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From: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 1: Socrates and the Life of Inquiry

…and then that makes knowing yourself a crucially important part of knowledge. Now I’ll make this as simple as I can. I love to use references to movies, I mean not many of us read any more, but a lot of us go to movies.

In Superman ONE okay… lets get down to a real case okay… in Superman I, little baby superman is flying from the very sophisticated planet to earth, and there are all these knowledge crystals… and I didn’t like the series that much okay, so don’t frown at me. It’s not that great a movie, I am just illustrating here. These knowledge crystals tell him all the known physics of this advanced civilisation… but the last and the most precious crystal is symbolically important. Because now that you know all this – you know, all these things – you may want to know what is most important… and that’s who you are. And so the last crystal is supposed to give him the Socratic style of knowledge.

So Socrates believed… I mean this is a nice illustration, because Socrates believed that one could have ALL the other kinds of knowledge, and be totally lost – totally aimless – if one didn’t have the other kind of knowledge, which was knowledge of one’s self. And eh, this is nice to remember today, I think. It’s a cautionary tale, because today we live in a society saturated with information. Just… information… which I would want to radically distinguish from wisdom or knowledge… but just saturated with information. But I think in our society, the Socratic question is not only difficult to answer, but even a sense for its importance is being lost. Just saturated with information. We are told so frequently who we are, or given a certain set of roles that are pre-arranged, pre-established, and which in a free society one is able to vary slightly. In other words, to give an example, we all know what a yuppie is, but we know that within that category that there is some variation possible. You could be sandy haired or red haired. You could wear black Reeboks or white ones. I mean there is a little variation possible. But I am trying to give you a sense for the strange distance between… historical distance… between the Socratic search for wisdom, and this kind of way of finding out who you are. It’s very different. It’s a very different thing.

Download: Philosophy and Human Values (1990) Lecture 1: Socrates and the Life of Inquiry.mov

Transcript: A course in philosophy and human values may seem paradoxical because philosophy was that discipline in our traditions – that’s western traditions, western civilisation – that began with a search for unconditioned knowledge. Unconditioned by human knowledge, of things that transcend this world or any other. That tradition is very much alive in philosophy today, mostly in formal logic and mathematics, where it seems in place, and professional philosophers have a name for that tradition. It’s the “analytic” tradition in philosophy. A course in philosophy and human values has very little to gain from that tradition. View Full Article »