Self-Knowledge and Self-Ignorance in Context
Scholars have attempted to understand 17th-century writers’ interest in self-knowledge and self-deception in historical terms by linking it to ideological conflict with a class dimension (Paul Bénichou), or to the emergence of an absolutist state centred on the court (Jean Rohou). The stress on self-deception in a Jansenist writer like Nicole has been linked to a Jansenist hostility to mysticism. This view is queried and it is pointed out that mystical writers themselves (St François de Sales, Fénelon) are strongly aware of the perils of self-deception. Augustinian moral theology and Cartesian dualism also nourish this awareness in different ways. There is no one school of thought, ideology, or social factor that can explain 17th-century writers’ fascination with the difficulty of self-knowledge and the risk of self-deception.
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