We remind how in the XX Century the Hegelian thesis as to the absence of a notion of self-awareness in the Greek world was surpassed. Advices of 'eidènai' or 'gnonai sautòn', prescribed in the Delphic motto, appear as early as Heraclitus and in the lyric and tragic poets: they mean the conscience with oneself, in a personal and private, if not exclusive, way, of something that had no bearing on the moral domain alone in which Hegel was interested. The subject theme, which has been studied from a semantic standpoint and particularly with regard to Socrates, requires to this day an analysis as far as Plato is concerned. It has to be clarified if and how the problem emerges in the Dialogues; whether self-awareness plays a significant role within Platonic enquiry; what kind of cognitive skills it entails; finally, whether a genuinely Platonic con­tribution can be traced besides the thinking of the historical Socrates. One can therefore begin to state such ponderous problems, first of all by noticing how (in the thirty or more recurrences where we find the expressions regarding self-awareness quoted above, or similar ones) such problems emerge both as a reflection as to the philosophical advisabil­ity, or even necessity, of self-awareness, and as an exemplification of cognitive and moral cases in which self-awareness is shown in action. The 'Alcibiades l 'and the 'Charmides' mark Plato's reception of the Socratic contribu­tion to the subject. The young Alcibiades will be unable to devote himself to politics without clear awareness of the knowledge qualifying him for this activity (Alcibiades I, 124 A-B). The search for one's own self lies in the dialogue, in which the account of the self and one's own life is given (yet the soul can but dialogue with it­self in thought). The art capable of improving us, however, will escape us if, as prescribed by the Delphic motto, we will not know beforehand the self that we are (Alci­biades I, 128 E-129 A). Such self cannot be identified with the body, but with the soul which alone can use the whole body as an instrument (Alcibiades l, 130 C 6); thus, the foundation of self-heed/government qualifying for the political heed of the others is the soul's knowledge of being soul. The fundamentality of such awareness is pointed out by the mature Plato. In the 'Phaedrus' (229 E-230 A) we find that it is ridiculous to ignore oneself and know other things; in the 'Philebus' (19 C 1-3) the "second navigation"consists, even for the one knows everything, in not ignoring himself; in the 'Alcibiades I' (117 D; 118 B) and in the 'Philebus ' (48 C-49 A) self-ignorance is stigmatised, respectively, as the deepest igno­rance and as ignorance of one's own real virtue (and not merely of one's actual wealth and beauty). This kind of ignorance, the most widespread among men, can originate the ridiculous when put on stage, but basically remains a "total evil''. Therefore, besides a universal version of self-awareness as knowing oneself as soul, and besides its moral application as objective knowledge of one's own virtue, we also find in Plato individual and consciential features of it. Self-awareness does not only entail, as seen, a feeling and an opinion about one's own possible wisdom, nor should it be merely directed towards one's wealth or outer look: it rather involves all feelings. If perception is meant ('Meno', 76 C-D; 'Timaeus', 45 B-D) as a flow of physical elements from the objects to the organs of sense, the stimulus not involving in a single motion the soul and the body remain unperceived ('Philebus', 34 A), and should therefore not be re­garded as actual feelings. Not only: the presence of pleasure in the absence of minimal cognitive functions (feelings, memory, true opinion) is ruled out ('Philebus', 21 B-C). Without some elementary awareness of one's own perceiving or delighting we would live a life unworthy of a human being, but worthy "of a mollusc": in this respect the dif­ference is made by the perception of one's own perceiving . Plato, just as Socrates in the 'Apology', deems fundamental the awareness of one's own not knowing , which alone accompanies the judgment of being in doubt and triggers off (or can trigger off) the desire to know. It is subjectively certain knowledge (if one knows they do not know and thinks they are in doubt, they cannot go wrong) and, therefore, fundamental: its absence would impair any other form of (true) knowledge. Again in the 'Alcibiades I' (106 D-E) we find the sequence whereby one cannot advise if they do not know; one does but know what they have learnt from others or discovered by them­selves; one