How did Socrates explain the question "Who am I"?

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Socrates answers the question “Who am I?” by affirming his ignorance. Socrates is regarded by the Delphic Oracle as the wisest man around. However, Socrates claims that that's only because he frankly admits that he knows only one thing, and that is that he knows nothing.

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The wording of the question is significant, as it is asking not how Socrates answers the fundamental question about identity, but how he explains it. The Socratic method in education is the practice of eliciting information from the student rather than supplying it, and Socrates continually does this in dialogues with people who initially seem to have a strong sense of who and what they are based on their social role. He asks apparently innocent questions about the self-image of the other participant, to find out what he thinks he knows and who he thinks he is, and then he demonstrates that these matters are not as simple as the other man thought.

In Ion, for instance, Socrates examines Ion's identity as a rhapsode, a professional speaker of verse. He forensically eviscerates Ion's claim to any particular type of knowledge or skill, concluding that he is more like a magnet for inspiration. Of course, since Socrates finally concludes that the greatest wisdom of all is to be aware that one knows nothing, he must logically dismiss all specific claims to knowledge and identity based on knowledge.

However, in the two dialogues that take place after Socrates is sentenced to death, Crito and Phaedo, Socrates offers other ways of understanding who one is, which are not based on knowledge, skill or reason. In refusing to evade the death sentence that has been passed on him, Socrates affirms his essential identity as an Athenian citizen who is subject to the laws of the city. In his final hopes for immortality, he regards his own identity—and those of his interlocutors—as being a deathless soul that is ultimately a possession of the gods.

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In answer to the question “Who am I?” Socrates would've answered, “A man who knows only one thing: that I know nothing.” This is why, Socrates believed, the Delphic Oracle had proclaimed him to be the wisest man around. Whereas just about everyone Socrates meets as he walks around the streets of Athens, engaging people in philosophical debate, seems to think they know something, Socrates is different in that he loudly and publicly proclaims his ignorance.

So for instance, Euthyphro, a young man about to prosecute his father for murder, claims to know what justice is. But after Socrates engages him in a debate about the meaning of justice, it's abundantly clear that Euthyphro really doesn't know what it means at all. That's not to say that Socrates has a clear understanding of what justice means, either. It's just that he wants to get a better idea of certain concepts, and he does this through challenging the ignorance of others while at the same time proclaiming his own.

This gets to the heart of answering the question “Who am I?” If we follow the example of Socrates, then we'll see that it involves confessing our own ignorance while at the same time engaging in a process of questioning and challenging society's received beliefs. That's what Socrates did in his own life, and it's what led to his being put to death by the Athenian authorities.

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Socrates, along with Plato, is one of the most prolific Western philosophers. Many critics agree that much of Socrates's life was told of through other philosophers. That said, one could use quotes attributed to Socrates to examine the question, "Who am I?"

The only true wisdom is knowing that you know nothing.

Here, one can assume that Socrates was open to the idea of not knowing everything, and he seemed to be okay with this idea. When looking at who one is under this idea, he recognizes that someone must accept that he or she really knows nothing in the grand scheme of things. The individual has limitations. To know one's self, one must accept these limitations.

To find yourself, think for yourself.

This quote is important in defining who one is because it forces them to question how he or she "fits" into the world. Socrates, here, answers who he is by making the decision to think independently, even if these thoughts differ from those en masse. One could answer the question of who he or she is by stating, "I am an individual who thinks for myself."

Let him who would move the world first move himself.

Here, this quote speaks to one knowing himself or herself because it recognizes the power of the individual. In order to change the world around one's self, he or she must first possess the strength to change himself or herself. Socrates's knowledge of the power an individual possesses to make change illustrates his own self-knowledge regarding his power to change the world. Only a person who knows himself or herself can openly and happily change.

Know thyself.

This quote seems to be the most important in regards to answering the question of who one is. This quote leaves one's identity in his or her own hands, not relying on others. If one knows who he or she is, deeply, he or she can easily answer the question of "who am I?"

Therefore, Socrates not only answered the question of who he was in his philosophical studies, he helped mankind to answer the question for themselves.

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