Article

Self-Knowledge

Quassim Cassam

in Philosophy

ISBN: 9780195396577
Published online May 2010 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0112
Self-Knowledge

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In philosophy, self-knowledge usually means one of two things: knowledge of one’s particular mental states or knowledge of one’s own nature. To have self-knowledge in the first of these senses is to know one’s particular sensations, experiences, and propositional attitudes (beliefs, desires, and so on). Much of the recent literature has concentrated on self-knowledge in this sense. To have self-knowledge in the second sense is to know one’s own ontological nature, or less abstract characteristics, such as one’s own character, abilities, or values. Several different questions can be asked about self-knowledge: (1) What is its character, and what, if anything, distinguishes self-knowledge from other kinds of knowledge? (2) What are the sources of self-knowledge, and, if we have it, how do we get it? (3) What is the scope of self-knowledge, and what are its limits? (4) What is the value, or importance, of self-knowledge? It’s helpful to think about work on self-knowledge as addressing one or more of these questions, and this entry will be structured accordingly. Responses to (1) have focused on the idea that some self-knowledge is epistemically privileged. Responses to (2) include different versions of the following ideas: (a) self-knowledge is acquired by some kind of inner observation, or self-scanning; (b) self-knowledge is acquired by inference or self-interpretation; (c) self-knowledge is acquired by asking and answering the appropriate questions about the world at large. This is the “transparency” approach to self-knowledge, which can be seen as a version of or an alternative to inferentialism. (a), (b), and (c) assume that self-knowledge is acquired by employing the appropriate epistemic procedure and that questions about the origins of self-knowledge are fundamentally epistemological. Nonepistemic approaches include (d) expressivism and (e) constitutivism. The former focuses on the role of avowals (self-ascriptions of one’s current state of mind) as expressions rather than descriptions of one’s state of mind. The latter says that in the normal case there is a constitutive relation between being in a given mental state and knowing or believing that one is in that state. Constitutive approaches concentrate on the metaphysics rather than the epistemology of self-knowledge. Some responses to (3) discuss the obstacles to self-knowledge and identify varieties of self-knowledge that are difficult or impossible to acquire. Others seek to rule out certain forms of self-ignorance. With regard to (4), the issue is, what good does it do us to have self-knowledge, and what kinds of self-knowledge are valuable to us?

Article.  6176 words. 

Subjects: Philosophy ; Aesthetics and Philosophy of Art ; Epistemology ; Feminist Philosophy ; History of Western Philosophy ; Metaphysics ; Moral Philosophy ; Non-Western Philosophy ; Philosophy of Language ; Philosophy of Law ; Philosophy of Mathematics and Logic ; Philosophy of Mind ; Philosophy of Religion ; Philosophy of Science ; Social and Political Philosophy

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