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The Unexamined Life, Essay Example

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Essay

Introduction

The classic philosopher Socrates laid the foundations for perceptions of humanity and ethics still held today, as he influenced successive generations of Western thought.   For Socrates, nothing was more essential than the effort to achieve true, self awareness:  “Among Socratic teachings, the most persistent command was, ‘Know Thyself’” (Soccio 102).   He profoundly believed that only this kind of deep introspection could bring man to a higher plane of existence, where virtue resides.  It is not strange, then, that he should have also insisted that the unexamined life is not worth living.  This view, however, is both valid and not necessarily correct.  Even as only a deep examination into the self can bring personal awareness and fulfillment, there may be great value in and from an unexamined life.   In the following two sections, both arguments will be explained, beginning with a validation for the Socratic opinion.

Supporting the Socratic View

It is reasonable to assume that, if man desires to become a more evolved being, he is obligated to look into everything that makes up his own, individual psyche. Knowledge creates a greater understanding,  and no human being can grow without a sense of their own impulses, motivations, desires, strengths, and weaknesses.   Moreover, that man seeks to accomplish this at all points to an evolved state in itself, because the human being who pursues self-enlightenment must then have a sense of his or her own limitations, which is a degree of greater self-knowledge to begin with.   In the arena of personal growth, ambition for it is actually a part of it.

Then, as Socrates clearly believed, virtue and goodness are the best entities, or essences, man may hope to capture.   This is a universal truth, no matter how humanity fails to demonstrate these qualities.  Since virtue is the highest pursuit that can be made, only those willing to seriously investigate their behaviors, and the reasons behind them, can hope to eliminate whatever it is holding them back from being truly “good”.  In this sense, Socrates is absolutely correct, because this should be the path each man and woman takes, regardless of faith, as they move through the world.

Value of the Unexamined Life

The view of Socrates regarding the unexamined life loses ground, however, when what actually may comprise the value of human life is questioned.  That is, Socrates’ precept is strong in terms of an individual ambition, and even beyond that; self-examination generates virtue,  and virtuous behavior benefits others.  Nonetheless, it ignores a broader sense of what a human’s value may be.   Socrates, with the best intentions, narrows the scope of all that humans do that may have value.

For example, there may be an unintelligent farmer who never seeks, in all his life, to better understand his place on earth.  He may go through every day by rote, acting and reacting on a basic level.   This life, however, may have great value.  On one level, this person could well be enhancing the happiness of those immediately around him, such as his family, by being a steady, reliable presence.   Then, his work itself benefits many others, in that he produces food from the earth.  He may not ever consider seeking a greater self-knowledge, but the simplicity of his actions and his being by no means translates to a worthless life, and one “not worth living’.   To assert that is to deny virtue itself, because goodness can be realized from a life not ambitious to go beyond exactly where it is.

Conclusion

It is wrong to refer to Socrates as an “elitist”, yet a blanket acceptance of his statement regarding the unexamined life is just that.  If we accept that we require greater awareness, then we must accept that there is much we should not judge.  If only a deep examination into the self can bring greater personal awareness and growth, which is true, it is also true there may be great value in and from an unexamined life.

Works Cited

Soccio, D.  J.  Archetypes of Wisdom: An Introduction to Philosophy.  Belmont, CA: Cengage Learning, 2009. Print.

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