“Knowledge gives us a sense of who we are.” To what extent is this true in the Human Sciences and Ethics?
Socrates once said, “To know, is to know that you know nothing. That is the meaning of true knowledge” . In similar vein, Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Knowledge is knowing that we cannot know” . A great Indian master, Nisargadatta Maharaj once quoted, “To know what you are, you must first investigate and know what you are not” . What were Socrates, Emerson, Nisargadatta hinting at?
Is there any such thing as ‘knowledge’ and if so, can this knowledge ever give us a sense of who we are? Is there one concrete sense of ‘who we are’ that persists all throughout our ...view middle of the document...
In reality, 65% of the participants in Milgram’s study delivered the maximum shocks . ‘Bystander effect’ is another monstrous revelation of abnormal human behavior in social circumstances. The bystander effect occurs when the presence of others hinder an individual from intervening in an emergency situation . A recent case of the bystander effect was the running over of 2 year old Chinese toddler twice as dozens just watched her succumbing to her injuries without offering any help .
Many other startling revelations from the world of Social Psychology demonstrate ‘how we behave’ in society but does this knowledge really give us a sense of who we are as individuals? Although these experiments and many others, to a large extent, do accurately provide a sense of how humans behave in public, I feel that such studies erroneously generalize human identity in terms of how they behave in society but this doesn’t provide a concrete sense of who one really is at the core. Just because one, under the multifarious dynamics of public pressure, behaves in a certain way might not mean that one IS that way. The biggest flaw of Social Psychology might be that it labels a string of behavioral tendencies and actions as part of individual identity. Is how we behave under pressure really a part of who we are at the core?
On the other hand, there are those who would claim that one is what one behaves i.e. one’s actions are what gives on a sense of who one is. One always has the free will to choose to behave in a certain way. This choice indicates a certain taste of personal character. The circmstance might not be in control but the ability to react and act accordingly is a reflection of who one is. As Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do” . In that sense, our repeated actions, even if initially not part of who we really are, if repeated long enough, will get amalgamated into our core sense of who we are.
Apart from actions, language too has an important role to play in giving solidity to identity. Language influences and gives rise to a sense of belonging because language is itself a universal medium of communication in exchanging ideas. In turn, cultural knowledge from generations is passed down to the next generation in local dialects. With the development of different societies, different cultures and languages integrate into a deeper part of humans. All in all, over time, such cultural acclimatization forms one’s sense of identity. Even though, the cultural idiosyncrasies defined through diverse language interpretations are subjective, as part of a race, tribe or group in society, the language used is objective, unaffected by the growing circumstances of humans. Therefore, although humans are a specific species of animals, social and cultural knowledge gives us a larger sense of who we are as collective bodies. But does this Cultural and language identity, give one a sense of who one really is? Isn’t it wise to first understand...