If you were to write down your idea of yourself once every week, you’ll realize that what you think you are is constantly changing. Our mood never seems to outlive our excitement or disappointment towards something. As of today, you might consider your flaws to be a set of specific flaws that you hadn’t thought of a month ago. By the same token, your idea of your strengths will most likely change from time to time as well. Our ideas of ourselves and who we are seems to be very volatile, and the force that is continuously changing them is simply life moving on.
On a very different note, in the Meno, Socrates describes the dilemma of true opinion and knowledge. He presents it by highlighting the difference in asking two people for a path from place x to y. The first person has only heard of, and therefore believes, the right path to direct you to. The second person on the other hand has the right knowledge of the path, i.e. he has been through that path and knows it for a fact to be true (leads to y). Unsurprisingly, both of them will lead you to y, starting from x. By now you have most likely found out who has the true opinion of the path, and who has the knowledge. But since both of them lead you in the correct direction, what is the real and significant difference between them? And how does that tie into the idea of knowing oneself?
After a while, the first person (true opinion) will forget the correct way that leads from x to y. That is because he only had the true opinion of the path, but it hadn’t been engraved in his memory. Whereas the second person (knowledge) will always remember the way correctly, since he has taken that road, and in other words knows the reason why it is true. This is the major difference between true opinion and knowledge. A person with knowledge knows the reason why something is in fact true, but that with true opinion only knows that it is true. To transform true opinion into knowledge, we must know why something is the way that it is.
Going back to the idea of oneself, when considered carefully, our idea of oneself is similar to the relationship between knowledge and true opinion. Part of the reason of why the idea of oneself is so volatile is because of the true opinion about oneself. One day, a person might feel naturally weak, as opposed to a feeling of natural strength on another. Unless we find a reason to justify an idea of ourselves, then it is true opinion, and cannot be tied down. It will eventually slip away from our memory. This idea could’ve been positive or negative, but our inability to justify it has led to the conclusion that it was either of mild importance or most likely a false idea.
To get to know oneself, these ideas should be observed separately. If an idea has been justified, either rationally or empirically, then it is most likely one of the true characteristics of oneself.
Once these ideas have been justified or let go of, then the image of oneself will most definitely be clearer. This process, however, may be dangerous at times; when a person thinks himself to be something that is very far from the idea of himself, and that can end up being confusing instead of giving a clearer idea of the self. Therefore, trying to justify an idea must be done patiently and honestly.