“When I attempt to understand other human beings, I must necessarily do so on the basis of my own self-understanding. Yet because my consciousness is conditioned by a history and by a culture that can never be completely external objects for me, precisely because I am in them, I can never achieve full self-transparency when it comes to understanding myself and my reactions to other human beings.”
From the prologue to Myth and the Human Sciences, by Angus Nicholls.
This succinct summary of a difficult epistemological situation made me smile, as I read it several hours after just such a conversation. Unfortunately my side of that discussion was neither as concise or lucid as Nicholl’s.
Writing in the early 1970s, Hans Blumenberg dealt with the same problem as follows:
“Man has no immediate, no purely ‘internal’ relation to himself. His self-understanding has the structure of ‘self-externality.’ Kant was the first to deny that inner experience has any precedence over outer-experience; we are appearance to ourselves, the secondary synthesis of a primary multiplicity, not the reverse. The substantialism of identity is destroyed; identity must be realised, it becomes a kind of accomplishment, and accordingly there is a pathology of identity. What remains as the subject matter of anthropology is a ‘human nature’ that has never been ‘nature’ and never will be.”