Sunday, March 11, 2007

A Philosophy of the First-Person Singular: Vincent Descombes


According to Emile Benveniste, there are only 2 grammatical persons (the first and the second) because being a grammatical person is a matter of taking part actively in a dialogical act of speech. The so-called third person should rather be called the nonperson, the ‘‘absent’’ of the dialogue. Paul Ricoeur has questioned this interpretation of the third person in so far as it meets a philosophical dogma once maintained by Jean-Paul Sartre in his theory of the novel. Sartre claimed that the author of a novel when introducing a character into the narrative should choose between the first-person point of view and the third-person one. Ricoeur has rightly argued that this was not the case, as it is obviously possible to use the grammatical third person in order to present the personal thoughts and feelings of somebody else. If one could not do that, it would not be possible to consider ‘‘oneself as another.’’

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