Authority and Estrangement

Reply Mon 16 Mar, 2009 09:29 am
Authority and Estrangement: An Essay on Self-Knowledge
by: Richard Moran
ISBN: 0-691-08945-0
Publisher: Princeton University Press (

Since Socrates, and through Descartes to the present day, the problems of self-knowledge have been central to philosophy's understanding of itself. Today the idea of the "first-person authority"-the claim of a distinctive relation each person has toward his or her own mental life-has been challenged from a number of directions, to the point where many doubt the person bears any distinctive relation to their own mental life, let alone a privileged one. Moran argues in the book for a reconception of the first-person and its claims by arguing that a more thorough repudiation of the idea of privileged inner observation leads to a deeper appreciation of the systematic differences that are both irreducible and constitutive of the very concept and life of the person.

Moran blends philosophy of the mind and moral psychology to develop a view of self-knowledge that concentrates on the self as agent rather than spectator. Moran argues that each person does speak for their own thought and feeling with distinctive authority, that very authority is tied just as much to the disprivileging of the first-person, to its specific possibilities of alienation.

Moran explores the extent to which what we say about ourselves is a matter of discovery or of creation, the difficulties and limitations in being "objective" towards ourselves, and the conflicting demands of realism about oneself and responsibility for oneself. The result is a book that explores the contrasting ideals of relations to oneself and relations to others.


  • Tackles a very important topic within epistemology-the first person perspective and the self-knowledge that results from the perspective.
  • A very well written book with interesting prose that draws on many different fields of study-not just limited to epistemology.
  • Draws on a wide range of thinkers from Wittgenstein, Sartre, Nagel, and many others


  • Using the confusion Sartrian language of "self-as-facticity" and "self-as-transcedence"
  • The chapters seem to go on forever, and at times it feels like Moran is beating a dead horse.
  • At times Moran's argument is lost within his examples and evidence, and as a result, it can be unclear what he is trying to argue.


  • Account of the transparency condition
  • The distinction between theoretical knowledge and deliberative knowledge
  • The account and differentiation of expressing, reporting, and avowing
  • The difference between the Self and the Other

"The problem of self-knowledge is not set by the fact that first-person reports are especially good or reliable, but primarily by the fact that they involve a distinctive mode of awareness, and that self-consciousness has specific consequences for the object of consciousness." (28)

"For what the "logical" claim of transparency requires is the deferral of the theoretical question 'What do I believe?' to the deliberative question, 'What am I to believe?' And in the case of the attitude of belief, answering a deliberative question is a matter of determining what is true." (63)

"One must see one's deliberation as the expression and development of one's belief and will, nat as an activity one pursues in the hope that it will have some influence on one's eventual belief and will." (94)

"A fairly modest version of the idea of 'first-person authority' will understand it not as entailing either infallibility or perfect access, but as a feature of discourse, as the authority a speaker is ordinarily granted to declare his thought and feeling, and have that declaration count (normally decisively) as telling us what the person's attitude is." (121)

"The stance from which a person speaks with any special authority about his belief or his action is not a stance of causal explanation but the stance of rational agency." (127)

My Rating(1-10): 8.4 - Very well written book on a topic I tend to find rather boring and uninteresting. By drawing on fields such as the philosophy of the mind and moral psychology Moran turns epistemology into something that not a total bore to read.
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