Self-knowledge : a study of Sartre and Hampshire
This work examines some of the epistemological and ontological conditions of the deep self-knowledge that is demanded by the Delphic motto gnothi seauton (know thyself!). The guiding questions are: what is the 'self' that deep self-knowledge is of? What are we such that we can ask deep and puzzling questions about our life-plans, our self-conceptions and the meaning of our lives? Can we know ourselves as we really are, or only under a certain description which conceals as much as it reveals? What is the nature of the relation between self-knowledge and (personal or inner) reality? The central thesis that is defended is that a person is to a certain extent a self-defining and self-forming being by virtue of his self-knowledge; fundamental changes in how he knows himself, and conceives his way of life, his life-history, emotions, final ends, death etc. particularly in light of fundamental practical questions ('Who am I?' 'What should I do with my life?') necessarily occasion changes in what he is. What he is at any one moment in his life is in part constituted by his self-knowledge. To account for the complex 'inter-relation' between self-knowledge and its object, and the possibility of self-formation, a broadly Kantian theory of constituting activity is developed, as well as a theory of the empirical 'under-determination' of self-knowledge. The peculiarity of self-knowledge is that the knower is the known, and that he is active (meaning-giving, or sinn-gebung) with respect to the object known (himself); the object of knowledge and the knowing subject change and extend their range together. This complicates some of the claims of realism and the correspondence theory of truth: self-knowledge is not a matter of the strict conformity of beliefs or conceptions to an independent, determinate and unchanging reality. In Kantian terms, the object of self-knowledge conforms to the conditions of knowledge. This broadly Kantian approach is brought to the analysis of Hampshire and Sartre's theories, which are studied as illustrations of the general ontological and epistemological conditions of self-knowledge. Hampshire's Spinozist theory of reflexive knowledge, which emphasizes the importance of rationality and the understanding of the causes of one's mental states, is contrasted with Sartre's existentialist theory, which emphasizes the importance of choice, and the non-theoretical understanding of one's way of being. Sartre, who is critical of the foundational status generally given to rationality and knowledge, rejects deliberation, detachment, self-observation, reasoned self-criticism and the other rational activities that Hampshire and Spinoza consider essential for self-knowledge. Other issues that are discussed include the problem of truth conditions in deep self-knowledge, the agent-observer dualism in self-inquiry, the relational model of the self, and Iris Murdoch's critique of Hampshire and Sartre.