‘The unexamined life is not worth living for man’ (I)


At Apology 38a, Socrates states, ‘The unexamined life is not worth living for man.’ It can be ascertained from his story about his life being spent in the pursuit of wisdom that the examined life just is the search for wisdom. The argument seems to be: if one spends one’s life in the pursuit of wisdom, then that person’s life is worth living. As a matter of fact, I, Socrates, have spent my life in the pursuit of wisdom. Therefore, my life is (was) worth living (come what may).’

It is possible to render this as a sufficient claim only–that being that the pursuit of wisdom alone is sufficient for a life’s having been worth leading–and yet, at least in the highly charged dramatic context in which Socrates is speaking, the statement also seems to carry a rhetorical rider: only if one spends one’s life in the pursuit of wisdom is one’s life worth leading. And there is also an implicit normative claim: it is best to spend one’s life in this way and not in the law courts or not, for that matter, going around claiming to be wise. Even if the claim about the examined life being necessary for leading a good life and the further normative claim about the examined life being the most excellent form of life both go unstated, the implications are clear enough.

What argument, whether as demanding as this or else more moderate, could be made for the Socratic pursuit of wisdom?