C: You can’t be happy if you don’t know yourself.
D: Are you trying to pretend you’re Socrates again?
C: No, I just predicated happiness on self-knowledge, that’s all.
D: Socrates said, “Know yourself.”
C: Yes, but did you notice? He didn’t say why you should know yourself.
D: I guess when you’re Socrates, you don’t have to explain everything you say.
C: The interesting thing is, he took care to explain almost everything he said.
D: So why didn’t he explain the most famous saying of all?
C: Can’t say. I don t even know which dialogue the saying appears in.
D: So perhaps he did explain it, and we just don’t know what he said.
C: That’s entirely possible. Haven’t you wondered why we should know ourselves?
D: I just accept these things. If someone like Socrates says I should know myself, I figure I should know myself.
You can’t question everything. Some things you have to take on authority.
C: You don’t act like an unquestioning slug! You doubt and explore most of what you hear!
D: Maybe so, but you have to budget your time.
C: What do you mean?
D: Well, you can’t question everything. Some things you have to take on authority.
C: So ‘know thyself’ counts as something to accept without question?
D: It doesn’t seem too controversial.
C: Yes, but if time is short, and you can spend your life trying to know yourself, you’d want to have a good reason to expend the effort.
D: I guess so.
C: So shouldn’t we try to find out why Socrates is right? What if we spend a lifetime following his advice, and we find out he’s mistaken?
D: That would not be good.
C: So why do you think we should know ourselves?
D: It’s hard to say. What do other philosophers say?
C: You mean philosophers other than Socrates?
D: That’s right.
C: I don’t think they explore that question, either. They just pass on the advice, if the subject comes up at all.
D: I saw an episode of Modern Family the other night.
C: I know you re going to tell me why that’s relevant.
D: Sure. Jay told Gloria that she should stop telling Manny his work was wonderful, when it’s not.
C: Go on.
D: Gloria defended her praise – said it’s a mother s job to make her son feel proud of his accomplishments.
C: What did Jay say?
D: He said you don’t want to mislead people. If you’re honest with people, they know where their talents lie. They learn what they’re good at, and what they’re not good at.
C: Did he suggest that if you know those things about yourself, you’ll have a happier life?
D: Yes, he did. Jay doesn’t come across as a wise person, but he showed wisdom with that position.
Know yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you do, you’ll live a life that satisfies you and other people who matter to you. If you don’t, you won’t succeed, and you won’t find satisfaction.
C: How so?
D: Well, we all want happiness in life, don’t we?
C: You’re right about that.
D: Jay essentially said, “Know yourself. Know your strengths and weaknesses. If you do, you’ll live a life that satisfies you and other people who matter to you. If you don’t, you won’t succeed, and you won’t find satisfaction.”
C: That’s why we shouldn’t mislead young people about the quality of their accomplishments.
D: Yes, but we all have a hard time taking criticism.
C: I guess that’s the other part of Socrates’ wisdom. If you follow his advice and seek self-knowledge, you become more open to criticism. If you don’t seek self-knowledge, you’re likely to turn away criticism that could help you.
D: So do you think Manny will make any more centerpieces?
D: That’s where Jay offered honest criticism. Manny made a centerpiece for Thanksgiving dinner. It didn’t look so great, and Jay told him so.
C: That wasn’t nice!
D: Carlo, that’s what we’ve been talking about.
C: I know. I just wanted to say people are sensitive to criticism about things they’ve created.
D: Jay was nice about it.
C: How did Manny take it?
D: He dumped the centerpiece in the wastebasket. It never made it to the table.
C: Yeah, but how did Manny feel about it?
D: He knew his dad was right. He took it pretty matter of factly.
C: So what do you think: will he make more centerpieces?
D: Either he won’t make anymore, or he’ll try to improve on the first one. He’ll be happier than if he simply received dishonest praise for work that’s not of high quality.
C: You referred to quality again.
C: Makes me think of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. The author, Robert Pirsig, went mad trying to figure out what we mean by quality. How do we know it when we see it?
D: That’s another piece of wisdom from Socrates! Don’t try to figure out questions we’re not able to figure out. Some things are meant to remain mysteries!
C: I think that wisdom came from Samuel Johnson, not Socrates.
C: I saw a prayer Johnson wrote. He asked God to keep him from trying to answer questions like that.
D: Like what?
C: Like the one that drove Pirsig mad.
D: So we want to know our strengths and weaknesses, without knowing what we mean by quality?
If we can’t make well-founded judgments about quality, how can we have well-founded knowledge about our strengths and weaknesses?
C: What do you mean?
D: Let’s say I know I’m a good writer.
D: So someone asks, ‘How do you know you’re a good writer?’
C: What do you say?
D: I say I know I’m a good writer because when I compare the things I write with the things other people write, I think my pieces compare quite well.
C: How do you know that?
D: Because the pieces I write are of high quality!
C: But we’ve just acknowledged that we can’t make judgments about quality. Correct that – we can make judgments about quality, but we don’t know what foundation those judgments have.
D: That’s right. If we can’t make well-founded judgments about quality, how can we have well-founded knowledge about our strengths and weaknesses?
C: Socrates would say that wise people do have the ability to make those kinds of judgments. They’ve emerged from the cave, so they can make judgments about what is better and what is worse. Moreover, they know the basis of those judgments.
D: I didn’t think an example from Modern Family would lead us to talk about the Allegory of the Cave!
C: Everything is connected to everything else.
D: And how.
Originally written December 5, 2011.