The Double Reflection

Kierkegaard thought intellectual maturity started when you made “the double reflection”.  Here’s the idea.  We start unreflective.  For example “I have got to win the football game tomorrow!  If I don’t beat that jerks it’s all over!”    Then we reflect — i.e. we look at ourselves in a metaphorical mirror. We monitor ourselves.  We consider questions like “I love to win at football and I hate the other side.  But is that right?  Is the other side hateful?  Does it matter if I win or lose?”   But at some point we can double-reflect, meaning we can ask questions about what the pluses and minuses are of reflecting.  Metaphorically this is like looking at myself in a mirror as a I look at myself in another mirror.  Or to use a contemporary example it’s like using an app on my phone that tracks how much time I spend using apps on my phone.

This idea can seem pretty trippy.  How can I reflect on reflection?  Doesn’t that lead me into some kind of vertiginous regress?  And yet, we do it all the time.  We notice “Hey I’m reflective because it keeps me safe” or “I’m reflective because my mother liked me to study a lot” or “When I reflect it takes a lot of energy — it tires me out.” or “I reflect better when I’m a little angry but not too angry” or whatever.  Double reflection seems hard to think about but actually it isn’t. It’s pretty normal.

Double reflection leads us to reflect upon the best way to include thought in our lives.  And if we think that’s impossible we’re wrong, because we reflect upon it in precisely the same way as we reflect upon the best way to include love, or exercise, or watching t.v. in our lives.

If we think that that’s impossible, that it causes some sort of mind-dizzying regress, then we have to get better at double reflection!



7 thoughts on “The Double Reflection

      • Yes and no. It’s like an asymptotic limit: I keep moving toward it but never reach it. So it’s an odd goal, indeed, but a helpful one.

        I couldn’t find the quote, but I’m pretty sure Confucius said something along the same lines: When you’re ignorant, mountains and rivers are mountains and rivers. After you learn, they cease to be mountains and rivers. And after you learn *enough*, they go back to being mountains and rivers.

      • That’s like asking why we should bother going on vacation if we’re just going to come back anyway. Sometimes, we should simply enjoy the journey — even more if we’re in a better place at the end than we were at the beginning.

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