Self-Opacity, Ethics, and Agency Conference 2019

Self-Opacity, Ethics and Agency Conference
April 5 & 6, 2019

Location: Whitney Humanities Center, Yale University, Room 208

Conference Poster

Much contemporary philosophy has been concerned to articulate the special way in which human beings know the contents of their own minds.  Following Descartes and especially Kant, this tradition has seen a close connection between having some belief or desire and knowing that one holds that belief or desire.  And yet we also know from ordinary life, from art, and from empirical work in psychology, that we human beings are often opaque to ourselves.  In simple cases—like knowing why we are walking into the kitchen, and what we want there—we know what we are doing or what we believe and why.  But in evaluatively complex circumstances where our values and self-conceptions are at stake, we are often not clear why we do what we do, and our motivations and aims can be opaque to us.  One can thus trace another tradition in the history of philosophy—one that includes figures like Augustine, Montaigne, Kant (again), Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Freud, and Murdoch—according to which human beings are essentially unknown to themselves.

This conference will investigate the idea that human beings are self-opaque, strangers to themselves, as Nietzsche put it.  Questions that we will pursue include the following:
Are failures of self-knowledge merely contingent privations, and if not, how should we conceptualize them?  What is the relationship between self-opacity and our being narrativizing or self-interpreting animals?  Can art tell us more about this feature of our lives than philosophy?  And if philosophy can tell us something, what philosophical methodology is adequate to this task?  Finally, if it is the case that human beings are often self-opaque, is this always something to be lamented, or might be there ways in which self-opacity can contribute productively to human life and human flourishing?



FRIDAY April 5

10:00 coffee

10:15 opening remarks
Francey Russell (Yale University)

Paul Katsafanas (Boston University)
“On having self-knowledge while lacking self-understanding.”
Chair: Stephen Darwall (Yale)

12-2:00 lunch

2:00-3:30 Francey Russell (Yale University)
“Towards a critical theory of self-knowledge: lessons from Du Bois”
Chair: Paul North (Yale)

3:45-5:15 Thomas Khurana (Yale University/University of Essex)
“Driving around alone at night: A case for a theory of action?”
Chair: Jessica Tizzard (University of Connecticut)

5:15-6:15 Reception


9:30-11:00 Richard Eldridge (Swarthmore College)
“Courage and experiments in selfhood: Werner Herzog”
Chair: Rafeeq Hasan (Amherst)

11:15-12:45 Laurie Paul (Yale University)
“Transformative changes”
Chair: Alain Pe-Curto (Yale)


This conference is generously sponsored by the Whitney Humanities Center and the Philosophy Department at Yale University