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The Unexamined Life of Socrates, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 754

Essay

The revered Greek philosopher Socrates was not inclined to write down his thoughts on philosophy, and what little is known about him is learned from reading what others wrote about him. Socrates was the subject of plays, such as Clouds by Aristophanes, in which he was portrayed as a comical, ridiculous figure. Among Socrates’ students and followers was Plato, a well-known philosopher in his own right, who wrote about Socrates in The Apology and other works. Plato clearly held Socrates in the highest regard, and wrote about him with great respect for the man and his ideas (Naviaa, 2007). Xenophon, another student of Socrates, was even more reverential than Plato when writing about his mentor (Navia, 2007). One of the most well-known quotes attributed to Socrates is the assertion that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” While Socrates clearly meant that to say that he was interested in examining his own life and life in general, the statement is heavy with irony considering how difficult it is for historians to examine the life of Socrates.

Both Xenophon and Plato wrote their versions of Socrates’ “apology” to the Athenian court that was tried him on charges of heresy and of corrupting the youth of Athens. In this context, the term “apology” –from the Greek “apologia”- means to explain oneself, or to defend oneself. Socrates, knowing he would likely be found guilty, and would likely be sentenced to death, did not use the opportunity to address the court as a chance to grovel or beg for forgiveness. Socrates did not believe he had actually done anything wrong, and therefore he could not do anything but explain himself to the best of his abilities (Navia, 2005). The root of the word “philosophy” is the Greek “philosophia,” which means “a love of wisdom” (Morgan, 2005). In Plato’s Apology, Socrates tells the court that he believes he does possess wisdom, yet at the same time as he announces his own wisdom he still appears to be a humble man (Navia, 2005).

Socrates famously said “all I know is that I know nothing,” which was his way of acknowledging that learning and gaining wisdom was not a process with a fixed end point, but was rather an ongoing, lifelong endeavor (Navia, 2007). Socrates was a true “lover of wisdom,” and the more he learned, the more he realized how much more there was to learn. Upon facing his death, Socrates refused to take any opportunity to escape from jail or to convince the court to give him a lenient sentence. Socrates did not fear death; in a sense, he seemed to see it as another opportunity to learn; if there was more after death, he was eager to discover it, and if there was not, then he would not mind anyway.

  1. “If a Tree Falls in the Forest, and There Is No One There to Hear it, Does it Make a Sound?”

This is one of the world’s most well-known philosophical questions, and one for which there is no “right” answer. The purpose of asking the question, in fact, is not to prompt an answer, but to prompt thought and discussion about such issues and concerns as the nature of reality. An empirical philosopher such as John Locke, for example, would insist that nothing exists without evidence, such s the evidence of sensory experience (Morgan). In the context of empiricism the answer to the question would be “no,” or perhaps “I do not know.” Without the empirical evidence of the sensory experience of hearing the sound of the falling tree, there is no nothing to prove that the tree made a sound as it fell.

A rational philosopher, by contrast, would view the mater from a different perspective. One of the founders of philosophical rationalism was Baruch Spinoza; he, along with others who ascribed to the notion of rationalism, more or less opposed the empirical mode of philosophical thought (Morgan). Rationalism uses intellectual reasoning and deductive thought to reach conclusions. From this perspective, a rationalist philosopher would answer the question about the falling tree from a more logical scientific stance. Despite there being no one there to experience the sensory information of hearing the tree falling, the rationalist would say that, from a logical standpoint, it did indeed make a sound.

Works Cited

Morgan, Michael L, ed. Classics of Moral and Political Theory. 4th ed. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. Co, 2005. Print.

Navia, Lewis E. Socrates: A Life Examined. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. 2007. Print.

Navia, Lewis E. Socratic Testimonies. Lanham, MD: University Press of America. 2005. Print.

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