Self-Knowledge And Human Action

Date of Award




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


It has traditionally been felt that the self-knowing individual acts differently from one who is mired in ignorance of himself. However, if we view the self as some type of entity and knowledge of it as true beliefs about properties it possesses, then we cannot account for how it is that such knowledge changes the knower. Theoretical knowledge alone does not guarantee any alteration of character in a person. I argue here that our notions of self and knowledge have to be radically altered if we are to understand self-knowledge and its tie to action. Specifically, I defend Martin Heidegger's revolutionary ontology and epistemology as presented in Being and Time, where the "self" is described not as an entity at all but as a manner of living in accord with unique individual possibilities. Each individual is defined primarily by his possibilities and he comes to know these possibilities and act upon them by involved and caring interaction with his environment. This knowlege is a non-theoretical kind of knowing; a knowing how as opposed to a knowing that, and it changes the knower in the process. Most importantly, it changes the knower into one who consistently acts in accordance with the good, because the good is acting out of respect for the worth of others and such action is, I argue, a pre-supposition of the disclosure of our own possibilities. Thus I conclude that the self-knowing person is the good person and even more: that self-knowledge is a necessary and sufficient condition for anyone doing the good.



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