According to the Athenians, Socrates was an ugly man. One who walked through the city and humiliated authoritative figures in public places with many people around. Many would say that he “made the weaker argument stronger”. Throughout Socrates’ life, he was always looking for truth. Socrates went about his life following his ways, questioning people about their own beliefs, until he was brought to trial by a group of men on the charges of corrupting the youth and impiety. When looking at Socrates’ life, one of the most important and significant quotes from Socrates is “The unexamined life is not worth living.” We are able to understand the meaning of this quote by first looking at Socrates’ philosophy. When analysing his philosophy, using Plato’s Apology, we are able to divide it into three main parts, Socratic irony, method and ethos. In the first section of my essay I will explain these three components of Socrates’ philosophy and show how these components are related to the statement “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In the second part of my essay, I will proceed to talk about my own philosophy and how I disagree with Rauhut’s definition of philosophy.
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In the first section, I will begin by talking about Socratic irony. Much of Socrates’ beliefs and philosophical statements are very ironic. For example, when the Oracle of Delphi says that Socrates is the wisest man in Athens and Socrates does not understand why. Socrates goes about figuring out why the Oracle would say this by finding others in higher standing, the professionals and asking those people questions about themselves and their knowledge. Socrates would quiz them and try to determine whether he felt they were wise. He would also ask whether they thought of themselves as wise. Most would claim that yes they were indeed wise, but Socrates did not feel that any of them they were. Later, Socrates decides that he is indeed the wisest man in Athens because he knows that he is not wise. People that think they are wise are not because they indeed know nothing. Socrates knows that he knows nothing and comes to the conclusion that he is the wisest man in all Athens because he knows that he knows nothing. How can someone be the wisest man in Athens and still know nothing? Socrates beliefs and philosophical statements are comprised of contradictory statements that to many of the people of Athens, made no sense. “I thought this man seemed to be wise both to many others and especially to himself, but he was not; and then I tried to show him that he thought he was wise, but was not.” (Plato, 507) Socrates’ trial itself is ironic in a way as well. He was accused of being a corruptor of the youth and impiety. As far as impiety goes, Socrates claimed that he was carrying out the will of the gods. Impiety is the lack of respect or concern for Athenian gods and according to Socrates he was carrying out the gods will, implying that he is completely pious. When looking at the accusation, his accusers claim that he is corrupting the youth. Socrates refutes this argument by stating that he did not corrupt the youth of Athens because he had no intentions of doing so. In order to corrupt someone, they must have the intentions and the knowledge, and he had neither. He is not teaching the youth of Athens anything, he is merely encouraging the knowledge which they already have to come out, which lead us into the Socratic Method.
When analysing Socrates’ philosophy, another significant part of his philosophy is his method. He looked at himself not as a teacher, but as a midwife. He does not teach anyone anything they did not know already, but he, with the proper questions, is able to bring out the knowledge that they already have. In essence he is helping someone give birth to their knowledge, helping to recollect the knowledge that they already have. The Socratic Method revolves mostly around question and answer. Socrates would begin by asking what something is. For example, at the start of Socrates’ trial, he begins by asking for definitions of such terms as justice, piety, friendship and virtue. Beginning with the question Socrates would wait for an answer and would always be able to refute the definition because all of the definitions he receives result in contradictions. Socrates is able to, through this method of question and answer, show others about what justice is by showing them what it is not, never coming up with what it is in a positive sense. Thus Socrates is teaching someone about something without teaching them anything new about that thing. Socrates would also just question people in an ordinary conversation. Instead of just simply telling the person what he wanted to prove he would quiz them and try to get them to say the point of which he is trying to get across with his questions. An example of this is in his trial when Socrates is refuting his accusation of corrupting the youth. “now then, say who makes them better, inform the court who he is. “You see, Meletos, you are silent, and a sufficient proof of what I am just saying, that you have cared nothing about it? Come, say, my good man, who makes them better?” (Plato, 511) This process is continued and Meletos proceeds to give his explanations, but Socrates does not buy into any of them. Socrates also believed that since he was condemned to death by the court, it must have been the will of the gods that his life was to end and because of this he had refused many offers from his friends to escape Athens and live somewhere where he was welcomed by the people. This shows us that within his method of philosophy lies an ethical part which binds him to always tell the truth and not to be sinful, which is also part of his ethos.
