Self-Knowledge in Plato’s Symposium

In James M. Ambury & Andy German (eds.), Knowledge and Ignorance of Self in Platonic Philosophy. Cambridge University Press. pp. 186-205 (2018)


I use Plato’s Symposium to examine a tension that I believe to be key to self-knowledge. On the one hand, knowledge proper refers to noetic insight into the ultimate explanatory principles and causes, which “objects” are often referred to in the dialogues as forms. On the other hand, self-knowledge refers to basic modes of self-awareness and self-understanding that are at once embodied and interpersonal, and which are not explicitly related to the study of form. I believe these two basic commitments, to knowledge and self-awareness, tend to obscure one another in the dialogues and in contemporary interpretations. My basic thesis is that the demands of theoretical knowledge and self-awareness are in tension with one another but that Platonic philosophy demands that we understand the nature of these opposed demands and endure the strife between them. Self-knowledge, understood in its most encompassing sense, is the life of reflectively enduring that strife, of reconciling the existential burdens of philosophy with the demands of theoretical knowledge proper.

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Eric Sanday
University of Kentucky

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