cannot learnn or discover unless they want to do either; one does not want to do either thing if they assume they know. At the heart of this cognitive sequence lies once more the cognitive state contrary to the assumption of knowing, that is knowing one does not know. Plato, however, differs from Socrates first of all in the methodical instrument (dialectics) enabling the passage from non-knowledge to knowledge; whilst Socrates' dialectics is negative (that is capable of finding out what is false through refutation), Pla­tonic dialectics will attain the truth working on the hypotheses set forth by the interlocu­tors, particularly (in the 'Parmenides') on couple of opposite hypotheses. One further dif­ference from Socrates is the articulation of the soul into different 'instances', each en­dowed with its own role, competence, as well as capacity to interfere the others . The last point considered is whether deliberate procedures of concentration and medi­tation ascribed to Socrates ('Symposium', 174 D-220 C)- sometimes regarded as an an­ticipation of the widespread spiritual exercises of the Hellenistic era - entail also an overt, albeit indirect, reference to the self capable of self-knowledge. Also the philosopher of the 'Phaedo' collects deliberately the soul within itself in the exercise of death (67 C-D, and 83 A), which is no mere ascetic mortification of the body, but overall self-heed. The 'Phaedo' (83 A-B) marks also a perfect accord between the object of knowledge in itself by itself and the soul which, likewise in itself by itself, can contemplate that object. lt is the 'Republic' (571 D-576 A), however, that declares that the ex­ercises directed to all the 'instances' of the soul eventually result in self-awareness for the 'logistikon' (571 E 8). As far as this last feature of self-awareness is concerned, we cannot avoid, however, a swift and conjectural final comparison with Platonic and non-Platonic passages (DK 21 B 27 and 28 for Empedocles; 'Timaeus', 34 B; 'Nicomachean Ethics' , X 8, 1178 b 21-29; 'Metaphysics', XII 7, 1072 b 13-30) in which self-awareness and even self-love are paradigmatically as­cribed to divine subject endowed with 'nous'.

The knowledge of the soul: Plato and the problem of self-awareness

NAPOLITANO, Linda
2012

Abstract

We remind how in the XX Century the Hegelian thesis as to the absence of a notion of self-awareness in the Greek world was surpassed. Advices of 'eidènai' or 'gnonai sautòn', prescribed in the Delphic motto, appear as early as Heraclitus and in the lyric and tragic poets: they mean the conscience with oneself, in a personal and private, if not exclusive, way, of something that had no bearing on the moral domain alone in which Hegel was interested. The subject theme, which has been studied from a semantic standpoint and particularly with regard to Socrates, requires to this day an analysis as far as Plato is concerned. It has to be clarified if and how the problem emerges in the Dialogues; whether self-awareness plays a significant role within Platonic enquiry; what kind of cognitive skills it entails; finally, whether a genuinely Platonic con­tribution can be traced besides the thinking of the historical Socrates. One can therefore begin to state such ponderous problems, first of all by noticing how (in the thirty or more recurrences where we find the expressions regarding self-awareness quoted above, or similar ones) such problems emerge both as a reflection as to the philosophical advisabil­ity, or even necessity, of self-awareness, and as an exemplification of cognitive and moral cases in which self-awareness is shown in action. The 'Alcibiades l 'and the 'Charmides' mark Plato's reception of the Socratic contribu­tion to the subject. The young Alcibiades will be unable to devote himself to politics without clear awareness of the knowledge qualifying him for this activity (Alcibiades I, 124 A-B). The search for one's own self lies in the dialogue, in which the account of the self and one's own life is given (yet the soul can but dialogue with it­self in thought). The art capable of improving us, however, will escape us if, as prescribed by the Delphic motto, we will not know beforehand the self that we are (Alci­biades I, 128 E-129 A). Such self cannot be identified with the body, but with the soul which alone can use the whole body as an instrument (Alcibiades l, 130 C 6); thus, the foundation of self-heed/government qualifying for the political heed of the others is the soul's knowledge of being soul. The fundamentality of such awareness is pointed out by the mature Plato. In the 'Phaedrus' (229 