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Philosophical Thought
Reference:

A philosophical approach to the study of self-knowledge practices

Bogdanova Veronika Olegovna

PhD in Philosophy

Associate Professor, South Ural State University (National Research University)

454080, Russia, Chelyabinsk region, Chelyabinsk, Lenin str., 76, room 434

verovictory@mail.ru
Other publications by this author
 

 

DOI:

10.25136/2409-8728.2023.1.36363

EDN:

AYVRKG

Received:

28-08-2021


Published:

28-01-2023


Abstract: The subject of the research is the practice of self-knowledge used in philosophy and psychotherapy. The rich arsenal of self-knowledge methods can be combined into two groups of practices: transcendental-phenomenological and existential-phenomenological. The first practices contribute to the purification of consciousness from the workedout mental, behavioral schemes, the second ones are aimed at constructing the "I" in accordance with the selected cultural concepts. The purpose of the study is to determine the basic principles of self-knowledge practices and to reveal their potential in the study and construction of the "I". The research is based on phenomenological, narrative and existential approaches that reveal the functional relationship of the subject with the outside world. The article gives a detailed description of the basic principles of transcendental-phenomenological and existential-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge, assesses the potential of these practices for the disclosure and formation of the "I" of the subject. The main principle of the transcendental-phenomenological practices of selfknowledge is the movement towards a pure stream of consciousness experiences that form the core of the "I". Their ideological basis is the intuitive experience of their own "I" in a state of "liberated" consciousness. Existential-phenomenological practices are carried out through the design and pronouncing of the experience of personal experiences within the framework of selected cultural meanings. The essence of these practices is to clarify self-existence by selecting fixed forms to describe existence, which set the boundaries of the "I". The presented practices effectively complement each other, with the help of transcendental-phenomenological practices, the individual goes beyond the objectified ideas about himself, through existential-phenomenological practices he carries out self-identification.


Keywords:

practices of self-knowledge, Self, Ego-identity, phenomenological reduction, existence, reflection, narrative, meditation, breathing techniques, personal construct

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

In connection with the continuous changes in the information, socio-cultural space, the problem of finding one's "I" is actualized, which acts as a protective reaction of a person to life in uncertain conditions. Modern man is forced to exist in a multi-layered and antinomic context of being, where constantly updated cultural patterns come into conflict with the content of human life experience [19]. High social dynamics requires a person to select new values, other ways of "fitting" himself into the changed socio-cultural space. If a person does not know how to quickly respond to the challenges of being by changing the structure of the "I", then this leads to an acute ideological conflict, which turns into an existential crisis. In place of the integrity and completeness of the personality comes its fragmentation and value disorientation. A person plunges into a state of anxiety, despair and fear, a feeling of deep psychological discomfort does not leave him.Overcoming this existential crisis is one of the urgent problems of modern man, the solution of which is possible through the implementation of value and cultural self-determination of the individual through philosophical self-reflection. In our research, we proceed from Erickson's idea that a person should stay on the border of constancy and self-change [18, p. 232]. The new elements of the "I" should be integrated into the existing structure, the old non-adaptive elements should be discarded. Therefore, it is necessary to choose such tools that, on the one hand, will allow a person to preserve the core of the "I" or ego-identity, on the other hand, will give the necessary flexibility to comprehend and transform himself and his own being. Transcendental-phenomenological and existential-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge and self-transformation used in philosophy and psychotherapy can act as tools. The purpose of the study is to reveal and substantiate the potential of these practices.

In the history of the development of culture, one can find a variety of self-knowledge practices, which are spiritual exercises that are aimed at immersing a person into the depths of his "I" in order to clarify its content and determine subsequent development. Self-knowledge practices are based on two traditions: eastern and Western. According to the Eastern tradition, a person strives to merge with the world, to subordinate himself to the superpersonal, while renouncing the "Ego". A person of the Western tradition in the process of self-knowledge strengthens his "I" through self-determination and self-realization. The Western and Eastern traditions generate different spiritual techniques of self-knowledge and self-transformation. Within the framework of the Eastern tradition, as a rule, meditative techniques are used aimed at inner concentration, which allows you to enter the spiritual realm and merge with it. In the Western tradition, self-knowledge and transformation techniques are based on reflection.

