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Know thyself…a Philosophical Reflection

 

Many of us have been conditioned to think of philosophy as an abstract subject with little “practical” application.  This is the notion that Jotham Njoroge, a Doctoral Fellow at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, sought to demystify in the intense Philosophical discourse that was organised by the school to persuade people to “know thyself”

“We live in a world where we know a lot about things but not ourselves.” Jotham started. True, we probably know all the news about elections in countries we have never visited. We know all the people who are trending on Twitter at any particular point. We know the designers of the clothes worn by celebrities. We can even predict the news, even before it happens. Yet we know very little about ourselves. This situation, according to Jotham, is very regrettable.

Flee from ignorance

A true knowledge of self frees you. Knowledge is the virtual possession of truth. While taking a very reserved view to the common notion of, “knowledge is power”, Jotham admits that, this is very close to what knowledge can do. “My people perish for lack of knowledge…” goes the common phrase from the Bible. Jotham warns that without little efforts dedicated to understanding self, we literally “perish”. It is more tragic, that it is possible to be dead while alive- I mean, you perish, yet still alive.

“Flee from ignorance…” Jotham asserts, almost sounding like a prophet, because ignorance is all around us. Imagine someone creeping to your room and watching you sleep. How scary can that be? You wouldn’t be sure what they can do while you sleep! This power, Jotham says, is what we voluntarily give to people miles away from us, who watch us sleep through our phones and devices that give personal data about us. “Know thyself!” He repeats.

“A hand is an analogy of the mind.” Jotham continues. Our hands have a unique ability to grasp so much. Jotham uses the hand to explain the immense ability of our minds. He insists that our minds are capable of grasping so much knowledge. In fact, some philosophers have asserted that, “the mind is capable of all.” However, therein lies the problem which, he says, is a great tragedy of our time. This is the belief that we can know it all. To this end, he reiterates what Gabriel Marcel distinguishes as problems and mystery. A problem is a challenge within our grasp. A mystery is that which is beyond the understanding of man. The challenge of modern time, he says, is the lumping together of problems and mysteries all as problems. “Know thyself!” He repeats.

Learn how to learn

“Why should we go to school to learn?” Jotham asks. The audience is caught by surprise since the answer to the question appears obvious. Being the philosophy teacher he is, Jotham, presses on, demanding an answer for something that everybody knows. “Many people think we go to school to accumulate knowledge. No, we should go to school to learn how to learn!” Jotham says with finality.

This takes many people by surprise. The tragedy of modern learning is the assumption that we should learn and become experts in specific areas. According to him, we have a lot to learn from the ancient Greek admission criteria to learning institutions. All that was required to qualify to learn was logic, grammar and rhetoric. Knowledge of logic was meant to help learners think. Knowledge of grammar was to help them write and rhetoric was to help them express themselves. Today, very few people talk of thinking and that partly explains why we have a population that is so easy to manipulate. “Know thyself!” He repeats.

By now, you are probably wondering; how do I know myself? Jotham proposes three tools; observation, experience and reflection. Observation is the lowest level of self-knowledge. Just open your eyes and see. Just observe things around you and be bold enough to make a move. Some philosophers believe that nothing comes to the intellect before coming to the senses. Therefore, we do ourselves a great injustice when we fail to keenly observe the environment around us.

As for experience, he insists that the world is our playground and the experience we get from the world should shape us to know ourselves better. If you find yourself eating more ice cream than your doctor recommends, then experience should tell you to avoid coming in close contact with ice cream. Our past experience should provide us with a guide to the future.

Reflect…Meditate

Reflection, according to Jotham, is the highest level of self-knowledge. This is where you take moments and meditate about yourself and draw up a plan of action. Many people have come to an “Aha!” moment when they paused and reflected on their circumstances. Sadly, our noisy world doesn’t make reflection any easier. What a deprivation!  Reflection illuminated by God’s grace is the most ideal way of knowing self. Reflection gives us the ability to see the whole picture and not just a part of the picture.

How about the notion that we only use a part of brain capacity? While Jotham is hesitant to confirm or deny any figures relating to our use of brain capacity, he invites the audience to reflect on the thought of having to remember everything that happens to us. Imagine remembering each and every detail of the road crash that happened thirty years ago. He concludes that this is probably a survival mechanism for us, which in itself is not a bad thing. However, he reiterates the need to work together to combine strengths and achieve more. “If we pull together, we can use 100% of our capacities without lifting a finger.” Jotham concludes.

We have a role to remember our limitation as human beings, but also to remember the power that we wield, when we understand ourselves. With this knowledge, Jotham invites you to invest more in understanding yourself.

 

This article was written by Gabriel Dinda, a Masters of Applied Philosophy and Ethics Student and a Graduate Assistant at the School of Humanities and Social Sciences.

 

To take part in the next Philosophical Discourse, email: andehi@strathmore.edu

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