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Socrates: “the Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living”

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Socrates was the son of common Athenians. His father was a stone-mason/ sculptor, his mother a midwife. Socrates was also a stone-mason by trade and was to follow in his father’s footsteps. It was still yet unknown to Socrates in his early years that his ‘career’ would be that of a philosopher. It is said he was pulled out of his workshop by Crito because of the “beauty of his soul”. Jobless and serving no direct purpose to the Athenian (Greek) society, Socrates was well known in the Athenian markets where he spent much of his time ‘learning’ about others.

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In his spare time he had developed and honed an ability to use words and was intrigued with life; why things were; what they were; and how things were. Socrates had many (philosophical) teachers throughout his youth, although it is said that he was not satisfied with many of them and this is how he had come about to create his own unique methods for the search of knowledge.

Socrates once said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. This quote, from the son of a sculptor, and his profound thoughts, is one of many that modern-day philosophy is based on.

He lived his life on the basis of the need for morals and principles. He believed that the ability to ask, examine and understand would make you a better person. Socrates was the first of the three great Greek teachers with historical significance and has become one of the most commonly known names of ancient Greece. In 399 B. C. Socrates was condemned on charges of heresy and corruption – he was charged with not recognizing the gods recognized by the state, inventing new deities and corrupting the youth of Athens.

This assignment poses three questions related to his quote “The unexamined life is not worth living” to enable conclusions to be reached about the impact of Socrates on life and philosophical teaching. Socrates was consumed by examining the lives of others; what did he do to examine his own life? Socrates never wrote any of his own thoughts; most of our knowledge is based on is what Socrates ‘thought’ and comes mostly from the writings of Plato and Xenophon. Because of this reason, we can not necessarily believe anything we ‘know’ about Socrates and his work.

It is said however that Plato’s early writings on Socrates are deemed to be quite reliable, unlike his later writings. Socrates was very good at cross-examining other people and making them think about their belief systems and what they believed to be true. Why did he constantly question the thinking of others? Did Socrates ever examine his own life? In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates constantly questions, analyses and contradicts every answer Euthyphro provides him with. He cuts into his beliefs and ‘hangs them out to dry’.

Did Socrates ever examine his own life; did he take out his own values and beliefs and pick them apart like he did with those of Euthyphro’s? The discussion between Socrates and Euthyphro at the time Euthyphro brings charges against his father for impiety is an excellent example of how he cross-examines people. Socrates says “My word, Euthyphro, does that mean that you think you understand religion so exactly, matters holy and unholy that is, that you have no misgivings about the circumstances you describe? (Euthyphro: pg12-13-5a). From this point on Euthyphro tries to answer Socrates’ question and tries desperately to explain his example of what he believed holiness is, and his reasoning for his beliefs. However, each time an answer was provided, it was rejected or challenged and the faults in Euthyphro’s explanations were harshly picked at by Socrates’ logic. As the conversation carried on Socrates kept on contradicting and further questioning every comment Euthyphro made.

Eventually an answer, ‘satisfactory in form but not in content’, was given. His way of contradicting an individual’s beliefs was not terribly subtle and it may make you think he is a bit weird with no job and nothing better to do: but his method does make you think deeper about what it is YOU truly believe. He encouraged people to reflect on their thoughts. Also, maybe through analysing others lives and the way they thought he was able to consider his own stance on things and by questioning others draw his own conclusions.

Socrates believed he offered intellectual leadership to the Athenians; Plato states in the Apology how Socrates support of Athens was ongoing and staunch and he did all that was asked of him (pg xxxiv ref 28e, 32 a-d) but was not interested in the politics of the day. Socrates felt that if he was unable to examine life he would not be really living. It appears he felt that living was having the freedom to question the world around him. If you can reflect and examine yourself and understand things fully you can take better control of your life and society. Why was Socrates feared?

Athens was in turbulent times by 399 B. C. and Athenians were a conflicted people. After the defeat of their empire the Athenians were looking for someone to blame and Socrates became the scapegoat. But did the people fear him? In Plato’s book The Apology, Socrates is on trial for his life under the charges of “corrupting the morals of the young” and “introducing new religions”. Plato states Socrates says, “What effect my accusers have had upon you, gentlemen, I do not know, but for my own part I was almost carried away by them; their arguments were so convincing.

On the other hand, scarcely a word of what they said was true. ” (Apology: pg39-17). Within the courts of Athens during this era, a jury was made up of up to a few hundred people. In Socrates’ court hearing, there were an estimated 500 jurors. These Jurors, as Socrates stated, were exposed to the accusers and had their minds ‘corrupted’ by a convincing argument full of false information. The sophists already thought ill of Socrates because of the negative way he was portrayed in Aristophanes’ play called “The Clouds”.

