How and under what conditions is life worth living? Critically compare the way Socrates and Frankl would answer this question.

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Socrates famously declared that the unexamined life was not worth living. His stubbornness in the Apology, as recorded by Plato, springs from this point. Socrates does not value life very highly. He will make no compromises and resort to no strategies to save his life and ends by saying to the jury that they should now go their separate ways: “I to die, and you to live. Which of us goes to the better fate is known to none except God.”

Viktor Frankl says that self-created or self-discovered meaning is what makes life worth living. He used his time in the concentration camps as an opportunity to develop and refine his technique of logotherapy, in which the patient must choose or discover a suitable purpose for his life. The resulting meaning is what makes life worth living.

If Socrates has been a patient of Frankl’s, the two of them might well have agreed that the meaning of Socrates’s life lay in practicing philosophy, which is to say in the examination of life. Socrates, however, seems to have regarded this practice of examining life as applicable to everyone. Frankl, whose beliefs were Existentialist in this respect, believed there was no “meaning of life.” One had to create one’s own meaning. He would therefore probably have argued that if Socrates was absolutely prohibited from practicing philosophy, he should nonetheless stay alive and find some other use for his considerable talents. Socrates seems to have valued philosophy too much and life too little for him to want to do this. This is why Frankl survived the camps, whereas Socrates drank the hemlock.

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