‘Know thyself’ – Delphic Oracle

What is the interpretation given by modern philosophers to the Delphic injunction “O man, know thyself”? (Question in Quora)

This knowledge or question is one modern philosophers, psychologists, educators, and people in general are, to my knowledge, not interested in.

‘… self-knowledge, is hard to come by. To ‘know thyself’ (Orphic oracle) is a tall order, and most people are not interested in making the effort, or know how to go about it. But man is called upon to surpass, transcend himself, not to ‘make himself’. Until that happens, it has been said, “we are all hypocrites”. As we have seen, we cannot blame the ‘ego’ (or one’s ‘personality’: “the way I am”), that phantom, mask or impostor, for having infected us in the first place. Is it genetics? Heredity? Clearly, in the end, no one can escape responsibility – if we take the individual (‘I’, myself) as separate, or s/he take themselves as such. What we call ‘my ego’ is nothing but an excuse, a rationalization and, ultimately, an escape from real freedom.’ — Ego, ‘ego’, and metaphysics – Consequences for Psychotherapy

‘Socrates states that “he who orders, ‘know thyself’, bids us know the soul”, but goes on to say that one who knows only what is of the psyche “knows the things that are his [possessions/”baggage”], but not himself.” (Alcibiades 1, 130, OE ff.). Plato then… is much less interested in our getting to know our lesser “selves” then with our getting to know the Spirit that dwells within us and whose “temple” our bodies are, and with which our lesser selves must learn to “harmonize.”’ Rama P. Coomaraswamy

‘Two ideas, corresponding to their ‘realities’ (or pseudo-realities, depending on one’s understanding and angle of vision): hubris (or hybris), basically arrogance, pride, pretence, and its subsidiary ‘lack of measure’, both characterizing mankind and bringing about unending struggle, disharmony, and final catastrophe – individual and collective. Human history is rich in the consequences of this pair, as illustrated and reflected in many of the myths and tragedies of Greek literature. These failings are the result of ignoring (never learning) the two precepts inscribed on the frontispiece of the temple of Apollo at Delphos: ‘know thyself’, and ‘everything in measure’. The prototype of the myth having hubris as its motor is that of Prometheus, who stole the fire from the gods and the arts and technology (useful for warfare) from Athena.

The Greeks knew well these defects and the corresponding temptations, which led many in their midst to feel that they were ‘equal to the gods’, or nearly so. Where to find a humble person or, as Socrates kept asking his fellow Athenians, a wise one? At any rate, the greatest danger stemming from hubris is that it, potentially or actually, threatens to upset the cosmic or universal equilibrium, the order of things so intricately devised and developed by Zeus (or Isvara).’ From my blog, ‘Unanimous Tradition’ (series on Death)


2 thoughts on “‘Know thyself’ – Delphic Oracle

  1. In the Sama Veda, many such upadeshas are found, the veda elaborates that there are 4 hurdles to ‘Shreyas’.
    1. Krodham – The feeling of ‘I’ alone must enjoy all kinds of experiences and I am not getting such and such
    2. Lobham – I will not share this or that with anyone
    3. Anrutam – falsehood
    4. ashraddha

    It says, krodham should be defeated through patience, lobham through giving, anrutam through satyam, and ashraddham through sincerity.

    Good write up, as usual. Thanks.

  2. Interesting! That is quite similar to the quintuple kañkuca of Kashmir Shaivism: constrictor, covering of the Self: kala, niyati, raga, vidya, and kalá. Thus, they are limitations imposed on the individual self. What could be the connection with the Sama Veda if not historical influence or derivation?

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