In the modern movement of philosophical practice, one can find principles and techniques of self-knowledge characteristic of both Eastern and Western traditions. S.V. Borisov in his study of philosophical practice identifies two conceptual approaches: therapeutic and developmental [3, p. 98]. Philosophical practices within the framework of a therapeutic approach help a person to deal with existential problems, choose suitable ideological, value supports for building a holistic picture of the world. Within the framework of this approach, self-knowledge techniques can be used to help detect rigid patterns of feelings, thoughts, and actions that separate an individual from himself and the full-blooded living of his life. These can be spiritual exercises of Eastern philosophy, and their adapted versions for a person of the Western style of thinking. The therapeutic approach can be attributed to the philosophical counseling of G. Achenbach [14], L. Marinoff [21], the deep philosophy of R. Lahav [16].

The "developing approach" is aimed at forming and improving the skill of critical thinking, which is necessary to determine the consistency of self-concepts and build a consistent, holistic worldview. The developing approach is based on the principle of reconciliation of a person with his own speech through a reflexive analysis of statements to detect hidden thoughts [16, 232]. The developing approach fits into the mainstream of the Western tradition, since it is based on reflection. The developing approach includes philosophical counseling by O. Brenifier [4], the method of socratic dialogue by A.I. Makarov [7], the method of developing rational thinking by N.S. Yulina [13].

Despite the fact that the problem of self-knowledge was the subject of close attention of ancient philosophers and continues to be relevant for modern practical philosophers and psychotherapists, it remains poorly developed in theoretical and practical aspects. The presented classifications of self-knowledge practices are considered in isolation, independently of each other. In our research, we will conduct a comparative historical analysis of philosophical and psychotherapeutic methods of self-knowledge, combine them into two groups of practices: transcendental-phenomenological and existential-phenomenological. The predominant feature of this classification will be not only the possibility of generalizing the accumulated theoretical material, but also the disclosure of the relationship of self-knowledge practices in the process of living by the subject of his experience.

The article is devoted to the generalization and systematization of self-knowledge methods used in philosophical and psychotherapeutic practices. The conducted research will make it possible to determine the basic principles of self-knowledge practices, will allow them to reveal their potential in the study and construction of the "I". As a methodological basis, phenomenological, narrative and existential approaches will be used, revealing the functional relationship of the subject with the outside world.

ResultBasic principles and potential of transcendental-phenomenological practices self-knowledge

Transcendental-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge are aimed at expanding consciousness.

They are carried out at the expense of radical transcendental reduction, which takes all empirical components out of brackets and opens pure consciousness [5, p. 85]. Transcendental-phenomenological self-knowledge is realized in Eastern and Western practices, the purpose of which is to move towards a pure stream of consciousness experiences that make up the core of the "I". The ideological basis of these practices is the awareness of the impossibility of the conceptual expression of "I", which is experienced intuitively in a state of "liberated" consciousness, when the unconscious "talks" with consciousness [15]. Paramount in these practices is the detection and removal of psychological barriers that do not allow you to feel yourself in the stream of consciousness. Spiritual-meditative, breathing and bodily techniques can be considered as examples of self-knowledge practices.

Spiritual and meditative practices (anapanasati, vipassana, zazen, transcendental meditation) are based on the principle of "suspension of judgments", through the implementation of which a person is freed from the stereotypes of individual and socio-cultural experience and expands consciousness. Spiritual and meditative practices introduce a person into a state of "mental pause", as a result of which he overcomes the limitations and inflexibility of formal logic, listens to his subconscious [9, p. 231]. Being in a socio-cultural framework, a person does not always hear signals from his subconscious, which tells him about his true self. Meditation allows you to "establish communication" between the conscious and subconscious, helps to realize and accept your inner experience [8, p. 34].

