August Bethany Weekend Full, New July Date Announced

“…the unexamined life is not worth living.”
Socrates in The Apology by Plato

These words of Socrates are notoriously provocative. Perhaps they should provoke us.

One implication of course is that an examined life is indeed worth living. But just what is an examined life? Presumably it is a life in which asking questions has a central place.

I sometimes say to my students that there are no bad questions. But to tell the truth, I say that because I know the people in my classroom, and my statement is more an expression of hope.

I think there are bad questions, and also bad reasons to ask questions. At the heart of a well-examined life are good questions, that are asked for good reasons.

The other day I was speaking to a young man who said to me in a rather serious tone, “I really like to think about things.” In context, it was clear that he meant something like this: “Already in my young life I’ve seen that there are deep things at stake, and I realize that I’d better attend to them because life is serious; and it takes effort to figure things out.”

It is heartening to see this in a young man. There are significant forces at work, both within us and around us, that militate against our living a recollected and examined life. We are probably not asking certain questions, including about our own life, that really should be asked. One of the first objects of examination should be just what we need to do in order to establish habits of good examination. Then we can set about discerning what questions to ask. And how and where to seek answers.

A husband sometimes find himself asking, “Why does my wife insist on acting like that?” This need not necessarily be a bad question. But in comparison with: “Do my actions elicit the very thing that I find so hurtful?” the first question might well be a bad question.

Some of the best questions might have answers which we would rather not consider. Learning to live an examined life entails, at least in part, learning to ask hard questions, and to reckon with answers we did not expect.

Plato (427-347 B.C.), a student of Socrates, and teacher of Aristotle, is considered one of the greatest philosophers of all time. The Apology is his account of the trial of Socrates, at which he was present.

Image: A fisherman.

YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:

Becoming a Better Lover

“‘Try to pay attention to me,’ she said, ‘as best you can. You see, the man who has been thus far educated in matters of Love, who has beheld beautiful things in the right order and correctly, is coming now to the goal of Loving: all of a sudden he will catch sight of...

read more

The Key of Peace

“Peace is the tranquility of order.” St. Augustine, The City of God There are few words that exercise such a power over our hearts, and our imagination. A few years ago I was giving a lecture at a division-one university, introducing students to some basic points in...

read more

Playing Alone

When I was down beside the sea A wooden spade they gave to me To dig the sandy shore. Robert Louis Stevenson, At the Sea-Side A Child's Garden of Verses There is nothing quite like playing alone. To watch it is a privilege. Indeed, in watching one might even...

read more

Pin It on Pinterest