Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Examined Life

I left my flash drive at home and am at lab, wanted to be sure I didn't lose all of this work and thought I would share my FIRST DRAFT (just fyi for my Dad and his red pen) below. Comments etc are welcome thanks!

It was Socrates who said that “The unexamined life is no kind of human life.” The most important word in this statement is obviously “life,” and in order to make stipulations regarding life it must first be defined. Life is the act of living, and the act of living is to exist in the physical world. The physical world is what we perceive through our senses combined with the subsequent interactions between our minds and the matter which surrounds us. Socrates specifically refers to human life in his statement. So he is referring to a distinctive type of life and not simply the act of existing. Any animal is capable of life, but let us assume only humans are capable of reasoning and thinking. Apparently, being a healthy and intelligent human being is not good enough for Socrates. He says that on top of this your life is only worthwhile if you examine life itself. By saying “The unexamined life is no kind of human life,” Socrates is insinuating that a life without philosophy is similar to an animal life. He is saying that those who choose not to delve into the meaning of life itself are simply going through the motions of life without experiencing it in full. Every human that is born experiences life regardless of whether they examine it as they do so, and each of these lives is just as meaningful as the life that Socrates supposed we all should live
At the age of seventy, Socrates was put on trial for atheism and corrupting the youth of Athens. He had developed a way of questioning erudite men who thought themselves to be knowledgeable and leaving them with no choice but to admit ignorance of whichever topic they had originally assumed to be knowledgeable of. He would advance upon a philosophical question by asking first for the unwitting victim to linguistically define an elusive topic. For example, while discussing how virtue is acquired with Meno in Plato, Socrates first coerced Meno into attempting to define virtue. Socrates knew Meno’s answer would be easily disproved, thereby undermining all other points in Meno’s argument. Upon eliciting a response that he desired to further his argument, Socrates would pick out detail after detail within the argument to prove his point further. Often his conclusion would have nothing to do with the original question. In the case of his discussion with Meno, Socrates guided Meno through a frustratingly ambiguous dialogue, and finally left him with the answer that it is impossible to inquire into the actual nature of virtue. He left Meno, and all others present, further perplexed then when he began. He reached no conclusion and left a trail of angry men in his wake.
This pattern of dialogue is now called the Socratic Method and led Socrates to his trial. At the trial Socrates gave a rousing dialogue later known as the Apology. He was found guilty despite his clear defense. As was the way in ancient Greek democracy he was again allowed to speak, and suggest an alternative sentence from the prosecution’s proposed sentence of death for the jury to choose from. Rather than feign repentance for his incessant questioning Socrates said that, “The greatest good for all mankind is this: to everyday discuss excellence and all other thing you hear me discussing, examining myself and others, and that an unexamined life is no kind of human life…” In the moment that Socrates made this statement it had the right meaning and legitimacy attached to it. However, like most other philosophical musings, the statement that “The unexamined life is no kind of human life,” does not equally apply its’ truth when taken out of context. In this situation the context would be that of the trial, and Socrates defending himself. Outside of the context of Socrates’ trial the insinuations attached to this statement bear little resemblance to reality.
Socrates was always beginning his dialogues by proclaiming to know nothing. In the Apology he even explained that a wise man is only wise because he is aware he knows nothing. So Socrates spent his entire life searching for nothing, and therefore accomplished nothing. The man did not earn a living or provide for his family, he took no pleasure in physical gratification, and he left behind a clouded legacy which can only be found by reading the works of other men. He was unafraid to die because he firmly believed that all of the things he held in high esteem, such as ethics, truth, and knowledge, existed in their purest forms only in the realm of the dead. During the course of his dialogue with Meno, Socrates led a young boy through a simple geometrical puzzle, and imposed the correct answers on this boy until the boy believed he had solved the riddle independently. Socrates claimed the boy already knew the answer because he learned it before being born, while his soul resided in the world of the forms, and was simply shown how to recollect the answer by Socrates. The conclusions Socrates draws in the story are so ridiculously unjustified. His belief in the ability of Man to recollect and not learn is a wild assumption without any merit. Why would he make suppositions about death when he abhorred making assumptions about life? His intent was obviously to inspire those around him to use common sense to reach ethical conclusions, but his arguments were flawed and contradictive. He spent his entire life mired in these arguments, and as he debated the technicalities the true meaning of life seems to have flown right past him.
The life of a human is precious, no matter how they spend that life. If a person is born with an exceptionally low mental acuity and therefore unable to wax poetic on the intricacies of virtue or knowledge, their life is no less meaningful then that of the self proclaimed genius they live next door to. There are decent people all over the world who work hard everyday, come home with dirt under their nails, and tuck their kids in tight every night. Many of these people do not take the time to examine their lives, they are too busy living it to obsess about the meaning of it. Life is for the living, and Socrates was wrong to believe that any life could possibly be unworthy of living. Every person has their place in the world, and if they all solely focused on examining life in the way that Socrates suggested, nothing would ever be accomplished. So while the world may be a better place for the existence of philosophy, it equally benefits from all other studies and actions as well. To live the human life requires not just the examining of life, but also the living of it.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

excellent paper girl!

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