Socrates was considered by many to be the wisest man in ancient Greece. While he was eventually condemned for his wisdom, his spoken words are still listened to and followed today. When, during his trial, Socrates stated that, "the unexamined life is not worth living" (Plato 45), people began to question his theory. They began to wonder what Socrates meant with his statement, why he would feel that a life would not be worth living. To them, life was above all else, and choosing to give up life would be out of the picture. They did not understand how one would choose not to live life just because he would be unable to examine it.
Socrates felt that if he was unable to examine life, he would not be really living. To Socrates, living meant being able to question the world around him. Examining life gives one freedom. Once one examines himself and understands who he is, he can take control of his life. Socrates believed that the ability to ask, to examine, and to understand would make a life whole. He believed that the purpose of life was to grow, both physically and spiritually.
Being able to explore and understand would lead to a deeper understanding of the world around us as well as a deeper understanding of ourselves. (Plato 46) Socrates felt that, above all, one should be a good citizen and always do the right thing (Plato 18). However, many in his time did not worry about doing what was correct. Socrates realized this, and understood that they did not care to look into their actions and beliefs. Their first thoughts were on the goals that they had, such as money and pleasure, rather than the thought of whether or not the goals they held were actually what should have been considered important and right (Plato 26). Socrates knew that, unless they took the time to question their lifestyles, they would never do the right thing.
By living a life that was being examined, the citizens would be living a life that was, for the most part, also right. Socrates believed that a life that was not right was not worth living, which is why he also felt as though an unexamined life would also be not worth living. When Socrates was brought to trial for the corruption of the city's youth he knew he had done nothing wrong. He had lived his life as it should be lead, and did what he needed to do.
He knew he would be found guilty, and did not worry about the fact. Once he was charged and about to receive his punishment, he was given the chance to talk and provide alternatives to said punishment. Socrates shocked everyone when he said he would choose death over anything else. However, the answer to why he would do that lies in his statement.
Socrates knew that, had he choose to go into exile, he would be expected to stop living the way that he was. He would no longer be able to teach others, let alone question and examine his own life. For Socrates, this would be absurd. He believed the entire point of living life was to examine. He felt obligated to live a life where he questioned not only what was going on in his life but also the rights and wrongs that happened.
He would rather give up his life than not be able to question what was happening. Philosophy is about questioning life and the world one lives in. Without questioning and wondering, life and philosophy would be worthless. An unexamined life would lead to one that was without question and curiosity, something which Socrates could not fathom. Without the curiosity that comes with examining life, philosophy would fail to exist. According to Socrates, a great philosopher, life would not be worth living without the addition of the philosophical thinking that helped to make our lives more exciting and worthwhile.
Socrates lived his life to question and to wonder. The addition of philosophy made this possible. If examining ceased to exist, so would the life of those who looked towards philosophy as a way of life. While living an unexamined life, one would have no idea whether what he did was right, and would not question things he did not know. Living a life that did not answer questions would, in Socrates's mind, be a waste of time and would be useless.
He would rather choose death. Many questioned this, as they feared death, however, death was something that he did not fear. Socrates felt that one could not fear something that he did not yet know or understand, and death was something one only faces once. It was an experience into something that was unknown. Fearing the unknown was, to Socrates, useless.
Philosophers did not fear death as it was yet another thing to examine and to understand. Socrates would rather choose death, and experience something that he had not yet, than continue to live life without being able to question. Philosophy is about experiences, including death. (Plato 35) Socrates mentions an oracle when he is discussing the unexamined life. When Socrates mentions the oracle, he is explaining how one can believe he knows all but still can question life. Although he believes that a smarter man will not be found, Socrates still questions and examines the life he leads.
This is the basic concept of philosophy, to try to examine and understand what is going on in life. Socrates understands that without this questioning, there would be no philosophy or a worthwhile life. (Plato 25) Socrates was a wise man who realized that life was not something that could be easily understood. He knew that questioning life would lead to a stronger conception of life and reality.
When he stated that "the unexamined life is not worth living" (Plato 45), he truly meant that without questioning life, one would not be truly living. Actions would have no understanding of being right or wrong. For Socrates, a man who believed that life should be based on what was right, there would be no greater wrongdoing.
Plato. Apology. Indianapolis: Boobs-Merrill Educational, 1977..