The last major part of Socrates’ philosophy was his ethos. He was an extremely ethical in everything he did. Socrates spent most of his life examining the lives of others. He continued to do this even though these people did not want him to do so. Going back to the Socratic Method, Socrates would typically do this using question and answer. With this method in mind, he was able to make many people, who also were people of a high standing in the political life of Athens, look like fools in front of all of their peers. He continued to analyze these people in search of the truth. Truth was the most important thing to Socrates and he was always searching for it even though it led him to his eventual death. Socrates, also, never took any money for any of the work he did. He spent most of his life in poverty because he believed that what he was doing was not work. He never taught anybody anything. He was only helping them to remember what they had forgotten and that, to Socrates, was not work.
Through understanding these three main parts of Socrates’ philosophy, we are able to better understand the meaning of his statement “The unexamined life is not worth living.” According to his life and philosophy, if he had not gone around examining his own life and others, to him, it would not be worth living. Socratic irony helps us to understand his statement because he used this irony to help him to better understand life. Many of his ideas were ironic, but led him to a better understanding of truth. Socratic Method shows us how analytical Socrates truly is. He spends his life asking people questions and looking for answers that will help him to have a better understanding of truth. Finally Socratic ethos shows us how Socrates would continue to search for truth regardless of the consequences. Being a very philosophical man and having the desire to find truth he would not have had any value in life if he had not looked deeper than what we can see and feel. It was important to him to have a purpose in life, examine his own life and the life that many others lead and finally give others the opportunity to see the world through his eyes.
At this point, I will begin by defining Rauhut’s definition of philosophy and how I interpret it. I will then show how I don’t completely agree with his definition and provide my own definition and what my philosophy is. I will also talk about why philosophy is important to me and a philosophical question that has troubled me in my life.
“We can define philosophical questions as questions that involve conceptual analysis and that require for their solutions more than observations and experimentation. Philosophical questions are “open questions” in the sense that we cannot easily predict what would constitute a satisfactory solution to then. No scientific procedure can produce a quick answer to philosophical questions.” (Rauhut, 8 – 9) As stated in this quote, Rauhut proceeds to define philosophy as the study of open questions that will ultimately lead us to a better understanding of life and the world around us. He gives us examples of such questions and all of his questions fit into this definition. I, however, do not completely agree with his definition. Indeed most philosophical questions are “open questions”, but I think it goes a little further than just being open questions. Philosophy to me is studying questions that are related to life and death, what the true meaning of life is and what happens to us when we die.
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When looking at many philosophical questions we can see that all of these have something to do with life and death. Like many of Socratic or Platonic theories and philosophies, there is always something that relates to life and death. Plato’s theory of the Forms, Recollection and many of Socrates’ theories about what is a soul, the afterlife, and others are examples that relate philosophy to life and death. All of these, in one way or another relate to life and death.
Although I had never really thought about it as being philosophical, I have always been interested in what happens to our conscientiousness when we die. Do we continue on in some parallel plain and be happy in an afterlife or do we simply cease to exist, go on into a dreamless sleep, without any anxieties. When I start thinking about this question it baffles my brain. I couldn’t imagine having a dreamless sleep for an eternity, but I can’t necessarily say that there will be a definite afterlife where our conscientiousness moves on to. Socrates presents both of these arguments in The Phaedo, but he is never actually able to come up with a clear for sure result that is guaranteed to happen. Then again, no one will ever know until they die, but depending on if we slip into a dreamless sleep, we could never really know what happens to us because we will no longer be able to retain any knowledge or even be able to think. There really is no way someone could answer this question because there is no one alive that knows what happens when you die. This is a question that I am sure that many people have or will wrestle with at some point in their lives and philosophy is important because it allows people to analyze these questions and really gets them thinking about their own personal beliefs and whether or not their beliefs can really hold true for them.
Thus my own definition of philosophy is the study of open questions about life and death. Philosophical questions all have some relation to life and the world around us as well as death and the afterlife. We all wrestle with questions like these, but not everyone would realize that they are thinking philosophically. Philosophy is more important to us than most people realize. In some capacity or another everyone is a philosopher and everyone comes across questions that could change their beliefs completely.
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