On Persuading “Man to Be Acquainted with Himself”

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Doctor Johnson in the Ante-Room of the Lord Chesterfield Waiting for an Audience, 1748 1845, exhibited 1848 Edward Matthew Ward 1816-1879 Presented by Robert Vernon 1847 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N00430

By James V. Schall, S.J.,  The Catholic Thing, Sept. 11, 2018

James V. Schall, S.J.

Whenever things look particularly bleak, I turn to Samuel Johnson. In The Idler for 21 October 1758, he wrote: “It has been the endeavor of all those whom the world reverenced for superior wisdom to persuade man to be acquainted with himself, to learn his own powers and his own weakness, to observe by what evils he is most dangerously beset, and by what temptations most easily overcome.” This passage, no doubt, is simply Johnson’s version of one of the Delphic maxims dear to Socrates: “Know thyself.”

But do we really desire to know ourselves? Can we bear it? “Very few can search deep in their own minds without meeting what they wish to hide from themselves.” We cannot bear to see ourselves as we are, so we “draw the veil” between “our eyes and our heart.”  We leave ourselves pretty much as we are, but we advise others to “look into themselves.” It is more comforting to look into the disordered souls of others than into our own.

Johnson did not think, however, that soul-searching was a common experience: “The greater part of the multitudes that swarm upon the earth have never been disturbed by such uneasy curiosity.” What do they do rather than look to themselves?…continued…. https://www.thecatholicthing.org/2018/09/11/on-persuading-man-to-be-acquainted-with-himself/