Let me start this essay with the quote “The unexamined life is not worth living,” which is not only the subject of this essay but is also Socrates’s most quoted statement. This statement is supposedly part of Socrates’s argument during his trial for impiety against the pantheon of Athens and for corrupting the youth of Athens. This reflective essay dissects the meaning of Plato’s statement “The unexamined life is not worth living.”
Plato’s The Apology
Plato’s The Apology is actually the first dialogue he has ever written and it is a dramatization of the philosopher Socrates’ trial where he himself, according to the dialogue, was present as one of the audiences to witness the trial. Socrates was brought to the jury by Meletus, who was then interrogated rather harshly at the trial he forced upon someone else.
Socrates was put to trial because he was alleged for not acknowledging the gods of Athens and going as far as introducing new gods to the citizens He was also charged for corrupting Athens’ youth as they have looked up to Socrates and his works. Both of which are considered crimes during his time. Socrates had been found guilty after the trial and was asked to propose a penalty.
Having been offered to propose a penalty for his wrongdoings, Socrates took the chance to make a joke as he said that the state should give him a fine meal for he had done Athens such great service. However, he also stated that he refuses to be imprisoned or exiled and would settle for paying a fine instead. The jury did not find Socrates’ request acceptable and so the jury decided to punish Socrates with a death penalty. Socrates died as he was made to ingest poisoned hemlock.
On “The unexamined life is not worth living”
Socrates stated that “The unexamined life is not worth living” as part of his defense during his trial to back up his argument that he did nothing to wrong Athens, the youth of Athens, or anyone for that matter, and therefore he does not deserve to be punished. He goes on to argue that he merely talked about virtues and philosophy, and these bring good to men.
The statement “The unexamined life is not worth living” does not really mean that Socrates would rather die than stop talking about virtues and philosophy. Rather, what Socrates wanted to imply with this statement is that the meaning and purpose of human existence is anchored on examining life. Which is to say that reflection on one’s life or experiences is what enables humans to survive or overcome any hardship and it is what gives life color.
An Analysis of “The Unexamined Life”
To understand what is meant by this statement, the definition of the unexamined life should be discussed. According to Plato, the unexamined life is one that does not involve reflection or critical thinking (Plato 39-41). The individual who does not reflect simply acts based on their primal instincts and without consideration for morality. Such a life, then, does not use the mental faculties humans have, which differ humans from other animals.
Leading the unexamined life does not make one exempted from morality, as animals have been described to be. Animals have been famously stated to be incapable of doing evil because they do not have the capacity to reflect on morality. A human being, however, has this mental faculty and is expected to act based upon that same morality, and therefore cannot be exempted. Thus, the unexamined life is one that is bound to become immoral.
As Viktor Frankl reflected on in his memoir, Man’s Search For Meaning, the purpose of life is the quest for meaning. Meaning is the thing that allows humans to survive even the most gruesome experiences like the Holocaust. Humans’ capacity to reflect—to think inwardly—is what indicates that human life is not meant for simply spending every single day of their life to only eat, sleep, and procreate. Because of human’s mental faculties, human life is poised for growth and for contributing positively toward the advancement of society.
The role of reflection in human life may be rooted in prevailing theistic belief systems. Most religions believe in a higher power that governs the world, and who has given humans purpose. This higher purpose supposedly given to humans is not easily detected or understood, and so requires reflection. In order to contribute to society, an individual needs to uncover and understand their purpose so as not to act rashly without thinking if what they are doing is indeed aligned with their purpose in life.
Consequently, to understand one’s purpose, one needs to understand their basic key qualities and reflect on what they can contribute to society in the context of their abilities. Thus, when an individual reflects, they are able to grow mentally and spiritually, and therefore, contribute to the best of their abilities. Not only that, but that individual can also influence other individuals to strive towards achieving their purpose.
However, living the unexamined life, and not being able to contribute to society, does not mean that that life is worthless and therefore should be treated as such or even removed. This is not what Plato meant to imply as he put Socrates’ most famous statement in the dialogue. What Socrates means by “the unexamined life is not worth living” is that it is not sufficient to live the unexamined life—that to live worthily is to live an examined life.
In Plato’s dialogue The Apology, Socrates makes the statement “the unexamined life is not worth living” while pondering the possible punishments he finds acceptable to inflict upon him. He considers the possibility of Athenians allowing him to live but forbidding him from engaging in philosophy, to which he says the infamous statement. It is within this context that we understand the true meaning of the statement.
The statement “the unexamined life is not worth living” does not imply that Socrates would rather die than stop philosophizing; rather, that he believes that he will not be living a worthy life if he continues to live without reflection. As one of the forefathers of philosophy, Socrates has undoubtedly lived an examined life, and so is aware of his capacities and potential contribution to society. If he is unable to reflect, he would not be able to grow as an individual as well as contribute positively to society. This would then turn him into a kind of vagrant instead of the great man he came to be.
“An unexamined life is not worth living” is a statement that explores on one’s morality and their contribution to society in regards to how they fulfill their purpose in life. Ultimately, what this all means is that reflection allows human beings to reach their full potential, not just in terms of their contribution to society but also in terms of internal growth. Reflecting on one’s life helps an individual get to know their self better.
Furthermore, the practice of reflecting on one’s self would eventually lead an individual to want to grow and improve as a person. Which would inevitably drive them to contribute to society one way or another. Thus, living an examined life is living a life that is worthy because it encourages the individual to think critically about their actions, whether it is morally acceptable or not and whether they are contributing positively to society’s advancement.
Reflection gives humans purpose—a direction in life. Without this awareness of oneself, as mentioned in the philosophy paper above, humans would be no different from animals. Because humans possess higher mental faculties, living an examined life is only natural to their existence. We are bound to think of personal experiences and actions, and to find them meaningless and unworthy if it does not serve a purpose.
Living an examined life, as this term paper discussed, is the main goal of human life. Having a purpose in life is the source of humans’ survival instinct and it is also the one that encourages them to strive to do better each day. It is what enables humans to overcome any challenge and not give up without a fight. Without examination, without knowing one’s purpose, humans would not only be unable to progress as a society, but also probably not be able to survive all these years.
Writing a philosophy paper can be therapeutic as it encourages a person to reflect on himself as he is writing. He therefore is encouraged to examine both himself and the society he lives in. Through merely writing a philosophy paper, a person looks upon himself and sees where he is lacking and is pushed to find out how to improve. However, eye-opening as it may be, writing an essay can get complicated as it involves research and such. Hiring a professional writer from CustomEssayMeister to write your essay for you will be beneficial in making sure that the philosophy paper takes on a more objective approach and not stray far from the subject matter.
Kraut, Richard. "Socrates - Plato’s Apology". Encyclopedia Britannica, 23 Dec. 2020, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Socrates/Platos-Apology. Accessed 23 February 2021.
Plato. Plato in Twelve Volumes, translated by Harold North Fowler, Vol. 1, Cambridge, MA, Harvard University Press; London, William Heinemann Ltd, 1966. Plato, Apology, Perseus Digital Library, edited by Gregory R. Crane, Tufts University. http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/hopper/text?doc=Perseus%3Atext%3A1999.01.0170%3Atext%3DApol.%3Asection%3D38a
“Plato’s Apology | Encyclopedia.Com.” Encyclopedia.Com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/culture-magazines/platos-apology