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Self-knowledge (rarely also autognosia from Greek αὐτός autos , German 'self' , and γνῶσις gnosis , German 'knowledge' ) is the knowledge of a person about one's own self . Self-knowledge is closely related to self-reflection , thinking about oneself ( self-observation ), and self-criticism, critically questioning and assessing one's own thoughts , one's own viewpoints and actions. The ability to self-knowledge presupposes the existence of self-awareness , which can be defined as "reflective, level-headed awareness of one's self ". Self-knowledge therefore requires a certain objectivity of self-observation and self-image , that is, the "correct assessment of the properties, dispositions, powers, values ​​of the self, drawn from the comparison of the activities and reactions of the ego in life, in the social community."

Self-knowledge is a fundamental human ability that is studied not only by philosophy but also by psychology and especially by understanding psychology . It is also the basis of intersubjectivity , i.e. the understanding of other people, and thus an important prerequisite for a functioning social coexistence. The opposite of self-knowledge is self-deception .

One consequence of too little self-awareness can be overestimation or underestimation of oneself. The latter is a rarely used term; it is mainly used in psychological contexts (see also inferiority complex , wallflower ).

Philosophical term

For the ancient Greek philosopher Socrates , self- knowledge is the condition for morality . Among other things, at Heraclitus traditional, often Thales or the Seven Sages attributed motto Gnothi seauton ( "Know thyself") adorned the entrance to the ancient Apollo temple at Delphi . The demand for self-knowledge is thus one of the oldest and still most important demands of philosophy on the individual.

Epistemologically , the philosophical structure of self- knowledge is based on a return of the cognitive process to the knowing person himself (see also hermeneutics ). The incentive for this recognition is to overcome the " subject-object split ". According to Karl Jaspers , self-reflection lies “within the comprehensive relationship between the conscious and the unconscious ”. In this respect, the subject-object split also exists in ourselves, precisely in the inner opposition between conscious and unconscious, not only in our always imperfect relationship to the outside world .


In the sense of psychoanalysis, self designates the ideas about oneself and one's relationships to the environment. Self-knowledge in this context is the acquisition of knowledge about one's own psychological abilities, possibilities and realities. It is a prerequisite for self-realization . In psychoanalysis as a treatment method, the ability to self-knowledge and self-reflection is a basic requirement for the success of the treatment. Even if a person has the ability to self-knowledge, this is made more difficult by internal resistances that want to oppose the recognition of unpleasant details of oneself or the environment.


Self-knowledge can also be seen as the result of experiencing timelessness in the sense of mysticism . In Plotinus , the state of timelessness is characterized by complete self-knowledge, presence and the letting go of wishes and ideas about the future. Similar statements can be found in many writings of theologians , mystics and the Philosophia perennis . In order to realize the “birth of God in the soul ”, as Meister Eckhart teaches , one must remove the notion of time from everyday life. The experience of timelessness requires the task of identifying with sensory perceptions, and in a certain sense also with the mind or knowledge, hence the basics of everyday experience and science.

Theoretical models

There are numerous theoretical models available that deal with self-awareness. These include personality tests and models such as the Big Five , the MBTI or the Enneagram .


  • "The longest journey is the journey inward."
  • "A god cannot grant man a greater favor than that of self-knowledge."

See also


  • Franz Brentano : Psychology from the empirical point of view . Vol. 1: 1978, Vol. 2: 1911, Vol. 3: 1928, reprint, Hamburg 1968-73.
  • Meister Eckhart : From self-knowledge or: From the perfection of the soul, in: Meister Eckhart, From the miracle of the soul, a selection from the treatises and sermons . Reclam, ISBN 315007319-7 .
  • Jürgen Habermas : Knowledge and interest . 4th edition. In: Technology and Science as »Ideology«. Edition 287, Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt, page 151 ff.
  • Karl Jaspers : General Psychopathology . 9th edition, Springer, Berlin [1913] 1973, ISBN 3-540-03340-8 , page 289.
  • Georgi Schischkoff (ed.): Philosophical dictionary . 14th edition, Alfred Kröner-Verlag, Stuttgart 1982, ISBN 3-520-01321-5 , page 163, entry knowledge

Web links

Wiktionary: Self-knowledge  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Brockhaus, FA: The Great Brockhaus. Compact edition in 26 volumes, FA Brockhaus, Wiesbaden, 18th edition 1983, volume 20, page 48, keyword self-criticism .
  2. Both quotations: Rudolf Eisler : Dictionary of Philosophical Terms , 1904, Art. “ Self-knowledge ”.
  3. see for example Psychology of Personality by Jens Asendorpf , p. 260.
  4. See self-knowledge , dictionary of philosophical terms
  5. Jaspers: General Psychopathology. 1973, p. 289.
  6. Dag Hammarskjöld : Signs on the way. Munich, Droemer 1965, p. 58
  7. Volker Gerhardt : The sense of the sense. Try on the divine. Munich, Beck, 2014, p. 48.