Persons, Identification

The first chapter of Ricoeur’s Oneself as Another addresses identification of persons as individuals at a preliminary, very abstract level. He calls this a semantic inquiry. At this first stage, persons are effectively objects like other objects, and are identified as individuals in a similar way. I take this to be related to what Aristotle and Kant said about the non-primitive nature of self-consciousness.

Ricoeur refers to the analytic philosopher P. F. Strawson’s argument that bodies are the first kind of particulars we identify, which has the consequence that they are conceptually prior to mental events. Ricoeur adds that persons are no less primitive than bodies, but says a person is not a second kind of referent, being constituted rather by a second series of predicates with the same referent as a body.

According to Ricoeur, this rules out views of a person as a pure consciousness adjoined to a body. Further, predicates applicable to persons are such that they can be applied with the same meaning to myself and others.

Persons and mental events are thus public entities in the same way as bodies are. “I cannot speak meaningfully of my thoughts unless I am able at the same time to ascribe them potentially to someone else” (p. 38).