CJ 110.4: Christopher Moore: “Self-Knowledge in Xenophon’s Memorabilia 4.2″

tl;dr version: expands the consensus view that “self-knowledge” for Xenophon simply means knowing one’s capacities; in addition to this the knowledge of justice, beauty and the good is necessary along with a commitment to continuing conversation with others and self-assessment.

undergraduates could certainly read and benefit from this; it’s clear and interesting (assuming they are philosophically-minded). Plus it includes the phrase “epistemic self-maintenance” which I plan to include in conversation wherever I can in future.

stakes: our assessment of Xenophon as a thinker (which has been turning around recently but is still generally dimmer than it might be)

4.2 is often singled out as the most Platonic of the potpourri of conversations that is the Memorabilia, and Moore’s analysis of it brings an even greater appreciation for its depth. His focus is on the concept of self-knowledge (this is the only place in Xenophon where Socrates refers to the famous Delphic maxim to “know yourself”), and his argument is that Xenophon’s Socrates has a more sophisticated and interesting sense of what exactly is meant by that directive than modern readers have generally assumed.

Moore begins by discussing the common view of what is meant by self-knowledge in this section: knowledge of one’s abilities. The first section of the article makes a convincing argument as to why that understanding is incomplete. He then goes on to expand on what is included in Socrates’ understanding of the concept.

The core of this argument looks at an analogy Socrates introduces as he and Euthydemus consider the path to self-knowledge: to a horse-buyer’s ability to investigate the qualities of a horse he is considering purchasing (4.2.5). From an extended analysis of this sentence, Moore argues that Socrates’ concept of self-knowledge includes five features: “urgency, self-ownership or self-purchase, a technically difficult investigation, a focus on certain qualities, and multiple kinds of knowledge” (407). While the notion of purchase is at first counter-intuitive in thinking about knowing oneself, the discourse around self-mastery and its opposite “slavishness” as consequences of self-knowledge or its lack makes sense of it.

Equally interesting is the analysis of Socrates’ technique here (which is quite different from what we see elsewhere in the Memorabilia) and the implication that conversation with others is a crucial part of our path to knowledge of ourselves. After all, at the opening of the dialogue Euthydemus prides himself on his collection of books; Socrates’ interaction with him serves the purpose of demonstrating that books alone are an insufficient mechanism to bring you to real wisdom.

I’ve been teaching Xenophon of late, and so was particularly interested in reading this; I will certainly come back to it in future.