‘Ren? Are you listening?’ says Tanja.
Oh yes. Tanja’s question. Ignoring it hasn’t made it go away like he hoped it would.
‘Can you ever know yourself?’ says Ren to remind himself of the question. ‘Do you mean fully? No. Do you mean at all? Yes.’
The blunt answers are an attempt to put Tanja off, although he knows that won’t work.
‘I mean at all. I mean, how can you know yourself at all?’
‘Well, firstly there’s introspection, which even if it isn’t perfect, does produce some knowledge of yourself, unless you’re just going for all out global scepticism, in which case we’re hardly going to be restricting our attention to ourselves.’
One of the things to do with philosopher manques who incline towards scepticism is to make them aware of how their type of scepticism won’t just be restricted to the sphere they are determined to be sceptical about. Not that they ever really get this, but it can get them off your back with a clean conscience.
‘And secondly,’ says Ren, ‘there’s the observation of your own behaviour. If you can know other people, to some degree, by observing their behaviour, then you’re no different.’
‘But how is that knowing yourself? I mean, truly knowing yourself?’ says Tanja.
‘What does the word “truly” add here? How is knowing yourself different to knowing yourself truly? Do you mean knowing every aspect of yourself? As I said, you can’t know yourself to that extent. You can’t know anything to that extent.’
‘I mean, knowing what you’re really like?’
‘Are you assuming that what you’re really like is completely different to what you seem to be like? What justifies that assumption? It’s possible, but you can’t build it into your view that it’s probable, seeing as you’re so sceptical about having any knowledge of what we’re like to start with.’
One of the things that really annoys philosopher manques about Ren, and most other analytic philosophers, is that they don’t talk like the manque wants them to talk. This can get the manque off your back after a while, unless the manque is drinking. Which they usually are when such conversations start up.
‘But we can’t know ourselves. Can we? I mean, how?’
‘I just went through that.’
‘But our vantage point on ourselves means that we’re hidden from ourselves. We are in our own blind spot. There’s no mirror we can hold up to see ourselves.’
Ren suspects that Tanja is, as usual, getting this stuff from some art catalogue she’s recently been looking at.
‘So you say. What reason is there to think this is true?’
‘Well…’ Tanja is somewhat stumped at this point. Lily gets out her little makeup mirror and starts looking in it, adjusting nothing in particular. Is this sarcasm by deed? Heresy by deed? Even if it isn’t, Ren is impressed. But worried. He doesn’t need Lily doing clever things that will make him fall for her even more. And right now he has to listen to Tanja for a few more minutes, just for the sake of his friendship with Miles.
‘We’re always presenting a mask,’ Tanja finally says, as though she has dragged something up from memory. ‘Aren’t we? Even to ourselves.’
‘Maybe, depending on how we unpack that claim.’
Ren kicks himself for using ‘unpack that claim’, a horrible modern cliche.
‘But isn’t that an issue with our knowledge of everyone else too?’ he continues. ‘I thought you were saying this was something peculiar to our knowledge of our own self? If this is a bar to knowledge, isn’t it a bar to knowledge of every person, not just us? Isn’t it in fact worse with other people, because you don’t even have access to their conscious thoughts, like you do with your own own?’
‘You’re not listening to what I’m saying. I’m saying that the reality of who we are is always blocked by, er, by the reality of what goes on. And, er, how we see things, right? And that prevents us seeing clearly, doesn’t it? Prevents us seeing at all. In this case. With ourselves. We can’t see the back of our heads. So how can we see our minds? Why don’t you take that into consideration? You philosophers just can’t see the bigger things we can’t see because you’re always looking at your navels.’
Miles, Douglas and Jay are having their own, much more interesting conversation. Lily, because of her table position, is having a harder time screening out Ren and Tanja’s discussion. She yawns. It doesn’t look a very real yawn. It’s possibly done for Ren’s sake.
‘Well, I want to get the parameters of what we’re discussing settled first,’ says Ren. Manques hate this sort of thing. They want instant profundity. ‘Is this a problem that only applies to our knowledge of ourself, or does it apply to our knowledge of everyone else too? By the way, I presume we’re talking about minds here. Normally philosophers say there’s problem with knowledge of other minds, minds other than our own, not that there’s some unique difficulty with your own mind. Because if you can know other minds better than your own, then why can’t you just use whatever methods you use to achieve that, such as external observation, on yourself?’
When Tanja looks at him blankly, he says, ‘Put it this way, such a view would imply that others know your mind better than you do, so why don’t you just improve your knowledge of your own mind by asking them about yourself? I presume you don’t have anything like this view in mind, though.’
Ren’s tactic is to be just harsh enough to force Tanja to leave the conversation voluntarily, and to think twice about engaging him in philosophical conversation again, but not so harsh that she complains to Miles about what a bastard Ren is.
‘I don’t,’ says Tanja uncertainly. ‘Why can’t you just talk about what I do have in mind?’
Because what you have in mind is brumous pile of shite, thinks Ren, and even my first years would think you are hung up on apparent profundity. They’d also think that you lack the required application to think through anything. Anything, apart from the material on the Michel Mouse Art History degree you did, but that’s not setting the bar very high.
‘Because I don’t know what you have in mind. I’m trying to eliminate some possible views so I can get closer to what you’re saying. Is this just general scepticism about knowledge of the mental, which is a scepticism I don’t share, or is there some argument here concerning your own mind in particular? If the latter, I’m not getting what the argument is. Talk about not being able to see the back of your own head in the mirror is suggestive, but hardly a fleshed-out argument, or even a fleshed-out description of a problem.’
‘Arguments are the problem. There’s no argument, just the impossibility of seeing this,’ says Tanja.
She’s starting to talk loudly because the pub has filled up a little more, and the others are talking loudly, and the pub has a lot of hard surfaces which bounce noise around the room, making intelligible conversation harder.
‘You academic philosophers miss everything, you think everything has to be an argument. Or a description,’ she says. ‘Why must it be a description? Always arguing, never listening.’
Or perhaps she’s getting louder because the drink is making her more annoyed with Ren. Or perhaps she’s remembering a conversation with some wonderful empathetic visiting artist, and that memory is making her realise more vividly what a blinkered reactionary Ren is. He’s such a disappointment. She wants a philosopher friend, but not this sort.
‘But I just don’t know what it is that you are putting forward,’ says Ren.
‘I’m explaining it to you now,’ she says slowly, in order to be helpful. ‘The problem is, you can’t see what’s in front of your face because of your training, right? You’re bigoted, you need to, um, open your mind to alternative points of view. Art would help you, you see, if you stopped using language all the time, it’s a barrier to understanding, right? You need to let your visual mind influence your thoughts, and stop being so left-brained.’