Tuesday, January 24, 2017



Self-Knowledge as example

D. R. Khashaba

In Plato’s Charmides Critias proposes to define ‘temperance’ (sôphrodunê) as self-knowledge and identifies the Delphic gnôthi sauton with an injunction to be temperate. Socrates sets out to examine the proposal. At the very outset Socrates introduces the assumption that undermines the examination and dooms it to futility. This is not an unwitting fault on the part of Socrates. The whole of the Socratic elenchus aims at revealing the futility of seeking understanding through objective dissection of an idea, as I have been affirming in all my writings.

If to be temperate, Socrates says, is to cognize (gignôskein) something, then it is knowledge (epistêmê) and the knowledge of something. This is the rock on which all the elenctic voyages in search of the ‘what’ of this or that crashed and were wrecked. For the understanding of an idea cannot be found in anything external to the idea but only in the self-evidence of the idea in the immediacy of the intelligence that gave birth to it.

In all the elenctic discourses Socrates leads the discussion to the identification of virtue (or of a specific virtue) with wisdom, intelligence, understanding (sophia, nous), or the blanket-term knowledge (epistêmê); then he proceeds to inquire: What knowledge, knowledge of what? And it turns out that it is not any particular knowledge. This is the true goal of the elenchus, to turn the interlocutor’s mind within, where all understanding is.

This same rock of dividing the indivisible, of objectifying the subjective, is what wrecked Kant’s desperate search for identifying the transcendental unity of apperception. It is what baffled Wittgenstein’s attempts to catch the meaning of a word and that tormented him with the chimera of private language.

This nemesis attaching to all thought that dooms it to falsifying all it touches is also the essential aretê (power, function) of thought. To think is to break up the one into many, to fragment what is whole. That is the basis of all theoretical knowledge. That serves our practical purposes well but we err gravely when we think we can approach reality or can have any certainty or any definitive truth that way.

Interminable scholarly controversies rage around the theory, say, of Truth or of Justice, not only because Truth is not one thing or Justice one thing, but even when we constrict as much as possible the range of the term we are concerned with, a single, comprehensive, definitive theory is in the nature of things an impossibility. For to theorize is to abstract features or elements of an original totality to be worked into a consistent parallel artidicial whole picturing the original. A picture is not the thing pictured and the thing pictured can always be pictured anew and necessarily with a difference.

Similarly, the problem of self-knowledge (not in the psychological or moral sense which is a different matter) has been the subject of much theoretical dispute. All the difficulties arise from the creation of a duality of knower and known. We are trapped by the grammar of a language created for dealing with outward things. Self-knowledge is simply the mind aware of its reality: its reality is this awareness, this intelligence, this luminosity. For the mind is not a thing, not an entity, but is a perpetual act of intelligent creativity. This is a difficult notion to grasp because it runs counter to our common norms of thought and language but to my mind this alone puts an end to our theoretical quandaries.

Let this suffice for now, but this is a subject I have dealt with repeatedly before and will probably (given the time) revert to again and again.

D. R. Khashaba

January 24, 2017

Posted to https://philosophia937.wordpress.com and http://khashaba.blogspot.com


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