E-230 A) we find that it is ridiculous to ignore oneself and know other things; in the 'Philebus' (19 C 1-3) the "second navigation"consists, even for the one knows everything, in not ignoring himself; in the 'Alcibiades I' (117 D; 118 B) and in the 'Philebus ' (48 C-49 A) self-ignorance is stigmatised, respectively, as the deepest igno­rance and as ignorance of one's own real virtue (and not merely of one's actual wealth and beauty). This kind of ignorance, the most widespread among men, can originate the ridiculous when put on stage, but basically remains a "total evil''. Therefore, besides a universal version of self-awareness as knowing oneself as soul, and besides its moral application as objective knowledge of one's own virtue, we also find in Plato individual and consciential features of it. Self-awareness does not only entail, as seen, a feeling and an opinion about one's own possible wisdom, nor should it be merely directed towards one's wealth or outer look: it rather involves all feelings. If perception is meant ('Meno', 76 C-D; 'Timaeus', 45 B-D) as a flow of physical elements from the objects to the organs of sense, the stimulus not involving in a single motion the soul and the body remain unperceived ('Philebus', 34 A), and should therefore not be re­garded as actual feelings. Not only: the presence of pleasure in the absence of minimal cognitive functions (feelings, memory, true opinion) is ruled out ('Philebus', 21 B-C). Without some elementary awareness of one's own perceiving or delighting we would live a life unworthy of a human being, but worthy "of a mollusc": in this respect the dif­ference is made by the perception of one's own perceiving . Plato, just as Socrates in the 'Apology', deems fundamental the awareness of one's own not knowing , which alone accompanies the judgment of being in doubt and triggers off (or can trigger off) the desire to know. It is subjectively certain knowledge (if one knows they do not know and thinks they are in doubt, they cannot go wrong) and, therefore, fundamental: its absence would impair any other form of (true) knowledge. Again in the 'Alcibiades I' (106 D-E) we find the sequence whereby one cannot advise if they do not know; one does but know what they have learnt from others or discovered by them­selves; one cannot learnn or discover unless they want to do either; one does not want to do either thing if they assume they know. At the heart of this cognitive sequence lies once more the cognitive state contrary to the assumption of knowing, that is knowing one does not know. Plato, however, differs from Socrates first of all in the methodical instrument (dialectics) enabling the passage from non-knowledge to knowledge; whilst Socrates' dialectics is negative (that is capable of finding out what is false through refutation), Pla­tonic dialectics will attain the truth working on the hypotheses set forth by the interlocu­tors, particularly (in the 'Parmenides') on couple of opposite hypotheses. One further dif­ference from Socrates is the articulation of the soul into different 'instances', each en­dowed with its own role, competence, as well as capacity to interfere the others . The last point considered is whether deliberate procedures of concentration and medi­tation ascribed to Socrates ('Symposium', 174 D-220 C)- sometimes regarded as an an­ticipation of the widespread spiritual exercises of the Hellenistic era - entail also an overt, albeit indirect, reference to the self capable of self-knowledge. Also the philosopher of the 'Phaedo' collects deliberately the soul within itself in the exercise of death (67 C-D, and 83 A), which is no mere ascetic mortification of the body, but overall self-heed. The 'Phaedo' (83 A-B) marks also a perfect accord between the object of knowledge in itself by itself and the soul which, likewise in itself by itself, can contemplate that object. lt is the 'Republic' (571 D-576 A), however, that declares that the ex­ercises directed to all the 'instances' of the soul eventually result in self-awareness for the 'logistikon' (571 E 8). As far as this last feature of self-awareness is concerned, we cannot avoid, however, a swift and conjectural final comparison with Platonic and non-Platonic passages (DK 21 B 27 and 28 for Empedocles; 'Timaeus', 34 B; 'Nicomachean Ethics' , X 8, 1178 b 21-29; 'Metaphysics', XII 7, 1072 b 13-30) in which self-awareness and even self-love are paradigmatically as­cribed to divine subject endowed with 'nous'.
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Plato Psyche Inner Life Soul
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