draft of this paper was presented at the Department of Philosophy, Universidad Alberto Hurtado, Santiago, Chile, 24 May 2017. A revised version was given at the Annual Conference on Philosophy and Linguistics, Inter-University Center, Dubrovnik, Croatia, 5 September 2017; to the School of Philosophy, Australian National University, 2 November 2017; to the Department of Philosophy, University of Reading, 19 January 2018; and to the Arché Mind and Language Seminar, University of St. Andrews, 3 April 2018. I am grateful to audience members at these venues for very helpful feedback. Thanks also to Andrew Botterell, Brian Garrett, Jennifer Hornsby, Léa Salje, Kranti Saran and Barry Smith for very pleasant mealtime discussions of Anscombe’s views, and to Lenny Clapp, Michael Hymers, Rick Grush, Angela Mendelovici, Eliot Michaelson, Martin Montminy and the anonymous referees for insightful written comments. Financial support was provided by The Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada and by a Visiting Fellowship from the Research School of Science Sciences at the Australian National University. The paper is dedicated to my dear friends Lorne Falkenstein and John Thorp on the happy/sad occasion of their retirement from The University of Western Ontario.



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Re-reading Anscombe on ‘I’

  • Robert J. Stainton (a1)


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