Popularly interpreted two ways, the Delphic maxim entreats us to self examination. First:
Know Your Place!
The words of an all powerful god seem thundered from the heavens. Fit in. Do the right thing. Don’t let your ego get too big. This perspective, while true, is not particularly empowering or transformative. Could there be more?
Plato found the real value:
“I am not yet able, as the Delphic inscription has it, to know myself; so it seems to me ridiculous, when I do not yet know that, to investigate irrelevant things.”Plato – Phaedrus
He seems to imply that knowing ourselves from the inside out would allow us to not only understand ourselves, but to also understand others better. This is the real value for me, and many others.
“Through not observing what is in the mind of another, a man has rarely been seen to be unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.”Marcus Aurelius – Meditations
“In 1831, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote a poem entitled “Γνώθι Σεαυτόν”, or Gnothi Seauton (‘Know Thyself’), on the theme of ‘God in thee.’ The poem was an anthem to Emerson’s belief that to ‘know thyself’ meant knowing the God which Emerson felt existed within each person.”
“In 1651 Thomas Hobbes used the term nosce teipsum which he translated as ‘read thyself’ in his famous work, The Leviathan. He was responding to a popular philosophy at the time that you can learn more by studying others than you can from reading books. He asserts that one learns more by studying oneself: particularly the feelings that influence our thoughts and motivate our actions. As Hobbes states, “but to teach us that for the similitude of the thoughts and passions of one man, to the thoughts and passions of another, whosoever looketh into himself and considereth what he doth when he does think, opine, reason, hope, fear, etc., and upon what grounds; he shall thereby read and know what are the thoughts and passions of all other men upon the like occasions.”
I like to write about “the self” as a concept. Here are some related posts: