The term “Knows Thyself”, has been references by many existential philosophers and appears in various articles of literature. Also found on a sign that once existed in the Greek village of Delphi, this quote evidently is very significant and insightful. This quote can be analyzed in various contexts, and for different generations, societies and realities. Knowing one’s self is a life long journey. However, unlike a typical journey, there is no destination, rather a continuous process of learning, and discovering.
One of the existential philosophers that focused on the idea of self-knowing was Socrates, stating in one of his most famous quotes, “The life without examination is not worth living”. To briefly explain, an unexamined life is one that simply happens. It is never evaluated for authenticity or purpose, it is never redirected to better fit goals and ambitions, nor is it filled with passion, meaning, and drive. All of the known existential philosophers would say that this is not the way to live, as It is meaningless. This quote from Socrates show us the meaning of knowing one’s self. In order to know one’s self, one must evaluate who they are, why they are here, and where they are going. To achieve this, one must deeply examine their life.
Not only is life examination key for evolution, it is also necessary to experience freedom. Given today’s conforming society, and the power of “Das Man”, an idea proposed by Heidegger, examination of one’s life will allow them to make evaluations, avoiding biases or various possible influences. When looking at “The Herd” or “Das Man”, one would notice a consistent mentality within everyone, as a lack of authenticity and meaning is present in these groups. The comfort of commonalities, and relating to the majority of people, blinds us from evaluating our own lives. We assume there is no need to evaluate anything as we feel we are part of something. Little do we know, this feeling of being a part of something works against our authenticity, as well as eats away from our meaning and purpose. Therefore, one must first remove himself from “Das Man”, and unmercifully examine his life.
When seeking to know one’s self, an individual must ask himself where is he going? What has he accomplished? If he died today, what will he be remembered for? Will he even be remembered? By asking these questions, one is presented with an opportunity to fill in the blanks and add meaning as well as purpose to his life. Since identifying a problem is the first step to fixing it, identifying that one’s life currently has no meaning or purpose, is the first step for them to turn it around, add meaning, and seek to live an authentic life.
As humans, we are privileged over other animals as we possess the ability to reason and evaluate. Nothing can stop you from thinking about anything. Since our brain capacities allow us to analyze what we please, how is it that so many people live their lives
with no idea what their values are? Many people just live day to day with no goal, no passion, nothing to work for, or any sense of longevity. This is where Socrates was coming from. One can never know themselves without evaluating their lives. In addition, one may never live authentically without evaluating themselves. Therefore, “knowing thyself”, is a key factor in developing an authentic life.
Heidegger was another existential philosopher that focused on the meaning of life. His concept of “Nothingness”, after death is a very insightful idea when discussing authenticity. Upon death, one will become no-thing or a being-unto-death. These two endpoints had the same opportunities during their life periods. However, one made an effort to add authenticity to their life and meaning to their existence that will last beyond their physical presence. However, how their lives were lived was not out of their control, rather one identified a lack of purpose, and made an effort to change that. This would not be possible without self-reflection and knowing themselves. Therefore, we can see that one must know themselves in order to live an authentic life and avoid nothingness or “no-thing”.
Heidegger was also the one who proposed the concept of “Das Man”. This refers to the “they”, which is social conformity and infliction of cultural norms. In order to drive oneself from “Das Man”, he must realize that he is not in a place of growth or evolution by including himself in that reality. Instead, he should focus on himself, even if it results in loneliness. By combining “know thy self”, and the goal of separation from “Das Man”, one will make an effort to find meaning and authenticity in his life. The biggest mistake one can make is ignoring the importance of this assessment.
DON’T BE A DAS MAN
EVALUATE YOUR LIFE
LEAVE THE HERD