Self-Knowledge, Moral Responsibility and Authenticity

Duration: 2017-2019
Code: FFI2016-75323-P

Principal Investigators
Josep E. Corbí and Carles Moya

In the current debate about self-knowledge, it is taken for granted that any sort of self- knowledge that might be based on evidence cannot be strictly first-personal, since, in such cases, an agent would have to examine her own behaviour and experiences in a rather detached manner -that is as if they were part of a show- and, therefore, in a way akin to that of a third party. In Corbí (2012: ch. 6) and Moya (2006: ch. 5), we have argued that there is a kind of attention towards oneself that has a bearing on the idea of evidence but it is also normatively committed, for it includes the recognition that one’s own bodily experiences and emotions are endowed with ‘prima facie’ authority regarding how to respond to a given situation. In our view, the concept of practical necessity that Bernard Williams explored at some point (Williams (1981, 1985, 2002)) may be quite useful to further explore this experience. In fact, Nomy Arpaly (2002) and Miranda Fricker (2007) have developed this concept to investigate some specific issues as to how processes of self-knowledge (and, therefore, of self-deception) may be essential to our capacity to live a valuable life.

The main goal in this research project is to recover the connection between the debate about self-knowledge and the debate about the question ‘How should one live?’ on the basis of Williams’ concept of practical necessity and, for this purpose, we will explore some scientific experiments and classical literary texts along the lines suggested by Arpaly, Fricker and Williams himself. In particular, our initial hypotheses are: [1] to defend the asymmetry between the first- and the third-person perspectives against some scientific experiments that apparently call it into question (Nisbett y Wilson (1977), Gazzaniga (2011)); [2] to object to the extended assumption that the epistemic privilege of the first-person perspective is inconsistent with the gathering of evidence; [3] to vindicate a more unified conception of the self, so that deliberative abilities are not construed as constitutively alien to our psychological dispositions and the latter are endowed with some ‘prima facie’ normative import; [4] to explore how the concept of practical necessity can help us to understand the nature of our ethical bond with others (Williams (1985, 2002), see also Frankfurt (1988, 1999)); [5] to investigate what sort of interaction with others may contribute to the process of recognition of one’s identity, given that the notion of practical necessity implies the idea of opacity, and [6] to determine whether some scientific experiments (Libet (1985), Milgram (1974), Wegner (2002), Haney et alt (1973)) that emphasize the automatic nature of our intentional behaviour as well as the decisive impact that external circumstances may have upon our behaviour, do really challenge our free will and, in the end, the relevance of an agent’s character and the role of self-knowledge in our ability to lead a valuable life