Is the Unexamined Life Worth Living?

Robert Gerzon asks, “Is the unexamined life worth living?”

This famous quote from Socrates has always intrigued me. Does it intrigue you? We are told to live in the present and set goals for the future, so isn’t examining your life living in the past? If you examine your life frequently… are you living in the past?

My posts between essays will be similar to this one… what do you think of it? Let me know?

16 thoughts on “Is the Unexamined Life Worth Living?”

  1. What do I think? Thought provoking, a little too deep defore I get this cup of coffee finished, but one of those little gems of an idea that will linger in my mind all day.

    Yeah, I like it. Keep up the good work, and I hope you find your own balance.

  2. Doug,

    Thanks for your thoughts…
    Glad you like it.
    I doubt I’ll ever find true balance in life, it’s changing too fast, but I can keep seeking it.

  3. The past is a personal history, and you know what they say about history: those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

    I guess that’s the point in examining your life. Without a good introspection from time to time, you won’t know what you need to do to build a better future.

  4. How about examining it WHILE it’s happening? That’s living in the present and living the examined life.

    I’m having more and more moments recently where I can witness life happening. No past or present. I’m very much alive and fully aware of it. It’s a ton of fun.


  5. Does this work, today?

    Steve – the “examined life” is what you are doing with your blog.

    What I said was:
    “I’m not here to attack – I’m here to take you up on your own topics and ask you how you support your positions. Have you actually thought your positions through or are you just parroting the common wisdom (which is neither common nor wise: it is merely applied marketing)?”

    I’m asking you if you have thought through your positions and if you are open to alternatives to your conclusions if there is an argument worthy enough for you to change your views?

    That’s the essence of the “examined life.” Think before you act – my father’s sage advice to me.

    As for “living in the past” – you can’t. You can learn from past successes and failures but you can’t go back and change anything.

  6. This might sound like Socrates is putting on us the burden of examination. I guess it should come naturally after one is getting mature enough.

    Your context with future goals and past lessons might be well brought together by the sense of presence that maturity brings. Examining life always happens in the present, as a meeting point for experience and possibilities.

  7. The past is a fiction that we use to rationalize our present actions. It provides us with a base of experience from which to launch future endeavors. Yet we must not become so obsessed with the past that we forget that the most useful characteristic of being human is the choice to change, to mutate, to evolve. Ultimately, that means learning to forget certain things while retaining their lessons as wisdom.

  8. I’m not sure what the point of it all is, but count me as happy to be here. I like the perspective provided by Kurt Vonnegut in “Cat’s Cradle” when he compares us to “sitting-up-mud” in the a last rites reading:

    “God made mud.
    God got lonesome.
    So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up!”
    “See all I’ve made,” said God, “the hills, the sea, the sky, the stars.”
    And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around.
    Lucky me, lucky mud.
    I, mud, sat up and saw what a nice job God had done.
    Nice going, God.
    Nobody but you could have done it, God! I certainly couldn’t have.
    I feel very unimportant compared to You.
    The only way I can feel the least bit important is to think of all the mud that didn’t even get to sit up and look around.
    I got so much, and most mud got so little.
    Thank you for the honor!
    Now mud lies down again and goes to sleep.
    What memories for mud to have!
    What interesting other kinds of sitting-up mud I met!
    I loved everything I saw!
    – Kurt Vonnegut from Cat’s Cradle

  9. True, the unexamined life is not worth living. But once examined, it is our duty move beyond reflecting upon it, and live it.

  10. I can’t agree with Socrates. Every life is worth living. This decision has to be taken by each individual, in regard with his life. Regarding the examples given by Robert Gerzon, those people reached him just because they examined their lives and decided to seek for help. They did not kill themselves, but tried to find a better way. Children are not examining their lives. They just live, eat, play, cry… at what age does life start to be worth living?

  11. “I can’t agree with Socrates. Every life is worth living. ”

    Pol Pot, Stalin & Hitler, included Simonne?

  12. If I were Pol Pot, I would have been sure that my life is worth living and that I’m a great ruler and a gorgeous man. Maybe they examined their lives and found them good. Does this make them better? No. But speaking from their point of view, they lived their lives to the full. It is true that I did not read Socrates, so I don’t know which was the context of his statement.

  13. The choice isn’t: “examine” or “die”. The options are, live mindfully, with intent, or live an unfulfilled, default-ridden life.

    Children live in the moment. They are connected with their intentions. They have fewer bad habits and clutter in their thoughts. They require less overt concentration to experience their emotions and thoughts.

    Adults must focus to appreciate the life’s value. This gift can be wasted if we don’t take notice of it.

    It’s an aphorism, not an entire philosophical system.

  14. clkl,

    For most us the choice isn’t “examine” or “die” but for Socrates it was, that’s why it is a great quote. If faced with the choice,what choice would you make?

    Isn’t an unfulfilled default-ridden life, not really living? Isn’t it a kind of zombie state? Isn’t it a bit like being dead, just not as permanent?

  15. Steve,

    You’re absolutely right. I was wrong to dismiss Socrates’ courageous remark at his death sentence as mere ‘aphorism’.

    The point I wanted to make was that this is something one says about one’s own life, not a license to kill off others who are less introspective.

    When guests spill wine on our tablecloth, I tell them, “Don’t worry, that’s what tablecloths are for!” But, that doesn’t give me permission to say this after I spill something on their tablecloth.

    Deciding what makes life worth living is each individual’s responsibility. It is not transferable. I was reacting to the application of this idea to other people’s lives.

    Whether heinous dictators should be allowed to live, is, in my opinion, a separate topic, not covered by this sentence.

    All the best,

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