Breathing practices are an important part of the Eastern tradition. They are techniques of conscious control of breathing through changes in the frequency and depth of inhalation-exhalation. During breathing practices, the nervous structures responsible for the unconscious part of the psyche, emotional processes and long-term memory are activated. A person enters a state of altered consciousness, which makes it possible to relive what has been repressed in the subconscious. Modern respiratory psychotechnics (vaivation, free breathing, rebirthing and holotropic breathing) use the experience of the Eastern tradition.

Bodily practices are based on the principle of unity of the body and the spiritual and mental sphere of a person. All unintelligible emotions, traumatic memories, suppressed feelings are imprinted in the body, as the physiological mechanisms of psychological defense are activated. It is possible to overcome these mechanisms by using the feedback principle: changing the psychological state through working with the body. Body practices include oriental techniques (yoga, bikram yoga, qigong, etc.), which served as a solid foundation for body-oriented psychology and psychotherapy (bioenergetic psychoanalysis by A. Lowen [6], biodynamics by L. Marcher, the method of "sensory awareness" by S. Selver, primary therapy by A.Yanov, etc.)

Transcendental-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge are very effective because they affect the human psyche, eluding the "censorship" of consciousness. Practitioners work on an unconscious level through an appeal to bodily experience, which helps a person to regain contact with himself. They allow you to work out suppressed emotions, get rid of negative psychological and bodily habits, remove psychological blocks that interfere with normal life.

The transcendental-phenomenological approach expands the boundaries of consciousness, enables a person to "become empty", i.e. to become open to the perception of the world. With the help of these practices, a person comprehends a revelation that can be expressed with the phrase "I am" this is the state that must be accepted otherwise further progress in self-knowledge is impossible. It should be noted that these practices are not an end in themselves, they serve as a preparatory stage of self-knowledge. They work only in tandem with existential-phenomenological practices. Having cleared the consciousness of "worked out" mental, emotional, behavioral schemes, it is necessary to move on to existential-phenomenological practices, with the help of which the "I" is constructed.

The basic principles and potential of existential-phenomenological practices of self-knowledgeExistential-phenomenological practices are aimed at cognition of the phenomenal being of the "I", which reveals its essence through its existence.

The "I" is nothing but a series of interconnected manifestations of existence [10, p. 33].

Existential-phenomenological practices allow us to understand the experience of personal experiences through its design and pronouncing within the framework of selected cultural meanings. Since human existence has a procedural mode, it can be represented as a continuous stream of becoming. In this flow, the subject strives for certainty. He approaches it, clarifying self-existence, by selecting fixed forms to describe the manifestations of his own existence, which set the boundaries of the "I" [11, pp. 99-100]. By this act, he significantly impoverishes the content of the "I", however, without finding confirmation of his being through conceptualization, a person experiences existential anxiety, feels the absurdity of existence.

Existential-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge allow us to achieve the necessary balance, they turn to the experiences of a particular individual as a material for interpretation. The interpretation itself is determined based on the worldview and spiritual, intellectual, emotional needs of a person.

The purpose of existential-phenomenological practices is to focus consciousness on the direct experience that opens up when interacting with the world. These practices work with the subjectivity of a person in the context of reality. They rely on psychological and eidetic reductions, thanks to which a person is more fully aware of his own thoughts, feelings, physicality, independently discovers the limitations of existence and finds new resources for him.

With the help of psychological reduction, the boundary between the individual's mental life and the outside world is established, the epoch is carried out, excluding all "automatic" judgments about reality. In the interpretation of experience, consciousness is freed from the objectifying position.

