Self Knowledge (part 1)

Self Knowledge and Practical Philosophy

In other creatures ignorance of self is nature; in man it is vice.”



What is the “self”?

My son was born during my service in the Royal Navy; and shortly after his arrival I went to sea for quite some time. When I eventually returned home, my son was toddling, and on hearing the door bell, he ran to greet the visitor at the front door. On seeing me he screamed and ran through the house, heading for escape through the back door. (He’s in his thirties now, and he still does it!)  This event caused me to leave the service, so I could experience my son growing up.


Self Knowledge and Practical PhilosophyEntering the world of work (in 1979) came as quite a shock; a world of the rise of the cult of the individual, a world where any sense of community was starting to decline, a world which never seems to be satisfied with what you’ve just achieved, a world of managers, not leaders. There was no time for awe and wonder anymore; I just didn’t have the patience to spend all night discussing religion and philosophy with my father as I used to. (I only recovered that earlier position a week before he died, when we talked about “faith.”)


Becoming somewhat impatient and intolerant, I had no time for people either, so I took this stress and frustration home, which then infected my family. In fact I started to resent my upbringing – because it didn’t – as I thought – prepare me for engaging with the world. Work had totally taken possession of my being. My early life and my time in the forces were relatively stable; any skills learned lasted throughout my career. But in work, what you’ve achieved this year is never going to be enough the following year – the constant search for growth means that your self has to grow too – but not necessarily for the better. You grow a tough, security layer.


So, “I” had changed; but was it permanent? Was I permanently affected by my experiences?

But, as you will see, this change wasn’t permanent – the world of work had created, not another self, but a covering over of the self I had created in my youth. So how do I get back to that younger self? And indeed, is it possible to go further back again to find the uncreated self? Yes, it is possible; but, first, you have to know that “created” self.


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A tutor presents philosophical ideas, and leads a discussion based on what arises in the group. Being practical rather than academic, the emphasis is on personal knowledge and experience. Students are encouraged neither to accept nor reject the ideas put forward, but to test them in practice for themselves, in the light of their own experience.

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