“Know thyself” is one of Greek philosophy’s best know aphorisms. This aphorism, or saying as Aristotle called it, was inscribed in the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Greek philosophy tried to turn people inward in a friendly confrontation with themselves and their approach to the life around them.
“Know thyself” was not the only aphorism in ancient Greece. Another well-known example is “Take care of yourself”.
The two aphorisms are tied. The better care you can take of yourself, the better you will know yourself. And the reverse. Philosophic practice consists of both. You cannot get to know yourself better without self-care. One way to show self-care is to know yourself better, for example, by acknowledging your limitations and mistakes.
The two aphorisms underscore that philosophy is a practical investigation of life. An investigation into what it means to live. Seen in this tradition, philosophy is both ethical and spiritual, because in order to gain self-awareness, the individual must necessarily take his or her experiences seriously. Philosophy becomes an ongoing testing of one’s opportunities and conditions for existence. Life becomes a great laboratory. And it is here that philosophy’s third aphorism or pillar comes into play, as a balance between “Know thyself” and “Take care of yourself”.
The third aphorism is “Know your place”.
Knowing your place is to know your own history as well as the history that surrounds you: for example, when you were born, where, in which body, with which colour, which gender. To know your place is one way of making the ideal of knowing yourself and taking care of yourself relative, as it always happens in a specific context. Life is always lived here and now. A here and now that winds back and forth in time, yet underscores that what happens is happening here and now.
It is through your presence in the now that you can take care of yourself, test or experiment with life as a lasting attempt to become better at living, meaning knowing yourself. It is never too late, as every self-examination begins here and now.
The moral is therefore just as simple as it is difficult to practice: If you are not paying attention to where you are, if you are never present, it is difficult to care for yourself and impossible to get to know yourself better.
This journey never ends, as you and I and everyone else changes all the time. That is why certain questions never go out of style:
Who are you? What kind of life do you want to live? Are you here?
In connection with the launch of a new Danish ecological clothing label, I was invited to write three semi-philosophical reflections: I am Right Here, Right Now is the second.