Meaning and Feeling: on the importance of affective and somatic information for setting meaningful life goals (w/Matt Stichter) Abstract: In this paper, we investigate and problematize the often-overlooked phenomenon of goal-setting, connecting goal-setting to both well-being and the ability to detect and use affective and somatic information (what we will call, “bodily self-awareness”). First, we distinguish between goal-setting and goal-striving, as these notions are described by theories of self-regulation and control (cybernetics). Next, we explore specific types of goals that are particularly closely tied to well-being and good mental health. We argue that to have the capacity to set meaningful goals of this kind requires contact with and knowledge of one’s own somatic and affective experiences. Relying on empirical evidence from emotional granularity and interoception research, we argue that bodily self-awareness is neither immediately nor completely given in experience, but it can be improved with practice. In all, our claim can be understood as follows: bodily self-awareness contributes to well-being in part because it provides the opportunity to form self-concordant goals by providing insight and feedback as to whether our goals are consistent with our most cherished values. As such, cultivating accurate bodily self-awareness plays an important role in living a good life.
Experiential Self-Knowledge, Elements in Epistemology; Cambridge University Press. (w/ Matt Stichter)
Abstract: We propose to contribute to the literature on self-knowledge by responding to Cassam’s (2014) entreaty that philosophical inquiry focus more on ‘substantial’ forms of self-knowledge, which have been mostly neglected in the literature. As such, we will avoid questions concerning knowledge of one’s own occurrent, qualitative mental states in favor of an exploration of the kind of self-knowledge that matters for people in the course of pursuing meaningful lives. To begin, we will claim that at least one form of substantial self-knowledge is garnered through contact with and access to one’s own somatic and affective states—we will call this “experiential self-knowledge”. We will claim that self-knowledge of this kind is not best construed as propositional belief about oneself or one’s traits (though it is interestingly related to such beliefs) but, rather, as a kind of knowing oneself as an animal or organism—it is knowing oneself qua human being. We’re interested in this form of substantial self-knowledge both for its importance in knowing ourselves, but also due to its relative neglect in studies of self-knowledge and our subsequent lack of understanding concerning how we can best acquire this kind of knowledge. We will then go on to examine the targets of this kind of knowledge: somatic, affective, and relational states known mostly through interoception. These include awareness of the internal physiological condition of the body but also knowledge of what feelings of, e.g., excitement, fear, or overwhelm feel like in one’s own experience of them. It is a further feature of our account that a core aspect of affective states concerns the social and relational information that is conveyed through them. We will then review the empirical literature suggesting that contact with and awareness of one’s own somatic, affective, and emotional states is significantly correlated to wellbeing and positive mental health outcomes. We further maintain that this type of self-knowledge is important for knowing ourselves in terms of our needs, goals, and interests, which are not always fully transparent to us. But since such self-knowledge is also not incorrigible, it “gives rise to a new problem of substantial self-knowledge: how do I know to what extent I really want something?” (Carruthers, 2015). We conclude by noticing that acquiring self-knowledge through bodily-self-awareness is not a fixed or static biological trait but an ability that can be honed and refined through deliberate practice. In this way, we consider experiential self-knowledge to be importantly connected to both skill and intellectual virtue.