Self Knowledge

What is self-knowledge? One may initially that self-knowledge is knowledge which one has about or in regard to oneself. Knowledge is, ordinarily, a three element process that consists of the object of knowledge i.e. the known, the mental act of knowing and the subject i.e. the knower.

The Triad of Knowledge

The object of knowledge is, what we know. The object itself is, ordinarily, independent of our mind; it existed out there in the world. The mental act of knowing that relates some object to the knower or the subject and it is the knower who comes to know that object.

The Importance of Knower

What is the nature or status of the knower in the process is an important question of philosophy. This has been one of the central questions dealing with which philosophy acquires its unique identity.

It is obvious that in the act of knowing, a subject or knower is indeed. After all it is the subject who knows. Thus the presence of a subject is very much required in knowledge.

How Self-Knowledge is Possible?

Subject is the knower of any object. It can’t be an object of knowledge. There is no way to make the subject an object of its own knowledge. Someone can know the other as he involved in the act of knowing. But that person cannot become the object of that act of knowing in which he is involved. Then the following questions arises:

  • How knowledge of self (or self-knowledge) be possible?
  • Is it possible at all to know the subject       (in the sense of an object of knowledge) ?

Immanuel Kant Explains:

The German Philosopher Immanuel Kant holds that knowledge of self is not possible. It is to be noted that denial of the knowledge of the subject is not at all the denial of its existence. It is necessary to assume the existence of the subject to explain knowledge but that is a “necessary assumption” ; that is not the knowledge of the subject.


What does self-knowledge, then, mean? Not only in India but even in the ancient Greek Philosophy it has preached that one ought to know oneself. “Know Thyself” has been the central issue to search in philosophy. It, therefore, becomes very important to understand what self-knowledge is (or could be).

Social Identity

Human being is a social animal and a person gets his individual and social identity through his social upbringing and education. A person is recognized by others only by his social identity.   Ordinarily people remain completely involved (or lost) in these various roles and accept their social identity unquestionable.

Personal Identity

In responding to various situations and persons, a person in his various roles forms a self-image and takes it as his personal identity. One’s self-image is dear to everyone and everyone wants to protect it at all costs although seldom one reflects on it. Hardly ever a person reflects on the fact that his social identity is a recognition given by him by the society and his self-image also is an indirect product of the same and he is not merely complex of these social roles.

Self and Consciousness

To question one’s socially constituted identity and one’s self image is the beginning of knowing oneself as an immortal soul, a center of pure consciousness, or one can realize a complete emptiness within. This quest of self-knowledge may eventually result into various theories of self but the possibility and relevance of reflecting on one’s social identity makes it clear that one’s self is not merely one’s social identity’ it is something beyond that.


Self-Knowledge is an at attempt to search for one’s identity in contrast to one’s biological features and socially imposed roles. It is also important to see in this regard that social background serves as an essential backdrop against which self-knowledge emerges as a positive knowledge and without this the actual possibility of self-knowledge would be lost. However, this does not mean that individual identity achieved in self-knowledge is itself a sort of social identity.


Notes were taken from H.P. Sah, “ Problems of Philosophy”, Philosophy (BA Ist), USOL, 2009-2010, pp. 06-14.

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