Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Knowing Oneself

"Know Yourself" words we know well, that have come down to us from the time of the Greek  philosophers; and very difficult to achieve. A professor of philosophy at the Catholic University, on the  education page of the Catholic Times,  prepares  a short meditation on the subject by using Kant's famous four questions.

Kant in his old age, looking back on his life, believed the subject of philosophy could be summed up by the answers to four questions. What can I know? What should I do? What may I hope? What does it mean to be human?  Attempting to give answers to these four questions he arrived at his philosophy.

To the first question, What can I know, he discusses the nature and scope of knowledge. To the second, What should I do, he discusses ethics. To the third, What may I hope for, he discusses religion and beliefs. The answer to the fourth question, What does it mean to be human, follows naturally from the answers to the previous three questions. With his 

answer to this last question, Kant believed he had summed up and answered all previous philosophical questions.

Humanity has tried to answer these questions over the centuries, speculating far and wide but not satisfied with the answers  kept on searching. Humans will continue to ask these questions until death intervenes, and when doubt appears they will look for better answers. It is from these questions that philosophy developed. There are all kinds of definitions for philosophy, but at the end it comes down to questioning our humanity and looking for answers. The results of our understanding will decide the way we will live, and in this sense all of us are philosophizing.

By philosophizing, we sometimes come to a new understanding of ourselves and look upon ourselves with different eyes. This enables us to see others differently and to initiate new relationships. A person, when viewed philosophically, becomes not merely another object but one I can love or hate. A stranger can become a neighbor, and a person hurting can become the stimulus for selfless giving.  The way I will understand and accept others will depend on how I understand myself. And my philosophy will determine, in many cases, how I will act.

Christianity is a revealed religion but many, without any reference to Christianity, have deduced many of its teachings from their own personal philosophies. "Faith implies reason and perfects it" would be the Christian formulation of how we are to arrive at a life enhancing philosophy. Or, put another way, how the supernatural  builds on the natural, or how grace, as St. Thomas said, builds on nature. In the  past philosophy was considered the handmaid of theology but there would be few philosophers today who would feel comfortable with theology let alone see philosophy as a handmaid. But whether handmaid or not, the Church teaches that both philosophy and theology are necessary for a proper understanding of the fourth question posed by Kant: What does it mean to be human?                                      


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