Wittgenstein on The First Person

William Child

in The Oxford Handbook of Wittgenstein

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199287505
Published online January 2012 | | DOI:

Series: Oxford Handbooks in Philosophy

 Wittgenstein on The First Person

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  • Philosophy of Mind
  • History of Western Philosophy


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Questions about the self, the use of ‘I’, and the first-person point of view arise throughout Ludwig Wittgenstein's writings. This article explores two interrelated issues. First, what is the function and significance of the first-person pronoun? Second, what is the relation between the first-person point of view — the point of view that each of us has on ourselves, our experiences, and our mental states — and the second- or third-person point of view — the point of view we adopt towards others, their experiences, and their mental states? When ‘I’ is used ‘as object’, Wittgenstein says, ‘the possibility of an error has been provided for’; when ‘I’ is used ‘as subject’, ‘no error is possible’. Wittgenstein has identified a genuine feature of certain self-ascriptions: immunity to error through misidentification. One of Wittgenstein's aims in Philosophical Investigations is to offer an account of the ‘language-game’ of ascribing sensations and attitudes to oneself and others that does justice to both first-person and third-person aspects of the mental, while avoiding the twin extremes of Cartesian introspectionism, on the one hand, and behaviourism, on the other.

Keywords: Ludwig Wittgenstein; first-person pronoun; experiences; mental states; object; subject; Philosophical Investigations; error; introspectionism; sensation

Article.  15471 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Philosophy of Mind ; History of Western Philosophy

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