Self-knowledge is the personal discovery of one’s world and oneself in relation to all things. Socrates examined the meaning and origin of self-knowledge in his speech in Phaedo by Plato. He explains to his fellows while he is in jail awaiting his execution that, “since I had had it with this looking into beings, it seemed to me I had to be on my guard so as not to suffer the very thing those people do who behold and look at the sun during an eclipse.
For surely some of them have their eyes destroyed if they don’t look at the sun’s likeness in water or in some other such thing. I thought this sort of thing over and feared I might be totally soul-blinded if I looked at things with my eyes and attempted to grasp them by each of the senses. So it seemed to me that I should take refuge in accounts and look in them for the truth of beings” (Plato 99e). In this excerpt, Socrates is saying that we can understand ourselves not through observing the world around us, but by comparing accounts of truths to form hypotheses.
He uses the simile of looking directly at the sun to explain what could happen to a soul if looking directly at the world. He says direct observation causes soul-blindness and the only way to gain self-knowledge is through comparing accounts. Socrates’ view of self-knowledge is that it is a compilation of accounts into hypotheses about the world. My view on self-knowledge is similar to Socrates’, but I do not agree with everything he says. He says that observation of our world leads to nothing but blindness.
However, I believe that knowledge of the material world around us is very important to understanding how we personally interact with it. For example, observing our bodies and how they work is part of our self-knowledge. It is important to understand the science and materialism of ourselves to gain a complete self-knowledge. Knowing how my muscles work and the mechanics of sickness builds knowledge of what is good or bad for myself. In addition, I do believe that collecting accounts to form hypotheses is important.
It is good to see how aspects of our lives connect and how that contributes to our greater good. For example, it is beneficial to self-knowledge to look at the soul and its relation to death to bring knowledge of life and death. This in turn brings a fulfillment and happiness about the goodness and meaning of life. While Socrates’ view of self-knowledge is similar to my own, he turns away important aspects of self-knowledge that contribute to a fuller understanding of self-good.