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Examining a proverb

September 18th, 2006 | 1 min read

By Keith E. Buhler

“He who knows others is learned. He who knows himself is wise.”

– Lao Tzu

With the reading of many books comes learning. With the in-depth analysis of a broad range of topics and issues comes the reputation for being intelligent, clever, smart, or at least well educated. Leaving aside the humanities, with the many-year long commitment to studying applied mathematics in areas of physics and chemistry, or the related disciplines of engineering, medicine, biology, astronomy, etc., comes an ever higher cultural elevation as one of the holders of true knowledge in the world today.

The pursuit of scientific knowledge is an unquenchable thirst for many people. (I mean “scientific” in both the narrow sense, ie, the modern empirical sciences, as well as the broad classical sense, ie, of any true learning about unchanging principles and facts of the universe, its infrastructure and workings, and the creatures within it.)

The sustained effort to quench this thirst, it seems to me, inevitably pushes the thirsty to make one of two decisions: 1. One decides that scientific knowledge, in all of its varieties and taken as a whole, is a means to self-knowledge. Or, 2. One decides that self-knowledge one of many means to scientific knowledge, in all of its varieties and taken as a whole.

There is no third alternative.

Lao Tzu has so pithily provided an assertion of his opinion. Does anyone care to assert theirs, along with a supporting argument? Or to provide poor Lao Tzu with a support for his?