Facing the Third Person: Understanding the Second-Person Plural

Pawlett Jackson, Sarah (2020). Facing the Third Person: Understanding the Second-Person Plural. PhD thesis The Open University.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.21954/ou.ro.00010f46


In this thesis I present the case that there are forms of human interaction which should be understood as properly second-person plural. This kind of interaction, by definition, involves a minimum of three people. This is not just a claim about the grammatical form of an address. Rather, it is a claim about our lived intersubjective experience. In this investigation I follow existing philosophical literature that has examined the first-person plural and the second-person singular. The second-person plural, however, has been relatively underexplored.

I outline the criteria for an interaction to be both second-personal and plural. I argue that a specific structure of interlocking reciprocal awareness, between multiple subjects, is required. This involves, I argue, both joint address and joint reception of address – where this address is second-personal, rather than third-personal. Using a phenomenological approach, I identify the kinds of cases that exhibit this structure in our everyday experience.

I defend my account from various possible objections. I consider the objection that the second-person standpoint is definitionally singular, and that my account misunderstands the nature of second-personal interaction. I also consider the objection that my account does not respect the limits of second-personal attention, which is exhausted by engagement with a single other. I consider three versions of this latter worry, which are concerned with the spatial, temporal and dialogical limits of second-personal attention respectively. I argue that all of these objections to my account are misguided. The thread that runs through these objections, I argue, rests on a disembodied conception of the human subject. By contrast, I argue that a right understanding of subjectivity as necessarily embodied supports my account of the second-person plural.

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