Tag Archives: philosophy

Self-Searching: An Introspective

“Know Thyself” is an ancient and well known aphorism, but it’s one that is often mistaken, or misinterpreted, with a rather broad meaning. While I could break down the Ancient Greek and dissect the term, I prefer to explore what it means to me in particular.

My studies in Plato and Continental Philosophy have driven me to a very particular interpretation of the aphorism “know thyself,” that which Plato ascribes to Socrates in several of his dialogues, particularly Phaedrus and Protagoras. This splits the meaning of the phrase between two rather similar definitions.

gnothi seautonPhaedrus: “Now I have no leisure for such enquiries; shall I tell you why? I must first know myself as the Delphian inscription says; to be curious about that which is not my concern, while I am still in ignorance of my own self, would be ridiculous.” The direct text refers to the “newly” found philosophy of mythology, which Socrates says he has no time for, because he must know himself before exploring such vague, or “crude” tales, which take a great deal of time to study. This in turn details a much deeper trait — that of seeking understanding of the self before that of outside things, because you cannot understand the objective without having an understand of the subjective.*

*This is, of course, my personal interpretation of Plato’s writings here. There are many other ways to dissect this dialog.

Protagoras: “All these were lovers and emulators and disciples of the culture of the culture of the Lacedaemonians, and any one may perceive that their wisdom was of this character; consisting of short memorable sentences, which they severally uttered. And they met together and dedicated in the temple of Apollo at Delphi, as the first-fruits of their wisdom, the far-famed inscriptions, which are in all men’s mouths,-‘Know thyself,’ and ‘Nothing too much.’ Why do I say all this? I am explaining that this Lacedaemonian brevity was the style of primitive philosophy.” Here, Plato focuses on the uselessness of such aphorisms in their common usage — sayings which are expected to have a self-evident definition, yet it is typically unclear how one would live life according to their meanings. These sayings are typical by their broad definitions, and their reliance on personal discover, self-reflection and self-referencing for understanding. The deeper focus here is once again, how the subjective takes focus above and beyond the objective — one must understand such aphorisms, “know thyself,” before being able to apply them outwardly, or attempt an understanding of the outside influences upon them.

So by now you’re probably thinking “okay, what’s your point?”

“Know thyself” is a statement which references the self. Me. I must understand myself before I am able to understand anything else. The aphorism was popularized in modern culture by the film The Matrix (1999), and despite some of the film’s other lackluster attempts at philosophy, it manages a fairly solid interpretation of the phrase: “It means know thyself. I wanna tell you a little secret, being ‘The One’ is just like being in love. No one needs to tell you you are in love, you just know it, through and through.” Take this line to a second level of interpretation, much like when reading Plato, and you’ll find a rather poignant moment of foreshadowing for the film — Neo doesn’t become “The One” until he accepts himself as the role, and isn’t able to fulfill his fate as the savior of Zion until he better understands the manufactured part he plays in the story.

Again, you’re probably thinking “okay, seriously, what’s your point?”

Well here’s the point — lately my own thoughts have strayed close to the aphorism “know thyself.” I’ve been putting some significant focus on discovering who I am so far in 2015. This has been a trying year to date and I have discovered that, in order to better adjust to the necessary changes I have had to make, I need to understand myself better and interpret these life events through the veil of self-reflection/knowledge.

While, I am sure, my personal need to better know myself before seeking understanding in the world around me is exactly that, a personal need, perhaps there is merit in the idea that self-understanding benefits understanding of the Other. Consider this: In his first volume of the Horror of Philosophy, “In The Dust Of This Planet,”* Eugene Thacker explores how the horror genre attempts to think about the world-without-us, a term which describes the complete removal of the human when discussing the Planet (Earth), philosophically, using non-philosophical conventions. For Thacker, the Planet (world-without-us) is a wholly “Other” thing, something which cannot be understood in human terms, making it impossible to even think about it. It is truly “unknown.” Perhaps Otherness can never be understand in these circumstances; however, it is impossible to even attempt an understanding without first knowing the person seeking such understanding — myself.

*As a side note, I highly recommend this book to anyone who is even vaguely interested in philosophy, genre horror, or similar topics. I eagerly await volume 2, which should be arriving any day now.

