PhilosophyCenterPhilosophyCenter | Odysseys
PhilosophyCenter | Odysseys

Posts from — February 2013

The Unknown Known

The Unknown Known

One of the many fascinating things that one encounters in working as a philosophical coach is the disowning of knowledge. In other words, one knows something, but doesn’t know that he or she knows. The knowledge is possessed, as Socrates describes it, “in forgetfulness” and must be “recollected.” More often than not, the crucial bit of knowing hasn’t been merely forgotten. Rather, the client has a vested interest in not knowing what he or she knows, usually because admitting or acknowledging it would call for some daunting change or other. So, for example, one client came into a session with her husband, who was optimistic because, as he reported, his wife had been unwilling to agree to getting professional help for a year during which the marriage teetered on the edge of a precipice. When asked why she had waited so long, the woman replied, “I was afraid I’d find out I don’t want to be married.” This, of course, was exactly what there was to find out. The moment she let this genie out of the bottle, the conversation, and the nature of their association, changed irrevocably. It was changed by the sheer power of the truth. This was not just a truth that she had known all along; he, to, had realized some time ago that the marriage already had ended. In such cases, it serves no good end to keep trying to reanimate the corpse. All such efforts produce is a kind of Frankenstein monster, a semblance of love and closeness that no one wants when asked plainly.

We seem to be creatures who claim to know what we don’t know, while we claim not to know what we know all too well, once we’re willing to trust the truth to get us through whatever imminent storm, real or imagined, has us cowering under the bed. The though is never the thing, and telling the truth frees up the very resources we need to deal with the truth.

Sometimes, when a client responds to a pointed question with “I don’t know,” I ask, “What if you did know?” More often than not, this simple refusal to collude with the belief in not knowing is enough to open a door into the surprisingly accessible realm of the unknown known. To be willing to know what we know, no matter what it may require of us, to refrain from claiming to know what we do not know, to be at peace with not knowing by taking refuge in the faith that when it’s time for us to know, we will—these are fine delineations of the soul that philosophical support can help us establish in our life. Through the agency of self-work, we may learn that we knew not only more than we thought we knew, but exactly that thing that we needed to know to take the next step into a richer way of being.

February 24, 2013   Comments Off on The Unknown Known