What Good is Self-Knowledge?

Journal of Philosophical Research 40:137-154 (2015)
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This paper provides a detailed account of the normal importance of self-knowledge. I critique two previous accounts, one developed by Bilgrami and the other inspired by Putnam. It is argued that the former conflates self-beliefs with the intentional states that these higher-order beliefs are about, whereas the latter shows only that true beliefs of certain kinds—as opposed to true self-beliefs simpliciter—improve our chances of survival. Self-knowledge is valuable for four reasons. First, it improves our chances of survival because it enables us to assess our intentional states and adjust our behavior. Second, it plays a critical role in effecting cooperation because the efficient pursuit of common goals requires that one communicate to others information about one’s beliefs and desires. Third, it provides protection against psychopathologies such as anxiety and narcissism because it enables the agent to assume responsibility for his thoughts and actions. Fourth, it enhances the agent’s self-confidence and happiness because the less he doubts that his successes are the result of his acting on his attitudes and abilities, the more self-confident and happier he is. I conclude with a discussion of the disadvantages of self-knowledge and the advantages of self-ignorance and self-error.



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