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Adopted knowing: Claiming self -knowledge in the age of identity

Kimberly J Leighton, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation claims that the problem of self-knowledge involves a kind of splitting of the mind or self into a knower and a known, a subject and an object of knowledge. As modern philosophy becomes concerned with the project of certainty, its turn toward the self renders this splitting into a kind of aporia: how can the self know itself (with certainty) when it is at once a subject and an object of its own knowing? The goal of this dissertation is not to develop a paradigm of self-awareness that avoids or escapes the limits of self-certainty, per se; rather it considers how we might address what is constitutively unknowable about the self without recapitulating the limits of the modern epistemic subject. Chapter I introduces the problem of self-knowledge and the split self. Chapter 2 analyzes Descartes' Second Meditation in terms of its presentation of self-knowledge as self-certainty. Descartes' res cogitans argument, I claim, reveals not only how Descartes conceives of the self as a substance, but also how such a conception relies upon a notion of transparent self-awareness which attempts to resolve the aporia of the split self. Chapter 3 presents Hume's critique of the philosophical notion of personal identity, particularly in terms of its assumption of the self as a substance. Without an alternative notion of self-awareness, however, Hume's method of critique—his empirical epistemology—leaves in place the position of the knowing self capable of transparent introspection. Chapter 4 focuses on Michel Foucault's critique of self-knowledge as knowledge of a substance by an unimpeded knower. Using Foucault's notion of “caring” for the self, I consider how claims of self-knowledge have a productive effect on the self. I critique Foucault's implicit assumption of and failure to provide an alternative notion of self-awareness, however. Citing Descartes' self-reflective meditations, Chapter 5 explores my own relation to self-knowledge, highlighting by example how one can address what is constitutively unknowable about the self. Through explorations of identity through the figure of ‘being adopted’ I argue that we can begin to unpack both the ontological and the epistemological assumptions of identity.

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Recommended Citation

Leighton, Kimberly J, "Adopted knowing: Claiming self -knowledge in the age of identity" (2003). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI3110518.