PHIL 2410: Know Thyself

[UConn Storrs]

As thinking beings, we have rich inner lives. And we have unfettered access to these inner lives. Whatever we might imagine at any given moment, we know (without fail) that this is what we are currently imagining. It would be absurd for someone else to correct us. To respond to a sincere claim like “I am imagining a house on a meadow” with “No you are not” would be facetious. We have this kind of unfettered access to many of our internal and bodily states. When someone thinks they are in pain, are hungry, tired, or wanting something, it would be absurd to correct them (except in very particular circumstances). One has similarly unfettered access to some parts of one’s identity, like one’s sexual orientation, gender identity, or religious beliefs.

There are, hence, a great many things about ourselves that we know about us better than anyone else. But, by contrast, there are a great many things about ourselves that are very difficult for us to know and that other people might know better. These include our habits, implicit assumptions or prejudices, and character traits. It might take someone else to point out one of our habits for us to realize we have it, or a supervised exercise to uncover our biases. Indeed, we might think of ourselves as good, virtuous people until someone else points out our failings. In such cases, it is far from absurd for someone to correct our beliefs about ourselves.

We will examine the tension between the kind of self-knowledge for which our self-perception is our best guide and the kind of self-knowledge for which we might be best served by perceiving ourselves through others. What is the ‘inner sense’ that gives us unfettered access to imagination, sensation, desire, and identity? And what it is about habit, prejudice and character that hides them from this sense?

Trouble registering? This class has a catalog-level pre-requisite of one 1000-level PHIL course. We can override this pre-requisite. If you are an Honors student, you may register by emailing and including (1) your name; (2) your 7-digit Student Admin number; (3) your registration “pick time”; (4) the course number and section (PHIL 2410-001); (5) the class number from Student Admin; and (6) confirmation that there are seats available in the course.