Whether or not I am able, or even seek, to understand the Other, it is crucial for happiness and living a fulfilled life, that I understand myself. Knowing myself will allow me to know life, and that is an under appreciated skill…


Language Is The House Of Being

HeideggerStarting this off with a quote from Heidegger, as revealed to me by my favorite Philosophy professor was probably an evil thing to do. Because it sets the tone for this post… and any post in which something Heidegger related is the tone should cause you to hate me. Because at worst, you’ll hate me for reading Heidegger, and at best, you’ll just get a massive headache and hate me for that. And, on a very rare occasion, you might be interested in what I’m saying. But that just puts you into the same boat I’m in as I write this… so poor, poor you.

So… Language, a wonderful topic, which Kas picked for our weekly theme. Fascinating stuff, language. I could talk about the “elasticity of language,” but… I think Fry and Laurie already covered that…

But I digress. Language is the house of Being. For those of you who haven’t read Heidegger, there is a reason that the “B” is capitalized here, but that requires an entirely separate post to explain (actually, probably more than one). I will try, probably in vain, to explain the sentence, without delving too deeply into utterly confusing Heideggarian terms and philosophy. So… here goes.

In Heidegger’s Sein Und Zeit (Being And Time), he attempts to address the problem of the “fundamental question of the meaning of Being.” Primarily, how to even ask the question. The entire idea of Being is so complex and complicated that it is a “loaded” question anyway. And Heidegger pushes this even further by demanding that I, the reader, his “student” of sorts, ask the question properly. Of course, the basis of basically the entire 488 page book is how to ask the question properly… so he believes that this is an extraordinarily difficult question to ask. But the most important thing to remember when delving into the book, and the question, is that quote. “Language is the house of Being.”

Now… if I was going to do this properly I would take each word in that sentence and break it down to its roots, getting to the meaning behind the word, before trying to reconstruct the sentence… but again – an entire separate post would be needed. So for now I will address one part… which I hope will convey the complexity of the sentence. And it’s the word that probably raises the most questions in the sentence anyway – house.

Language Family Tree

It makes me quite sad how inaccurate this chart is...

What does Heidegger mean by “house”? Well, house has many different connotations. It can mean a building, which surrounds and shelters. It can mean a home, in the sense of where I “belong.” And it can mean other things as well… But let’s focus on house as a “home…”

A house is, as I mentioned, both a building and an idea. When I refer to my “home” I usually don’t mean the building I live in… I mean a place, or specifically, my idea of a place. If you really want to delve into what that means, go read Brandon’s post, because I think that covers it better than I could here. But yes, an idea of a place. My “home” is where I am happiest. This could refer to a building where my belongings and loved ones are. Or it could refer to the city I love being in. Usually it refers to some combination of the two. Or if I’m feeling particularly pompous Caring, it refers to this planet, Earth, which is my home for obvious reasons.

So what is the house, or “home,” of Being? Why is it “Language”? Well, in relation to Heidegger’s attempt to answer the question of the meaning of Being, this becomes fairly obvious. The only way to properly ask the question, is to properly formulate the question – use the proper language. This is where it gets tricky, because how do I know what the proper language is? Trial and error seems to be my general method… but I digress. Basically, if I don’t use the proper language, I can’t ask the question properly – which seems like a fairly obvious statement, but it goes much deeper in this case. Who determines what the proper language is in this case? Well… that’s what Heidegger tries to do for 488 pages… so I’m not going to attempt it in an 800 or so word blog post… sorry. My suggestions. Read the book. Or rather… forget you read this post. If you read the book you might try to hurt me… I have a feeling Brandon is already going to try and beat me with a shoe now…

Oh, and just to clarify – this was not a philosophical attempt to explain Heidegger’s Sein Und Zeit in laymens terms… it was simply a rambling rant on how language is a fickle bitch. Please don’t assume you know what Heidegger is all about just from this post… hell, I’ve read the book and TAed the class for 3 years and I don’t think I even know what the book is all about.

Philosophical Musings from College

In college I wrote a paper on body modification, specifically the philosophical and spiritual reasons and history of it. It came out very well (and I got an A on it) and I decided to share here for you. I uploaded the paper as a pdf to my site, so I will link there for you all.

Aberro Specus – Writings“Philosophy and Spirituality in Body Modification”

I am also including an interview that I did with Shannon Larratt, formerly of BMEzine and now at Zentastic, in preparation for this paper.

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