an examined life
May 19, 2011 § Leave a Comment
I’m getting ready to leave Athens after a wonderful time with good friends and meeting new friends. Athens is very different now than the Athens of the golden age of philosophy. It’s definitely now more hustle and bustle and graffiti is alive and well. I suppose that might be a contemporary version of philosophy to some.
It’s still pretty cool to be in a city and think about the great people who lived there long before. Socrates was not only the father of western philosophy but also responsible for creating a way to think about empirical science. He was the mentor of Plato who went on to found the Academy, the first institution of education which Aristotle then attended among others. Without Plato’s accounts of dialogues he had with Socrates, there would be no real account of the “teachings” of Socrates.
Interestingly enough having been to Delphi yesterday, the oracle once responded to a question of who was the most intelligent man in Athens by saying it was Socrates. He basically responded to this by saying he could only be the most intelligent because he knew that he was ignorant. That was a pretty powerful way of thinking at a time when people just trusted what was put in front of them. The gods were still alive and well at the time.
Socrates was responsible for saying “an unexamined life is not worth living”. He spent his life getting people to question concepts like “goodness” and “justice” and other higher concepts that people often took for granted. Unfortunately many people don’t want to think for themselves so he also became a nuisance politically and was sentenced to either death or exile for “corrupting the youth of athens and defying the gods”. He chose to drink the hemlock. That was an interesting fact I never knew.
Socrates would have to be my favorite philosopher because he gave us a way to look for things around us to help us answer these larger questions. He challenged people to think for themselves. In a way this project is like that for me. Through trial and error I’m finding out more about myself. I’m learning what I like and don’t like, what’s really important to me, what kind of life I’d like to live each day and so on. I’ve learned more about myself in the past few months than I have in the past few years.
I guess the ultimate lesson of Socrates would be that it’s good to examine your own life but be careful about examining others. They may not like that so much!