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. 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...
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