Σ ω κ ρ ά τ η ς
~ Socrates ~

            Throughout the ages, many philosophers have had a great impact on society, as well as how Western philosophy is perceived in modern times.  From Friedrich Nietzsche to René Descartes to Aristotle, all have produced concise, well-constructed philosophies that have had a lasting impression on the thinkers of each era.  However, there is one man whose influence on this area of study has coined him as the founder of such philosophies: Socrates.

The Socratic concepts of psyche, techné, virtue as excellence of function, and intellectualism serve as a detailed exploration of the Socratic motto, “Know Thyself,” as well as Socrates’ belief in the importance of examining one’s own life. One of the most profound statements made by Socrates was that “the unexamined life is not worth living.”  This phrase has continued to inspire thought-provoking conversations among modern day philosophers.  Though it may be very powerful standing on its own, Socrates’ true meaning is greatly expanded on throughout his philosophy of life. 

Through a genuine understanding of these Socratic concepts, the true significance of knowing thyself and examining one’s life is revealed.

Ψ υ χ ή
~ psyche ~

            Facing an examination of one’s life takes an impressive amount of courage and knowing where to start may prove to be quite difficult.  A great place to begin this process is through the exploration of one’s psyche, a concept that is at the heart of Socrates’ philosophy.  In Socratic terms, the psyche is described as being what makes a person the unique individual that they are.  It is a combination of both the mind and the soul, and ultimately, is regarded as the essence of one’s true self (Soccio, p. 102).

Over the course of his lifetime, one of Socrates’ leading pursuits was to discover the character of his own psyche, learn how to control it, and what would result in doing so.  He did this by living a life with nothing but the clothes on his back, claiming that “to have no wants is divine,” and that self-control leads to pleasure (Soccio, p. 90).  To adequately learn how to control the psyche however, one must first initiate an articulate examination of their true self.  Socrates knew that by undergoing the process of examining one’s life, the true potential of the individual would be revealed in the shedding of their own ignorance.  

It is a very easy task to coast through life in blissful ignorance, conforming to the beliefs and ideas that have been instilled in the mind of so many, however much they vary from culture to culture; but taking these beliefs, analyzing them, and redefining oneself is an accomplishment—one of which must be done in order to “Know Thyself.”

Socrates spent his life encouraging others to discover the extent of their psyches and to “Know Thyself.” In doing this, one transforms their life into a worthwhile state of being and creates opportunity that otherwise might have not occurred had the individual rejected this process and continued living an incomplete life.  As Socrates states, “If the psyche is not fully functional, such a life is hardly human” (plato.stanford.edu).  The psyche is the heart of being human; thus, recognizing one’s opportunity to learn what comprises their psyche will lead to truly knowing thyself and what one is capable of.

τ έ χ ν η
~ techné ~

            The exploration and subsequent understanding of one’s psyche not only leads to a better grasp of oneself, but also allows an individual to discover their techné—a skill, art, or craft in which one is especially talented.  An accurately defined techné will enhance and expand upon an individual’s knowledge.  Socrates gives a great example of this in Plato’s dialogues, the Charmides, stating that medicine is the techné of a physician, and thereby, the knowledge of health (plato.stanford.edu).  Whatever an individual’s true skill may be, according to Socrates, it should be masterfully crafted over the course of one’s lifetime because it will lead that person to a life of happiness.

            Discovering one’s techné is no easy feat.  This happens through the careful examination of whichever skill one particularly identifies with, but the journey to the techné can be tedious.  This process requires a deep examination of the talents a person possesses, as well as an exploration of various skillsets.  After all, how can one be certain of their true skill if they have not tried new things and traveled different walks of life?  It is through the process of kinesthetic experiences and self-examination that the techné is revealed.

            Discovering one’s techné will, in turn, help a person to better “Know Thyself.”  If one has spent the necessary time exploring their skillsets, that person will not only ascertain their techné, but will also learn which things not to pursue.  Furthermore, a well-developed techné leads to increased knowledge in an individual because it requires practice and diligence to keep that skill (plato.stanford.edu).  In this way, techné encourages one to consistently “Know Thyself” through the course of one’s life.

Failing to discover what one is truly good at and therefore pursuing the wrong path will result in an unfulfilled life and a loss of virtue.  Of course, nobody can know all things, nor even explore every possibility; but Socrates says that it is in humankind’s nature to identify with a techné that leads the way to becoming virtuous.

