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The Australian National University

Robert Stainton (Western University)

Date and time

Thu, 02/11/2017 - 15:30 - 17:30


Coombs Seminar Room A

Title: "Anscombe and 'I'

Robert J Stainton (with Andrew Botterell)

G.E.M. Anscombe appears to be one of the great philosophical minds of the 20th Century, with “The First Person” in particular being a singular contribution to analytic philosophy. In that paper, Anscombe appears to maintain that ‘I’ is not a referring term, and should instead be compared to the expletive ‘it’ of ‘It’s raining’. At the same time, it appears empirically absurd to treat ‘I’ as non-referring, and the only grounds given for doing so should strike Anscombe in particular as methodologically suspect. So, we have a puzzle of incompatible appearances
: a great philosopher; she holds a striking thesis; but there are glaring reasons to think that the thesis itself is both implausible and should not, assuming methodological consistency, have been argued for as it seems to have been.

Our main goal in this paper is to resolve this puzzle by showing that Anscombe has not committed a blunder: there is plenty of room for exegetical charity about what she holds
. Our second, and ancillary aim, is to extract a view of the meaning of ‘I’ from “The First Person”, a view that we believe is initially plausible and worthy of further philosophical development. In particular, the view highlights differences among varieties of reference in natural language.

This is not to say, of course, that we ourselves endorse the view we extract from Anscombe as being unquestionably correct.

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