To pick up on Javi's points, I'd like to share some ideas that may be helpful in framing this discussion and they may also be helpful to your own personal inquiries into such matters. The following ideas are informed by the research of the late French philosopher Michel Foucault, particularly the late phase of his work in the early 1980s which has largely not attracted as much attention as his earlier work, and also often misunderstood. In this phase of his intellectual career, he began to uncover in the Western tradition a forgotten approach of philosophy-AS-A-WAY-OF-LIFE
. Some quick qualifications: There has been criticism about the historical accuracy of his research. My response is that he wasn't seeking to discover the absolute 'true' meaning of how ancient philosophy was really like. He has always said that he writes a 'history of the present', which is to say, he uncovers routes not taken or lost in the past in order to open up new vantage points to examine how present problems could be addressed differently. In any event, if anyone is interested in this idea of philosophy-as-a-way-of-life, the Antiquarian Pierre Hadot has conducted more comprehensive research: http://books.google.com.au/books/about/ ... edir_esc=y
We tend to value the maxim 'know yourself.' This was articulated in ancient Greece as the gnothi seauton
, which is one of the three maxims inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. But apparently, in the Greco-Roman world, the main orienting maxim was epimeleia heautou
, the care of self, a precept according to which the gnothi seauton
had to abide. That is to say, to know oneself was not so much a matter of ascertain objective truth but rather a specific application of the act of knowing in the pursuit of the care for one's own wellbeing. This is what Foucault writes of the two precepts as they appeared in classical Greek discourses (The Hermeneutics of the Subject
, p. 4-5; emphasis added):
Now not always, but often, and in a highly significant way, when this Delphic precept (this gnōthi seauton) appears, it is coupled or twinned with the principle of "take care of yourself" (epimeleia heautou). I say "coupled," "twinned." In actual fact, it is not entirely a matter of coupling. In some texts... there is, rather, a kind of subordination of the expression of the rule "know ourself" to the precept of care of the self. The gnōthi seauton ("know yourself") appears, quite clearly and again in a number of significant texts, within the more general framework of the epimeleia heautou ("care of oneself") as one of the forms, one of the consequences, as a sort of concrete, precise, and particular application of the rule: You must attend to yourself, you must not forget yourself, you must take care of yourself. The rule "know yourself" appears and is formulated within and at the forefront of this care [Foucault then points out how in Plato's The Apology of Socrates--widely regarded as the most reliable source of information about the historical figure--Socrates appears as the person whose 'essential, fundamental, and original function, job, and position is to encourage others to attend to themselves, take care of themselves, and not neglect themselves.'].
He also outlines these three key conditions of the epimeleia heautou
(p. 10-11; emphasis added):
- First, the theme of a general standpoint, of a certain way of considering things, of behaving in the world, undertaking actions, and having relations with others. The epimelea heautou is an attitude towards the self, others, and the world;
- Second, the epimelea heautou is also a certain form of attention, of looking. Being concerned about oneself implies that we look away from the outside to... I was going to say "inside." Let's leave to one side this word, which you can well imagine raises a host of problems, and just say that we must convert our looking from the outside, from others and the world, etc, towards "oneself." The care of the self implies a certain way of attending to what we think and what takes place in our thought. The word epimeleia is related to meletē, which means both exercise and meditation.
- Third, the notion of epimeleia does not merely designate this general attitude or this form of attention turned on the self. The epimeleia also always designates a number of actions exercised on the self by the self, actions by which one takes responsibility for oneself and by which one changes, purifies, transforms, and transfigures oneself. It involves a series of practices, most of which are exercises that will have a very long destiny in the history of Western culture, philosophy, morality, and spirituality. These are, for example, techniques of meditation, of memorization of the past, of examination of conscience, of checking representations which appear in the mind, and so on.
I'll post again later. But I think one final point should be noted here: why is it that the Western philosophical tradition had come to value 'know yourself' and forgotten about the 'care of self'?
To put it very schematically, one of the key influence was the Christian confessional modality of truth, where the subject has to obey the injunction to interpret the self
, to confess or tell the truth about one's 'true self', only to then renounce that self (hence, the title of Foucault's lectures, The Hermeneutics of the Subject
- he was trying to uncover a way out of this). In other words, this is an approach to knowing, an approach to truth, that is predicated on OBJECTIFICATION
. This helped to pave the conditions for what is called the 'Cartesian moment.' This is important: it is not a matter of solely blaming Descartes. But taking it as a key moment in the history of the Western philosophical tradition, with the Cartesian moment, there was a decisive break between the 'care of self' and 'know yourself'. When the orienting principle was 'care of self', the subject had to perform work on oneself to transform one's very being in order to access truth. But when the 'care of self' is erased and the 'know yourself' becomes the sole principle, the subject can objectively know the truth without being obligated to fulfil the responsibility of working on oneself to transform one's very being.
I understand that in many ways, Buddhism encourages us to 'know yourself'. However, to my experience, the first and necessary component for wisdom or understanding is sila
, the precepts that ask of us a commitment to care and concern
I think this general framework of the epimeleia heautou, the care of self, would be helpful for this discussion and also our own personal inquires.