David LaRocca on Autobiographical Remarks

The greatest obstacle to truth in conventional autobiography is not insufficient insight (about facts, memories, desires, or ideas elucidated by the intellect) but vanity — a resistance by one’s will to that very difficult type of understanding we may call self-understanding. […] In the present essay, in light of Wittgenstein’s reading of Tolstoy, I explore the notion that autobiographical practice does not require a form of self-consciousness, or intellect, that may aid the development of humility, honesty, and decency. The real work of autobiographical practice isn’t done by self-consciousness but is achieved by the true humility that derives from will — a will that blocks vanity.

from “Note to Self: Learn to Write Autobiographical Remarks from Wittgenstein,” in Wittgenstein Reading, Eds. Bru, Huemer, & Steuer, (De Gruyter, 2013), 320.

Commentary: With the above LaRocca offers the always needed reminder that self-knowledge is every bit as much a moral endeavor as it is intellectual. And if we would build on LaRocca’s contribution, I’m persuaded that, first, we would do well to remember that there are more obstacles to an honest estimate of ourselves than just vanity. Lusts, cowardice, mercilessness and all sorts of other vices could do the trick of blinding us just as effectively. And second, no matter our vigilance, moral maturity is not an achievement of an individual’s sheer will-power alone. For suggestions as to what other factors are in play, you can browse other posts of mine on this topic here.

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