Horace Ars Poetica 317–8 plays pointedly on the transition in the sense of μίμησις from imitation of life to imitation of a literary model, suggesting that the poet should ‘look back’ at times from the latter to the former.
In this dissertation I re-assert the significance of the ancient Greek aphorism - ‘know thyself’: I identify the individual human self as the starting point and ubiquitous preamble of all epistemology and ontology. I argue that the primary feature of the way we find ourselves living is as an individual conscious bodily subject and this is the locus or starting point of all our possible knowledge. Although we find ourselves as individual subjects of experience and action we are not isolated; (...) rather we are always already with others as part of a wider world. I therefore propose a proto-ontology of ‘me, others, and world’ with corresponding interlocking modes of ‘individuality, intersubjectivity, and interdependence’. I argue that our direct knowing-by-being of our selves reveals some further primary facts about ourselves in terms of unity, compositionality, temporality, judgment, agency, and teleology. I acknowledge the phenomenological concept of pre-reflective self-awareness as an expression of the universal individuality of experience. However while some phenomenologists want to confine this mineness to the way that experience occurs, I argue that this mineness points to a more substantial knowing of ourselves as bodily subjects or selves. I claim that this human centered starting point becomes relevant or critical when we try to construct - or claim to have knowledge of - universal metaphysical theories such as scientism, which purports to be able to give a complete physicalist scientific picture of the world that sees nothing special in our individual first person perspectives. I argue that purely third personal objective scientific metaphysical theories have a blind spot in accounting for consciousness, which is what makes possible any theory whatsoever. Also since the twentieth century the results of physical science itself, notably quantum physics, seem, on some interpretations, to point to a reality that is not independent of individual observers. To alleviate these problems, I argue for a re-ordering of the priority of self and science. I reject strong forms of scientific realism and scientism in favour of a view that understands science as just one form of our human exploration of our world. Our knowing-by-being of ourselves is existentially and epistemically prior to any third-person knowledge and reflects our human cosmic significance as sources of explanatory knowledge and judgment. However, because our experience of ourselves is from within a wider world we should not expect to have a complete ontological picture of everything. Our limited ontological knowledge leaves us in a situation of subject and object duality but this is not a matter of dividing the world; rather it is a matter of recognizing our own situation. This can be seen as limiting, in that we are not in a position to know everything: but a proper understanding of ourselves liberates us from universalist doctrines and allows us to know ourselves as a source of nature’s self understanding from within. (shrink)