Focusing on experiences, the subject proceeds to eidetic reduction to the essential discretion of phenomena. Here the method of ideation is used, with the help of which the individual is distracted from particular forms in order to investigate a priori forms of phenomena. In the flow of perceptions of internal experience, the subject reveals unchanging structures, without the discretion of which no perception can be understood. Thus, if psychological reduction exposes the phenomena of actual inner experience, then eidetic reduction grasps the essential forms of mental being [5].

Existential-phenomenological practices help the subject to know himself on two levels. First, he turns to his own experience of experiences through the rejection of the objectifying "position" about individual phenomena, achieving a holistic structure of mental life. Then he carries out the fixation, comprehension and description of diverse phenomena that no longer act as objects, but as units of meaning. First, the act of experiencing is described (poetic description), followed by a description of "what has been experienced" (noematic description). The experience is interpreted already on the basis of the discovered universal meanings that are embedded in the consciousness of the subject.

Existential-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge are aimed at overcoming a person's confrontation with the ultimate realities of being: death, freedom, responsibility, isolation, meaninglessness. Overcoming confrontation with being is an act of comprehending one's own existence and realizing one's responsibility, which is directly related to the realization of the creative potential of the individual in the present. Escaping from freedom and responsibility gives a person a sense of imaginary security and leads to personal stagnation. As a way out of personal stagnation, I. Yalom offers a technique that has great therapeutic potential. It is aimed at reconciliation with the finiteness of one's own being, self-knowledge and increasing the mode of existence. The technique serves as a kind of "motivator" for personal changes, it helps a person through awareness of his extremity to overcome anxiety, social fears that interfere with self-disclosure and the manifestation of the "I".

The essence of the technique is that a person is asked to write his own obituary or fill out a questionnaire with questions that relate to anxiety related to death. You can invite a person to fantasize about his death, imagining "where", "when" and "how" it will happen, how his funeral will take place [22]. This technique allows you to understand what a person lacks in life, to clarify his personal meanings. A person defines reliable guidelines for personal growth, self-improvement, self-actualization, which is a necessary condition for achieving happiness and fullness of life.

The following practice of self-knowledge, used in the existential-phenomenological approach, which was originally applied in the theory of psychosynthesis by R. Assagioli and was somewhat modified by I. Yalom, creates opportunities for deep self-knowledge of the individual. The essence of the psychosynthesis technique is to free oneself from illusory ideas about one's self [1, p. 101]. I. Yalom suggests the following variation of the practice of psychosynthesis, calling it an exercise in "disidentification". "Disidentification" is a person's going beyond the objectified ideas about himself through immersion in the experience of experiences. The participants of the practice are given the task to write on separate cards eight answers to the question: "Who am I?".Then they are asked to arrange their answers in order of importance and centrality: the answers closest to the center of their being are placed down, the more peripheral ones for them are placed higher from the center. After that, participants are invited to focus their attention on the topmost card and reflect on how they would feel if they gave up this attribute.After two or three minutes, a soft signal is given, the participants move on to the next card and do exactly the same work. Until they mentally free themselves from all eight attributes. After the work on disidentification, the reverse procedure is carried out to integrate personality qualities into the "I" center [22]. The exercise helps the individual to reach his "center of pure self-consciousness" by imagining disconnecting from himself alternately his attributes (for example, descriptions of the body, emotions, desires, intelligence). It weakens attachment to individual characteristics, makes a person more flexible, receptive to being and ready for self-transformation.

