Transparency and reflection: a study of self-knowledge and the nature of mind

New York, NY: Oxford University Press (2024)
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Abstract

This book argues that we misunderstand the importance of the topic of self-knowledge if we conceive of it merely as a puzzle about how we can know a special range of facts. Instead, we should regard it as an inducement to reflect on the nature of the relevant facts themselves, and of the kind of mind of which they hold. In this sense, the interest of the topic of self-knowledge is metaphysical rather than merely epistemological: its primary importance lies in the light it can shed on what our minds are, rather than just on how we come to know certain facts about them. Appreciating this point puts us in a position to see a link between debates about how we know our own minds and the dark but intriguing idea that Jean-Paul Sartre expressed in his remark that, for a human being, "to exist is always to assume its being" in a way that implies "an understanding of human reality by itself." An implication of thus Sartrean standpoint on self-awareness, I argue, is that our primary form of self-awareness must be transparent: its focus must be, not on ourselves, but on aspects of the non-mental world presented in a way that is informed by an implicit self-awareness. Nevertheless-as I go on to argue-we are necessarily capable of transforming this implicit self-awareness, through reflection, into an explicit understanding of ourselves and our own mental states.

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Matthew Boyle
University of Chicago

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