“The unexamined life is not worth living”
A few days back I enrolled in another free online course provided by Coursera. This one is called ‘Know Thyself‘, and the instructor is Prof. Mitchell Green, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Virginia. ‘Know Thyself’ is a ten-week journey towards self-knowledge: understanding what it means, how to work towards it, and its importance in our lives.
In one of the first few video lectures, Prof. Green talks about this very famous quote from Plato’s ‘Apology’, attributed to Socrates when he was just about to be given the death sentence. I’ve always thought it showed great courage on Socrates’ part to say, as I understood, that he’d rather die than stop philosophizing. And I never thought any more about it, never thought to apply it in my life, because I’d rather live silently than die because of my convictions. (Wow, that sounded more cowardly in black-and-white than it does in my mind. Just to be clear–I won’t die for my convictions because I might be wrong! Okay, that just makes it worse. Moving on.)
But the professor explains that the phrase doesn’t mean that if you don’t analyze your own life, you’re better dead. He quotes another well-known philosopher who has written that a better translation for what Socrates said would be, “The unexamined life is not to be lived”. That is to say, your life may be worthwhile even if you don’t spend time introspecting, but it would be enriched further if you did actually ‘know thyself’. “Not to be lived” as in ‘should not be lived, so examine your life’ and not ‘should not be lived, so die’.
And that makes so much more sense. Not only because I don’t have to die in this scenario, but also because the quote has now become meaningful and useful to me, and isn’t just some great thing someone said once.
It now tells me to work towards self-awareness.