The study of phenomenological experience for the transformation of being is an integral feature of existential-phenomenological practices. In this regard, it is impossible not to mention narrative techniques that help a person to give a new meaning to his existence and choose strategies for the development of the "I". They are aimed at helping a person become the author of a life story, realizing his ability to influence the course of events. A person structures his "I" by linking together significant facts of biography. Thus, a story about oneself (narrative) is created [17]. Narrative is the result of understanding subjective reality and personal identity. The facts of biography create only the texture of the life path, but it is the subjective perception of these facts, the experience and understanding of individual experience, that serve as the basis of worldview and personal identity. Although a person cannot change his past, he can use different ways of interpreting life stories, which leads to a change in self-image [12, p. 150]. This main principle of narrative psychology has great therapeutic potential, it allows you to determine the dominant story, to assess its impact on self-development. If it is an obstacle to the development of personality, then the search for an alternative experience that is not included in the life history of a person begins. A consultant helps a person discover an alternative experience through questions aimed at developing a "good" story. Thus, the main form of work in the narrative approach is the recomposition of history, for this purpose a positive experience is revealed, revealing the significant sides of the "I". A person begins to realize himself as the creator of life and begins to develop more adaptive ways of interacting with the world. The concept of "personal constructors" by J. Kelly is consonant with the narrative approach. A personal construct is an evaluation system that is used by an individual to classify various objects and events of his living space [20, p. 3-20]. Working with personal constructs involves determining to what extent the formed evaluation system meets the principle of adaptability. As soon as a person's sense of adaptability to the world disappears, she needs to replace this construction with another one that will meet a certain practical purpose.

ConclusionThe path to understanding one's own "I", being opens through mastering the practices of self-knowledge, which differ from each other in the technique of execution.

As a result of the comparative analysis, two groups of self-knowledge practices were identified: transcendental-phenomenological and existential-phenomenological. Transcendental-phenomenological practices reveal the pure consciousness of the subject through the use of radical transcendental reduction. Existential-phenomenological practices are limited to psychological and eidetic reductions, which allow for a turn from the perception of the world of a natural attitude to the consideration of subjective experiences of consciousness, and then from experiences in their individuality to the discretion of their essence.

Existential-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge lead to an understanding of individual being-in-the-world, transcendental-phenomenological deal with consciousness maximally purified from any signs of individuality and subjectivity, discover a universally existing consciousness [11, pp. 99-100].

The presented classification of practices conveys the dynamics of the process of self-knowledge, more fully reveals the formation of the "I". There are several stages of self-knowledge that the subject goes through in self-determination and self-development. The first stage is the primary selfknowledge, which consists in the acquaintance of a person with himself through the interpretation of Another. The completeness of the content of the ideas about the "I" will depend on the person's willingness to be fully present in the dialogue. However, communication with others does not always reach an existential level, sometimes it leads to alienation. This happens when the subject creates false images of "I", convenient for building relationships with other people. Creating false images leads to a crisis of self-knowledge. At this stage, a person is faced with contradictory interpretations of different people regarding his personality. However, a person is not a material for interpretation for compliance with certain readymade explanatory models of other people. The spiritual life of each person is unique and unique, its interpretation must be carried out based on its own structures. At this stage, it is best to use transcendental-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge, which help a person to look at himself "from scratch", abandoning the usual attitudes that classify his mental state. After the liberation of consciousness from objectified representations, it is necessary to move on to existential-phenomenological practices, with the help of which the "I" is constructed. At this stage, secondary self-knowledge occurs. A person chooses ways of self-determination in the field of cultural concepts, based on his own life orientations and ideas about which images of "I" will make his life fuller and richer [11, p. 17]. At this stage, it is possible to use existential-phenomenological practices of self-knowledge and self-transformation, constructing the "I", based on the understanding of existence and awareness of responsibility for it.

Thus, two groups of self-knowledge and self-transformation practices complement each other. The inner life of the subject takes place in an endless struggle, which is expressed as a manifestation of multidirectional aspirations. On the one hand, the subject wants to define his essence, to come to self-identification, and for this he can use existential-phenomenological practices. On the other hand, having defined himself, he may come to realize the limitations of any definitions, and will wish to go beyond these characteristics, which are not able to fully convey his beingin-the-world. Going beyond the objectified representations is carried out with the help of transcendental-phenomenological practices.

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