Plato – Ideal of the Examined Life

April 11, 2018 Law

Human excellence; two very simple words that when placed next to each other can have completely different meanings, especially when we apply it individually. In the “Apology” by Plato, the character of Socrates is one of a man in his seventies who believes that his calling is to “discourse about virtue, and of those other things about which you hear [him] examining [himself] and others… ” Plato describes Socrates living a philosophical or examined life which overall implies the concept of human excellence.

For him, human excellence is examining one’s life and beliefs and determining how we can live well and overall live to ones ultimate potential. His notion of human excellence and the examination of one’s life ultimately lead to truth and doing the right thing. However, his ideal of living the examined life is the equivalent of living a perfect and rational life. An ideal that is not relevant to our contemporary world or individuals simply because of human nature.

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Human nature is the distinguished characteristics, ways of thinking, feeling and acting that each human has. These characteristics are shaped by the people and environment surrounding us and they are what completely prevent us from following one model or one concept of perfection. In applying how Plato’s belief is not practical today, I give the following example: Socrates describes that he will not hold his tongue to please others because “if [he] tells you that to do as you say would be a disobedience to the Gods, and therefore, [he] cannot hold [his] tongue”.

Here he is advocating that his message comes from the Gods. However, since before the time of Socrates, we have had people who do not believe in multiple Gods or any one God in particular; Atheist. How does the ideal of the philosophical/examined life that comes to Socrates as a message from the Gods be communicated to these people? This also entails people who believe in one God that may not bring the same message provided by the Gods of Socrates. We now come to the concept of wisdom.

Wisdom is perceived as the ability to distinguish what is true and right. That ability, allows each individual to examine life and the actions that are preventing them from living a righteous life. However, the wisdom that each individual possesses is not the same. Socrates came about this very issue when he was in search of a person whom he could prove was wiser than him. He enquired about wisdom with those who were commonly believed to be wise, the politicians, the artisans, and the poets.

His finding was the following, “The poets appeared to me to be much in the same case; and I further observed that upon the strength of their poetry they believed themselves to be the wisest of men in other things in which they were not wise. So I departed, conceiving myself to be superior to them for the same reason that I was superior to the politicians. ” In his quest to have a “wise” person explain to them what made them wise, he found that no one could really tell him why. Socrates found that when challenging the “wise” person’s reasoning, his challenge proved that they were not wise at all.

However, Socrates was not able to make them see why it was that they were not wise. This comes to prove that by merely explaining and or demonstrating to a person the why or the how they are wrong, does not mean the person will understand or much less agree. We all have our definition of wisdom and the skills or knowledge that we believe we must have in order to be wise, but these skills and knowledge are not usually the same among people. Now, the concept of wisdom leads to the concept of what is “right” or “just”.

What may be right to me may not be right for everyone else. For example, killing to a person in law enforcement may be right or justified if the person killed was placing other people at harm. However, it is agreeable that when we think of the action to kill, there is almost a unanimous decision that killing is wrong or unjust. We therefore, have to consider each situation to be different and analyze if the circumstance lead to a just action and even then, we will not always have the same outcome.

This difference of opinion or belief is what Plato does not take into consideration when trying to apply a universal concept of doing what is right. Today, we have a fair balance of those who live this examined life and those who believe to live an examined life by telling others how to live. This makes up our society and our majoritarian believe of what is right and wrong. There is no such thing as Plato’s idea of the perfect life. Ultimately, Plato’s ideal of living a philosophical or examined life and how an “unexamined life is not worth living” cannot be applied to our contemporary individuals.

The different backgrounds, values, beliefs, religions, and teachings that we as individuals have today, lead to the many different perceptions of what is true and right. I do agree that people must find within them what makes them happy without interfering with others and without causing harm to others. At the end of the day, you do not tell people how to live their life but live your own. Anderson, Kent, and Norm Freund. “The Last Days of Socrates. ” Clarke College, 01/04/2007. Web. 4 Jun 2010. .


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