The Ancient Greek philosopher Socrates famously said “Know Thyself.” This command to which he gave the most importance is something like a paradox. Because at first glance, it seems that we live with ourselves our entire lives. This would mean that we should know who we are better than anyone else, or from another perspective, that we know who we are more than we know anything else. But when Socrates says that this is the key for philosophy this clearly means that we are wrong when we think that we know who we are. The goal of philosophy is like a process and we have to continue moving forward so that we truly know who we are.
For example, when I think about myself, I think about my family, and how they raised me. I think about some of the values they give me. But I also think about some of the things I think about myself. For example, I consider myself to be a peaceful individual. I do not get angered easily, I am very calm in certain stress situations. It takes a lot for others to provoke me. In this sense, I am a peaceful person.
Why, however, am I a peaceful person? I think this is what Socrates means when he says “know thyself.” We have to look deeper into what we think about ourselves at first glance. For example, there is an expression, to keep your eye on the sky. This means that you look ahead to the future or perhaps that your goals are not immediate. This would be one way to explain this peacefulness in a deeper manner. For example, maybe I am a peaceful person because what is most important to me is not that which is immediately around me. If someone is mad at me or attempts to provoke me I do not answer to these provocations because what is happening around me at the moment is not the immediate goal.
I also like to think of myself as an ethical person, a warrior holding the sword of integrity. I am very judgmental to others when I think that they are doing wrong. However, where do I get this ethical strength from? Perhaps I like to think myself in these pleasant ways, but a sign of intellectual depth is to also be critical of oneself. Perhaps it could be said that I am also too judgmental of others. Perhaps I am also not critical of myself and take into consideration my own mistakes. These are crucial questions which the philosopher asks, and therefore, following Socrates’ command, it is also crucial to ask these questions. For example, there may be a fundamental difference between who I think I am or who we think we are and what we know. Socrates does not say think about yourself and who you are, but know who you are. This is a major difference: the second type which is “to know” perhaps means a type of journey, a path and a process.
When we ask the question “Who am I?” from the view of philosophy this is a journey. If someone on the street asks me “Who am I?”, maybe I will tell them where I was born, what is my job. Maybe I will also talk about my personality and how I react to others. This is a different type of question of “Who am I?” than the philosophical question of “Who Am I?” The second question gives no easy answers and perhaps we will never know the answer. But the point is to try.