Monday, December 8, 2014

Know Thy Self - Really

"Most people wonder at some point in their lives how well they know themselves. Self-knowledge seems a good thing to have, but hard to attain. To know yourself would be to know such things as your deepest thoughts, desires and emotions, your character traits, your values, what makes you happy and why you think and do the things you think and do. These are all examples of what might be called “substantial” self-knowledge, and there was a time when it would have been safe to assume that philosophy had plenty to say about the sources, extent and importance of self-knowledge in this sense.
Not any more. With few exceptions, philosophers of self-knowledge nowadays have other concerns. Here’s an example of the sort of thing philosophers worry about: suppose you are wearing socks and believe you are wearing socks. How do you know that that’s what you believe? Notice that the question isn’t: “How do you know you are wearing socks?” but rather “How do you know you believe you are wearing socks?” Knowledge of such beliefs is seen as a form of self-knowledge. Other popular examples of self-knowledge in the philosophical literature include knowing that you are in pain and knowing that you are thinking that water is wet. For many philosophers the challenge is explain how these types of self-knowledge are possible..." Quassim Cassam in The Stone

Professor Cassam is right, too many epistemologists have effectively renounced the classic historical quarry of their discipline, self-knowledge. But it's false to insinuate that the majority of us, on the front lines of large public teaching institutions like mine, have stopped posing the Big Questions. Far from it. William James long ago skewered the "gray-plaster temperament of our bald-headed young PhDs, boring one another at conferences with their talk of Erkenntnistheorie" etc. etc. Most of my peers, and I, don't bother with those conferences. We know ourselves better than that.

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