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Unformatted text preview: Socrates’ defense of the examined life Plato’s Apology of Socrates Socrates (469-399 BC) Socrates’ trial In 399 BC. Recent events: The Peloponnesian War (431-404 BC) The Thirty Tyrants’ reign of terror (404-403 BC) The formal charges: “Socrates is guilty of corrupting the youth, and of not acknowledging the gods the city acknowledges, but new daimonic activities instead.” (Apology 24b) The “Apology”: From apologia, Greek for “defense speech” Socrates’ defense “I say it’s the greatest good for a man to discuss virtue every day, and the other things you’ve heard me discussing […] on the grounds that the unexamined life isn’t worth living for a human being” (Apology 38a). What the examined life involves… Knowing that you lack knowledge about important matters in life. (Socratic wisdom) “I approached one of the people thought to be wise […] When I examined him and talked with him […] my experience was something like this: I thought this man seemed wise to many people, and especially to himself, but wasn’t. Then I tried to show him that he thought himself wise, but wasn’t. As a result, he came to dislike me, and so did many of the people present.” (33, 21c) “From this examination, men of Athens, much hostility has arisen against me of a sort that is harshest and most onerous. […] You see, the people present on each occasion think that I’m wise about the subjects on which I examine others. But in fact, gentlemen, it’s pretty certainly the god who is really wise, and by his oracle he meant that human wisdom is worth little or nothing. And it seems that when he refers to the Socrates here before you and uses my name, he makes me an example, as if he were to say, ‘That one among you is wisest, who, like Socrates, has recognized that he is truly worthless where wisdom’s concerned.’” (35, 22e-23b) What the examined life involves… Thinking carefully about what is truly important, what your values and priorities in life should be. The examined life: Questioning values and priorities Socrates: “I’ll obey the god rather than you, and as long as I draw breath and am able, I won’t give up practicing philosophy, exhorting you and also showing the way to any of you I ever happen to meet, saying just the sort of things I am accustomed to say: My excellent man, you’re an Athenian […] Are you not ashamed that you take care to acquire as much wealth as possible—and reputation and honor—but that about wisdom and truth, and about how your soul may be in the best possible condition, you take neither care nor thought?” (44-5, 29d-e). What the examined life involves… Taking care of your soul (internal goods, your true self) rather than your possessions or reputation (external goods). Wealth and virtue “It’s not from wealth that virtue comes, but from virtue comes money, and all the other things that are good for human beings” (p. 45, 30b) What the examined life involves… Calling into question “conventional wisdom”—unexamined beliefs that people accept mindlessly. Examples: The meaning of courage; what makes a person virtuous (Consolations 17-20) What are some unexamined “common sense” ideas that people might hold today? Fear of death “Fearing death […] is nothing other than thinking one is wise when one isn’t, since it’s thinking one knows what one doesn’t know. I mean, no one knows whether death may not be the greatest of all goods for people, but they fear it as if they knew for certain it’s the worst thing of all.” (29a, p. 44) What the examined life involves… Understanding why you believe what you believe. Thinking for yourself De Botton explains: “It may of course be possible to arrive at truths without philosophizing. … But we risk not knowing how to respond to people who don’t agree with us, unless we have first thought through the objections to our position logically.” (25) Thinking for yourself De Botton explains: “Socrates described a correct belief held without an awareness of how to respond rationally to objections as true opinion, and contrasted it unfavorably with knowledge, which involved understanding not only why something was true, but also why its alternatives were false.” (25) The statue metaphor (page 26) Mere opinion Knowledge, understanding Some more questions… Is Socrates right about the unexamined life? Is it really impossible for a person who never examines or questions his own values, beliefs, prejudices, assumptions, etc., to live a good human life? Some more questions… Is Socrates guilty of disrespecting the Athenian gods or corrupting the young? If not, why was he convicted? Conclusion: Philosophy as quest We realize that we do not understand the world, that we don’t fully understand how to live a good life. As limited humans, we’ll probably never have final answers to these questions (we are not gods), but we have to try. This is the “examined life”. Socrates’ courage “You see, whether in a trial or in a war, neither I nor anyone else should contrive to escape death at all costs. In battle, too, it often becomes clear that one might escape death by throwing down ones weapons and turning to supplicate one’s pursuers. And, in each sort of danger there are many other ways one can contrive to escape death, if one is shameless enough to do or say everything. The difficult thing, gentlemen, isn’t escaping death; escaping villainy is much more difficult, since it runs faster than death.” (p 57, 38e-39b) Thinking for yourself De Botton explains: “It may of course be possible to arrive at truths without philosophizing. … But we risk not knowing how to respond to people who don’t agree with us, unless we have first thought through the objections to our position logically.” (25) Human and divine wisdom True or “blameworthy” ignorance (i.e., the ignorance of people Socrates talks to): Thinking you know things you don’t really know. Socrates’ kind of wisdom: Recognizing that you lack knowledge of important matters. Contrasted with divine or superhuman wisdom. ...
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