In this guide, we will briefly discuss how to understand yourself from different philosophical perspectives. Nelson Mandela once said “learn to know yourself, to search realistically and regularly the processes of your own mind and feelings”. The first foundations of examining ourselves with more candor started over 2,000 years ago. Aristotle who is still studied today over 2,300 years later says “knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom”
In this article, we will explore what “the self” means from different philosophical perspectives including many of the most renowned philosophers from the past 2,000 years.
- What is Philosophy?
- Socrates’ philosophy in understanding the self
- Plato’s philosophy in understanding the self
- Descartes’ philosophy in understanding the self
- St. Augustine’s philosophy in understanding the self
- Kant’s philosophy in understanding the self
- Freud’s philosophy in understanding the self
1 What is Philosophy?
Philosophy is the systematized study of general and fundamental questions, such as those about existence, reason, knowledge, values, mind, and language.
What is Philosophy? – Philosophy is a branch of study that encompasses questions about existence, knowledge, values, reason, mind, and language. It is considered a “human science” because it deals with the nature of humans.
What is the self? – The self is an individual person as a subject of its own thoughts, feelings, and actions. We define the self as an individual with the capacity of rational choice.
2 Socrates’ philosophy in understanding the self
Socrates was a Greek philosopher who is widely considered to be one of the founders of Western philosophy. He is best known for his Socratic Method, a form of questioning that is designed to explore ideas and stimulate critical thinking.
Socrates was known for his love of wisdom, and he spent his life trying to gain a greater understanding of the world and the human condition. He was also known for his belief that humans are fundamentally good, and that we have the ability to choose our own destiny.
Socrates believes that “the self” is divided into two parts namely the body and soul.
The body belongs to the physical realm which is changeable, imperfect and temporary.
The soul belongs to the ideal realm which is unchangeable, perfect and eternal.
For Socrates, our bodies are physical and subject to change, while our souls are ideal and unchanging. Although our souls and bodies are closely related, they are fundamentally different. Our souls strive for wisdom and perfection, and reason is the soul’s tool to achieve this.
3 Plato’s philosophy in understanding the self
Plato was a philosopher in Classical Greece and the founder of the Academy in Athens, the first institution of higher learning in the Western world.
Plato believed that the soul was composed of three parts: the logos, the thymos, and the eros. The logos was the rational part of the soul, which was responsible for logical thought and reasoning. The thymos was the emotional part of the soul, which was responsible for passion and desire. The eros was the spiritual part of the soul, which was responsible for love and compassion.
The three parts that the soul are composed of would be:
- Rational soul (Logos) – logical thought and reasoning
- Spiritual soul (Eros) – love and compassion
- Emotional soul (Thymos) – passion and desire
The philosophy of Plato would describe us as individuals who are able to reason and think critically about our lives and the world around us. This ability to reason and think critically allows us to make choices that will lead to a life that is fulfilling and satisfying.
4 Descartes’ philosophy in understanding the self
“I think therefore I am” – René Descartes
René Descartes was a French mathematician, philosopher, and scientist. He is credited with being the father of modern philosophy, and his work had a major impact on the development of mathematics and science.
René Descartes believed that the mind and body were two separate entities. He believed that the mind was the seat of all human thought and feeling, while the body was merely a physical shell.
Person = Body + Mind
René Descartes believed that the only way to truly know yourself is through reason. He believed that our senses can deceive us, so we can’t rely on them to understand who we are. Instead, we must use our reason to figure out what is true about ourselves.
5 St. Augustine’s philosophy in understanding the self
St. Augustine is a fourth century Christian theologian and philosopher from the African city of Hippo. He is considered to be the first Christian philosopher. He is best known for his writings, including The Confessions, which outlined his journey from a life of sin to Christianity.
St. Augustine believed in the power of God to change lives and in the importance of living a life according to God’s will. St. Augustine thinks of the world as being divided into two halves: the material and the spiritual. He also sees humans as being composite beings, divided into the body and soul. The soul is immortal and is meant to rule over the body, which is mortal and subject to change.
Human = Body + Soul
The body is temporary and dwells in the material imperfect world whereas the soul dwells in the perfect spiritual world.
6 Kant’s philosophy in understanding the self
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German philosopher who is considered one of the most important thinkers in the history of philosophy. His work was very influential in the development of the philosophical movement known as German Idealism.
In general, Kant believed that reason is the key to understanding ourselves and the world around us. He believed that we need to use our reason to critically examine our beliefs and assumptions in order to gain true knowledge.
7 Freud’s philosophy in understanding the self
Sigmund Freud was an Austrian neurologist who became known as the father of psychoanalysis. Freud developed a theory of the human mind that emphasized the role of the unconscious in determining human behavior. He also believed that early childhood experiences were crucial in shaping an individual’s personality. One interesting fact about Sigmund Freud is that his father, Jacob, was a wool merchant.
Sigmund Freud defined the psyche as having 3 parts namely the id, ego, and superego. The id is the primal, instinctual part of the mind that is driven by pleasure-seeking. The ego is the rational, logical part of the mind that mediates between the id and the superego. The superego is the moral, ethical part of the mind that provides guidelines for the ego to follow.
Sigmund Freud’s philosophies suggest that we should view ourselves as beings with unconscious desires that often drive our behavior. Our conscious minds may not be aware of these desires, but they nonetheless influence our actions and thoughts. Therefore, it is important to understand our unconscious motivations in order to gain insight into our own behavior.
The concept of the self has been explored by philosophers for centuries, with the first mention of it coming from the ancient Greek philosophers Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle. In particular, Socrates is famously quoted as saying “know thyself”. But what does this mean? What is the self, and what qualities define it? Different philosophers have different views on the nature of the self, but most agree that self-knowledge is necessary for a happy and meaningful life.