Thursday, January 25, 2007

Is the Unexamined Life Worth Living?

This is an essay I wrote for a Plato class.

Socrates suggests that the unexamined life is not worth living. It is the opinion of this essayist that this statement is valid, for several reasons.

There are many practical reasons to know and understand the world around us. Our arboreal ancestors certainly benefited from having knowledge of food and trees and predators, and undoubtedly extended their lives using predictive power. In modern times, it is still valuable (perhaps more so) for a human to have knowledge of the world. Knowing how a car or television function may allow the individual to repair them, or at least diagnose the problem accurately. Being aware of trends in weather or human behaviour helps to make these seemingly chaotic systems more predictable and manageable.

Experience and memory allow refinement of many facets of the individual. Examining ourselves can be entertaining and fulfilling. Noticing patterns in the way we operate grants us the opportunity to better ourselves, a powerful tool for self-improvement. To merely exist and react is not enough; we must know and discover the universe and ourselves in order to thrive.

There is a deeper satisfaction that goes beyond practical reasons. The famous cosmologist Carl Sagan said, “We are a way for the universe to know itself.” Knowledge of the universe helps us describe ourselves like never before. We can understand where we have come from, and where we might go. New advances in neuroscience explain how our brains represent and interpret reality. The spine-tingling epiphany that the brain as an organ is used to study itself does not fade quickly. By Sagan’s quote, when we learn more about the universe, more of it is represented in us, a hologram of sorts, ballooning itself into our consciousness - an amazing accomplishment to be honoured by both.

Each generation inevitably reveals more and more of the workings of the universe, adding to the impressive body of knowledge gleaned from it by previous generations. Through a painstaking process of examination, experimentation, and double-checking, the world goes from being an unfathomable expanse to a more convenient package. This constantly updated, challenged and tested body of knowledge is an artifact of all of humanity, a gift shared amongst all. As a species-wide endeavour, seeking understanding also becomes a shared task in which we can engage, bringing us together in a common, endless quest.

For practical and personal reasons to common group binding activities, examining life certainly makes it more worth living.



Blogger Delta said...

I agree with what you're saying, but does it answer the question of whether an unexamined life is worth living, or simply that it's worth more to examine your life?

I think I'd rather be be an unthinking hedonist than to not exist at all =)

25 January, 2007 23:40  
Blogger Mookie said...

"whether an unexamined life is worth living, or simply that it's worth more to examine your life?"

I guess on top of this: 'To merely exist and react is not enough; we must know and discover the universe and ourselves in order to thrive.' I should have mentioned that the survival instinct is enough to keep us alive, even if we are dismally bare of deep thoughts. I didn't want to take it to mean that if you lived an unexamined life, you would be better off dead. The point I was trying to convey was that roughly to the degree we examine life, the better off we are relatively. The question is obviously open to wide interpretation. I appreciate yours.

"I think I'd rather be be an unthinking hedonist than to not exist at all"

Well, I started the essay with the assumption that people would have to think no matter what, even if they were a hedonist. After all, you would have to think just a little bit about what you wanted to get out of life, being a hedonist and all. Perhaps thinking at length about what you wanted would allow you to determine what you really enjoy doing, maximising your happiness.

On the other hand, maybe the world already has enough hedonists (Americans?) and encouraging people to examine their lives would perhaps make them less hedonistic.

26 January, 2007 07:37  
Anonymous Mad as a Fish said...

I wonder if it is fair to judge these 'unthinking hedonists' as having a 'life not worth living'? It seems to me that though from the perspective of the analytical in society, the lives of many seem to be depressingly two-dimensional - their perception may be astoundingly different.
One has to understand how another relates to the world before judging their value systems and conclusions - and who decides what constitutes an 'examined life'?
Many people can have startling revelations concerning their own (from our perspective, limited) worldview - which, while they may seem purile to us, and unworthy of classification as 'examination of life', are to them no less profound than the more complex analysis carried out by others.
It should be noted, perhaps, that it is very easy to EXIST in today's society. The pure, mechanical maintainence of needs is easier than at any other period in history. Any idiot can gain employment and purchase the food and shelter they NEED to live.
Take into account a society which encourages people to work, not philosophise, and an education system that encourages knowledge, but not thinking, and it is hardly surprising that less people are engaged in questioning 'life the universe and everything'.

"I can give you a diploma, but I can't give you a brain."
--- the Wizard of Oz.

Most people live in pursuit of Eudiamonia (ultimate happiness through whatever means suit you best) - even if they do not know it. Some find happiness in the certainty of a working week, followed by a big, brainless spend - others, through rational consideration of the universe and one's place in it.
It seems elitist and unfair to judge your life as 'worth living' simply because you approach happiness in a different manner to another.
It can be argued that the preconditioning of society causes a simplified worldview - and yes, this too is unfair - but in this case we have to consider independent of outside circumstance.
I would, of course, be deeply unhappy to live MY life in blissful ignorance - but then there is no chance of this. My experience has molded me into someone who does not have this option, just as another may be without the option to have the opposite.
I wouldn't be to quick to dish out judgement for this reason.

17 February, 2007 17:18  

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