Socrates’ philosophy about self

“Man know thyself” is often associated with the ancient Philosopher Socrates and his philosophy about self. Socrates lived and taught in Athens in the fourth century BCE and his quest for knowledge is captured by the idea that the self is an ever-changing and becoming reality.

The undisputed father of Western philosophy touched on the vital subject of the self as the basis for all forms of knowledge. Through the use of his personally devised method widely known as the Socratic Method, he advanced one of the earliest notions of the self.  

More so, it is worthy of note that the word “self” as a fixed entity was never used by Socrates in the context that it is being loosely used today in his philosophy about self. 

The common understanding about the self is that it is something definite that can be studied and grasped holistically. This idea about the self which is somewhat scientific has inspired the field of human Psychology to a large extent. 

It differs from the idea of Socrates which holds that the self is an ever becoming reality. Despite this notion of the self, Socrates did not discourage rational inquiry into the self and what it consists of, hence his famous saying “Man know thyself”. 

The philosopher distanced any notion of the self from a person’s physical body or life experiences. 

His idea about self is one of an eternal reality that is always becoming. This perspective creates room for humans to shape themselves through virtuous conduct and behaviours. 

Socrates went on to prescribe a method by which the self can be known. It is by self-examination using his Socratic method which involves asking questions about who we are and what we ought to do. 

These questions threaten the foundations of false beliefs and assumptions that plague the minds of people even today.

How Socrates’ philosophy about self was handed down

Socrates was considered the wisest man living during his time by the Oracle of Delphi. It was reported that a Greek god had blessed Socrates with wisdom and knowledge about reality. But Socrates often reacted to such commendations by stating that his wisdom consisted in his awareness that he knows nothing.  

In reality, there are no books written on Socrates’ philosophy of self. Most of his ideas about the self are contained in the works of Plato, his student. They include: The Apology, Crito, and The Phaedo

Socrates’ philosophy about self comes with many benefits for those who undergo the journey of self-discovery. Firstly, trying to know who we are will enable us to live the good life. The good life was a topical issue among many moral philosophers like Socrates who taught a lot about virtue and the best way to attain it. 

Secondly, contentment will become a virtue for those who take on the task of self-discovery. This is because a lot of entities and phantoms that are wrongly associated with our self-discovery will be faced out and the reality about the self will remain.

Thirdly, understanding Socrates’ philosophy about the self and our eventual self-discovery will enable us to become better citizens of our society. In Socrates’ time, it was supposed to make his followers better citizens and not to corrupt them as wrongly understood by his critics.

Socrates’ philosophy about self is still relevant today

Even today, Socrates’ philosophy about the self still echoes in many ways through his teachings that have been handed down by his students and scholars. 

See Also: The reasons Socrates is still relevant today 

Socrates taught that the unexamined life is not worth living hence he inspires all his followers to keep on the search for their true self in which they can live the good life. His Socrates method remains an everlasting legacy of what is now known as the first method of philosophical practice.

Drawbacks and criticisms

Despite his huge contribution to the ideas about the self, many radical views about the self have emerged throughout the history of Philosophy and some of them might be dangerous. Notable among them are the views of the school of solipsism which summarily rejected the existence of the self as an individual entity. They claim that the entire universe is a part of the self which is the only manifestation of reality. 

Read Also: What did Socrates teach the youth? 

Their perspective opposes Socrates’ philosophy about the self as an entity that is becoming. Socrates did not envision that Philosophers would at some point stop questioning the self and arrive at some dogmatic conclusion about the nature of the self. 

Another notable view about the self was the non-materialistic ideas of Descartes which sought to equate the self with his existence and therefore drew the big conclusion I think therefore I am. In contrast to the Socratic method, Descartes promoted methodic doubt as the way to arrive at indubitable knowledge about the self.

Since Socrates was not the first ancient Western philosopher, critics have opined that his ideas about the self must have originated from other ancient Philosophers that predated Socrates.

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