The Limited Use of Self Awareness

“The unexamined life is not worth living” said Socrates and few would doubt the wisdom of his belief. But is self awareness enough?

What good is self awareness without change? And can we change? Does the brain have true plasticity and if so do we have the free will necessary to change who we are and how we behave?

Well I can not answer these deep questions and nor it seems can our brightest scientists or philosophers. They have beliefs, that is true, but they have no “proof”. No way of experimenting on themselves – or at least no way of proving that such change which may occur has done so by virtue of free will rather than the dead hand of determinism.

Why am I perplexed and troubled by this question this evening? Partly because I am always troubled by my own motives, behavior, actions and thoughts and partly because I was reading some philosopher’s view that morals are relative and not absolute. I don’t care what the professor says or believes. I believe that morals are absolute and that we are grasping our way towards a better society. Hard as that may be to believe sometimes.

But it all comes back to the personal eventually. And indeed what is society if not a collection of persons?  And if those persons are not self aware we have one problem: they will undoubtedly pursue one or more (perhaps all) of the seven deadly sins and not realize they are being naughty boys.  They may not realize that morals are most assuredly not relativistic and that their behavior therefor sucks and they should change it.

Ah, but therein the rub. Can we change even if we realize and accept that we ought to?  I can only speak personally and subjectively – and I suspect that is all any of us can do.

And I can come to no firm conclusion. I know what I ought to be. I know how I ought to behave. I know what I ought to do. And in general I make the attempt to follow the conclusions of my self analysis and my view on morality.

But I am not at all sure I have ever managed to wreak real or lasting change. I am irritable. I do not wish anyone any real harm but I tend towards petty loathings ( see Pig, Salesmen) which I can’t seem to shake. Some people may indeed be loathsome but why not just let them get on with it and walk the other way? And there are many other things I would like to change about my behavior and my life.

Oh well – at least I am self aware!  Perhaps that is better than nothing. Tries hard said the headmaster.



  1. You begin with Socrates, but could do with some simple Socratic enquiry, to analyse your belief that morals are “absolute” (or, first perhaps, to define what that even means). To my mind, all moral rules have an assumed goal, and the goal, however much we desire it, is subjective.

    “I believe that morals are absolute and that we are grasping our way towards a better society.” These are not mutually dependent conditions. We can and do have subjective morals, and might yet be refining them to better instigate goals we want to achieve. Whether we are doing so might depend on further subjective analysis of qualities we value as indicators, and might not be uni-directional either. Humanity might be getting better at rubbing along together until the climate crisis really kicks in, and who knows what might ensue then?


    1. At heart, I readily confess I have some sort of highly unconventional “religious ” belief and like any religious nutter it is a matter of faith and hence not subject to the necessity for further analysis let alone proof.

      If “love” ( whatever that word means), has an assumed goal then it is a goal for the good of all. Not for that of any particular segment of society in any particular age. I can not accept, nor do I wish to accept, that such a moral imperative is either relative or subjective.

      Although there are many who will disagree with me vehemently.

      I believe that morals and the search for a better society are mutually dependent. Unless we believe in such a concept as love, goodness, call it what you will, our only object will be self improvement, self worth. However much we pretend that our rules are for the general good.

      The rules of society have grown to achieve not the greatest good for all but the greatest good for those with the energy, ability and determination to seek such good. I would be foolish to argue that a better society has not been created by the rule of law, but the rule of law does not go far enough.

      The good which has resulted for the masses has been a mere by product of such law. Such law, inspired or designed by the mores of the day, has throughout history been designed to prop up different ruling classes.

      You have only to look around you to realize that so far as possible we do our best to piss on the rule of law, to bend it to our own ends.

      Which is where the necessity for an absolute moral standard comes in.

      But of course you have heard all my nonsense before……

      By “religion” I merely mean belief in “Good”. Good not just for me but for everyone, equally and unconditionally. That is the moral I consider immutable, set in stone and unrelated to aeon or civilization. There may be no enforce god out there but we should act as if there was.


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