Monday, 19 April 2010
Socrates' unexamined life
Plato, of course (ὁ δὲ ἀνεξέταστος βίος οὐ βιωτὸς ἀνθρώπῳ; the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being. Apology, 38a). One of those phrases much more often invoked than considered. How can Plato, or Socrates, know whether an unexamined life is worth living or not, unless they think themselves into the position of a human being living an unexamined life? But to do so is necessarily to inhabit the state of mind of an examined life. So, the short version is: they cannot know what an unexamined life is like from the inside, and therefore cannot know whether it is worth living or not. (The alternate position, a kind of externalised 'people who live unexamined lives are not worth keeping alive', crashes on the rock of uncertainty: how do you know whether I live an examined or unexamined life? Lacking telepathic access to my brain, you do not).