The Importance of Knowing Thyself: Philosophy in Schools as a Solution to the Narcissism Epidemic

Year: 2017

Author: Bleazby, Jennifer

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A growing body of evidence suggests that rates of narcissism are increasing (e.g., Twenge & Campbell, 2009; Cai, Kwan & Sedikides, 2012). Narcissism describes a type of personality, which manifests in a range of problematic behaviours and attitudes, such as arrogance; haughtiness; exhibitionism; self-centeredness; lack of empathy; and an unreasonable sense of entitlement. The term "cultural narcissism" describes a cultural phenomenon whereby narcissistic values are inherent in cultural products, values, and practices (e.g., celebrity culture; affluenza; narcissist public figures like Trump, Kanye West and the Kardashians). The most fundamental attribute of the narcissistic personality is an inflated sense of self - a belief that one is better than objective criteria suggest. That is, narcissism involves a problematic lack of self-knowledge.

Drawing on Plato, Dewey, and others, I argue that narcissism is an obstacle to living a meaningful life and to social flourishing. Self-knowledge enables one to accurately identify and develop one's own interests and capabilities, as well as to identify one's limitations. People lacking in self-knowledge are more likely pursue unrealistic goals and spend time to activities they are not genuinely interested in or capable of performing well. They pursue activities they believe will garner them status, attention, power, or admiration. Consequently, narcissists are more likely to experience frequent disappointment, anxiety and boredom. Unable to identify genuine interests, narcissists are less able to enter into the state a flow, where one pursues activities for their own sake, becoming so immersed in the activity that they 'lose themselves'. As Csikszentmihalyi (1990) explained, people are often happiest when in the state of flow. Narcissists are also less likely to be productive members of society because they are prone to wasting their time with fruitless pursuits, rather than excelling in vocations for which they have a genuine aptitude.

Traditionally, schools have attempted to foster a realistic sense of self through aptitude testing and sorting students so as to prepare them to perform particular vocations. However, this approach doesn't actually teach the capacity for self-knowledge. It simply involves telling students what they can be. Genuine self-knowledge is achieved through complex, higher order capacities. Classroom communities of philosophical inquiry are intended to foster the skills and knowledge needed for self-knowledge, including a capacity for critical self-reflection, emotional intelligence (e.g., empathy), and a commitment to social justice (see Lipman, 2003; Bleazby 2013). As such, philosophical inquiry in schools offers a novel solution to the narcissism epidemic.