I’ve thought about this line quite a bit. Just like life itself, there’s more to it than there seems.
First, we need to be aware that Socrates said this as he was found guilty of heresy and corruption of youth and was forced by Athens to commit suicide. Like everything else about him, it smacks of irony. Reading Socrates without thinking that he (or his later interpolators like Plato) might have some ulterior motive can be dangerous.
He’s saying that for himself, he chose death over just keeping his mouth shut and going with the flow. Because the alternative was . . . worthless? For whom? Definitely not for the family he left behind to struggle. Read up on what happened to Xanthippe and his 3 sons, Lamprocles, Sophroniscus, and Menexenus, the oldest of whom was 15 when his father died.
I always doubt psychological experiments on animals when researchers try to extrapolate them to humans mainly because I don’t think animals can project themselves out into the world and say “World, you’re just like me!” Humans have the self and all that entails. And we like to project it everywhere.
Thus, “the examined life” is one in which we are aware of ourselves in ways that animals are not. It’s celebrating the difference we have over squirrels, who just go on about squirrel business without caring much about the pains of the “world” which to them might be no larger than a city park.
But they’re happy. There are people who resemble squirrels. They’re happy, too.
However, our lives post-examination (or in the process of being examined, rather) frequently take the form of our assuming everything around us must serve us in some way. All exists for the self. It all relates to us in some way. I see it as the law of the instrument in action: When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail. When all you have is self-awareness, everything looks like the self.
The danger that arises when we set out on the path of the examined life is that we can become so fully enveloped in ourselves that we find life itself impossible. And that can come in the form of being a sort of solipsistic douche trapped in our own mental masturbation, or it can come from the overwhelming power of an unjust state.
But even if it’s the city-state forcing destruction on you in an unjust way, it’s still your life to lose.
An”unexamined” life is still better than no life at all.
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