Mirror, Mirror

Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love

Simon Blackburn
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Mirror, Mirror
    Book Description:

    Everyone deplores narcissism, especially in others. The vain are by turns annoying or absurd, offending us whether they are blissfully oblivious or proudly aware of their behavior. But are narcissism and vanity really as bad as they seem? Can we avoid them even if we try? InMirror, Mirror, Simon Blackburn, the author of such best-selling philosophy books asThink,Being Good, andLust, says that narcissism, vanity, pride, and self-esteem are more complex than they first appear and have innumerable good and bad forms. Drawing on philosophy, psychology, literature, history, and popular culture, Blackburn offers an enlightening and entertaining exploration of self-love, from the myth of Narcissus and the Christian story of the Fall to today's self-esteem industry.

    A sparkling mixture of learning, humor, and style,Mirror, Mirrorexamines what great thinkers have said about self-love-from Aristotle, Cicero, and Erasmus to Rousseau, Adam Smith, Kant, and Iris Murdoch. It considers today's "me"-related obsessions, such as the "selfie," plastic surgery, and cosmetic enhancements, and reflects on connected phenomena such as the fatal commodification of social life and the tragic overconfidence of George W. Bush and Tony Blair. Ultimately,Mirror, Mirrorshows why self-regard is a necessary and healthy part of life. But it also suggests that we have lost the ability to distinguish-let alone strike a balance-between good and bad forms of self-concern.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-4995-6
    Subjects: Philosophy, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    This is first an essay about emotions and attitudes that include some estimate of the self, such as pride, self-esteem, vanity, arrogance, shame, humility, embarrassment, resentment, and indignation. It is also about some qualities that bear on these emotions: our integrity, sincerity, or authenticity. I am concerned with the way these emotions and qualities manifest themselves in human life in general, and in the modern world in particular. The essay is therefore what the great German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), never afraid of a grand title, would have called an exercise in pragmatic anthropology:

    Physiological knowledge of the human...

  5. 1 The Self: Iris Murdoch and Uncle William
    (pp. 12-34)

    Selves are everywhere. I myself and you yourself are but two of them. And they are the focus of much of our attention. We talk of self-abasement, self-awareness, self-belief, self-control, self-denial, self-disgust, self-esteem, and so on through the alphabet, past self-hatred and self-love to self-respect, self-searching, self-trust, and self-violence. MyOxford English Dictionarylists eighty-seven such hyphenations before the end of the letter c , but after that I lost count. Perhaps there should be more, since with a few exceptions we can have just about any attitude toward ourselves that we have toward other people, or even to things...

  6. 2 Liriope’s Son
    (pp. 35-43)

    His name will occur on subsequent pages, so we should start by knowing his history. According to the Roman poet Ovid, when he was born, his mother, Liriope, a water nymph, had asked the blind seer Tiresias whether her son would live to enjoy a ripe old age.¹ Tiresias said he would, “if he shall himself not know.” This bizarre prediction from the highly reliable Tiresias contradicted one of the most important pieces of advice of the classical world. “Know thyself” was the inscription famously written on the entrance to Apollo’s oracle at Delphi, the most important shrine in ancient...

  7. 3 Worth It?
    (pp. 44-60)

    The cosmetics company L’Oréal’s brilliantly successful marketing slogan “Because you’re worth it” has applied equally carefully selected images. In many of them models smile and simper and entice us, projecting the vacant euphoria supposedly attendant on using this or that variety of hair or facial products. However, if occasionally they looked pleasantly human, at least as often they seem to project self-absorption, or arrogance and disdain. They bestow the kind of smile that might as easily be a sneer. They pout and sulk. Their vanity and indifference goes with being above us all, and perhaps with knowing that they can...

  8. 4 Hubris and the Fragile Self
    (pp. 61-78)

    A sense of our own standing or self-worth is a moral stance or disposition. It refers, at least in part, to what we feel we deserve from other people, by way of deference, esteem, or admiration. Yet psychologists who study what are known as narcissistic personality disorders sharply distinguish between those and real self-esteem. Indeed, paradoxically, this kind of narcissism is well seen as the result of especiallylowself-esteem. It is because this kind of narcissist’s self-esteem is so low that their personality becomes fragile, overdependent on the opinion of others, and that they are quick to resort to...

  9. 5 Self-Esteem, Amour Propre, Pride
    (pp. 79-108)

    If hubris is so dangerous, it would also seem dangerous to encourage it by protecting and boosting self-esteem. Yet high self-esteem is often presented as desirable, and its opposite, low self-esteem, is widely regarded as a cause for pity and concern. High self-esteem is often vaguely thought of as a psychological warm bath in which some people pleasantly luxuriate all the time. Furthermore, the “self-esteem movement” of the late twentieth century promised unlimited benefits from the provision of this warm bath: almost all human flaws, including educational failure, violence, crime, delinquency, failed relationships, depression, drug dependencies, and eating disorders, were...

  10. 6 Respect
    (pp. 109-131)

    The philosopher who made the most of the ideas we have been approaching was Immanuel Kant. Although a very capable astronomer, Kant lived too long ago to know that we live on a tiny planet of one of the millions of stars at the edge of one out of something like one hundred thousand million galaxies. But he did know that human beings “in the system of nature” are simply insignificant, tiny animals scurrying about the surface of an insignificant and tiny planet in an insignificant and tiny part of the cosmos. However, he insisted, this contrasts wholesale with human...

  11. 7 Temptation
    (pp. 132-162)

    We have to start this chapter with a detour through the nature of religion. For if the Aristotelian great-souled man is poised, confident, dignified, and proud, the ideals of the Abrahamic religions offer us an astonishing contrast. The entire cosmos here seems to be structured by domination: on the one hand the Deity conceived as a lord or king, and on the other hand the subjects (us) whose nature is steeped in sin, and whose duty is abject obedience and submission. Just as the greatest sin in a monarchical society is treason against the monarch, so the sin that destroyed...

  12. 8 Integrity, Sincerity, Authenticity
    (pp. 163-186)

    These are not, strictly speaking, emotions, let alone emotions particularly concerned with self-assessments or self-love. But they are closely related to feelings about ourselves. They are connected with the kind of pride that we have seen valued by Aristotle, Milton, and Kant, the kind that goes along with sufficient self-respect to motivate fine or noble behavior, or at least to ward off base and ignoble behavior. They each have a positive ring. They stop us from letting ourselves down.

    Integrity especially implies a kind of unity or wholeness, a lack of fault lines or divisions. “Here I stand,” said Martin...

  13. 9 Envoi
    (pp. 187-190)

    The picture I have had to paint is not straightforward. Perhaps surprisingly, given the weight of moralistic writing about these topics, there is no simple, bumper sticker–sized philosophical or moral conclusion to be drawn. But the complexity is itself instructive. We have seen things that are good, such as proper pride in our own achievements, fade into those that are bad, such as Rousseau’s amour propre. We have seen too that proper pride implicitly involves comparison with the average or the commonplace, so that Rousseau’s own ideal of life without comparisons is itself doubtful. Meanwhile, a tincture of vanity...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 191-202)
  15. Index
    (pp. 203-210)