ἀ ρ ε τ ή
~ virtue ~

Through discovering one’s techné is an achievement in and of itself, maintaining the skill level needed to be knowledgeable in the craft requires consistent practice.  The knowledge that results from doing so is otherwise known as virtue.  Virtue is not a simple desire for good things in one’s life, but instead results from the excellent functioning of one’s soul.  This Socratic concept states that someone who is virtuous is a master of their craft, or their techné.  As such, it varies considerably from person to person. 

Socrates is interested in the true virtue of an individual, or the ability to be fully human (philosophypages.com).  While techné varies among people, true virtue should be applicable to humankind as a whole.  Socrates states that an individual already knows what they need to, arguing that it is impossible for a person to learn anything new; how would that person discover what they need to know if they could not recognize it once it was found?  If people already carry what they need to know to become virtuous, then it is simply a matter of discovering what that is.  One’s life and everything that entails must be thoroughly analyzed in an effort to shed light on their true virtue as an intellectual human being.  In this way, examining one’s life reveals exactly how the hope of inspiring other was Socrates’ focus.

Because virtue is knowledge, it is something each person must work toward to genuinely “Know Thyself.”  Becoming virtuous takes a long time since it requires transforming oneself into a master of their craft.  In order to acquire excellent functioning of the soul, as virtue is defined, one must know themselves inside and out.  It would be impossible for one to achieve a virtuous life if that person did not have some sort of grasp on the core of their being.  Socrates says that knowing what is right results in the instant desire to do it.  If one “Knows Thyself,” then their virtue is ultimately what is right for them and therefore, must be pursued.

Δ ι α ν ο ο ύ μ ε ν ο ς
~ intellectualism ~

            A Socratic concept that encompasses psyche, techné, and virtue is that of intellectualism.  Intellectualism is the use, development, and exercise of the mind (class notes, handout 4).  This aspect of Socratic philosophy is suggestive of one’s beliefs being the central motivation to behavior as opposed to being motivated by desire.  These beliefs vary among human, but objectively speaking, they all serve the same function: they are the beliefs that an individual perceives as being true.

            A lack of intellectuality is fueled by an individual’s ignorance.  Socrates constructed a resolution to expose this ignorance in order to lead people to intellectualism—the Dialectic.  This method of questioning and answering is a form of argumentation that encourages people to examine their lives and convince them that they know something, when, in reality, they do not (Soccio, p. 104).  In the Meno, Socrates states that nobody desires what is bad, because nobody would knowingly inflict harm upon themselves; however, due to the powerful force of human ignorance, evil exists (plato.stanford.edu).  Through the examination of one’s life, the layers of ignorance peel away until one reaches intellectualism.  Only after these layers have disappeared does an individual realize the error in their ways and begin to truly “Know Thyself.”

            Socrates argues that if one truly knew their psyche, then that person would no longer commit evil.  To “Know Thyself” for the sake of intellectualism is to chip away at the ignorance that grasps ones ideas and beliefs.  This concept encourages an individual to analyze all aspects of their life.  Once one has examined their life, and gotten to “Know Thyself,” that person can begin living as a happy, intellectual human being.

τ έ λ ο ς
~ télos ~

The Socratic concepts of psyche, techné, virtue as excellence of function, and intellectualism all offer an elaborate explanation of Socrates’ philosophy of life.  They demonstrate that his motto, “Know Thyself,” is relevant to all aspects of an individual’s life, and serves as an emphasis for the importance of knowing one’s true potential.  The quote, “The unexamined life is not worth living,” provides a concise analysis of these Socratic concepts; to live a life where one has combatted their own ignorance and discovered their true potential as an intellectual human being is the essence of happiness.  All of these concepts function as integral pieces and, in the process, create a beautiful philosophy that Socrates’ spent his lifetime perfecting.

            Socrates’ philosophy of life triggered a new age of asking big questions that many others had not yet explored.  Though his ideas were radical for the Athenian time period he was born into, and eventually became the cause of his martyrdom, his teachings have stood the test of time and continue to provoke thought among philosophers today.  It is safe to say that Socrates’ ideas and beliefs about the universe, world, and humankind will only continue to encourage and inspire intellectuals to examine their lives in an effort to truly “Know Thyself” for generations to come. 

 
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