Self-knowledge and the Limits of Transparency


Way J (2007) Self-knowledge and the Limits of Transparency. Analysis, 67 (3), pp. 223-230.;

First paragraph: It seems that many of our attitudes are transparent, in the following sense: we can come to know that we have an attitude M by considering a question about the content of M. This is clearest in the case of belief, as is illustrated by the following oft-quoted passage of Gareth Evans’s, making a self-ascription of belief, one’s eyes are, so to speak, or occasionally literally, directed outward – upon the world. If someone asks me ‘Do you think there is going to be a third world war?’, I must attend, in answering him, to precisely the same outward phenomena as I would attend to if I were answering the question ‘Will there be a third world war?’ (Evans 1982: 225) But it is also true, to varying degrees, of other attitudes as well. As Dorit Bar-On points out, If asked whether I am hoping or wishing that p, whether I prefer x to y, whether I am angry at or afraid of z, and so on, my attention would be directed at p, x and y, z, etc. For example, to say how I feel about an upcoming holiday, I would consider whether the holiday is likely to be fun. Asked whether I find my neighbour annoying, I would ponder her actions and render a verdict. (Bar-On 2004: 106) This remarkable fact – that we appear to be able to answer questions directed at one subject matter by considering questions directed at another – has played a leading role in several recent accounts of self-knowledge. Thus Richard Moran claims (2001: 150) that transparency is ‘the fundamental feature of self-knowledge’, and argues at length that it is transparency that marks the difference between those attitudes which can be objects of ‘ordinary’ self-knowledge and those attitudes which can be known, if at all, only through the kind of evidence which is equally available to a third-person.1 And Moran and others also claim that understanding transparency is the key to understanding those features of ordinary self-knowledge – such as immediacy, authority, and its relation to rationality – which have traditionally seemed problematic to philosophers.2

; Self-knowledge, Theory of

Analysis: Volume 67, Issue 3

Publication date31/07/2007
PublisherOxford University Press / The Analysis Trust (previously Wiley-Blackwell)
Publisher URL