This had led to pre-bias within the jury. The jury, especially Meletus, got a first hand glimpse of how Socrates’ method works; Socrates cross-examined Meletus and embarrassed him in front of the 500 strong jury. According to secondary sources Socrates believed always that it was his ‘duty to question supposed ‘wise’ men and to expose their false wisdom as ignorance. ’ This behaviour was admired by the youth; questioning the elders, but this led to fear and hatred amongst his peers, thus leading to his trial.

The Athenians were a traditional people who undertook little reflection on their lives – counter to Socrates’ approach to life. A society with great anxiety they were threatened by Socrates. They were greatly conflicted by the value systems of the time – their anxieties related to ‘identity and difference, individualism and participation, dynamics and form, freedom and destiny. ’ I suggest that perhaps they were fearful of what they might find out about themselves if they began to reflect on their lives, examine their lives, as opposed to being fearful of Socrates.

It wasn’t fear of Socrates, it was fear of themselves. Socrates became the scapegoat for their anxieties and unresolved conflict. How relevant is Socrates today? Socrates is responsible for the Socratic Method that is used in many aspects of society today – science and education to name but two. This is possibly one of his biggest contributions – the dialectic method of inquiry. Plato’s dialogues illustrate the way Socrates lets idea emerge from his student or the person he is speaking with. He coaches them and questions them to explore and bring forth ideas.

In fact he likens what he does to his mother’s vocation as a midwife – bringing something to life. The dialogue between Socrates and Euthyphro sees them labour for some time refining the definition of piety: Socrates constantly questioning and contradicting and drawing out a final answer. Some academics have suggested this method is a type of spiritual exercise – exploring pure thought. Nowhere though is the influence more prevalent than in recent education. Socrates encouraged his pupils to inquire, to think logically, to analyse and to question.

John Dewey, an American educationalist, thought in a similar way to Socrates in so far as he urged students to reach out to the ‘ultimate truth’ believing that education should focus on the development of both individuals and society. You become more knowledgeable by learning through experience and reflecting on your past actions. Current educational methods direct students to reflect on their study – the role of the teacher is now more of a facilitator. Like Socrates, teachers now encourage students to reflect on their knowledge to further explore their lives and society.

This assignment is an excellent example of the Socratic Method – a series of questions considered to assist people extend their knowledge and consider their beliefs. Getting students to think independently by asking questions. Conclusions Socrates felt that if he was unable to examine life he would not be really living. He felt that living was having the freedom to question the world around him. Socrates was consumed by examining the lives of others and encouraging them to reflect and examine and understand things fully enabling you to take better control of your life and in turn society.

Whilst most of the writing about him are dialogues with his peers and he appears to be always questioning them, he is seeking truth for himself as well. In Plato’s Euthyphro, Socrates constantly questions, analyses and contradicts every answer Euthyphro provides him with. Socrates challenges him to find the answer, find the truth and come to a conclusion. Was Socrates feared? I’m not convinced he personally was; I think that he created fear within Athenians and the hierarchy of their society by questioning them, their traditions and their beliefs.

This led to further increasing their anxieties and their reaction was to remove him rather than face their own fears and reflect on their lives. Socrates believed always that it was his ‘duty to question supposed ‘wise’ men and to expose their false wisdom as ignorance. ’ He continually challenged the ways and beliefs of others. He had strong personal beliefs and remained staunch. But he was always seeking the truth, reasons and definitions. His behaviour was admired by the youth; questioning the elders, but this led to fear and hatred amongst his peers, thus leading to his trial.

Whilst freedom of speech was allowed people didn’t always like what they heard. The relevance of Socrates in today’s society can be observed in many aspects of life. His contribution to Western thinking is enormous. Education, law, science, politics all have theoretical basis in the philosophy of Socrates. It all began with him trying to refute a comment by the oracle at Delphi that ‘no one was wiser than Socrates’ because he believed he had no wisdom. His questioning found those he was asking were not in fact wise but he ended up becoming wiser and more knowledgeable.

He would always keep searching or the truth. Nowhere is this approach more evident in the Court of Law – exposing the issues in speaker and content – the cross-examination. It is likely that the real Socrates might never be known as so much of what we know about him has been written and retold by his peers and his students, all of whom have their own beliefs. He is though the founder of modern Western philosophy and considered to be one of the wisest people of all time.

Cite this Socrates: “the Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living”

Socrates: “the Unexamined Life Is Not Worth Living”. (2016, Dec 11). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/socrates-the-unexamined-life-is-not-worth-living/

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