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  • The First Person in Cognition and Morality by Béatrice Longuenesse
  • Ekin Erkan
LONGUENESSE, Béatrice. The First Person in Cognition and Morality. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2020. vii + 73 pp. Paper, $15.00

Longuenesse's metaphysical stipulation is that consciousness in the rational unity of our thinking is more fundamental than consciousness of our proprioceptive body, for being attentive to the rational unity of content(s) in one's thinking is what makes it possible to assess the standpoints from which we initially formulate, and then arrive at, shared universal conclusions. Two dichotomies transpire: singular/universal and bodily/rational. What is radically individual in what we assert of ourselves is what is true of us as an entity individuated in space and time—existence as a material organism. However, with these specific uses—the apperceptive "I think" or the moral "I ought to"—what we are asserting of ourselves is, according to Longuenesse, the exercise of capacities that, by principle, we share universally. It is not that this "I" is not indexical, for it still refers to an individuated entity; rather, with "I think," if I am correct to say that there are "users" of "I," such that "I" am the thinker of "I think," then "I" is still individual. Yet, I am also asserting something universal. In Kant's case, and in Longuenesse's view as a faithful Kantian, this is not an ontological claim (unlike, for instance, with Descartes or Aristotle) but an epistemological claim entangled with the metaphysics of mind.

Thus, we have a formidable response to Lichtenberg's oft-quoted claim that we should say "it thinks" or "there is thinking going on" rather than "I think," as well as a response to Nietzsche's notorious notion that thoughts come about when they will and not when "I" will them. Rather than asserting the Cartesian argument of "self" as thinking-identity, Longuenesse defends that in cases of "I think" nothing is necessary to competently use the first-person pronoun "I" aside from mastery, implicit or explicit, of a fundamental reference-rule (that is, the "thinker-rule"). On one hand, "I" refers to the producer of the thought. However, the predicate attributed to "I" produces a kind of consciousness of self that is the basis of making a statement where "I" is indicated, which references embodied consciousness ("I am jumping"), thinking ("I think the proof is valid"), or both embodiment and thinking ("I see a magnolia"). Indeed, there is [End Page 846] always the singularity of "I," and sometimes this singular "I" stands for the particular embodied entity that we can individuate in space, time, and biography; however, sometimes that very "I," which remains individuated by the reference-rule, stands for all thinkers. When I say, "I think this proof is valid," there is nothing beyond the fact that I am engaged in that thought that should make the predicate valid particularly for me or anyone else.

Moving from theoretical cognition to practical cognition, Longuenesse demonstrates how our use of "I" in the moral "I ought to" is premised, as in the use of "I" in "I think," on a type of self-consciousness that has both an individual "I" and the claims to universal validity of those first-person moral models exercised in "I (morally) ought to X" or "I am (morally) obligated to X." Longuenesse stipulates that Freud's genealogy of the moral imperative is compatible with Kant's investigation of the justificatory structure of a priori cognition and moral reasoning. That is, Freud's notion of ego is proximous to the consciousness of one's own body and the two types of self-consciousness fundamental to use of "I":(1) consciousness of being engaged in establishing rational unity among the contents of one's mental states, and (2) consciousness of one's body/its position in the world.

Accordingly, Freud's genealogy of both ego and superego contributes to our understanding of the combination of particular and universal claims carried by our use of "I" in the moral "I ought to." Longuenesse makes the point that, for Freud, there is a connection between organizing the contents of mental events according to...


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