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The Paideia Archive: Twentieth World Congress of Philosophy

Volume 16, 1998

Philosophical Anthropology

Ingvar Johansson
Pages 52-57

Impossible Descriptions, Superfluous Descriptions, and Mead’s “I”

Some kinds of utterances which have an indicative grammatical form seem, for different reasons, to be unable to say something true of the world. Logical contradictions are only the prime example of something the author baptizes impossible descriptions. So-called performative contradictions (e.g., "I do not exist") make up another kind, but there are at least two more such kinds: negating affirmations and performatives which cannot be explained within the philosophy of language. Only philosophical anthropology can explain their feature of "impossibleness," and a distinction between unreflective and reflective consciousness is central to the explanation. Particularly important here is G. H. Mead's distinction between two aspects of the self: the "I" and the "me." Each of the four kinds of impossible descriptions distinguished has its own contrary opposite. These are, in turn, logical tautologies, performative tautologies, affirming negations, and omissive performatives. The last three types as types have not received the philosophical recognition that they deserve. All four fit a general characterization which is given as a definition of the concept of superfluous description.

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