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Knowing Yourself and Being Worth Knowing

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  27 November 2018



Philosophers have often understood self-knowledge's value in instrumentalist terms. Self-knowledge may be valuable as a means to moral self-improvement and self-satisfaction, while its absence can lead to viciousness and frustration. These explanations, while compelling, do not fully explain the value that many of us place in self-knowledge. Rather, we have a tendency to treat self-knowledge as its own end. In this article, I vindicate this tendency by identifying a moral reason that we have to value and seek self-knowledge that is independent of the reason that we have to value the beneficial ends that it helps us achieve. I argue that we are in an inescapable relationship with ourselves that requires both self-love and self-respect. Self-love gives us a noninstrumental reason to know ourselves, while self-respect demands that we take this reason seriously. To pursue a project of self-discovery carefully and for its own sake, then, is part of what it is to stand in a loving and respectful relationship with ourselves.

Copyright © American Philosophical Association 2018 

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This article would not exist were it not for Ram Neta, Susan Wolf, and Thomas E. Hill. I am also indebted to Simon Blackburn, Michael Cholbi, Krasimira Filcheva, Daniel Fogal, Camil Golub, Theodore Graham, Matthew Kotzen, Adam Lerner, S. Matthew Liao, Peter MacKenzie, Samuel Reis-Dennis, Chelsea Rosenthal, Bill Ruddick, and Keshav Singh, as well as to anonymous reviewers at this journal and to audiences at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the New York University Center for Bioethics, and Carleton College.


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