Art and Self-knowledge

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  • Title: Art and Self-knowledge
  • Author(s): John Pauley
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Arts in Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of the Arts in Society: Annual Review
  • Keywords: Contingency, Finitude, Mortality, Self-knowledge
  • Volume: 12
  • Issue: 1
  • Year: 2018
  • ISSN: 1833-1866 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2473-5809 (Online)
  • DOI:
  • Citation: Pauley, John. 2018. "Art and Self-knowledge." The International Journal of the Arts in Society: Annual Review 12 (1): 31-45. doi:10.18848/1833-1866/CGP/v12i01/31-45.
  • Extent: 15 pages


The final goal of this article is to somehow manage the slogan “art is about the human condition.” If this goal is not approached with intellectual and spiritual humility, the article will border on either outrageousness or banality. Hence, the first part of the article focuses on a reduction of “the human condition” to the conditions and limits of self-knowledge or what one might call “species-knowledge.” This discussion is focused on “three facts”: contingency, finitude, and mortality that form species-knowledge. The analysis and arguments have their ground in Kant, Hume, and Wittgenstein. The second part of the article is an attempt to show how narrative and visual art “reveal” the conditions and limits of species-knowledge. In showing us these limits, art points the way for deeper comprehension of “the human condition.” Limiting conditions ironically open the door to multiple kinds of imaginative possibilities.